Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Rock Stars

The 12th July is a day in N. Ireland when it's best not to be in N. Ireland. That was my thinking at least and so my plan for us was to drive to Ballycastle on the north coast and take the ferry to Rathlin Island.

This 4 mile by 2.5 mile boomerang shaped island lies 6 miles from Ballycastle and only 15 miles from Scotland. Claims to fame include the cave where Robert The Bruce (Robert 1 of Scotland) had his close encounter with that determined spider and the island, or at least close to it, is where Richard Branson came down after his record breaking balloon flight from Maine.

As well as that, a few days earlier, on 6th July, they celebrated the 113th anniversary of the world's first wireless telegraphy link between Ballycastle and the East lighthouse on Rathlin Island.

I'm sure most of the current 100 inhabitants were suitably excited and probably texted and tweeted their messages of pride to that same world. Marconi may have got HIS message across in 1898 but blowed if I could get 3G there in 2011 ! Progress ?

Anyway enough of such facts and figures and back to us. The plan, remember the plan, was to get parked early and be on our way to the island long before the town ground to a halt traffic wise as thousands poured in to take part in, and watch, the 12th July parades. So we had booked the 11:15am ferry crossing and getting there early we had time for some breakfast before getting to the harbour. Inside the terminal building was a slightly disturbing poster............

We ticked the 'tourist' option and a few minutes later, we were boarding the small passenger only ferry to the island. This ferry would make the crossing in 25 minutes compared to 45 minutes for the larger one that took a few cars too.

When I mentioned some of the island's claims to fame earlier, I deliberately didn't mention its nature reserve. I will now.

Rathlin Island has a nature reserve.....with lots of birds.

Mind you, as we discovered when we went there, that's a bit like saying Bill Gates has a few bob.

But first of all we had to get there as the nature reserve, or bird colony, was way out at the end of the 4 mile leg of the boomerang. To take us along the tortuous off road track up to the viewing location owned and run by the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) we had Bert. Luckily for us, despite the name of his bus, he took fee paying humans too.

I'm not sure how long the drive lasted but much longer and my back would've needed traction. Bert, however, was a joy to listen to or at least he would've been if the bus had had less puffins on board and more speakers for his PA system. Actually a PA system would've been nice. Still, Bert did his best to shout out the points of interest as we lurched and bumped along the road (ha !!) to the island's end.

45 minutes or so later, the bus stopped at the RSPB building and we then descended down a flight of very steep steps followed by a steep path to the observation deck. A long way below us were the birds and what a lot of them there were. Thousands. Tens of thousands. But very far away even for my zoom lens.

Thankfully we had our binoculars but even so, it wasn't as 'good' as I'd hoped it would be. I wanted 'up close' but got 'far away'.

But the RSPB had thought of that and along the viewing deck were 4 or 5 high powered telescopes on tripods which were free to use by the visitors. They REALLY got us close to the birds as they sat on the rocks, nested on the cliff faces and best of all, came in to land. With a bit of trial and error, it was possible to position the camera up to the telescope and get awesome pictures.

The noise, and smell, was incredible. After a while we'd seen enough of the common guillemots, kittiwakes, puffins, razorbills and about 25 other families of birds on show and headed back up to get the bus back to the harbour.

We had booked the 15:30 return ferry but the setup allows anyone to get any return ferry as long as there are places and so we got there in time for the 15:00 crossing and made it on board.

Back in Ballycastle we disembarked after a very enjoyable trip.

There's always one isn't there ? Always someone who thinks its funny to get themselves into a photo. In his defence however, I had asked Stephen and Daphne to stop a second so I could take this photo and I guess the guy behind had nowhere to go.

He didn't have to be so happy about it though !

Right, I think this is enough for one blog post and as there is much more to relate about that 4th day, I'll save it for another post.

To be continued........


Jennyta said...

Brilliant photo of the puffin. What a lovely place!

Daphne said...

The views were stunning - I've never been anywhere like it. Mind you, after a few hundred yards in Bert's Puffin Bus I thought I wouldn't live to go anywhere else! Its total lack of tax disc made me wonder if it also had a total lack of MOT as it thundered along the steep tracks and round the hairpin bends. But what a Grand Day Out, eh?

rhymeswithplague said...

This armchair traveler got a wonderful surprise today! So glad you took that ferry and that puffin bus!

Hands across the sea, and all that.

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