We booked our tour with Caroline Redmond from Irish Feast, who specialises in food tours around the North Coast. I had been on a previous tour with Caroline and was really impressed with both her local knowledge and her passion for local food. Since then, we have both become co-hosts of @foodnihour which takes place every Monday night (you really should check it out for some great foodie chat).
A while ago, Caroline introduced me to Mary from the Rathlin Island Ferry company. Hearing them talk about the island made me want to pay a visit as I haven’t been there since childhood. I took advantage of my best friend, Rachel, being over from London and booked both the ferry tickets and the food tour for us.
We met Caroline in Ballycastle and the 3 of us travelled on the Spirit of Rathlin ferry, meeting the other tour participants, Pauline, Ray and Eileen, on the island. I have to say, Caroline was a great host, immediately putting us all at ease, explaining what was in store for us and providing us with local information. If you don’t know it, Rathlin is the only inhabited offshore island in Northern Ireland off the coast of County Antrim and is the northernmost point of Northern Ireland. It has some of the most breath-taking scenery anywhere in Ireland or Britain and is renowned for its fantastic wildlife, particularly puffins, seabirds and seals.
First up on our food tour was a visit to the Watershed cafe where we met the owners, Sarah and Stewart. They served us goat bacon and quails eggs with sundried tomatoes on soda bread. I have eaten goat meat before but had never tried goat bacon. I was pleasantly surprised at how good it tasted, this was a really lovely take on a traditional bacon and egg soda. Having washed it down with cup of tea, we hit the road again stopping by the island shop, resource centre and visitors centre on our way to the Kelp House. This is the remains of the original kelp store that was used to store burnt kelp before it was shipped to Scotland. In later years the building became a venue for dance, drama and music and now serves as a reminder of how important seaweed/ kelp has been to the island over the years.
We had a picnic of local cheeses and artisanal chutneys from Boyles deli in Ballycastle, sitting on the steps of the Kelp house and enjoying the views. A perfect moment for some peace, quiet and contemplation. Not for too long mind you as next stop was McCuaigs pub for hearty and wholesome vegetable soup, served with wheaten bread- a real taste of Northern Ireland! We also got to sample the local Rathlin Red ale. While I am not an ale drinker, I did like the taste of this as it worked so well with the food.
Last stop was the Manor House hotel for tea and scones served with kelp butter. Apparently kelp is full of iodine and is classed as a superfood so these had to be good for us- right? At this point we were completely full and the food tour reached its natural conclusion. We just had enough time to jump on the puffin bus to Rathin West light upside down lighthouse where the RSPB bird sanctuary can be found. Our driver, Dennis was quite a character with an endless stream of jokes for the passengers. Sadly, at this time of year, the famous puffins have left the island but we made sure to get a photo with the RSPB’s puffin character as compensation. We loved seeing the spectacular scenery and the stunning seabirds, particularly the chicks tucked into the cliff face. This was one trip definitely worth doing. On the journey back, Dennis suggested that we stop and admire the seals basking on the beach. We hadn’t even spotted the seals, assuming that they were rocks (typical city folk!). How amazing they were, totally comical and great to watch.
One of the highlights of the trip was watching the last ferry sail, happy and grateful that Mary had offered us a place to stay for the night. Some pre dinner drinks in the hotel, a bite to eat in McCuaigs and a visit to Rathlin’s culture night made for a fun and alternative evening. We loved it and will definitely be back! If you do pay a visit, keep an eye out for the local ice-cream shop. Its set up in an old prison van! How brilliant is that?
The food tour costs £30.00, lasts for 3 hours and is jam packed with interesting information and tasty treats. Make sure to check out all the tours that Caroline offers here.
You can find out more about Rathin Island Ferries here.
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