I like boats. Whenever I’m near the water, I make it a goal to get on one. Traveling on a budget, often one of the most accessible and affordable ways to get out on the water is by ferry. Last week, when I was in Ballycastle, Northern Ireland, I paid 12 pounds for a ferry ride out and back to Rathlin Island, just to feel the salty wind and sea spray on my face.
Rathlin Island is Northern Ireland’s only inhabited offshore island. The L-shaped chunk of rock is 4 miles long and 2.5 miles wide and inhabited by many more sea birds than people.
Rathlin is most famous for being the refuge of Robert the Bruce in 1306, between battles with the English. As the legend goes, he was hiding out in a sea cave beneath what is now the East Lighthouse, watching a spider steadfastly weave its web when he found the strength and inspiration to have another go at fighting for Scottish independence.
On Rathlin, I walked out to the East Lighthouse and back. I asked a local if there was a way to get down to Robert’s cave and he said, “No, it was a good hideout and it still is! You need a boat to find it.”
On the ferry back to the mainland, a man in a sweet Stetson came up to me and asked if I was Australian. I said, no American and he said, “What’s an American doing wearing an Australian hat!?” The man knew his hats! I explained that I was wearing a Snowy River Akubra, the hat worn by my childhood hero Jim Craig in the movie, The Man From Snowy River, one of my all-time favorite horse flicks. I asked him, “What’s an Irishman doing wearing a Stetson?” and he explained that he had a vast collection and this just happened to be the hat of the day. It’s always nice to meet a fellow hat person.
As we neared the harbor at Ballycastle, I lamented losing my latest hat feathers: two bright blue blue jay feathers I had picked up on the Appalachian Trail in Virginia before leaving for Ireland, to replace my Grandfather’s hand-tied feathered fly that I left at home, lest TSA have a problem with fishhooks. The blue jay feathers had blown away on my windy walk out to Torr Head, a couple of days prior. With that he plucked the fancy red feather from his Stetson and stuck it in my brim. “This hat came with six feathers in all different colors,” he told me. “You take this one, for luck on your trip.”
I’ve come this far north, might as well go all the way! Stay tuned for a post from the northernmost point of Northern Ireland!