Renowned especially for bird watching, Rathlin is eight miles long and less than one mile wide and, with a population of under 100 and very few cars, it has an away-from-it-all atmosphere that is becoming increasingly hard to find.
Perfect for walking, sea fishing and sub-aqua diving, it appeals to visitors who like to get up close and personal with nature, and offers an opportunity to explore the geology, archaeology, local and natural history of an island in a wild location.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean doing without creature comforts and, at the end of the day - when most visitors have taken the last ferry back to Ballycastle - a few lucky folk can repair to a room at The Manor House.
Now owned by the National Trust, this handsome late Georgian gentleman's house overlooking Church Bay dates back to the 1760s in parts, and offers accommodation - and good food too, for both residents and day visitors.
There is a an attractive, slightly spartan, style about the long slim building - the simple whitewashed exterior and the plain but well furnished interiors are exactly what such a place, in such a setting, should be.
The view out over the little harbour and pier with the ferry going to and fro is lovely, and you need never miss the ferry as you can see it arrive and saunter down just as they slip the ropes.
The bedrooms are all different, some with an en-suite bathroom or shower room, or there may be an adjacent private bathroom down the hall, and each individually decorated in a simple style befitting the building and its location – what they have in common is a wonderful sea view from every room.
Downstairs, the corridor that runs along from reception has some spinning and weaving artefacts casually displayed, and there’s a little bar – tiny, but with sea views and featuring good and well-displayed photos of the island on the wall.
The Manor House manager, Ksenia Zywczuk, explains that the bar was built using the wood/pews out of St. Thomas's Church on Rathlin, with the old pews providing seating, and the optics hanging from upside down church pews.
The actual bar counter is one long piece of mahogany that was once the outdoor sign for the Castle Bar in Belfast, now stripped and varnished. The flooring is all reclaimed Bangor blue roof slates, re-cut and laid, and the fireplace in the old kitchen was built by Ksenia’s father-in-law using reclaimed bricks from the island.
A large sitting room and all dining room have stunning views over the harbour to the causeway coast, and there’s a tea-room (the Brockley) although, if the weather is fine, it’s nice to eat at the picnic tables outside.
With the promise ‘We Grow it - We Catch it – We Serve it’, the menu immediately establishes a sense of place, and pride in using real local produce. They grow their own organic vegetables, salads and herbs, and their own fishing boat brings in fresh fish such as mackerel, lobster and crab.
The lunch menu offers snacks and light dishes including wholesome homemade soup, and you might have delicious crab caught that morning (you’ll notice it in keeper boxes in the harbour) served with three different homemade breads, or something like sausages and mash might appeal to younger visitors.
And, along with some tempting puds, there’s a local cheeseboard too – a choice of two, three or five Causeway Cheeses, Northern Ireland’s first artisan cheesemakers.
The evening menu offers plenty of choice, including steaks and vegetarian options as well as a good selection of locally caught fish, perhaps including scallops and lobster. And, if you want to head off around the island next day, The Manor House can prepare packed lunches for guests - moderately priced at a fiver for a sandwich, piece of fruit, penguin bar and juice or water.
The Manor House also makes an unusual venue for meetings, small conferences or special events such as weddings – and a short bus tour of the island can be arranged for guests.
All in all it is an unfussy place, but nicely laid out – and very appropriate for an offshore island full of history.