“ Address: 42a Main Street / Ballintoy / Ballycastle / BT54 6LX / Tel: 028 207 69391 „
The North Antrim coast teems with accommodation for tourists, ranging from backpackers hostels to upmarket boutique hotels and everything in between. As usual we were looking to spend as little as possible, but we didn't want to be too remote. Sheep Island View Hostel in the village of Ballintoy seemed to fit the bill and it had excellent reviews. Some friends who had recently holidayed in Ballycastle told us they had seen this hostel when passing through Ballintoy on their way to Bushmills and told us that they had commented at the time on its fabulous location. The Sheep Island of the hostel's name is not much more than a large rock but beyond it there are great views of Rathlin Island and just beyond that the Scottish island of Islay.
The establishment bills itself as a hostel and conference centre which sounds like an odd combination but the "conference centre" is really the equivalent of a village hall (in fact, I spotted a poster on the village notice board for Zumba classes being held in the 'conference centre'). As well as dormitories and private bedrooms, there's a camping barn which, for those who don't know, is a large building with sleeeping platforms rather than beds or conventional bunks, cooking and bathing facilities (I didn't get to check out the actual camping barn facilities at this hostel). Following the local tradition, all of the buildings are low rise and white, totally in keeping with the rest of the village.
The hostel is situated at the far end of the village if you're coming from Ballycastle and is on the village's main street (and just about only street); fortunately the main buildings are set back quite a way from the road and you are more likely to be woken up by birdsong, bleating lambs or a local cockerel than by traffic. There are plenty of car parking spaces on site and the bus stops in either direction are no more than a minute's walk away. On arrival we were a bit confused regarding the whereabouts of reception but after a couple of false leads we finally found it, at the top of the driveway in corner of the car-park/courtyard. There was nobody to greet us, but, to be fair, our paperwork did state that check in should be after two and, preferably before six; however, there was a notice on the counter saying that if nobody was around we should call in at the house by the gates.
As we were about to walk there the hostel proprietor, Seamus,appeared and went off to find his daughter who would see to us. In the meantime we had a look around, first in reception where there are displayed numerous interesting photographs of Ballintoy and the surrounding area over the last few decades, and then in the large kitchen/dining room. This kitchen was large with a central island with no less than four hobs and ovens, so excellent for the peak season or for large groups. This kitchen was superbly equipped and also had plenty of tables and chairs without feeling too crowded.
When Seamus's daughter arrived she told us at first that the room was not ready but that we could leave our bags if we wished but she soon changed her mind and said that if we didn't mind waiting ten minutes, she'd have our room ready for us. We were asked to pay in advance and we must have felt that everything would be fine because we paid up without first seeing the room, something we tend to do when the accommodation is cheap and there are alternatives in the area, on the grounds that if it's not up to scratch we can easily find somewhere else. We paid by credit card and were asked if we'd be happy to have the receipt by email which we agreed to.
Our accommodation was in one of the terrace of two storey houses that forms the main building. Each house has two doubles and two larger rooms of which one sleeps six, I'm not sure about the other as I did not see inside. In spite of the potential number of fellow guests we rarely saw any of them (and we were pleased it was not completely full) as people were coming and going at different times and nobody wanted to hang around the hostel as there is so much to see and do in the area. There was only one cooker (and also a microwave) in the kitchen for this one house but I'm pretty sure it would be OK to go into the bigger kitchen if you wanted to use another cooker. The kitchen has two big dining tables so there is plenty of space to eat, and the comfortable lounge has four sofas.
Our room was on the small side and, to be honest, I was glad we were only staying two nights. There was a small double bed which isn't ideal when one of you is over six feet tall, a wooden stool doubling as a bedside table, a somewhat grubby chair and a flimsy wardrobe which teetered a little worryingly when you opened the door. There was a small en suite shower room and toilet; it was very clean and in pretty good condition although a couple of the floor tiles were a little loose. Towels were not provided but could be 'rented' for a small daily fee, we decided we could cram our own into our hand luggage. There was a toilet downstairs which was good because the stairs were a little creaky but it would have been nice if other guests had thought of this late at night rather than running up and down the stairs to use the one in their own en suite.
The spacious lounge had a television and DVD player with a small selection of films. There was satellite television with more channels than you could shake a stick at although, after full days out walking the gorgeous Antrim coast I could hardly keep my eyes open long enough to watch any TV, besides the wonderful views from the large picture window were much better than anything you'd find on television. The lounge had a lovely open fire but there was no need for it to be lit when we were there. Our room had a radiator which was a bit too warm and on both nights we woke in the early hours to open the window. Another little niggle was that there was an unsolicited alarm call each morning when the water heater cranked up but it wasn't obscenely early and it did mean we were up and about to make the most of the day.
Sheep Island View is basic accommodation but there are some nice touches. There are plenty of garden benches at the front of the building to enable you to enjoy the brilliant views; my only regret is that we didn't visit a little later in the season when it might stay warm longer into the evening because it was lovely to sit outside and bsk in the views with a beer after a day's exertions. There was a barbecue behind the main building, another nice touch.
I liked this hostel because there was a sense of community without feeling obliged to mix. There weren't loads of notices telling what not to do (or reminding you what you should do) and the owners were largely invisible but easy to find if you needed something. There was a box in the main kitchen where you could leave unused food items for future guests and the essentials like salt and pepper which you would want to cook with but wouldn't want to buy a whole packet of, were there in the cupboard. There was also washing up liquid and plenty of tea towels.
If you don't want to cook then there are two pubs in the village that both serve meals in their respective bars and restaurants. We ate at both on successive nights. One of them, the Fullerton Arms, also offers breakfast. Both village pubs have live music most nights. There's also a little cafe down at the harbour, a walk of about a kilometre. Ballintoy has two small shops but goods in both are quite limited though you can at least buy eggs, bread and milk. Anything else is a bit hit and miss. If you do intend to self cater and aren't coming by car you need to fetch a bag of groceries with you. A pizza shop in Ballycastle does deliver to Ballintoy and you can find the details on the notice board at reception along with information on tourist attractions, and other hostels and bed and breakfasts in Antrim should you be moving on.
In spite of the relatively few bus services we didn't have any issues with getting around and we found that the timetables were well organised to allow you to get somewhere early and spend a decent amount of time there. The hostel staff offer a pick up service from Bushmills or Ballycastle.
Sheep Island VIew does have its (minor) faults but they tend to fade into insignificance when you take into account the dramatic setting. We paid £40 per night for our double room which I feel was slightly overpriced in terms of the room and connected facllities but for the whole package I'd say it's a bargain.