Heading to Mizen for a great retreat
In the first of a new series on holiday homes, we look at a West Cork cottage
Fishing, swimming, kayaking, golfing, eating well and a creamy pint in Levis Corner House pub in Ballydehob - all combine to make the Mizen Head peninsula a sought after spot for a second home.
City dwellers have long come here to unwind from Dublin, Cork City and indeed from London, with access via Cork Airport.
With confidence returning in the economy, the holiday home market is starting to take off again and West Cork has seen property prices increase by 15pc through the last 12 months.
Among the properties currently on offer is 'Sheepcloud', a beautifully proportioned and laid out 2,400 sq ft cut-stone bungalow with a modern twist. It sits on one acre of ground overlooking Dunmanus Bay and enjoys a spectacular vista across the bay to Sheep's Head peninsula. It's now on the market for €400,000.
Sheepcloud was bought 15 years ago by Renata Suso, a German citizen, who is moving back to her home country to be closer to her family. In that delightfully matter-of-fact Germanic way, she called it Sheepcloud after seeing sheep shapes in the clouds overhead soon after buying it.
The layout includes a large kitchen/dining area through to a conservatory and a living room. The fully-fitted kitchen has a Ringmaster gas Aga.
The house is double-glazed throughout with timber flooring and a water filtering system has been installed.
Set back from a minor public road and approached by a private driveway, the well-landscaped grounds are laid out with perennials, mature shrubs, hedging and a small pond.
€400,000 through local agent Charles McCarthy of Skibbereen (028-21533).
The Mizen Peninsula itself is a craggy outcrop but it also contains one of Ireland's prettiest beaches, Barley Cove. The long, sandy stretch is framed by rich, green headlands that jut out into the ocean and boasts Blue Flag status.
Durrus Village, with an eclectic mix of shops, pubs, cafes and restaurants, is only 4ƒkm away from Sheepcloud. Ballydehob is 9km away, Schull 11.5km away, and Bantry (market town) 16km. Cork Airport is a 90 minute drive.
The main village of the peninsula is Schull, a lively fishing and sailing venue.
As well as its artists, poets and musicians, West Cork is renowned for its for food producers and restaurants, and there are many fine eateries to choose from here.
What to do
Yachting and sailing is big around here and you can check out the Schull Harbour Sailing Club.
Schull is also a great place to go for some sea angling. Blue Thunder Charters is owned and operated by father and son, Michael and Iain O'Driscoll. Rods and tackle are available free on board the 33ft Blue Thunder, which can hold 12 passengers.
For something quieter, try birdwatching tours with local guide Mike Cobley or you can test your eye for a target with West Cork Archery.
If you are hungry after your exertions, Grove House on Colla Road, and run by Katarina Runske and her son Nico Runske, also hosts music gigs, art exhibitions and events. Main courses may include firm favourites like local duck in plum and red wine sauce, and Swedish meatballs.
The planetarium on the grounds of Schull Community College is well worth a visit with the kids, especially on one off those rainy Irish summer days.
Rarely crowded, Barley Cove beach is a great place for youngsters, with gorgeous stretches of golden sand and a safe bathing area where a stream flows down to the sea.
At the southern end of the peninsula, Mizen Head is Ireland's most south-westerly point and the signal station and visitor centre there are well worth a visit.
Slightly away from the centre, visitors can take the famous 99 steps down the cliffs to see the former Keepers Quarters and its interpretive displays, as well as access the new Mizen arched bridge and cliff walks.
West Cork is also great for outdoor pursuits and Jim Kennedy of Atlantic Sea Kayaking (ASK) in Skibbereen offers guided half-day or full-day marine expeditions along the coast.
After rainfall, the Ilen River upstream from Skibbereen often holds plentiful sea trout and salmon. Much of the fishing is controlled by the River Ilen Anglers Club who issue daily and weekly permits to visitors.
The Ilen is a spate river, therefore runs of salmon, especially, are dependent on adequate water levels. You need rain and luck.
For golfers, there is the Skibbereen, and West Carberry, Glengarriff, and Bantry Bay courses.
For those who prefer more leisurely pursuits, there are craft and art shops aplenty, from Courtyard Craft in Schull, with its ceramics, jewellery and knitwear, to Inspired Glass in Ballydehob, a small studio offering beautiful stained glass or fused glass products.
At Cronin's Forge in Durrus, Carmel Cronin and her son Brian, a fourth generation blacksmith, have added artistic flair and an eye for design to the age-old craft.
Food and drink
The Blairs Cove House and Restaurant on Main Street in Durrus is a must stop for its local oysters alone and is recommended both by Georgina Campbell Guides and the Michelin Guide.
Levis Corner House, also on the Durrus Main Street, was named by John and Sally McKenna as Ireland's Pub of the Year.
The Levis sisters, Julia and Nell, ran this 150-year-old bar and grocery for years and years, and now their grand-nephew Joe O'Leary has taken it over with his partner Caroline O'Donnell.
Budds restaurant on, yes, Main Street again offers a varied and interesting locally sourced menu, from local duck to hake and calamari. Further afield you have The Lobster Pot in Goleen and the Old Creamery in Kilcrohane.
During the 1960s and 1970s Ballydehob was a mecca for the weird and wonderful and, luckily, still remains so, which is evident in the number of artists, drawn here by the amazing local light - and life - craft producers, musicians, poets, actors, and food producers.
The yachting and creative crowd (often the same folk) have turned Schull into a buzzing little spot, also crammed with craft shops and art galleries.
What's not to like
Some find Mizen remote - and even Cork City is almost two hours away.
It can get bitingly cold when the winds are up.