Sunday 28 December 2014

Seaside Secrets: The Copper Coast

Published 09/07/2011 | 05:00

Rock pooling

On his coastal circuit, Pól Ó Conghaile takes the ferry to Passage East en route to Youghal.

The ocean experience

There's more to Tramore. That should be the motto at Oceanics, a surf school run by Paul and Linda Tuohy on the town's gigantic strand. Everyone knows the amusement parks and surfing. But did you know Tramore offers rock-pooling, historical tours and beach discovery walks too?

"This is a playground 460 million years in the making," says Alan Walshe, the Oceanics guide showing me around the rocks at the west end of the beach. The closer I look, the more I see -- tiny crabs, squishy anemones, shellfish trails and a large green periwinkle. "You'd take him home for the pot," Walshe quips. "He'd go great with some garlic and white-wine sauce."

As well as turning kids into eco-detectives, Oceanics enlisted the help of Éanna Ní Lamhna to create new beach discovery walks along Tramore's sand dunes.

The town changed for ever when the first holidaymakers arrived by rail in the 1850s. Could it be changing again?

Details: A Family Fun Day package bundles surf lessons and a rock pool or beach discovery walk for a family of four, and costs €160. Tel: 051 390944; oceanics.ie.

The summer boat trip

Ever wonder where the expression 'by hook or by crook' came from? Take the Passage East ferry and you'll find the answer.

Back in 1170, during the Norman invasion of Ireland, Strongbow vowed to take Waterford either by Hook Head or Crooke Castle. And take it he did.

Boarding the ferry at Ballyhack, the geography is just as apparent almost 1,000 years later. A weather-beaten ferryman issues tickets using a wind-up machine on his looping leather belt, the boat chugs from Wexford towards the leafy cliffs over Passage East, and the cars are disgorged into Munster five minutes later. That's it -- short and sweet.

Since the ferry started in 1982, it has grown into a summer institution, serving both as a shortcut and a scenic detour.

Passage East is worth a dally too -- there's a tube slide and basket swing in the playground by the harbour, and a little shop sells drinks and ice creams next door.

Details: €8 one way, €12 return. Tel: 051 382480; passageferry.ie.

The beach with a bite

"This is a doom and gloom-free café," reads a sign over the door in the Bay Café, a bustling little pit-stop overlooking the harbour in Dunmore East. There's a drawing of a happy-clappy crab as well, just in case you don't get the message. Leave the recession at the door, okay?

In fairness, I left it at the entrance to Dunmore East. The sun is blazing when I visit, illuminating the thatched cottages, sandy coves and St Andrew's Church. Jet trails scour the blue skies as an early swimmer flops into the waves, and a woman throws a stick for her dog.

It's a real foodie nook, too. Seafood delivered into the harbour makes its way on to menus all over town, from monkfish tails in tempura batter (€16.95) at Azurro to the creamy seafood chowder (€7.95) at the Bay Café, "filled with fish straight from ... just look out the window!"

I sit down at 9am, hoovering up a mini-breakfast (€5.95) consisting of a large rasher, a fried egg, two slices of soda bread, half a tomato and a sausage that looks like it owns the plate. "Do you want red or brown sauce?" the waitress asks, dropping off a huge bottle of Heinz.

Needless to say, it does a roaring trade.

Details: Dock Road. Tel: 051 383900; waterford- dunmore.com.

The seaside shop

Clonea is one of three Blue Flag beaches along the Copper Coast. But Blue Flags are mere babies compared with Gordon's shop -- it has been serving the punters here since 1953, more than 30 years before the first of the eco-labels was awarded.

The shop was first opened on the strand by Ivor Gordon's parents. Today, Ivor is passing the torch to his daughter Katie, who I find stocktaking among the groceries, fishing nets, sweets, inflatable pools, bodyboards and ice-cream cones when I call in.

Much of the Gordons' business comes from the caravan parks nearby, though Dungarvan daytrippers, tourists from Tipp and guests at the Strand Hotel are also fans of their 99s, not to mention the stone-baked pizzas dished up in the takeaway alongside.

Details: Tel: 058 42616; dungarvantourism.com.

The overnight stay

A couple of miles from Woodstown beach, I drive past an anonymous row of houses before turning through a tunnel of greenery to emerge in front of a most unexpected Georgian pile. Blenheim House is crawling with roses and fuchsias, its bare bricks warming up in the sun.

"They knew how to build them back then," Margaret Fitzmaurice tells me. She's been running a B&B here for 28 years, twinning her grá for antiques with the hospitality business.

Americans love the old houses, she says, waving off a Californian family en route to Lismore.

Blenheim was built in 1763, and Margaret's antiques include two striking French mahogany beds with a matching Cheval mirror in one of the rooms. The dark wallpapers are thickly patterned to hide the "bockety" walls, she tells me, though not everything is an object d'art -- an enormous flat-screen TV dominates one corner of the lounge.

From the top storey, I can see over Waterford City to the Comeragh Mountains. Take a stroll around the gardens too -- they include an enclosure spotted with Japanese Sika deer.

Details: B&B from €35pp. Tel: 051 874115; bandbireland.com.

The bucket and spade beach

The Copper Coast is one of the most underrated strips of shoreline in the country. Stretching from Fenor to Stradbally, it's a European Geopark named for the copper mines that populated it in the 19th century, and spilling over with cliffs, coves, sea stacks and coastal views.

Where to start with the beaches? There is Stradbally Cove, carved by the River Tay and surrounded by oak, ash, hazel and alder trees.

There is Kilmurrin, where waves peel into the horseshoe bay and a lay-by proves irresistible to a couple picnicking on the stones.

Forced to pick one, I'd plug for Ballydowane Bay.

Driving down a tight bohareen between Bonmahon and Stradbally, all of a sudden I emerge on to a sandy cove littered with sea stacks. It's amazing to think that, millions of years ago, this part of Ireland was a volcano on the ocean floor near the South Pole.

It feels as if it was airlifted from the Algarve.

Details: discoverireland.ie/ waterford.

The seaside town with a sizzle

Driving on from the Copper Coast, I pass Ring Gaeltacht and Ardmore before crossing a beautiful stretch of the Blackwater and turning into Youghal, the easternmost corner of east Cork.

Youghal is full of medieval bones, from the 13th-century town walls to the home of a former mayor, one Walter Raleigh, at Myrtle Grove (alas, a private residence). In 1954, John Huston chose the beaches and River Blackwater as the backdrop for his movie version of 'Moby Dick'.

It's not all ancient history, mind. A hundred yards from the quays, I find Luigi's trattoria tucked beneath the old clock tower. A big bowl of tomatoes sits in the window of a higgledy-piggledy house, the kitchen spills right out into the room and the walls are hung with old town maps.

"You have everything here, the sea, the woods, the river and the bay," Luigi Camilleri, originally from Agrigento in Sicily, tells me. Dishes on his Ballycotton seafood tasting menu range from mussels marinara to Sicilian fish stew. It's a meeting of maritime minds.

Details: Tel: 024 25811; luigi camilleri.com; youghal.ie.



The coastal trail

"The Copper Coast is my baby," says Dermot Blount, picking me up at Tramore beach for a coastal cycle. Blount used to work for the Munster Express, but since last year has been running bike tours along the coast and boot camps on the strand. He's bursting with energy.

After a quick run-through on our mode of transport -- mountain bikes with hydraulic disc brakes and front suspension -- we set off on a coast-hugging spin.

Highlights include Guillamene Cove, with its nostalgic 'men only' sign, Tramore's famous Metal Man, a 15-foot sailor erected by Lloyd's of London to stem the tide of shipwrecks in the bay, and several hidden coves.

There's some off-roading, too. Cycling by Ballyscanlon Lake, we pass two horseriders before arriving at Carrigavantry reservoir just in time to watch a fisherman hook a trout.

For a lungful of fresh air, and an intimate exploration of the coast, you can't beat two wheels.

Details: From €30pp. Tel: 087 234 4867; tramorebiketours.com.

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