Tuesday 20 February 2018

Oh, we do like to be beside the seaside - what to do when you get there

Seaside fun at the beautiful Inchydoney beach
Seaside fun at the beautiful Inchydoney beach

Quite apart from the fun of spotting celebs in their "down country" camouflage, West Cork has plenty of other attractions. For starters, there's the scenery, which has already been cleverly packaged as part of Failte Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way and is proving a big tourist draw. The longest coastal route in the world, its success has led to the launch of many a local ecotourism business.

The best way to experience the joys of the landscape though is slowly - whether that's by bike, on foot or onboard a vessel. For the hiker, the best resource is Irish Trails (irishtrails.ie) where you can browse routes at various levels of difficulty. One favourite with trail veterans is Sheep's Head peninsula, a finger-like piece of land, craggy and steep-sided, just 4km across but 21km long. You can walk the 88km circular route in about four days if you're fit, or opt for a shorter 18km hike. Much of the trail is off road and you'll experience the best of West Cork's wild and rugged landscape.

Cycle West Cork in Skibbereen organise seven-day guided tours around West Cork taking in all the best sights along the way (and stowing your luggage for you), or you can self-guide using one of their routes and they will book accommodation for you.

There are plenty of adventure sports companies to help the visitor get out and about. Atlantic Sea Kayaking, for example, run kayak trips out of Union Hall or Skibbereen that explore the local waters and teach you how to forage for your dinner. While Baltimore Harbour is home to Whale Watch West Cork's Voyager, a catamaran that ventures out for half-day tours through the feeding grounds of passing minke, fin and humpback whales and dolphin.

If your kids are still at the bucket-and-spade age, they will love Barleycove Beach with its acres of golden sand backed by dunes. Just south of Clonakilty, you'll find Inchydoney Island, a Blue Flag beach on a spit of land jutting into the sea, but surrounded on three sides by land. It gives great views over Clonakilty Bay (and is also home to the popular Inchydoney Island Spa).

For fans of the fiction of Somerville and Ross, a trip to Drishane House, home to Edith Somerville, one of the authors, is a must. She drew on many of the house parties, picnics and croquet outings at the house for her comic scenes. You can refresh your memory of these literary gems at the small museum onsite and take a stroll through the lovely woodlands and gardens that surround the house.

Or visit another of the fine old houses in West Cork, Bantry House, a lovely classical spot built in 1710, but embellished over the centuries. Here you can take tea in the library with the Shelwell Whites, descendants of the Earls of Bantry, who still live here, and put on all sorts of amusements from festivals to cocktail dos to entertain the visitors.

Don't miss Glengarriff's beautiful Garinish Island. Just a ferry hop from the town, this tiny island is bathed in the Gulf Stream and full of exotic plants.

It feels like time has stopped here - or maybe that is because it has a Martello Tower, a Grecian temple and a walled garden with ancient trees. Definitely the place to bring a picnic and rug.

For those who prefer to take their adventures a table, West Cork is the land of plenty. It's rich countryside and cosmopolitan population have helped make it the epicentre of good Irish food. Home to Gubbeen and Milleens cheeses, Saddleback Pig's pork goodies and traditional Irish Dexter beef, there's a lot for the gourmand to savour and many of the artisan food producers welcome visitors who wish to tour their farms.

Naturally, West Cork is also chock full of restaurants and bars in which to refuel. You can enjoy toast with quail eggs or brill with asparagus bisque at Deasy's Harbour Bar in Clonakilty; Mary Ann's bar in the historic village of Castletownshend is an institution - it's been serving a fine pint since 1846 but nowadays you can also get excellent local seafood or more exotic dishes. Blairscove House and Restaurant and The Good Things Café in Durrus make the village a hotspot. In Bantry, The Snug offers a traditional Irish plateful while up the road at the Stuffed Olive, Patricia Messom offers up fantastic bakes, cakes and salads.

There's no shortage of local brews to wash it all down with, including the beers by West Cork Brewing Company in Casey's Hotel and Bar in Baltimore.

In Schull, you can enjoy a spot of fine dining at The Grove, while over at Ahakista, near Goleen, you can choose between Arundel bar and restaurant on the pier for some Dingle crab meat and local mussels or Heron's Gallery, where you can pretend your mind is on higher things, such as Amabel Langrish's art, while you scoff a plateful of delicious food.

Sunday Independent

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