Over the past few months of lockdown, the thought of the trip I took with my best friend to West Cork late last year often came back to haunt me.
The weird contradiction of isolation with only your nearest and dearest was that it engendered a longing for the friends and the social life you were cut off from, but also a desire to run away from everyone, and be completely alone somewhere totally peaceful and secluded, where no one was asking you for snacks every 15 minutes, and you could sit quietly, alone, getting beyond re-reading the first page of your book over and over again.
Or maybe that was just me?
Running away was exactly how we viewed our trip to Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa when we made it, only back then it was from the responsibilities of young children and work, rather than from the intensity of 24/7 with loved ones, that we were escaping. The fact that it took a team of about six people to replace us made us both insufferably smug.
"The night go okay?" we asked each other each morning, checking that our children hadn't terrorised their respective babysitters. They hadn't, and we would fall back asleep, before eventually rambling down to breakfast (we didn't know we were born - shall we ever see its like again?), which included the softest, almost creamy brown bread, a must-try.
The trip provided a sense of getting away from it all that I could only dream of in the last few months.
Inchydoney is Co Cork's most beautifully situated hotel, beside the beach on a peninsula just outside Clonakilty. I have stayed there on a number of occasions, and every time I get beyond the town and to the final few winding roads that lead to the hotel, I can feel myself beginning to relax.
In a post-Covid outbreak world, a new hierarchy of needs is emerging in what we now look for in our holiday accommodation. Self-catering has never been more popular: Inchydoney's, like most places, is booked out through July and August. Some establishments are adding new attractions to compensate for public areas being more limited: popcorn machines in rooms for family movie nights, takeaway cocktails, mini spa treatments in rooms, 'bath butlers', meal kits and afternoon teas delivered, and room service offering the full a la carte menu.
Some hotels are blessed with features whose importance has rocketed in a world where we can no longer casually rock up to the bar (for now anyhow) and linger over pints for the rest of the evening, or where we may feel anxious about spending much time in communal areas. A balcony with your room is now a game-changer. And all the rooms in Inchydoney Lodge include a balcony with stunning sea views. The hotel's bar includes an outdoor area; the spacious lounge area beside the main restaurant has several balconies, and the ballroom can be used for overflow from the restaurant if needed. These are the things we must consider now, to maintain social isolation.
Back then, my friend and I simply wanted to isolate from our small children. The best friend is hardy and enjoys outdoorsy activities, while I am a person who sort of pretends to like these things. So, after we had collapsed on the beds having dumped our luggage (four bags each for two nights; not having to consider the practicalities of packing for children, we lost the run of ourselves entirely), stood on the balcony enjoying the view, and eaten all the chocolates in the room, we went straight to the beach.
Many of us have become sea swimmers in the past few months (along with baking banana bread, downloading the Couch to 5k app and becoming quiz masters - were you even in lockdown if you didn't do at least one of these things?), so I don't need to preach at you about how a dip in the Atlantic can immediately take down the stress levels, which all of us could do with right now. We peeled off our layers, threw them down by a rock, and belted across the sand. It was one of those sunny but cold days; the water was almost painfully cold but intensely refreshing.
Next up was a more formal activity. Options in the area included surfing (all levels from beginners up are catered for), the Clonakilty walking tour and whale watching, but the weather was against us on these, so we opted for an evening of starlight kayaking. Our outing took place roughly an hour's drive from the hotel, on Lough Hyne, a saltwater lake between Skibbereen and Baltimore, and Ireland's first marine nature reserve.
Surrounded by hills, it's one of West Cork's most picturesque spots. A kilometre long, 750m wide and approximately 50m deep, it is connected to the Atlantic Ocean via Barloge Creek, by a narrow tidal channel known as the Rapids.
Twice daily, the tides of the Atlantic fill Lough Hyne, before descending again, running over the Rapids at up to 16km/h. This creates a unique habitat of warm, oxygenated seawater, in which live a huge variety of marine plants and animals, including 72 species of fish, making this one of the most fascinating bodies of water in the world.
For some reason, kayaking awakened a sporting braggadocio in me. Based on absolutely nothing, I hopped up confidently when our guide asked who would like to steer our two-person vessel. Clad in waterproof gear, we clambered in and were pushed off into the fading light. The best friend had actually kayaked before, quite extensively, but I was having none of it.
"Have you steered one of these before?" our guide asked me later on as he glided past, throwing an impressed glance my way. The bestie spent the rest of the evening quietly tolerating my instructions on manoeuvring her oar.
The light faded entirely shortly after we pushed off into the water, and soon we were lit just by the moon and the stars (remarkably well, I might add).
Our guides - one in front with a red light for us to follow, one behind to pick up any stragglers - led us around the perimeter of the lake, then back through the middle. We were out on the water for two and a half hours, and pretty quickly, silence descended upon the group. At one point, one guide asked us all, as we gathered just beside the honeysuckle and gorse that drape over the edges of the lake, to close our eyes and just take in the peace and quiet.
It was remarkable how relaxing it felt, sitting in the dark with your eyes closed, in a boat, surrounded by strangers (at appropriate socially distant lengths, now that I think of it).
When total darkness had descended, we were instructed to look down and push our oars through the water. Bioluminescent plankton sparkled beneath the water. These are minuscule organisms which store light energy during the day and then release it (when moved by outside contact) in the dark. As the oar moved through the water, thousands of tiny lights crackled in its wake. It was like nothing I'd seen before, and absolutely magical.
On the drive home afterwards, we were silent, still taking in what we had seen, still steeped in the tranquillity the last few hours had created.
All through lockdown, this was the thing I promised myself: another trip with this friend, to an outpost in Ireland (sorry Corkonians, but the area does feel remote in the best possible way), a few days away from it all.
l The perfect combination of luxury and adventure awaits at Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa this summer with Seaside Adventures, a series of seasonal activity breaks located in beautiful West Cork. From surfing and kayaking to whale watching and food trails, there's something for everyone on this magical stretch of the Wild Atlantic Way.
l All packages include two nights in a deluxe guest-room, breakfast each morning and access to The Island Spa, Ireland's only proper thalassotherapy spa. The Island Spa also has ocean view relaxation areas, a fruit & juice bar, a steam room and hammam available to all guests.
For more information phone +353 23 883 3143; or www.inchydoneyisland.com
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