For my first proper outing, I had decided to visit Whiddy Island, which is located in Bantry Bay about 15 minutes away from Bantry via ferry. It has lovely views and some nice heritage sites and can be circumnavigated in about three hours on foot and therefore is a great place for hiking. Unfortunately, I know this information thanks to the Internet and not because I actually made it to Whiddy myself–though not for lack of trying.
I rose early and high-tailed it into Bantry in order to make the first ferry out to the island, but when I got to the pier I found nothing but a giant construction site. There were no signs indicating an alternative point of departure for the ferry, and I received no response when I called and messaged the ferry operators. This did not put me in the best of moods, because not only would I have loved to have slept in that morning rather than rushing into town, but also I felt it was just generally an inauspicious way to start my explorations. On top of all this, I had been so certain I would be spending the day on Whiddy and only Whiddy, I had left the house without any of my maps and guidebooks.
In a grump, I decided to wing it and drive northwest around the bay to Glengarriff, which I remembered reading about and which I had been thinking of visiting the following day. It is only about 20 minutes away from Bantry so I had not yet worked through my grump by the time I pulled in to the Glengarriff Nature Reserve. My grump was exacerbated by the fact that I really needed to wee but was unable to do so (well, using a toilet, at least) at the Reserve because it has no facilities.
I was determined to end this string of bad luck so I headed off towards the overlook by way of a nice private bush. Yet again, as with so many of the places I visited in Ireland, I had the place basically to myself (particularly convenient given my first item of business) and was able to enjoy the spectacular view from the overlook in nice, peaceful solitude—with the exception of a noisy group of jays calling back and forth in a nearby patch of trees.
On the one hand, it was a little infuriating to look out and see Whiddy Island taunting me from the bay—so close and yet so seemingly inaccessible. On the other hand, it is impossible to be surrounded by such loveliness and maintain a bad mood. The Caha range is not the tallest collection of mountains I’ve ever visited (the highest peak is only 685m), but what they lack in height they make up for in character. Because they are bare (except when swathed in fog), you can clearly see all the rumples and juts and crags, as well as some picturesque livestock; it is mesmerising to watch the sunlight slide from peak to peak as the clouds race by in the sky overhead.
I eventually tore myself away from the hilltop and headed back down to hike the Big Meadow trail, which, unsurprisingly, wound around a large meadow where I got some great views of the sessile oak trees that make the Nature Reserve such an ecologically important habitat. There were a few times when I wasn’t entirely sure where I was going because the signage provided information in one direction only even though the path was a loop (which, in theory, people could walk either clockwise or counterclockwise) that had several junctions with neighbouring roads and trails; at each of these junctions I had to guess which was the Big Meadow trail and which were other paths that were joining it. I had a couple of misadventures but did finally find my way back to the parking lot.
Glengarriff itself is a small but pleasant town and I thought I’d have a stroll through so that I could pop into a shop and treat myself to some Irish yarn. Conveniently, there were a ton of available parking spots and, what’s more, they were free. I found this to be the case pretty much everywhere I went in Ireland and it never ceased to impress and amaze me; not only could I find a place to leave my car, but I also didn’t have to pay for the pleasure. For someone used to the exorbitant parking rates of Britain, this was nothing short of a miracle.
On my way to the Nature Reserve, I’d noticed a shrine on the outskirts of town, so I headed there first out of curiosity. There was no information about the shrine, which was set into a hill right beside the road near the Sacred Heart Church. I ascended the steps towards the Virgin Mary statue and tried to muster up some solemnity and awe, but that was difficult because two hitchhikers were standing down on the street below playing loud dance music and guffawing. I’m not entirely sure this was the sort of atmosphere most conducive to reverence and contemplativeness, but perhaps I just need to be more open-minded.
Back in the centre of town, I discovered a ferry service to nearby Garinish Island. I had no idea what Garinish Island was and whether it was worth visiting, but I had started the day intending to take a ferry to an island in the bay, and by God I was determined to make it happen, so I bought a ticket and headed down to Blue Pool to wait for my ride. Blue Pool is a picturesque inlet where people can kayak and swim in addition to catching the boat. I had just enough time to take a quick photo before the ferry arrived, and then it had just enough room to fit the entire crowd gathered on the pier. I was beginning to feel the hand of destiny–or perhaps the blessings of Mary?–playing a role in shaping my day.
The trip to Garinish (also called Ilnacullin, for reasons I cannot explain) only took about 15 minutes and allowed us to see the ruins of Glengarriff Castle, along with wildlife such as seals, cormorants, and a lifetime supply of herons (I’m guessing there was a heronry nearby). Garinish itself features extensive gardens and some jarringly Mediterranean garden features that look completely out of place in the Irish landscape. Among other things, there are an Italian garden with a little villa and pool, a Grecian temple, a tower lookout, and a walled garden. The whole time I was there, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was actually on Tresco in the Isles of Scilly; the whole place looked so much like that and other gardens I’ve visited in Cornwall, I had to have a little chuckle about coming all the way to Ireland to do something I could have done back home. Still, it involved a ferry ride out to an island. Box ticked.
Once we returned to the mainland, I swung by Quill’s Woollen Market to look for my yarn. Out of curiosity, I also cast my eyes over the sweaters, and mon dieu was I shocked by the prices. As a needleworker myself, I fully appreciate both the cost of materials and the amount of time that goes into a piece, but holy cow I did not expect to see a €400 cardigan. It was beautiful, but at that price it had better be. I also saw little wool plaid handbags for €130 and hats for €40. I honestly had no idea just how expensive wool goods are, so that was a real eye-opener. I could only bring myself to buy one skein of the €15 yarn, which I plan to use to embellish a Celtic afghan project I am already working on. It is a fetching bright green that will be an excellent reminder of the colour of the Irish landscape.
Having stretched my legs and felt the sea breeze on my face, I felt that I’d successfully salvaged the day and earned the right to head back to my little cabin to watch the chaffinches frolic under the setting sun—and, perhaps more importantly, to plan the next day’s adventures.