For a long time, I had heard stories about the beauty of West Cork and the friendliness of its people. Finally, a few weeks ago I was lucky to be able to visit the area. I stayed 2 nights at the 4-star Maritime Hotel in Bantry. The sea view from my hotel room was breathtakingly beautiful! Bantry is a small town with a population of around 3000 people and it is located next to Bantry Bay. The town is filled with lovely restaurants and pubs and it is well-known for the magnificent Bantry House & Gardens that are worth a visit during the high season. The area is a home to many scenic places such as the Sheep’s Head, Mizen Head, Beara Peninsula and Garnish and Whiddy Islands. (A practical tip I learned the hard way: when doing research don’t just type ‘sheep’s head’ on the image search on your browser since you won’t be getting any scenic coastal photos as a result!)
My aim for the weekend was to drive around two different peninsulas – the Sheep’s Head and the Mizen peninsulas. The Sheep’s Head is very easily accessible from Bantry, and it is well signposted too. Be warned that the roads are extremely narrow, and the smaller the road you choose, the more rewarding the views! What I really loved about driving around there was the fact that there was no one else on the roads beside me, it was great to be able to take it nice and slowly and enjoy the sea and the mountains. At the end of the road, there is a small tea shop that is open during the high season. If you are feeling active, you can hike out to the lighthouse at the very end of the peninsula. If you’re not up for a long walk, at least get out of the car and walk around a bit, the views are spectacular!
After enjoying the views, I took the road towards Durrus, where the Mizen Head drive starts from. It was easy to see straight away that this route was more popular among other tourists. Just like Sheep’s Head, the peninsula is very beautiful and offers amazing sea and mountain views. The highlight and the furthers point of the Peninsula (also one of the most Southern points of the whole island of Ireland) is definitely the Mizen Head Signal Station – a Key Discovery Point on the Wild Atlantic Way. It was opened in the early 1900s and was manned until 1993! There is a very interesting visitor centre offering information on the history of the lighthouse, the lives of the lighthouse keepers and the local flora and fauna among many other interesting topics.
The most interesting part for me is definitely the famous bridge though, connecting the station to the mainland. The bridge is a bit of a walk away but the views are beautiful and on my way to the bridge I was astonished when I realised that the iconic Fastnet Rock was so close that I could actually see it in the horizon. Fastnet with its striking looking lighthouse is known as the ‘tear drop of Ireland’ since it was the last part of land Irish emigrants would see when crossing the ocean in a hope of a better life. That place is on my must visit- list, and hopefully you will be able to read about it more on another time! The white arch bridge I mentioned before, is stunning and the surrounding views and the roaring Atlantic create a very unique experience. The bridge is very safe to cross and it is such an exhilarating feeling to be tens of metres above the wild waves of the Atlantic Ocean. The signal station is filled with very interesting history and gives you a great idea of the conditions the keepers where once living on.
After visiting the lighthouse, you might find yourself a bit peckish – I recommend stopping in Schull which is a charming little seaside town, with many restaurants and cafes. I opted for one with a gorgeous sea view. I did a bit more driving after my meal and visited the town of Skibbereen. This little town was brought to the attention of the whole world during the recent Rio Olympics, when the O’Donovan brothers from Skibbereen gave funny interviews that ended up becoming YouTube sensations! Soon it was time for me to return to the Maritime Hotel and enjoy the pool facilities after a long day of touring around. I would highly recommend visiting West Cork and I am looking forward to exploring the area soon again!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Kati Lepisto is very passionate about the West of Ireland and especially the Wild Atlantic Way. She used to live in Galway City and knows it inside and out. She would be happy to help you with any inquiries regarding the West! You can email her directly at [email protected]