Friday, November 29, 2019

Islay to Cork - Day 18 - Cork Island

Monday the 23rd of September dawned cloudy and dry - but it would turn out to get wet, very very wet. I'd decided to spend my last full day in Ireland visiting an island. But it would not be a deserted island like lonely Inishglora. It would be the busiest island in all of Ireland. Cork city occupies an island in the River Lee. It is some two miles long, and connected to the mainland by over two-dozen bridges. 

The bus from Crosshaven took the better part of an hour. Josette and Roger joined me for the ride, and when we reached Cork they headed off to find the bus to Kinsale. I had just started my walk around town when the heavens opened up; a continuous, drenching downpour. In the deluge I walked along the River Lee, crossing several of the bridges as I made my way to the east end of town.

On any other day I'd have walked more. But after another hour my enthusiasm to explore started to wane. I am not one who enjoys shopping, but I had to seek shelter from the rain in an indoor market. The one I picked was impressive to say the least. Called The English Market, it had an amazing assortment of food vendors. One butcher had the best looking pork ribs I've ever seen. If we were staying for a few more days I'd have bought some for a barbecue.

Partially dried out, and partially warmed up, I walked a bit more. Much of the architecture I passed was superb, but it was so wet that I did not take many photos. At one point the rain let up for a whole five minutes as I passed the Church of the Holy Trinity.

I was starting to get cold again, and my pants were thoroughly soaked, so after three hours of walking I decided to catch the bus back to Crosshaven. Once aboard Hjalmar Bjorge I took a long hot shower (don't tell Mark) and changed into dry clothes. I did not know it at the time, but in three days I'd come down with a case of bronchitis that would last for three weeks.

That evening, over dinner, I learned Chris had taken Bob, Patti, Pam, and Margaret on a birding expedition around the Lee estuary. Chris reckoned that over the past ten days they'd spotted nearly 70 species. It had been a successful trip for the birders. As for me, I'd visited four islands I'd wanted to see for years: Tory, Inishglora, Inishkea, and Inishbofin, and had made a spectacular coastal walk on the Dingle peninsula. We'd had a great complement of guests for the ten day trip: Bob & Patti, Roger & Josette, Pam, Margaret, Susan, and Hazel. The crew was, as usual, fantastic: Mark & Anna, Tim Wear, Chef Steve Milne, and wildlife guide Chris Gomersall. 

On Tuesday morning, September 24, after the traditional massive last breakfast, two cabs were called. One took some of the guests into Cork. I joined Hazel and Margaret in the other cab, which was heading to the airport. I was sad the cruise was over as we left Crosshaven. But on the plus side, I had one more stop to make before going home. As the plane lifted off from Cork Airport, to fly the 300 miles to Glasgow, I was looking forward to spending a night on my favourite island of all.

Cork Airport - flight to Glasgow

Leaving Ireland - Next stop - a favourite island

Monday, November 25, 2019

Islay to Cork - Days 16 to 17 - Voyage to Crosshaven

September 21 was an overcast, gray, Dingle day. After breakfast all but one of the ropes were released, and then Mark used it to expertly warp us away from the dock. 

Dingle - a parting view
Unlike our sunny arrival two days before, low clouds hung over the iron lighthouse at the mouth of Dingle Harbour. As we were leaving a dozen dolphins rode our bow wave for a while.

Two hours later a sea change hit as we rounded the tip of Valentia Island. We were 'turning the corner' of Ireland, our course now tending to the southeast. The mainland was under heavy cloud, and the Skelligs, eight miles to the south, barely visible on the horizon. Gannets foraging out from Little Skellig were everywhere, plunging deep into the roiling sea. 

I have no photos of what we went through for the next five hours. Due to the wild condition we could not safely go out on deck. The best seat to be had in conditions like this is the wheelhouse, and so I spent a lot of time there, hanging on to the bench seat as we plowed through wave after wave. Bits of blue paint, scraped from the bow by the continual anchor scrapes, occasionally landing on the wheelhouse windows before being washed away by the rain. 

Three hours later we threaded the narrow channel between Dursey Island and the mainland. As we did we motored beneath the cable car that connects Dursey to the mainland - the only cable car in Europe that crosses open seawater. Taking advantage of the relative shelter, Mark slowed the ship for a while to give us a chance to have a quick lunch.

The cable car has been in operation since 1969. Although there are only two full-time residents on the island, due to the tens of thousands of tourist who visit in the summer, the wait to ride across can be more than two hours. Plans are afoot to put in a new cable-car that can transport 200 to 300 people per hour in each direction. Sounds a bit busy for me.

Here are four views of our rainy passage under the Dursey Island cable car. 

Leaving Dursey behind we headed back into open sea. Conditions were again so lumpy we could not go out on deck - so bouncy that I decided to lay in my bunk for a while. But it was not very restful; the porthole alternately rising high above a swell, and then plunging underwater. Each time this happened the anchor made a racket as the sea banged it into the bow, scraping off more paint with every bang. After two hours of this I went back topside in time to see us round Mizen Head.

After another two hours of wave-bashing we nosed into shallow Baltimore Harbour; famous as a port-of-call for Barbary pirates in the 1600s. The most famous incident was the Sack of Baltimore in 1631, and in memory of that history one of the town's pubs is called the Algiers Inn.

The harbour is a mile across, but only some 25 feet at its deepest. We traversed the harbour three times trying to find a good anchorage. The swell was rolling directly into the harbour, so wherever we ended up would not be ideal. Not only was the swell and shallowness a problem, but the harbour was filled with hundreds of creels.

Baltimore in the twilight
One place we searched unsuccessfully for an anchorage was off the ruin of the Sherkin Island Franciscan Priory. Founded in the 15th century, it operated until 1796. I would have loved to visit it, but we did not have time for any shore leave. We finally settled for a rolling anchorage just inside the harbour mouth.

Sherkin Island seen from Baltimore Bay
In the morning the dual diesels fired up, the anchor lifted, and we motored out of Baltimore. The weather was a bit brighter, but a southeasterly gale was due the next day, so we needed to make it to our final destination, Crosshaven Marina. It would take us six hours to get there, and as we cleared the harbour we passed below the Baltimore Beacon. Painted white, it looked like a missile about to launch. It is better known to mariners as Lot's Wife.

Lot's Wife
As we headed out to sea we were delighted to find better conditions than the previous day. A three hour steam took us past the Galley Head lighthouse, where it was calm enough to go out on deck.

Another two hours saw us passing the Old Head of Kinsale. We were now only twenty miles from Cork. But before we left the sea to head into sheltered inland waters, Chris tried a bit of chumming, hoping to lure in some seabirds. But it was to no avail (aside from a few hungry gulls and one skua). I'm not sure what special formula Chris used for his chum, but it smelled like a fish market late on a very hot summer day.

Old Head of Kinsale
Two hours east of Kinsale we set a course north into the narrow entrance of Cork Harbour.

A  more heavily defended harbour entrance would be hard to find. Flanking the eastern side of the entrance, the Fort Davis cannons looked ready to blow us out of the water. Built in 1800, it was originally called Carlisle Fort, but was renamed when it was turned over to the Irish government in 1938. It had some massive firepower in its day: twenty guns, including eight land batteries.

Fort Davis
Once past the fort a turn to port led us up the busy Owenbue River to Crosshaven Boatyard.

We were soon ensconced in our berth at the marina: the engines shutting down signalled the end of our 650 mile expedition.

Hjalmar Bjorge at Crosshaven Marina
The sky filled with noisy rooks as we dined that Sunday evening. Since we'd made it to Crosshaven a day early to beat the gales, we had all of Monday to explore the area. Everyone was making their plans for what to do. I knew exactly what I was going to do - I'd visit an island, of course. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Islay to Cork - Day 15 - The Dingle Way

On Friday, September 20, we woke to promising sunshine. After breakfast I jumped ship and walked to the Oifig Failte, the tourist welcome center. I was hoping to have a cab take me out to Slea Head, ten miles to the west, then walk the Dingle Way back to town. The friendly attendant at the tourist office called a cab for me and, while waiting for its arrival, I was joined by six others also wanting a cab. Fifteen minutes later a large, black, unmarked van showed up, and we all squeezed inside - sounds a bit like the beginning of a murder mystery . . .  they were never seen again . . .

The van sped out of town along the highway to Slea Head. Four of the passengers were dropped at Ventry to walk the Dingle Way west to Dunquin, the opposite direction I would be going. Fifteen minutes later we came to a stop next to a large tour bus surrounded by people. Gulp... This was my stop: the west end of the Glen Fahan beehive cell cluster. Turns out it's a regular stop for tour buses; the people piling out for a chance to see a beehive cell, pet a lamb, and use the toilet.

I waited in line to pay the three-euro fee, and then along with two dozen others walked up to the first cell. Only fifty feet from the road, it was one of the most complete and exquisite cells in existence. It was swarming with people, so there was no way to get a good photo. I thought I'd wait for them to leave, as they had only been given fifteen minutes to look around. But this group had no sooner started to depart than guess what - three more buses arrived - disgorging over a 100 people; the owner of the property eagerly collecting three euros from each one. In the thirty minutes I was there he must have collected 400 euros.

Fortunately there were many more beehives well out of range of the bus-bound tourists. The Dingle Way traversed the hillside 600 feet above the road, but before climbing up to the path I managed to get a fairly good photo of the road-side beehive. But I have to admit I photoshopped out one tourist who was determined to linger to the last minute.

As I climbed the hillside I passed another beautiful example of the beehive-builders art. This one with an encircling kerb that once supported a turf covering.

One of the Fahan Beehives - The Dingle Way can be seen at upper right
I found the path and started walking back towards Dingle - the route following a grassy swath through heather and spiky gorse. A sheep dog suddenly bounded up and started leading the way. Ignoring my attempts to chase him off, he would accompany me for the first mile. Along the way we passed several examples of massive multi-chambered cells, their domes long since collapsed.

My guide leads the way
That first mile included an astounding number of beehives dotting the hillside on both sides of the Glen Fahan River.

At the river ford I heard a whistle and a shout. The dog's ears perked up, and he dashed back the way we'd come. I saw a man on a quad bike far below - the dog's owner - I'd lost my guide.

Crossing the Glen Fahan River
Twenty miles to the south, hidden in the haze, was the island of Skellig Michael (see these posts). There is some thought that the beehives of Glen Fahan were used to shelter pilgrims who'd come to make the pilgrimages to Skellig Michael and Mount Brandon. On Skellig are the well-preserved ruins of a monastic settlement dating to the 6th century, and it was a pilgrimage site well into the 18th century. You can read more on the subject of the use of beehive cells as pilgrim accommodations in Peter Harbison's excellent Pilgrimage in Ireland. If the subject of Skellig Michael appeals, there are two books I highly recommend: Geoffrey Moorhouse's Sun Dancing; and The Forgotten Hermitage of Skellig Michael by Horn, Marshall and York. (You can find an on-line version of the latter here.)

Looking south from Glen Fahan - Skellig hidden in the sea haze

Great Blasket in the distance (right)
Leaving the beehives behind I traversed the flanks of Mount Eagle as I carried on east. It was beautiful terrain, and it felt so good to be afoot for a long walk after so much sea travel. Two miles into the walk the path made a steep descent to the highway, where a sign indicated I had no choice but to follow the busy road. It was an unpleasant walk of fifteen minutes, buses and cars zipping by, before a sign indicated the route left the highway to follow a grassy path into farmland.

The Dingle Way continues to the east
As I walked the next section of the Dingle Way I once again appreciated Scotland and its right to roam. Many of the fields the trail passed had no-trespassing signs of some sort. Several signs proclaimed This is Not a Playground! The only warning symbol missing from these signs was one indicating radioactive waste was present. I'd not be taking any shortcuts on this walk.

One landowner had gone as far as hiring a big beefy security guard.

The path led to a quiet county lane that ended at the white sands of Ventry Strand: the name Ventry a corruption of the Gaelic Fionn Traigh (white beach). The wind had been strong all day, and a kite surfer was making the most of it.

In the time it took to walk the strand, a mile of gentle sand, the kite surfer had made four transits. The strong wind occasionally flinging him twenty feet into the air. The town of Ventry lay at the head of the strand. In the mood for some refreshment I stopped at the Ventry Inn for a pint.

The rest of the Dingle Way was a three-mile walk on quiet country lanes. But the walk got a bit noisy when the route came to the highway on the western outskirts of Dingle. From here on the route followed busy roads. As I crossed the bridge over the Milltown River I encountered our guide Chris on the lookout for wildlife.

I was tempted here to take a look at the nearby Dingle Distillery, housed in an old sawmill on the banks of the river. But after four hours afoot my legs were shot, and I decided to find a restaurant where I could rest up and enjoy a pint and some fish and chips.

I did find some fish and chips, but they were ghastly - the skin-on variety. I am firmly on the skin-off side when it comes to the great fish and chips debate. On the plus side, the local stout I had was fantastic.

On the way back to the marina I passed this statue of Fungie the dolphin.

Dingle tourism has lived off Fungie for decades. He was first seen in 1983, so the dolphin was at least twenty years old when I saw him here in 2003. Bottlenose dolphins generally live for about twenty-five years. So if Fungie is still alive he must have very good genes, as he'd be nearly forty years old.

Another pub-crawl followed dinner. It was Friday night, and the town was filled with tourists seeking out live music. Many of the fifteen pubs in town had performers, and a group of us from Hjalmar Bjorge managed to get a table in one of them. Dingle malt whiskey was on offer, but at 18 Euros a dram I gave it a pass.

Overcast cold skies loomed overhead as we left the marina the following morning. Cork, our final destination, was 150 miles away, and with the coming storm we needed to be there in two days. As we motored out of Dingle we had no idea where we'd be spending the night, just that we had to cover about eighty miles before dropping the hook. More adventures lay ahead.

Leaving Dingle