Travellers into tourists


Now we have decided not to push on north to Galway (and it is a good thing we made this decision as the winds are forecast to be contrary for the next week; we really would have struggled to get there) I feel I have taken on the perspective of a tourist and sightseer rather than a traveller or pilgrim. And since it is Steve’s first time on the southwest coast of Ireland, it seems only fair, after all his hard work to windward, to find a way for him to see the best bits.

So we sailed down Long Island Sound on Monday to Crookhaven, which is a deep and narrow east-facing bay a few miles from Mizen Head. I remembered when I first came here with my family on Corulus, a 28 foot Twister, the smaller sister to the Coral. It must have been 25 years ago at least, and then the bay was empty apart from a few boats at anchor. Now it is packed with empty mooring buoys, so finding a place where we can anchor is really difficult. As the young man behind the bar in O’Sullivan’s pub told us, many of them were laid when there was money around in Ireland, and most of them are no longer used. In the more distant past Crookhaven was an important refuge for sailing boats waiting for favourable winds across the Atlantic or up the Bristol Channel, and the myth has it that you could step from boat to boat across the bay without getting your feet wet.

After a walk to Galley Cove and a couple of Beamish stout in O’Sullivan’s bar–where we were assured it is so much better that Guinness–we watched the sun go down. The steep sides of the bay were quickly in deep shadow, while at the western end the last of the sun caught on the stone walls around a green field and the gable end of a white farmhouse. The evening shadow crept over the green by the minute, and when all was completely in shadow the high clouds turned pink and purple, filling the sky and reflecting in the water.

Tuesday we thrashed our way around Mizen Head–the most southwesterly corner of the whole of the British Isles–into Dunmanus Bay, the smallest and most underdeveloped of the five flooded valleys of southwest Ireland that point their fingers out into the Atlantic. It is a long and narrow bay, with stone walled fields and scattered white houses rising up from the rocks along the waters edge, above which an abrupt line runs along the higher ground where cultivation ends and the rough hillside starts. We watched the gannets and guillemots and wondered yet again how to tell the difference between cormorants and shags. Steve was just going below to get the bird book when I caught sight of a familiar shape in the water. “Look there!” I called to him, pointing at the dolphin that was leaping through the water towards us. Soon we were followed by the whole group, some fifteen or so playing around in the wake and the bow wave. It was the first time Steve had seen dolphins in the wild (he usually sails in the Solent) and he was enchanted, as indeed was I.

After popping into Dunmanus Harbour to pay our respects to the ancient castle tower there, and piloting our way through the rocks around Carbery Island, we dropped our anchor in Kitchen Cove and basked for a while in the sun. That evening before supper we went ashore and enjoyed a couple of pints (Murphy’s this time) chatting to the mainly English people outside the pub about sailing, their holiday cottages, the weather and how quickly and cheaply they could fly over here from London. As we climbed back into the dinghy to return to Coral, we exchange greetings with a local man who was working on his fishing boat. “I’ve been in London and I’ve been in New York working on the buildings. Now I am happy to be back here,” he said, gesturing around to the water and the surrounding hills. Everyone seems to be in love with the place.

“I feel I am on holiday now,” I said to Steve, “Rather than on a deep ecology pilgrimage.”

“But there is still deep ecology here,” he replied, “Look at the way all these people love this place. They wouldn’t talk in your terms, but the feeling is still there deep down.”

I partly agree with him. But only partly. But it is important to notice how the line between everyday appreciation and the kind of nature writing I am attempting is essentially very narrow. It is strange that when I first came to Dunmanus Bay on my own two years ago and anchored in Dunmanus Harbour I saw and wrote about only the wild and ancient side of the bay. On this visit we have come only a few miles further inland to this Kitchen Cove and the tiny settlement of Ahakista, but here we are much more in touch with the “civilisation.” This delightful little cove has been sought after as a vacation spot for many years as is evidenced not only by the English visitors but by the Victorian and Edwardian piles we can see scattered amongst the wooded hills (the largest and most elegant of which is now owned, we were told, by the entertainer Graham Norton). I didn’t see then how the bay is right on the edge between the wild and the tamed, far more so than I had originally imagined.

We returned from the pub full of Murphys. Steve cooked our supper. Before we went to bed we enjoyed what may be the most important discovery of this trip so far: a desert made from dried apricots soaked in a spoonful of Calvados (all the best yachts have a bottle on board) with yogurt and a little honey. The line between the wild and the civilized really is very thin.



  1. I know the area a little bit and it’s lovely reading about it.

  2. Christine Bone says:

    Lovely to read such a thoughful account, enjoy while you can!

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