Driving & the Beara Peninsula-July 7-10

Took possession of a Peugeot rental at the airport, avoiding street traffic, thank God. Larry is left-side driving a manual, and I am co-pilot. Nina is holding her breath in the back seat. The first 20km are a body-tensing experience, navigating the roundabouts, the narrow roads, the hedgerows, and the other drivers (who are very courteous).

First stop, Kinsale, hailed as the gourmet capital of Cork, or maybe even Ireland. Maybe-we got some food for a picnic lunch and left it at that. After our hour-some hike to castle ruins that bread and cheese was pretty good. Note: just because the sun is out doesn’t mean you should leave your raincoat in the car.

Our destination: the town of Castledownbere, on the Beara Peninsula, 85km from Cork. We’ve been told the National Roads (N71, eg) are better than the Regional ones (R597), and well, yes, in some places that is true-they are wider, in better shape, and marked more clearly. But as we go we see some of these differences disappear. Hugging the left side of the road, we become good friends with the hedges.

Detour to find the Drombeg Stone Circle, built to observe the setting of the Winter solstice sun. Having read too many books where the modern-day heroine slips back into time when visiting a mist-shrouded ruin, I found the weather balmy but uncooperative in the mystery department–stunning site, overlooking the pastures and the sea. Archaeological digs revealed the cremated remains of an adolescent male in the center of the circle, but this was not explained. People left coins, flowers, and candles on this spot.

Arrived in C-downbere in one piece, more or less. Found a suitable B & B after our original reservations turned out to be in the middle of a construction zone. Suitable and serviceable, if you ignore the fire alarm going off at 4am the first night, and the owners nowhere to be found! Minimized the “negative energy”, though, and stayed the course.

The Beara is beautiful, rain or shine. Piles of cumulus clouds tumble over mountains of deeply folded and faulted rocks that sweep up from the sea. On the hillsides the houses perch in their stalwart loneliness. Sheep and cattle dot the pastures.

One is reminded of the Sierra Nevadas, but wait-there is the sea! Nova Scotia and Maine also come to mind, with fewer trees. Oh, but the vegetation that is there amazes: azaleas, rhododendrons, fuschias, bamboo, and palm trees! This part of Ireland enjoys the marine effects of the Gulf Stream, and so the gardens are lush and lovely. Growing a variety of vegetables does not appear to be a priority, however.

Here the diet is dominated by fish, carrots, and potatoes. All the fish we ate was good, most of the carrots overcooked, and the potatoes too many. The brown bread was delicious. With butter, of course. That is not to say that you can’t get other foods in large quantities, too. And there are salads. The trick to all this eating out was to order one “starter” for the table Smoked salmon), then order two entrees to share with three people. And go lightly on the potatoes.

Our days here were spent kayaking, hiking, and biking. Kayaking: in a bay, in a downpour. The wind buffed us about, and the water was warm. The next day, with a gorgeous sky and a stiff breeze, we set off from the the picturesque town of Eyeries (4x winner of the Tidy Towns award), and hiked in a 7km loop along the coast and then back into town, for a real sit-down tea and scones deal, at last. Very satisfying.

For the bike trip, we rented bikes and took the ferry across to Beare Island (15 min). The skies began grey, but the threat was just not there. As the day progressed, the low clouds passed, leaving stratus and cirrus clouds to streak the sky. The water turned blue and in some spots turquoise. Everything was dramatic in the fullness of color, the drop of the mountain slope, the expanse of the sea, the Western Sea.

We biked and it was hard work for Larry and myself (we got off and pushed frequently), while Nina mountain-goated up this hill and that. Lunch at a scenic point, overlooking the island, the sea, and a Neolithic standing stone in a sheep pasture. Down a precipitous hill (“how will we ever get back up?”), exploring here and there, finding a less arduous return route, and time for tea before the return ferry. Glorious.

Some more flickr photos here