Before last month, I hadn’t been to West Cork in 10 years. We’d fallen in love with the place back then and had even briefly talked about moving there; it has that kind of effect on you. Driving along the narrow causeway that runs along the side of the inlet out to Inchydoney, it all came back — all those plans and possibilities and daydreams, before a mortgage, my own business and two kids came along. Much has changed since the last time we’d walked on the beach at Inchydoney.
The view of Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa from the beach
This time we were there to stay at the Inchydoney Island Lodge & Spa for a weekend, having dropped off the kids with the in-laws, and we were determined to enjoy every minute. We were literally given a warm welcome with a complimentary glass of Irish Mist in front of the fire. We had a quick dinner of seafood chowder, crab claws and the excellent local Stonewell Cider in the hotel’s Dunes Pub after our long drive down from Louth, having stopped off for lunch with a friend at Electric in Cork city along the way, so we could get to bed early before the next day’s adventure bright and early. The hotel can organise a range of outdoor activities, including whale watching, surfing, golf and trekking, but we opted for the kayaking.
We met Jim Kennedy and Sally McKenna from Atlantic Sea Kayaking by a coffeeshop in Leap before following them to Reen Pier in Castlehaven Bay, just outside the fishing village of Union Hall. After a week of the strongest winds I’ve ever seen since moving to Ireland, that morning was dry, bright and calm, perfect for a few hours’ easy paddling around the bay. I was worried about how I was going to hold up, having not seen the inside of a gym in a decade, but after 10 or 15 minutes, the paddling becomes automatic and you stop thinking about it (though truth be told, I was in a double kayak with Jim and he might have been doing more than his fair share).
Castlehaven Bay in County Cork
You couldn’t ask for a better guide than Jim, a highly qualified, award-winning kayaker who immediately puts you at your ease and is a fantastic storyteller to boot, regaling us with tales of haunted houses on the shore and local history. Sally, who also writes the Bridgestone Guides, was with us as our seaweed expert, pointing out the bladder wrack, channel wrack and pepper dulse clinging to the rocks as we paddled into little coves and Ladies Beach to harvest some to take back home to dry and sharing her theory of sea salt as stardust.
Channel wrack and pepper dulse seaweed and unusual rock patterns on Ladies Beach
Jim offers a variety of tours, from two hours to two days, but the magical-sounding night kayaking trips where you might get to see the photoluminescence in the water sound particularly special. Instantly hooked after just a few hours in the water, we’re hoping to go back this summer to take the kids out on his two-hour family trip.
By the time we got back on land it was only 1:00, with the rest of the day still ahead of us, so we went in search of lunch, happily chancing upon The Glandore Inn. In good weather you can sit outside, high up on the main street with a view of the harbour, but on the January day we were there we were glad to have a table by the cozy fire with 8 Degrees beer and ham and cheese sandwiches. Or if you prefer, the hotel will pack a picnic lunch for you instead.
Jim had told us that the megalithic Drombeg stone circle was nearby, and never one to miss a chance to do some exploring, my husband found it on the map just outside of Glandore. The two portal stones of the Drombeg circle are aligned with the setting sun on the winter solstice, which had just happened a few weeks previously, and the ruins of a fulacht fiadh (Bronze Age cooking place) are on the site too. With the sun starting to go down and a chill in the air, history was hanging almost tangibly heavy over the place.
The Drombeg stone circle and a fulacht fiadh
By the time we got back to the hotel and after a quick walk on the beach as the sun was setting, we wanted nothing more than to spend a few hours in the lounge’s oversized chairs with the Saturday paper, new books and a coffee, though I was tempted to wrap up in one of the blankets stacked up by the door and sit outside on the Adirondack chairs to soak up the view and the salty fresh air. Dinner that night was in the fine dining Gulfstream Restaurant, with the ocean just barely visible outside our window table. In the daylight, those highly prized window tables have panoramic views of the coast and the Irish Sea (breakfast for hotel guests is served in the same room), a view that lends itself to lingering over your meal.
I won’t lie — I woke up the next morning a little sore from the previous day’s paddling, but it wasn’t anything a spa treatment couldn’t take your mind off of. I was treated to an Elemis Skin Specific Facial while my husband had the Muscle Melt Massage (which worked a little too well — he was so relaxed I selflessly offered to drive). We looked in longingly at the hotel’s heated seawater therapy pool, but we opted for one more cobwebs-clearing wintry walk on the beach instead before the long drive home.
Inchydoney is the perfect base to explore West Cork — or indeed, not go anywhere at all, except maybe for a stroll on the beach right at your doorstep. For longer stays, there are also self-catering apartments at Inchydoney, with full access to all the hotel’s facilities. Keep an eye on their website for special offers and packages. Having fallen in love with West Cork all over again, we won’t be waiting another 10 years to go back.
We were guests of Conway Communications and the Inchydoney Hotel Lodge & Spa, with particular thanks to manager Julie McSweeney for making us very welcome.