I HAD an empty day in my timetable and a thirst for an empty beach at dawn. I checked my weather app and spotted an early morning of clear skies.
The decision was made and my alarm was set to a dark and early hour — I was headed west!
The streets of Cork city, the dual carriageway leaving the city and the country roads beyond were almost empty but for the van and lorry drivers. The further I embedded into the countryside, the more the light of dawn began to spread across and luminate my way. I reached the Mizen Peninsula when it was bright and passed through Ballydehob and Goleen on my way to the water.
When I reached the parking point at the entrance of Barley Cove, it was fine and bright, but the land wasn’t entirely lifted from the shadows and the night’s cold was still in the air. I got my swimming gear and strolled down to the little cove I love so much. The wooden staircase that carries you through the long, grassy dunes feel like a transportation into a paradise first thing in the morning.
The sand was perfectly smooth as the tide had been in, after a while only my own footprints were pattered into the softness. I stood and stared at the lapping waves for a while, psyching myself up for a swim — when in actuality I was probably psyching myself out of a swim the more I prolonged. So I threw the bag down and stepped into the crashing waves as they receded around my ankles with such force, I could feel the sand sink around the imprint of my foot. The water wasn’t shallow, the tide was in, the waves were high and it was bitterly cold. But the rejuvenation I felt afterwards made everything feel warm.
I went back to my car and fixed myself a pot of coffee with my kettle that plugs into my car’s cigarette lighter, and drove to Mizen Head, a short drive from Barley Cove, sipping on my brew. It was a gorgeous day at this point, the sun was high and very warm, the ocean’s deep blue looked incredible, with white streaks appearing from the surface choppiness and braking trails from passing fishing boats.
I spoke to Stephen, who runs the Mizen Head tourist centre, and he told me about the pod of dolphins he saw earlier that morning. Apparently, the place is mighty for whale watching and he’s seen killer, minke and fin whales all nearby. Unfortunately, the place was closed on that day, for custom, which was a shame.
I drove back down the road to Barley Cove and decided to head to the main beach.
The day was really turning into a scorcher with no wind in the air and endless blue skies. I parked up at the larger car park and headed toward the long strand. I walked along the wooden path and crossed the plastic bridge that bobbles and feels like bubble-wrap as you bounce along it.
It takes you over some inland water body as the area is a wetland and when the tide is in it can get quite submerged which reduces access.
The entire beach was quiet so I plonked my sheet down and lay in the sun for a few hours reading my book. I went back and forth into the water, traversing over the vast expanse of beach that was now exposed due to the tide being out. The fluvial patterns that were carved into the surface looked gorgeous as their mosaic rippled and swirled.
The water this time was beautiful, so clear and almost warm... not quite, but almost. I floated under the blue sky in the shallows for a few moments enjoying a miraculous combination of summer’s elements. It felt like I was in the tropics somewhere, with perfect sand, pristine waters, blue skies, still air, a warm sun and gorgeous views.
As I left the peninsula I took the drive on the northern perimeter, Sheep’s Head could be seen across the heavy and immensely blue bay. No matter how grand a landscape can look and feel, it can always be easily dwarfed by the look of the ocean, especially on a sunny day when the blue is transformed into an electric richness of unknown depth, mass and weight. Driving back on the stunning and swerving country lanes, I passed more herds of cattle than I did cars. They looked as if they were on holidays, too, basking in the warmth of the day.
Next week: Glengarriff Nature Reserve
You can catch up with Richard’s Exploring Natural Cork series on the link below.