I PASSED through the charming village of Ballycotton on a humid and misty summer’s day. The village is perched right on the water’s edge and, on certain days, spectacular gannets can be seen diving from soaring heights into the water of the bay.
The Ballycotton lighthouse points up from the apex of a tiny island that sits far enough out from the mainland so that it can be seen from every coastal vantage point.
Ballycotton was actually named as one of Europe’s ‘secret villages’ by the National Geographic in 2018 for its remote beauty and history — and the jewel of the village is the stunning cliff walk.
I reached the parking point near the entrance amid a fierce, blustery spell. An elderly couple could be seen tending to the plants on the green as I pulled up, giving an immediate sense of quaint community. The heavy sky, with its dull, grey hue, was hanging low over the horizon line as I gazed through the windscreen of my car.
As soon as I opened my door, the scent of the ocean and the sonic mixture of waves and winds swirled around my senses and a sudden feeling of relaxation swept over me. To disconnect from the modern world and to re-connect with natural surroundings — it never fails me.
The shrubs that flank either side of the walk are particularly dense this time of year and they’re alive with thorny, monstrous-looking thistles that stand as high as my chest, as well as many nettles. I suggest to be careful if you’re only wearing shorts as the path is only a tiny slither of gravel and dirt through thick hedgerow at some points.
The cliffs boast many different bird species and on such a wild and windy day, great Kittiwake gulls could be seen gliding along the gales as they traversed the skies up and down the coastline. Kittiwake, with their black tipped wings, are summer visitors to Irish shores and spend most of the winter out at sea. There were so many in the air, some were gently gliding, others were storming past and squawking. I saw a pair of them scrapping at one point, looking like fighter jets dancing with each other, darting above and below their horizon line backdrop.
The ever-present speckling of birdsong from the hedgerows is another common feature of the walk. The much smaller birds seek refuge in the thick undergrowth from the strong winds and from other birds who may predate on them. If you look closely enough, you may see some whizzing about and rapidly squiggling through the air, although they blend in very well with their surroundings, so once they stop moving they almost disappear.
There are many benches along the walk at different points of interest and stunning and sheer cliffside inlets to look down into. My favourite part was when I noticed a beach in the distance. I wasn’t expecting a beach as I had never done that much of the walk before. It felt mysterious and abandoned, like a secret. From a distance it looked remarkable.
It was covered in rock with little sandy parts. The rock and the way it was positioned made the area look hostile. It appeared like an army of sorts, thousands of slabs of pointed rock all aiming out towards the sea, defending their station, like the shields or spikes of an ancient battalion.
I walked down further to the beach and I was met with two entrances, both looked equally tempting. Stepping down onto the sand, I passed caves and little waterfalls. A wall of moss and dripping water, which left a plethora of stalactite mineral formations. Fluvial patterns in the sand that fed down into the tide. Up close, the rock looked jagged and glossy, with small rock pools interspersed, filled with different forms of intertidal life. The place has such an interesting quality, extra-terrestrial and prehistoric all mixed into a fascinating little haven.
I returned to the cliffs on another day when the sky was blue as can be and I started the walk from Ballyandreen beach. A gorgeously isolated area, and on such a day I had house-envy as I passed all the lovely homes built into the hills and trees on my way to the beach.
There were kids exploring the exposed rocky shore as their parents watched from sun loungers on the sand. Kayakers were out in force too, looking up at the cliffs from the water. I walked to a viewing point and looked back towards Ballycotton, being able to look at the full cliff walk from that position is stunning, as shadow from the angle of the sun layered another textural dimension.
A gorgeous East Cork hike on our beautiful Irish coastline.