Then we continued on through Bandon and towards Rosscarbarry, where we took our first look at the sea. And a beautiful look it was, brilliant sunshine amidst the rush and roar of waves and the water almost Mediterranean blue. It looked like most of Ireland was out in their shorts and summer clothes, soaking up the sunshiny day. The scents and sounds of the sea sure ironed the wrinkles out of my travel-weary soul.
The main Castle is an 18th century manor house, very picturesque and situated right on the water. Our lodgings were in the self-catering "cottages," one of a three-plex of apartments in a stone building that looked like it might have once been housing for the hired help, perhaps in the 1800s. Looking at the stonework outside, I'd guess at one time there were more than just three apartments but they'd long since been remodeled to accommodate 20th century guests. We found the interior cozy, plain and well-appointed, with all the necessities for a comfy stay. All we had to bring were our clothes, toothbrushes and groceries.
The tiny village of Castletownshend perches on a steeply sloping lane that runs down to the waterfront, the street framed between green trees and stair-stepped ranks of quaint old buildings. A small, pretty harbor filled with little sleeping boats lay right outside the Castle's door, with a stone breakwater framing the shore. The village included a pub and the local version of a tiny mini mart shop, but since we needed actual food, we drove up to have a look at our "home town" for the duration, Skibbereen.
We found it to be a pretty town with brightly painted old buildings and tiny, crooked streets that went every which way. So small and twisty, in fact, that the main route through town was strictly one-way. If you missed a shop, you'd have to go full circle and come back around.
June 5th - DAY ONE. First full day exploring! Had a great day, even if the bright sunshine of yesterday was replaced by mainly overcast skies. It wasn't cold, though, and we picked a heading westward. As Celebsul drove, I got my first look at the scenery along the southwest coast of Ireland. Farms and fields and hedgerows, if you wonder, and quite a lot of multi-colored cows. I'm sure there were plenty of the stone walls Ireland is famous for, but they all seem to be overwhelmed by brambles, bracken and shrubbery.
One wandering little road eventually led us the town of Baltimore, for which the town of Baltimore, Maryland is names. It's a very picturesque village wrapped around a boat-studded bay at the end of a peninsula that would have been nice to explore - but to our dismay, it was utterly CHOKED with tourists. It's a bank holiday here which means a 3-day weekend and EVERYbody was out and about. That was kind of curious - we'd driven for miles and seen almost nobody, and suddenly here they all were. Celebsul wondered if all of Baltimore, Maryland had descended upon Baltimore, Ireland!
Escaping Baltimore, we returned amongst the patchwork fields and shorelines to Skibbereen and the N71 towards Ballydehob. From there we headed out along the Mizen Head Peninsula. http://www.ireland-highlights.com/sight/mizen-peninsula-mizen-head.html. Again the road turned to a wandering little lane among farms and cow pastures and lovely views of green fields overlooking the sea. Finally the road ended at a visitor center with a gift, a tea shop and a lot of chain link fence long the cliffs. And once again, the people we somehow did NOT see on the road were all parked here to take in the views. There was a path out to the old Mizenhead light house and along the storied cliffs where ships had wrecked and sailors lost their lives. But they charged admission for that privilege and there were rather a lot of people about, so we had a look around, used the loo and left.
From there we turned towards
Durrus, driving through a rural, rugged countryside with yellow patches of gorse, scattered farmhouses and even more scattered sheep or cows. Back on the N1, we continued to the town of Bantry and the harbor at Bantry Bay.
There we visited Bantry House and Garden, a noble home in that's in the process of garden renovations after some years of neglect. http://www.bantryhouse.com/bantryhouse/ It's a lovely, elegant old place full of magnificent art and furniture, as well as a highly eclectic collection of 19th century semi-Asian pottery.
Outside, a tea room made use of a beautiful Victorian porch and at the front of the house a broad green lawn swept down to the waterfront. I could easily imagine the ladies and young gents of another age strolling in their summer finery amidst the cool sea air. Definitely worth a visit and a mosey around the gardens - and not crowded, either!
From there we continued up to Glengarriff on the other side of Bantry Bay, where tiny islands of pink rhododendron stood just offshore - the gardens of mermaids perhaps? Someone had told us there is an island garden that's reachable only by a few minutes' boat ride, but the hour was beginning to grow late. So, we turned around and headed back "home." It stays dark a lot longer than I'm used to so we didn't even get back to the cottage until around 7 pm! We fried up some lamb chops and were soon off to bed.