Misadventures on the Mizen Peninsula, Ireland. The Joys of Travel Out of Season
Updated on February 2nd, 2023
The Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland is a place to immerse yourself in beautiful views, dramatic seascapes & meet the friendly locals. A road trip around the Mizen Peninsula in Cork is one to be savoured, especially if you visit outside peak season. Don’t be put off by the fact that some places may be closed, this just makes it even more special as you feel you have this beautiful part of the world all to yourself. Read on to hear how this created some precious misadventures & memories on a windy day last November!”
Mizen Peninsula & Sheep’s Head, West Cork, Ireland
As part of my celebrations for turning 50 last year, I embarked on a road trip around Ireland with my friend Nicky. We had 5 days to take it slowly & enjoy everything that the Emerald Isle had to offer. After a fantastic couple of days on the Ring of Kerry, we decided to head south to discover what the Wild Atlantic Way had to offer us in Cork. And it did not fail to deliver! After checking out the Ring of Beara, we made our way to wild Sheep’s Head & unspoilt Mizen Peninsula.
Ireland in November may not be everyone’s idea of perfect timing, bearing in mind that not everything was open. However, the Mizen Peninsula in West Cork is a popular spot & it gave us the opportunity to experience this beautiful part of the world when there is nobody else there. Here, we discovered spectacular scenery, gorgeous deserted beaches, dramatic bridges, fascinating people & a renewed sense of childish adventure.
Love Ireland? Check out my full itinerary at Wild Atlantic Way in 5 Days & Ring of Kerry, A 3 Day Self-Drive Itinerary
Where is the Mizen Peninsula?
The Mizen Peninsula is the most south-westerly point in Ireland & as such seafarers throughout the years have greeted it as their first (or last) sight of Europe. A drive around the peninsula takes you 64 miles (103 km) with much of the road hugging the impressive coastline. The towering cliffs & dramatic seascapes make this a major tourist spot, created by the meeting point of the west & south currents on the Atlantic. It is an area of exceptional natural beauty, culminating in a magnificent bridge & lighthouse.
The Mizen Peninsula is known as one of the “Extreme Points of Ireland”. So, if all that hasn’t sold you on visiting, I’m not sure what will!”
Misadventures on the Mizen Peninsula, Ireland. The Joys of Travelling Out of Season
Sheep’s Head Peninsula
Before I go on to discuss the Mizen Peninsula, I just wanted to mention Sheep’s Head. It was next on our Wild Atlantic Way discovery, after circumnavigating the Ring of Beara Route. If you are looking for unspoilt & undiscovered Ireland, then you will find it at Sheep’s Head. The landscape is rugged & raw but it’s a great place to escape the crowds. The perfect spot to see Sheep’s Head in all its splendour is from the viewpoint at Seefin. The contrast between the rugged north & the more tranquil, green & pleasant south is striking.
I have read that due to its situation on the Gulf Stream, the climate in Sheep’s Head is one of the mildest in Ireland. However, I beg to differ! We took the single-track road all the way to its conclusion in the hope of taking a short 2km walk to Sheep’s Head Lighthouse. But, as we prepared ourselves to leave the car, it was shaking with the force of the winds. Check out my video to see my battles with nature but it was one of the coldest & windiest places I have ever been!
If you do enjoy a long-distance walk & would like to explore more of this undiscovered gem, then the Sheep’s Head Way is 55kms long & has been named the best walk in Ireland. I’ll see you on the trail!”
To learn more about Cork, see The Ring of Beara Route. A Road Less Travelled on the Wild Atlantic Way in Cork
Durrus is a small village at the junction of the roads between Sheep’s Head & Mizen Peninsulas. For me, it was one of many ‘stop the car’ moments for a photo of a beautiful, atmospheric church scene. It is however also home to the famous Durrus Irish Farmhouse Cheese which is made using traditional methods. So, if you’re a cheese fan, head over & buy yourself a wheel!
I’ll be honest, our decisions on where to go during our journey had a tendency to be made on a bit of a whim. But isn’t that the same for all the best road trips? For Mizen Head, we had literally been browsing a local magazine picked up en route. I took one look at the photo of the spectacular bridge at the end & stated: “I want to see that!” And from there we formed our plan for the day!
Therefore, once our tyres hit the tarmac of the Mizen Peninsula our goal was to get to the bridge & then amble our way slowly back. We were also in luck with the weather. Although the wind had only abated slightly, the sun had come out. Apparently, whatever weather system is affecting the other parts of West Cork, they are amplified at Mizen Head.
If it’s raining in Bantry, at Mizen it’s torrential. However, if the sun comes out, in Mizen Head it will be resplendent. We didn’t need any more encouragement; we were headed in the right direction!”
The Hazards of Off-Season Travel
As we approached the Visitors Centre, we had a feeling of foreboding. We were looking forward to tea & cake but the café down the road had been shut. There were no other cars in the car park as we pulled in. Then, to our huge disappointment we discovered that in November, the centre was shut. The gates were locked. There was nothing in sight, including the bridge.
By nature, I’m a rule follower. However, I also have to admit to being easily led & open to a bad influence. When Nicky suggested we climb over the wall, it appealed to my mischievous side & the next thing I knew we were staring excitedly at a strategically placed picnic table. I felt like a naughty schoolgirl again as I threw my legs over the wall & we became the only visitors at this hugely popular tourist spot. (Please note: I don’t condone this sort of delinquent behaviour! Please don’t do it!).
In the wind it could have been a dangerous move, but we were there in the gorgeous sunshine. We headed down the path with a spring in our step & a feeling of the taboo.”
Mizen Head Bridge & Signal Station
The arched bridge connects the tip of Mizen Head Peninsula to the mainland over a deep chasm which has been created by the towering cliffs. Apparently, if you look over the side as you cross the bridge you may be lucky enough to see seals & their pups on the rocks below. This is also one of the best places in the world to see minke, fin, humpback whales & dolphins so keep your eyes peeled. I wouldn’t know as the bridge was locked & we unsurprisingly couldn’t make it across. But we did get to see/photograph this spectacular structure & the weather cooperated perfectly! Under normal circumstances (i.e. when it’s open), prepare to spend 1 – 2 hours exploring. Check out everything you need to know about the Visitors Centre & its opening times before you go here.
Once over the bridge, you can take a visit to the Signal Station, which was built to combat the huge loss of life on the treacherous rocks back in 1906. Three keepers kept the station in operation & would have to climb the infamous 99 steps to work every day. You can choose to take the easier tourist trails now with viewing platforms along the way. The exhibit here enables you to imagine the isolated life led by these men, as they kept all the seafarers safe. It was automated in 1993.
Once we had our fill of sensational coastline, we then had the challenge of getting back, without the useful picnic table. We made an undignified clamber over the wall & headed back to the car & off to our next stop.”
Looking from the road above, Barleycove Beach looked impressive. The inlet was calm in comparison to where we had been, with smooth waves lapping the empty bay. To get to the beach we crossed a causeway with water either side before heading out for a short stroll across the boardwalk. A tidal wave sweeping Europe back in 1755 created sand dunes here. For us, it was a lovely quiet spot for some isolated calm after the wild skies & seas on the rest of the peninsula.
Our next stop was Crookhaven & more specifically O’Sullivan’s, the most southerly pub/pint in Ireland. We had missed out on our tea & cake & were desperate for a toilet break as everywhere else had been shut. We chose to replace the tea craving with a pint. Initially, we weren’t even sure if the pub was open but once we ventured through the door we were greeted with a warm welcome.
I asked for a couple of pints of Guinness to which the response was “No!”. I could see the Guinness pump & obviously looked confused as the landlord went on to explain with a glint in his eye.
Guinness is for the rest of Ireland. Cork is home to the Murphy’s brewery & as such it’s almost blasphemy to ask for a Guinness once you’re in County Cork. Therefore, Murphy’s it was!”
He told us that in the summer months you can hardly get into the pub as it’s so busy. When we were there it was just us & the landlord until the occupants almost doubled when a local couple walked in.
Having a ‘moment’
We all made the space our own & started to chat. The lady gave us a strong recommendation about how amazing the crab sandwiches were, so we had to order one. I can certainly vouch for the fact that they are delicious! Her husband then started to tell us all about the book he had written & as we showed interest over the challenge of a tortured artist, he luckily had a copy in the car.
So, as we sat in a super friendly pub, as south of Ireland as you could get, drinking our Murphy’s & feasting on a delicious crab sandwich, we found ourselves at our own private book reading.”
The words on the page came alive as his eyes glistened to his own musings. Nicky & I recognised that this was one of ‘those’ moments. One of those ‘pinch yourself’ moments that you get when you suddenly find you are in an unexpectedly magical situation. None of this would happen in a full pub during the busy season.
It was hard to follow that, so we headed back to the car to wend our way home for our final night in Cork. It was the perfect way to finish our exploration.
Where else on the Mizen Peninsula?
With just one day to explore the Sheep’s Head & Mizen Peninsula’s, we couldn’t see everything. However, as I often say, I love to have a reason to return. Schull is supposedly one of the prettiest villages in West Cork. In Cadogan Strand, it has a beautifully designed garden space to relax & enjoy the clean air, straight from the Atlantic. If you’re into ancient sites, then make a stop in Toormore for some Neolithic & Bronze Age tomb action & if you can access it head up to Three Castles. They may be inaccessible as they are reinforcing the structures but there are three 15th century castles marking the site of a Bronze Age fort on top of the cliff. Sounds impressive!
Where to stay?
Bantry was the perfect base for us, bearing in mind our route. Unfortunately, where I stayed is no longer in operation but you may like to try The Maritime, Doireliath, or Strelitzias for a self-catering option. All are centrally located with good ratings & most importantly an excellent cleanliness score! Or check out the other options using the search box below:
In conclusion, Ireland is such a magical part of the world with a character all of its own. A road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way is not to be missed & will reward you with all sorts of memories of dramatic scenery set off by tempestuous skies & some of the friendliest locals anywhere in the world. And this goes for any time of year! Don’t wait until the peak season to visit, as then you’ll have to share it with the other tourists. And wouldn’t you prefer to have it all to yourself?
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This looks amazing. We were just talking about doing something like this for next year. The scenery looks stunning albeit a bit cold, lol. Plus anywhere with cheese and a bit of delinquent behaviour gets my vote!
Thank you, Sarah & I know you would love it! Sue x
When we were in Ireland we stopped at Cobh and Kinsale, but completely missed the spots you mentioned. I guess we need to go back. 🙂 Reading about the magical moments at O’Sullivans brought tears to my eyes. Those are truly the moments I live for in travel.Thanks for sharing about this wonderful trip.
Thank you, Nancy, & I totally agree, these are the moments that make us love to travel. I can’t wait to get back & see more either. Sue x
I don’t mind the idea at all of visiting in off season and having the Mizen Peninsula all to myself! Although I understand the challenges with finding businesses closed. We have faced that in off season travel on the Italian coast. A trip around the impressive Mizen coastline sounds amazing. But I will make sure to plan enough days to see Sheep’s Head and the Mizen Peninsula at a slow pace.
Thank you, Linda, and I really hope you get to enjoy this beautiful area, in or out of peak season sometime soon. Sue x
What an adventurous trip! We had planned on Cork and Southern Ireland for May this year, but had to cancel due to the current situation. I would love to include this peninsula and the sheep head in our next trip. We love all the heads of Ireland, Torr, Horn and the rest! Thanks for this informative blog post. 🙂
Thank you, Jan & so sorry to hear about your trip in May. All the heads you mention are new to me so clearly I need to get back to Ireland too to explore further! Sue x
Visiting off season is my kind of travel and I have been planning to visit Ireland early December but not the Mizen Peninsula. After reading your post, I am rethinking my plans and may opt to visit this part of Ireland – it looks so beautiful and would be such a lovely adventure before Christmas 🙂
Thank you, Georgina & that’s exciting that you are maybe visiting so soon. I hope you have an amazing trip & let me know if you get to Mizen. I’d love to hear about your experiences. Sue x
Sheep’s Head sounds so…Irish countryside. I haven’t been to Ireland yet but after having read this post, I’d add Mizen Peninsula to my itinerary for sure. Albeit I love beaches in Southern Europe and, obviously, in the tropics, I adore the northern coasts particularly in winter when they show their rough charm. For me personally, winter on the northern coasts is high season 😉
Then it sounds like the perfect time for you to visit Renata! Thanks a lot for your comment & I hope you get to Ireland one day soon. Sue x
I love this post, and have pinned for future reference. I actually had a trip planned for this year – which of course needed to be post pone, and this was not on my radar. However, after reading your adventure – seeing the places I might have to see how I can tweak that intinery. Love the vista views of the peninsula, the beaches and the small towns. And, I too might sneak to break the rules if it means getting that perfect shot!
Thank you, Renee & so sorry that you had to postpone your trip. I am thrilled that you will now be considering adding Mizen peninsula to your itinerary though. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did! Sue x
I love what happens when you travel on a whim! Sounds like a great time to visit and your pub experience sounds charmed. Cheers!
Thank you, Melinda, & I love it when there is no plan, or they evolve as you go. That’s the true nature of a road trip for me! Sue x
This looks like a beautiful part of Ireland to explore! I love travelling to places in the off-season so there are less tourists, much easier to get photos!
Thank you, Krista, & I couldn’t agree more! Sue x
Best time to visit is during the Off Season. less crowds get to see more and do more. Wild Atlantic…visions of windy and cold days but beautiful places.
Thank you, Bree, & you have hit the nail on the head re Wild Atlantic. It was certainly windy & cold but just blew me away…literally & figuratively 😉 Sue x
Lovely post and photos. I was in Ireland in the spring of 2019 and did not make it to the Mizen Peninsula. It’s now on my list for next time!
Thank you, Kristina, I can’t wait to return & discover more either! Plenty still on my list & glad I’ve managed to add MIzen to yours! Sue x
A crab sandwich and a Murphy’s sounds pretty good right now! Sorry we missed this region when we were in Ireland! Next time. As always your photos and storytelling are marvelous!
Thank you so much, Laureen, for your lovely feedback. I am dreaming of that crab sandwich & Murphy’s right now! Sue x
Ireland is so gorgeous. Those cliffs at Mizen are breathtaking!
Thank you, Megan, & they were & are just spectacular! Sue x
I miss Ireland so much – your pictures are beautiful! It looks like you had wonderful weather for the drive!
Thank you, Pamela, & I miss it too! We were very lucky with the weather, especially that day – it was perfect! Sue x