Updated on December 4th, 2020
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.
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
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.”
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.
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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