Note: Remember back in the good old days when you’d have to avoid a lot of images on a web page because loading them with dial-up was a nightmare? I wanted to warn you just in case you’re not all initiated into decent wi-fi / 4s / 1080p horsepower or whatever the heck the good internet is these days. This post is extremely photo heavy because I’m combining two voyages into one so sorry not sorry (just reminiscent) about it.
Saturday mornings in Skibbereen are starting to become a routine for me and I’m for sure going to miss them when I’m gone. I love every second I spend in the quaint little market town, which apparently confuses some of the locals who don’t see much to do there, but I’ve only got a short window of time left to enjoy it. This particular Saturday before last was a cold one. The rain had been at it all night long and I was sure it was never going to let up. Shortly after being dropped off in the earlier AM hours, I made the commitment to stay indoors and read for as long as possible until moving on to outdoor adventures in the afternoon.
At one point in the midmorning I overheard a waitress saying to a nearby couple “’tis cold, but ’tis jolly” and I decided that never in a million years could I have come up with a better depiction of Skibbereen on a late February morning than that.
The streets were bustling on Saturday morning, with locals milling about the farmers market and meeting up with each other in cafes and restaurants. You better believe that the girl walking around with a giant backpack and a camera stood out as “NOT FROM HERE.”
A few people told me to check out this Church-turned-Restaurant, for aesthetic reasons at the very least, and I was definitely not disappointed. The place was buzzing despite the early hour. Anecdote: I have a terrible habit of not being able to tune out other people around me when I’m trying to read in public places (like cafes) and at one point I overheard the man at the table next to me saying “something about the way they burn the barley makes it neutral… so you can have as much Guinness as you like… that’s what my doctor told me.” I’m not sure who that doctor is, but I’m going to go ahead and rely on that advice which I don’t fully understand (as I do with most doctors) because YUM.
Take a peep at the interior of Church Restaurant. I could not get over the fact that the cakes and baked goods were all laid out on the altar. Talk about a religion I want to be a part of.
After some breakfast I went to scout out the local book shop. I mean, come on do I even need to explain why?
There’s just something about wood and books that makes for an intimately relaxed feel. That very feeling here at The Time Traveller’s Bookshop was what enticed me to spend well over an hour perusing the shelves. I even got to hold a first edition copy of “David Copperfield” and subsequently tried very hard not to hyperventilate on it. Seriously considering leaving all my clothes behind at the end of my trip in favor of filling my case with these rare beauties.
I’m gonna go ahead and make a generalization that a lot of people don’t know that Skibbereen played a huge part in The Great Potato Famine of the 1840s. I was one of those people until Paul, my host, kindly told me a lot more information on the subject (and gave me a great book to read about it). The Heritage Centre features all sorts of resources about the Great Famine years, the marine marvel that is Lough Hyne, and tracing family trees.
Kalbos Cafe is situated between the West Cork Art Centre and a tiny little body of water flowing down into the larger river which Google Maps is not providing me with the name of. The huge glass windows looking outside were very cool and the cafe itself had a really great, cozy interior style. There is an adjoining deck and I’m betting that all the glass windows open right up to let patrons enjoy the, what I assume to be infrequent, sunshine in the summer.
Later in the afternoon, after a few too many cups of coffee, I met up with Tony from Inish Beg and we set off to check out some of the local attractions outside of the Skibbereen town center. Thankfully the rain had in fact let up a bit, but the cold was still lingering. We braved through it though. First stop, Lough Hyne.
Another Wild Atlantic Way sign! And this one happens to be situated at the site of the only salt-water lake (“Lough”) in Ireland. Word on the street is that its fascinating ecosystems and marine life make it one of the most studied bodies of water in the world. My hostess Georgie, ever the superwoman, swims at Lough Hyne pretty much all year round.
We were visiting the Lough at a beautiful close-to-sunset hour and the lighting was breathtakingly reflective. Upon review, most of my pictures were just of the water’s surface. Way off in the distance down that little channel is the area known as “The Rapids” – aka the place where the salt water flows in and out from the Atlantic Ocean. Not really sure that I have to clarify how peaceful of a place Lough Hyne is, but I will just in case.
Holy wells apparently exist all over Ireland and some quick Google searching has told me that they were of Pagan origin before becoming mostly Christianized way back when. Regardless, there is one nestled back in the trees by a freshwater brook close to Lough Hyne and we took a little hike to seek it out.
Many people consider the wells to be sacred and spiritual so they come to pray or make wishes or leave offerings, etc. etc. This one happened to be my favorite because come on, you’ve seen my sidebar. I agree that a nice cold Bud Heavy in a frosted glass bottle can feel like a religious experience. Suffice it to say, I took a drink from the well hoping it was filled with the King of Beers but unfortunately it was just water.
After marveling at the Lough one last time, we set off for Baltimore. You might remember my mentioning how the island of Inish Beg is situated between two towns so it was only fitting that Baltimore receive ample exploration time as well. Much smaller than Skibbereen, but in some ways I thought more beautiful.
We drove over a few hills to get to Baltimore and had to weave our way down towards the water before hairpinning back up to the cliffs on the outskirts. As we arrived into town you could just spot the harbor ahead.
The hike up the cliffs was sufficiently terrifying and I relied on my zoom to get me as close as I wanted to the edge, while staying physically very very far away. The water and the wind and the cliffs made for such incredible scenery. Fresh sea air unfortunately not included with this photograph.
This is The Beacon! The very thing we hiked up to see! They don’t mess around when it comes to naming things, these West Corkers (Corkians? Cortians? … *Googles* … “Corkonians” – I wasn’t far off). They stick with the practical: The Baltimore Beacon was (and still is?) meant to guide ships into the harbour. This picture doesn’t do the size justice, but this thing is huge. ~50 ft high huge.
Another thing I couldn’t get over was the turquoise water, even though it was so cold! And February! I’m used to seeing dark blue borderline black waters in the wintertime Atlantic Ocean but here it looked almost tropical. Not quite enticing enough for cliff diving, but close.
Tony is the Head Gardener at Inish Beg and we spend a few days a week working together around the estate. He was a good sport about hiking around in the cold with me! Even though he was in Converses and I had on the hiking boots, he was able to climb back down the muddy slopes way faster than I could ever hope to. Can you tell from the outfit (hint: mine was even MORE bundled) how that water is in no way, shape, or form tropical?
Andddd another Wild Atlantic Way sign. There are tons of islands that people can get to in this part of Ireland and a ferry waits patiently in the harbour to usher around to each of them. My being prone to seasickness and overall aversion to being out on the water in the winter does not make me a good candidate for the experience but it’s cool to know that it happens!
As we were leaving and the sun was tucking in for the night, I couldn’t help but be struck by the resemblance the empty Baltimore Harbour had to my own hometown and more specifically to the stretch of water right down the street from my house. Seeing this some might think of homesickness, but for me it was more like a fond reminder.
Adventuring around the localities was a day well spent and, as per usual on my travels, now that I’ve finally started feeling comfortable I have to prepare to say my goodbyes sooner than I’d like. A few more short weeks of huddling with my tea and cake in the Skibbereen coffee shops, then it’s back home to my little Rhode Island reminder of Baltimore.
Special shout out to Tony, Paul, and Georgie for their excellent West Corkonian benignity!