The Magnificent West Coast of Ireland

The trip along the SW coast of Ireland passes one of my absolute favourite stretches of water anywhere in the world. Skellig Michael is a craggy mountain peak sticking out of the water some 5 miles offshore. Since the birth of Christianity hardy souls have marooned themselves here and eked out a monastic existence , sheltering in tiny “beehive “ stone huts halfway up , with an even smaller one on the very peak for anyone who found he had the need for even greater solitude or discomfort. The whole concept would be ludicrous except the rock has the magnificence of a natural cathedral and despite my atheism some tiny part of me understands why they might have felt nearer to their God in this place. On calm days little boats come out from Valentia and Derrynane to land folk on a little stone jetty and no doubt a heavily crewed yacht could stand off and land a few at a time by dinghy , but it was out of the question for us. One day I must land there.
Close by is Little Skellig , home to one of the biggest gannet colonies in the world. Further inshore is Puffin Island whose eponymous inhabitants still litter the water along with every other kind of sea bird imaginable. Best of all, across the bay lie the magnificent Blasket islands, the most western islands in Europe and the site of another of my “must do’s.” There is a marginal anchorage on Inishvickillane that we have visited several times , but across the water the neighbouring Island (Inishnabro) can only be accessed by paddling though a cave and scrambling up a little tunnel. It all sounds wonderfully romantic, but on this occasion an imminent easterly gale had us scurrying into Dingle to shelter, so that too will have to wait for another time.
Remarkably, Fungie the resident Bottlenose dolphin, was still there to greet us, as he has every vessel coming in to Dingle since 1983. Much of the tourist industry is based on taking folk out to see him but not all the residents are equally enamoured of the effect it has had on the town. The (probably apocryphal) story is told of an old resident propping up a bar . A visitor remarks enthusiastically on the changes that have taken place since he was last there. “ I know , it’s terrible ” came the disapproving reply –“ I blame it on that feckin dolphin!”
The scenery just gets grander as you turn North from Blasket sound. We had a SE 6 to push us along , blowing off the shore to give us flat seas ,but also intermittent calms , as Mt Brandon , a serious mountain of close to 1000m blocked the wind as much as 10 miles out to sea. A very fast 75 mile passage took us to the Aran isles where we sheltered from the wind behind a beautiful sandy beach in completely flat water. We had been here 3 years before, but it had been too windy to get ashore, so next morning we gingerly came alongside the new pier. The general consensus was that we would be OK to stay, and that we shouldn’t bother contacting the harbour master. “Sure he’s a noble man , but would probably prefer not to answer his phone on a Sunday” said one man. “True “ said his friend , “but then he might appreciate you leaving him alone on a Monday too!”.
So , we spent 24 hours alongside the quay for the princely sum of 15 euros ( the harbour master was not only noble , but friendly with it , and deeply apologetic about asking for any money ) , from where we explored this ancient island with its ancient hill forts and wonderfully friendly people on our new bicycles.
Hmmm, our new bicycles! At the top of the first hill my chain broke and I freewheeled back to the harbour. There , to my delight, the local bike hire establishment not only sold me a new chain , but lent me the tools to replace it , and showed me what I was doing wrong. It’s all a long way from the “make the tourist pay” feeling we got in the Scillies, but then we have not seen another boat for days so I suppose there is less pressure on the on the islands and they can retain their laid back ways.
Whatever the reason , we love this wild West coast and cannot wait to explore for a few days before calling in to our friends at fabulous Clew bay , some 50 miles to the north.

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