We were met by two huge herons when we unloaded the bike on the quayside at Schull – they were gorging on fish and squid cuts from the fishing boats. The seagulls weren’t getting a look in.
It was turning out to be the sunny day that our crystal clear morning had promised and I couldn’t have asked for better weather for my first introduction to Schull – the seaside town which Paddy grew up in until he was seven. With its curved, sweeping harbour and many yachts moored in neat rows, bustling peer with the small scale fish factory still in business and the main shopping street populated with locally owned shops, Schull struck me as a lovely little town.
We visited Paddy’s old house and then went to call on Mary his old babysitter who was more than surprised to see us I think!
My lasting impression of Schull was that it must have been a very happy place for a seven year old to grow up in – particularly one who couldn’t be more addicted to the sea if he tried – i kept thinking (and hoping) that our planned new start in Cornwall at the end of the trip might hold in store a similar life.
The weather remained amazingly good for the rest of the day. This was fortunate, because we had some stunning coastline views awaiting us as we continued south towards Mizen head. With the picturesque Long Island straddling the mainland and the vast, piercingly-blue Atlantic Ocean stretching out beyond, we didn’t make great progress because of all the stops we kept taking. The way was pretty up and down but we were so eager to get to the peaks to enjoy the panoramic views we at least made good progress on the climbs.
In the afternoon we linked back up to the main road which brought us right back next to the coast again. We stop next to the Altar Wedge Tomb – an old Bronze Age burial chamber – and thoroughly enjoy a leisurely picnic of smoked mackerel salad and bread. We spend a good hour sunbathing, listening to the waves lap the rocks below and the sound of excited German tourists exploring the rock pools. After some time a lovely Irish lady and her dog ‘Lucky’ sit down next to us and starts chatting away about the bike.
The aim was to reach the famous Barley Cove beach by late-afternoon so we climb back on the bike and make our way down and along the road which skirts the fortified natural harbour of Crookhaven. The beach is still busy and we can’t resist running into the sea for our second swim of the day. As the beach empties we pull out the bottle we had been storing in the pannier since Schull and get set up on the sand dunes above the beach. We watch the tide slowly engulf the sandy beach as we sip our mugs of wine waiting for the pasta to come to the boil. It takes a while to find a suitable camping spot and it’s pretty late before we begin to pitch the tent in the semi-darkness. We hear a cry of greeting from the road as we’re locking the tent poles together and Paddy goes to investigate.
Helen who had seen our parked bike on the beach earlier had cycled all the way up the hill from her camping ground below to offer us a bed in her caravan for the night. Overcome by this kindness we gladly accept and hurriedly pack up before following her back down the hill. We spend a very comfortable night in Helen’s caravan and even get treated to fried eggs, bacon, and black pudding in the morning. Word soon gets round that we are travelling by bike and we enjoy meeting many of Helen’s camping neighbours over a leisurely morning.
Helen’s niece was in fact cycling in Tajikistan with a friend so it was great to hear about their recent travels as well as Helen’s own hitchhiking and cycle adventures!
With plans to meet Helen and her sister in Durras for lunch and wanting to visit the famed lighthouse at Mizen head beforehand we decided it was time to get going. It was a pretty tough climb up to Mizen point but we had a really enjoyable hour exploring the lighthouse and the views along the coast were spectacular. There was a good exhibition on the construction of the lighthouse and we were delighted to discover that the entire structure was made of beautifully interlocking stones all carved at the turn of the 20th century in Penryn, Cornwall – very close to where we are soon to move!
We hang over the rail and watch a family of seals playing in the swell before giving the Fastnet rock one final glance before heading back down and onwards North to the next peninsular.
We have an amazing cycle towards Durrus as we head inland and with the wind pushing us along we’re only 45 mins late for Helen!
After lunch we make our down the south coast of the Sheep’s head peninsular towards Kilcohane. The peninsular is famous for its walking routes, ring forts and towers. It was now time to delve even further back into Paddy’s past and visit the house his great grandmother was born…