Have you ever had one of those experiences where you float home afterwards, totally blissed out, knowing that something very special just happened to lucky you? Yes, I suppose the day you meet The One would qualify, but here’s another one – kayaking under the stars on a West Cork lake to the strains of baroque music. Let me explain…
Lough Hyne is a unique ecosystem. A partially landlocked seawater lake, it is filled by the incoming tide and then empties twice a day, through a stretch of water called The Rapids. Aquatic marine plants and animals flourish in the warm protected waters – many not found elsewhere in Ireland. It’s also a beautiful and peaceful place, steeped in archaeology and history.
Jim Kennedy and his family run Atlantic Sea Kayaking and a couple of times a year, to coincide with local festivals, they offer a special kayaking trip on Lough Hyne called the Starlight Serenade. I was disappointed to have missed the first offering earlier in the summer so as soon as they announced a second one, during the Taste of West Cork Festival, I signed up to go with my friend Sheena Jolley.
After a brief introduction to basic paddling techniques we were off, a group of about 20 of us, mostly local. Jim led us first to The Rapids, pointing out the birdlife along the way. It was an unusually high tide and the water was thundering in. We rafted up in a sheltering eddy, trying not to be too intimidated by the tidal surge. Jim explained the ecology of the constant filling and draining of the lake and then he pushed us out into the rushing water. Hanging on to each other’s kayaks, we swirled giddily in the torrent, gradually swinging back into the calmer waters of the lake.
As dusk closed in the next stop was the island, and stories of an O’Driscoll warlord who once ruled supreme in Baltimore but who lived out his final days in this remote place. Then Jim told us to head ‘towards the light’ and pointed to the far shore. As we got closer the ‘light’ began to resolve itself. Several steps led down to a tiny quay and on each step and all over the quay were candles – dozens of them. Then we heard the music. Two violinists were playing Bach. One by one we drifted in, rafted up as silently as we could, and then lay back in the kayak seat and just listened. The Milky Way arced across the sky, the music floated to us from the little quay, we dangled fingers in the warm water and each of us felt in our own way that surely heaven couldn’t hold much better than this.
The concert continued – some Telemann, a song composed by Jessie (these were two members of the Vespertine Quintet I reported on at the beginning of August), something gentle and minimalistic, more Bach – and then it was ‘follow the light’ again: this time the light was on the helmet of the lead guide. But before we started, Jim asked us to look down into the water and to dip our hands in. Suddenly, the stars were beneath us: bioluminesence shimmered and shook from our fingers. As we paddled back every stroke of the blade struck sparks from the water: flash on the right, flash on the left, flash, flash, flash, flash.
It was hard to leave the magic that was happening on the water. Sheena and I walked back to where the cars were parked, breathless with the wonder of what we had just experienced. But wait…here were more candles and luminarias, and a table groaning with wonderful food, and grinning guides handing out cups of tea and glasses of wine, and Maria Kennedy presiding over a homemade feast of organic goodies: smoked salmon, seaweed scones (delicious!), salads from her garden, cheeses and biscuits and cake and chocolates. We sat or stood in the warm night air, munching contentedly, unable to utter much more than superlative heaped on superlative.
Words are inadequate tools to fully convey the essence of an evening like this. I can’t tell you. You have to do it too.