Mizen Magic 4: The Beaches

Barley Cove Beach from Brow Head

Barley Cove Beach from Brow Head

If you’re not familiar with West Cork, you may be surpised to hear that we have some of the best beaches in Ireland. And no – they are not just to look at, and yes, people do swim here in the summer. In fact a surprising number of the people we know were still swimming well into October. The autumn weather was glorious, and they claimed the sea was still warm enough to be enjoyable. In fact, they raved about how delicious it was to be bobbing around in the stuff. (You know who you are.)

A little further east of us there are good surfing beaches but here on the Mizen our beaches feature the golden sand and the dunes of the classic swimming beaches. The most popular with holiday-makers is the incredible expanse at Barley Cove. These photos were taken in February – so we aren’t swimming, but we have the place almost to ourselves, apart from the horses, and we are loving it!

Around the corner from Barley Cove are the beaches of Galley Cove and the White Strand. When the sun goes down on one, you can just move to the next one.

Ballyrisode

Ballyrisode

A local favourite is the beach at Ballyrisode, near Toormore. We strolled along it on a fine day in September, with nary another soul in sight.

Shelly Beach

Shelly Beach

But of course we have our own little secret beach nearby. Those in the know call it Shelly Beach – for the reasons you might imagine. You can’t drive there – it’s only accessible on foot down boreens and over the fields – and it’s a beautiful, peaceful spot, perfect for that wind-in-the-hair, sun-in-the-face, contemplative experience.

Inchydoney Beach

Inchydoney Beach

The last photo wasn’t taken on the Mizen, but it’s only a few miles to the east, so perhaps it’s not totally cheating to include it here. It was taken on a fabulous sunny day half way through October, and the beach was alive with activity.

Mizen Magic 3: Brow Head

On Brow Head, looking back up the Mizen Peninsula

On Brow Head, looking back up the Mizen Peninsula

Contrary to popular belief, Mizen Head is not the most southerly point on the Irish mainland – that distinction actually belongs to Brow Head, just to the east. Brow Head doesn’t have the same profile as Mizen Head: many people have never heard of it. But it’s magnificent, steeped in history, wonderfully scenic and best of all, totally walkable.

Possible prehistoric field boundary, visible at low tide

Possible prehistoric standing stone and field boundary, visible at low tide

You arrive at Brow Head by driving west from Schull out towards Crookhaven. If the water is low in the Haven you may spy the remains of ancient field boundaries, covered at high tide.

Galley Cove

Galley Cove

The starting point is Galley Cove – a smaller and quieter beach than the popular Barley Cove a little further west, but featuring the same white sand and inviting Caribbean-blue water. You can leave the car here and proceed on foot uphill if you’re feeling in the need of an aerobic workout. Or you can drive up the narrow road, but be warned: if you meet a car coming down you may have to reverse a considerable distance. There is parking for three or four cars at the top of the hill.

Recently-erected standing stones

Recently-erected standing stones

The first thing you’ll notice, in front of the lone house at the top of the hill, is an impressive row of standing stones, aligned to point back down the Mizen Peninsula. These are recent additions to the landscape, testament to the enduring tradition of erecting such stones in this part of the world.

Scramble up through the heather to the remains of the Napoleonic-era signal tower and the Marconi Telegraph Station – see Robert’s post for more about Marconi and early wireless telegraph in West Cork. From here there are panoramic views east to Crookhaven and down the Mizen Peninsula, west to Mizen Head, North to Barley Cove and southeast to the Fastnet Rock.

Follow the path now south west to the tip of the Head. This was a copper mining area in the nineteenth Century and you can still see the ruins of the Mine Captain’s house, miners’ dwellings and fenced off mine shafts. Abandoned cottages litter the north-facing slopes, with small overgrown fields defined by stone walls.

Near the tip of the Head you must cross a narrow causeway with steep cliffs on either side. This part is not for the faint of heart (or small children, perhaps) especially on a windy day. Find a sheltered spot at the end and sit a while. You may see gannets diving here, or dolphins in the waters below, and you will certainly be aware of the power of the pounding waves.

Next parish - America!

Next parish – America!

Before you leave, make sure that you make a wish – after all, this is a special place, and special places in Ireland have their own magic. 

Heron tracks

In the Haven