The ferry from Baltimore brought tourists onto the island, mainly day trippers looking for a bracing walk, as well as mail and any household items ordered by one of the hundred or so people who lived on Sherkin. We watched some plumbing supplies being loaded and a couple of boxes of flat packed furniture, all stored on the deck of the ferry. The boat landed close to the island’s only pub and hotel. There was a flurry of activity at the quay as people jostled to collect their purchases and make the steep climb up the hill to the island’s only hotel and pub.
Of course, we we had to stop off for a beer at the pub before peddling to the far end of the island where Gill and Robin lived. Their house lay out of sight from the road, down a farm track which narrowed into a grassy path before turning the final corner to reveal the house, sitting prettily just above the beach.
They kept a wooden boat moored in the bay which provided the quickest and easiest way to get from Sherkin to to the mainland. It was a fifteen minute boat ride to Turk’s Head, a fisherman’s quay near Baltimore where they were able to moor the boat and walk up to the car which they parked in the lane leading to the quay. There were no shops on Sherkin so supplies were bought at the supermarket in Skibb, loaded from the car to the boat at Turk’s Head and transported to Sherkin by water – wonderful when the weather was fine.
Gill and Robin’s Garden
The drive to complete the circle round the Beara Peninsula took us past Bear Island, Whiddy Island and on into the town of Bantry and from there is was less than an hour to our destination at Skibbereen. The name meant “Little Boat Harbour” although the sea was 12K south west at Baltimore. It was from Baltimore that we would catch the ferry to the island of Sherkin where cousins, Gill and Robin Snelson, have a house.
We left the campervan at the camp site in Skibb and cycled to Baltimore. The road was wide and reasonably free of traffic and undulated nicely with shallow climbs and gentle downhill slopes, finally offering us spectacular glimpses of Baltimore Harbour, resplendent in the morning sunshine.
The Sherkin ferry left at midday, our bicycles were loaded onto the boat by the young men who were manning the ferry and fifteen minutes later we were waving to Robin who was on the quay at Sherkin to greet us.
We were staying at Castletownbere on the Beara Peninsula, a remote part of south west Ireland stretching out into the Atlantic Ocean.
The town itself reminded me of an English town in the 1950s. There were plenty of B & Bs but no hotels. The shops on the High Street were ancient, the draper shop sold everything from ladies’ big knickers, shoes, outerwear, workwear to hats, Wellington boots and everything in between. The shop had been owned by the same family for the past two hundred years. The local bar doubled up as a grocery store and the garage dispensed fuel from two fuel pumps mounted beside the pavement. There was plenty of town centre parking and no-one seemed to mind that we stayed by the quay for two days.
We travelled a mere forty five miles to our next destination, Castletownbere on the Baera Peninsula. The drive from Killarney took us several hours, the road twisted and turned its way south, through dense woodland, past hills and lakes. In some places the roads were very narrow, barely room for vehicles to pass and often no margins on either side of the road, just solid rock. It was a white knuckle ride, especially on a tight corner with coach loads of tourists coming the other way.
Our camp site was a mile outside town in the car park of the local golf club. The golf course was being used but not the club house which was left open at night for the campers to use the toilets and showers. Payment was made by putting €20 per night in an envelope and placed in an honesty box. We cycled into town to find something to eat. Fresh fish was the food of choice as Castletownbere was the largest white fish port in Ireland. We had a delicious meal at Murphys – two courses each including generous portions of prawns, crab claws, lobster and hake, all washed down with a bottle of PIno Grigio for the princely sum of £44.
Tony had had a sore eye for a couple of days and had consulted an optometrist in Killarney who, having given him a thorough checkup, assured him the eye was fine. Two days later Tony woke up to a very swollen eye and was sporting a unsightly blister on his eyeball. Alarmed, we located a doctor on the High Street and were able to make an appointment for later that day. He reckoned Tony was suffering from an allergic reaction to the drops the optometrist had used and prescribed steroids, pills and eye drops. There was no charge for the doctor’s consultation; the receptionist took Tony’s details from his European Health Insurance Card and the chemist charged a €5 Government Levy for the two items on the prescription. We wondered whether a tourist to the UK would have received such a prompt and cheerful service. In view of this medical emergency we moved the camper van from the golf course into the town centre and parked by the quay. It was not as pretty as the golf course but we were within easy reach of the bars and restaurants and medical help should we need it.
We stayed in Killarney for three days and decided we would return at the first opportunity. Our camp site was just a mile from the bustling town centre with its music filled pubs and restaurants and two miles in the opposite direction was Killarney National Park, 26,000 acres of lakes, mountains, woods and parkland, crisscrossed by walkways and cycle paths. The area was stunningly beautiful, especially when the sun was shining.