Best Place to Go Wild in Ireland: Mayo leads the reader nominations
So far more than 300 people have entered our competition to find the finest spots in the country to experience nature. Read their pitches, and write your own at irishtimes.com/gowild
Malinbeg, Co Donegal: kayaking to Rathlin O’Birne island for mussels
The Irish Times is on the hunt for the Best Place to Go Wild in Ireland, from quiet mountain walks and river cruises to extreme sports such as surfing, caving and coasteering. The competition began last Saturday – and already we’ve had almost 300 entries. The accompanying map tells you which counties they are coming from; almost half have come from Co Mayo, followed by Cork and Donegal. Thanks to all who have entered so far. Here are just two of our favourite pitches.
Sheep’s Head peninsula, Co Cork
It was an October Saturday, and as we set out from Ahakista pier on the lovely yacht Merlin there was a chill in the early-morning air. But for the rest of the day fierce autumn sunshine shone gloriously over west Cork’s stunning bays.
We charted a course along the Sheep’s Head peninsula, exploring its coastline and looking out over the neighbouring Mizen peninsula and Three Castle Head. As we passed the lighthouse at the Sheep’s Head’s tip, and moved into the deeper, choppier waters of Bantry Bay, the views opened out over the Beara peninsula, which flanks the Sheep’s Head on the other side.
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We had dolphins beside us to keep us company, as well as the yacht’s owner, Chris, who first met his wife when he was a teenager learning to sail on Bere Island, in Bantry Bay. He now shares with visitors the stories of the coves and islands that dot the clear waters of Dunmanus and Bantry bays.
The Sheep’s Head peninsula is recognised as a European Destination of Excellence for its sustainable tourism. It’s home to peregrine falcons and choughs, and the waters teem with mackerel, bass and silver darlings. There’s fishing, hiking, sailing and kayaking, and the rugged landscape changes with every twist in the coastline, turn in the road and shift in the light.
As you sail its waters, or walk the four-day Sheep’s Head Way, from elegant Bantry House past the peninsula’s stone circles and marriage stone to the Sheep’s Head lighthouse, overlooking the Atlantic, you feel exhilarated to be alive.
Malinbeg, Co Donegal
I have been going on holiday to Malinbeg, in southwest Donegal, since the 1980s. Back then we kayaked the Sliabh League cliffs from Teelin to Malinbeg and pulled in at the sheltered pier.
Twenty years later myself, Séamus and three children stay in Frank’s youth hostel, about 200m from Malinbeg pier. As soon as we arrive it’s into swimming togs for pier jumping.
After lunch it’s kayaking to Rathlin O’Birne island and collecting mussels for dinner. We explore the lighthouse on the deserted island and cross back to explore the caves aerating the cliffs. After dinner a night dive and “play”, with the phosphorescence turning the midnight-black sea into a night sky of stars.
Next day we walk to Malinbeg headland, full of challenging climbs of any grade, and paddle from the pier around to the Silver Strand, where we imagine we are the first to land on this deserted beach.
This area has snorkelling, scuba-diving, hillwalking, climbing, swimming and kayaking to suit most levels of adventurer.
The four-and-a-half-hour drive from Dublin means it is still Ireland’s best-kept secret.
The Irish Times wants to discover the best spots in the 32 counties to experience nature, and is inviting readers to nominate their favourites. Write us a passionate pitch at irishtimes.com/gowild