‘FROM Malin Head to Mizen Head’ is the saying, and it neatly sums up two of the most dramatic seascapes on the top and bottom tips of the Wild Atlantic Way.
The southern one – on Ireland’s most south-westerly peninsula – is probably the most ‘wild’ of the two.
While Malin is still struggling to develop the area around the popular Donegal landmark, its Cork cousin has, in relatively recent years, undergone a huge transformation to cater for tourists.
And it is now one of the county’s most popular destinations for visitors.
From the stunning dunes of nearby Barleycove beach, or the pretty fishing village of Crookhaven, you travel further south west and then upwards along the coast road, heading for the Mizen Head Signal Station.
But fear not, it is all well signposted.
The road to the head is narrow in spots, not helped by the huge amount of camper vans that have decided this location is a ‘must-see’ on the WAW, but it is worth the measured progress which takes you alongside the aforementioned spectacular beach, and a few miles later you will arrive at the large car park at the entrance to the centre.
It’s wise to wrap up well at this point, even on the most promising of autumn days, as the remote location can be quite blustery and unforgiving when a fresh wind blows!
The visitor centre itself comprises a modern coffee shop, a gift shop, and a wonderful interactive exhibition giving the history of the signal station, a description of the huge variety of marine life in the area, and the great feat of engineering behind the signal station and adjacent bridge’s construction.
The café, gift shop and wash rooms are all free of entry to the public, but in order to continue through the audio visual displays and onwards to the signal station, you will need to pay a fee.
Once you exit the displays on the far side of the centre, the real journey to Mizen Head begins.
From here there is a ten minute walk, offering some of the most stunning coastline views in Ireland, across the iconic bridge above the gorge, and winding downwards along the pathway.
This area is rich in wild and marine life, including kittiwakes, gannets, and choughs, along with minke, fin and humpback whales and even dolphins.
It’s a real treat for both amateur and professional photographers, too, as the long blue horizon stretches out for miles in front, and the frothy waves crash up against the rugged rocks below.
The 99 steps along the walk may not suit all visitors, so there is a level pathway that overlooks the bridge, giving an alternative viewpoint.
There are also a number of platforms giving views across Dunlough Bay, Beara and Sheep’s Head and the famous ‘sea arch’.
If you venture the full walk to the signal station – perched majestically at the very tip of the head, you will be greeted by a delightful piece of maritime history.
See the keepers’ living quarters, from their tiny but functional bedrooms, to their kitchen and dining areas, and into the engine room, and Marconi radio room, still with much of the equipment intact.
Browse the mens’ map collection, and wonder, for a moment, at the resilience of the Irish Lights staff who found this remote location home for so many years of their working lives – in all weathers and conditions.
Then stand out at the very back of this miniature house and enjoy the breathtaking views as far as the eye can see.
After the bracing walk back to the coffee shop, relax and enjoy some homemade baking, soup or sandwiches in the café, or let the children enjoy the playground just outside, with its wonderful views of this little corner of paradise, at the most south-westerly point of our gorgeous country.