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Great West Cork sea swimming spots | Islands edition

March 9th, 2022 10:15 AM

By Elaine Desmond

Copper Point Lighthouse, Long Island

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West Cork is the hot spot for sea swimming spots. Maybe it’s the hundred isles, mighty swells, sea-weeded coves or sheltered channels? Or maybe the long, open strands or short, shingled beaches? Different strokes for different folks. Find your best stroke among these great West Cork sea swimming spots.

Heir Island

Heir Island

Engine ferry thrum spells summer for most, but for lucky West Corkonians it is the sound of every day.

Carbery’s Hundred Isles include more than a knob of a rock or two but there are also bigger dollops like Heir Island. A Goldilocks just right bowl of island.

Join the short thrum at Cunnamore for the 5 minute journey. Enough time to absorb the sea-stretch framed by East Skeams with Mount Gabriel satisfied and approving.

To swim with this view and watch the action as boats whizz or sail by, take the first right, barely an overarm reach from the pier. Pass the stone cottage where Percy Hall was the first artist-in-residence.

If you prefer sand to shingle carry on taking the first left. Green grows the central grass lanes.

Slightly downhill before lo! The main Reen strand. There she blows – scythe of white sand, long and usually empty bar the summer months. Stray sand gristles underfoot before the lane naturally melts into the beach. All roads should end at a great West Cork sea swimming spot.

Early 20th century, on Christmas day, the islanders played an annual football game here. In July and August beach balls bounce beside the ghosts of earlier leather balls.

Return to the mainland boasting of a Paris swim? Instead of diverting to the Reen (or try both), carry on to a cluster of cottages by a perfect bridge. This bridge (minus the padlocks) is more of the Goldilocks just right  in certain light tinges you can time travel here.

In certain light tinges you can time travel here. This is the 21st arrondissement where you can breaststroke from the Left Bank in high tide.

Sherkin Island

Sherkin Island

In June/July/August tot up your Island swim count in one day by continuing on to Sherkin from Heir in Danny Murphy’s ferry. Or leave from Baltimore throughout the year to concentrate solely on Sherkin.

This hits the Goldilocks just right button also, with extra double cream dribble –  one of Ireland’s best pubs – The Jolly Roger. If possible, try to steer yourself away from this tasty diversion until après swim.

Follow the road through an arch of overhanging trees, an island Dark Hedges, until a fork forces a decision. Uphill takes you past St Mona’s church to less-visited Trá Bán or curve right to two options – Cow and Silver strands. Try all three at once or, less greedily, savour one at a time.

The trio are non shingle with ocean unfurling ahead. When the road passes the entrance to Cow Strand, the surface loses asphalt and gains sand. Cape Clear rises ahead, funnelled between two rocky outcrops. Around the next bend Silver Strand’s perfect cuticle dips below the road. A short boardwalk beckons you downwards.

Trá Bán is more secluded and requires cross country negotiation but is worth a cow pat or two for the extra shelter. Whether you choose one, two or three, each of these are great West Cork sea swimming spots.

Cape Clear

Cape Clear

Furthest from the mainland of all West Cork islands, the longer ferry journey to Cape Clear helps add to the frisson of faraway allure. A sense of elsewhere heightens with Irish language to the fore. Your snámh will have the holiday vibe minus passport usage, no long security queues, no Barrys tea and Tayto smuggling required.

The sandiest beach patch is at the North Harbour, shades of heron grey rather than silver or golden. The unique location makes it one of the great West Cork sea swimming spots.

This is also the busiest spot on the island with ferry arrivals and departures and the location of the Co-operative hub  – An Siopa Beag (pocket sized shop crammed with beautiful variety), Restaurant and Pizzeria, Tourist and Craft shop.

The bus/taxi also uses the North Harbour as the start and end point. You are not seeing quadruple as it regularly zooms back and forth.

This buzzy hub injects extra exuberance into a snámh here. Instead of people-watching from a sedate café chair, slow down your stroke, féach and listen to the island-aliveness from the alive element of farraige. Go hiontach ar fad.

Double your Harbour swims with a short stroll to South Harbour. This is a shingle, sea-weeded strand, no less wonderful than reams of sand as the water sambas under sunshine –

. . .crowd of colours on the sea then my mind starts sliding towards them borne on a wave of wind - (Alice Oswald)

Copper Point Lighthouse, Long Island

Long Island

Take the ferry from Colla Pier for another great West Cork sea swimming spot. Flattest of all West Cork’s islands but Flat Island didn’t roll off the tongue at the christening. Nor did Skinny Island. Its stretch is the distinguishing mark almost 1km wide, 5km long. Operation Transformation would be proud.

Your first swim here could start near the pier with full-fat views, non-skimmed, where from a great West Cork swimming spot you may spot a valiant gannet diving and diving as you float and float.

For your second swim turn right after the pier until a pebbled path unfolds beside a bench. Follow this enchanting trail bedecked with scallop shells, rainbow-buoys and sea rope.

This shell emporium crafted by Joe Whooley leads you to a stepped, slivered cove. Swim back to Famous Five days here. Treasure pours from every pore.

Goats crossing the sea arch on East Skeam island, Roaring Water Bay, Photo: Bethany Cradick, Kilkilleen.

East Skeams (or Easter Skeams)

And now to the ferry-less island, kayak or hitch a lift or take your own boat. Cunnamore is the closest pier to stick out your thumb or shake a sea-leg.

The main strand faces Roaring Water’s Castle face-off Kilcoe and Rincolisky winking across at each other or goading the other. Seal sounds can ricochet from Oileán na Ránee while your brain seals from inner noise.

Directly behind the main strand, almost back to back, lies another sandier option. Here, views shift to West (or Wester) Skeams. A random cow or goat might wander nearby – be prepared to share your space. On this island the goat-trodden arch is a West Cork wonder..... but mind your step. https://www.southernstar.ie/news/emergency-services-tasked-as-teen-falls-into-island-cave-4208125

If you prefer a smaller cranny, follow the path in front of the two storey ruin to a stony cove. A swim here in Aegean clarity will blow the heart open. An upmergence, mind-salve and mind full of elemental life. The inner pulse to these great West Cork sea swimming spots.......

where the cold of swimming is no different from the clear of looking - (Alice Oswald)

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