The beauty of some socially-distanced fun, right here on our own doorstep

August 19th, 2020 10:05 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

Whether you fancy a trip on the sea in your own power boat, above, or a socially-distanced weekend in a camping pod, like the Pod Pairc below, West Cork is proving the perfect spot this summer, for a safe and healthy holiday at home.

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West Cork is finally coming alive for the summer after a slow start due to lockdown and travel restrictions, and some businesses are perfectly-poised to benefit from the ‘new normal’ of staycationing, writes Siobhán Cronin

FAR from suffering due to the pandemic, it seems some sectors of West Cork tourism are benefitting hugely from the fact that the government is promoting staycations.

Of course, the Wild Atlantic Way is the perfect location for a socially-distanced holiday.

Local firms are reporting a huge increase in domestic tourists, as expected, and what’s more, the Irish visitor is becoming much more adventurous in their choice of activity.

Bantry native and secondary schoolteacher Aaron O’Sullivan, who set up Bantry Bay Boat Hire three years ago, is having one of his busiest years so far.

‘We are getting a steady stream of bookings,’ explained the Bantry native, whose business is located at the railway pier, just beyond the SuperValu supermarket.

Bookings are made online for either their powerboats, kayaks or paddle boards.

Each item is carefully sanitised before and after each visit and Aaron and his staff maintain a safe distance from customers at all times.

Lifejackets are sanitised after every use and the powerboats are especially popular as an entire family of either five adults (or six, if it includes some smallies), can occupy each boat on their own.

The boats are very robust and easy to manoeuvre but Aaron is alongside you in his safety boat at all times anyway, and the tour around Bantry is a ‘follow the leader’ experience.

Aaron, well versed in the history and geography of the bay, provides excellent commentary at various stops around Whiddy, Chapel Island and looking over towards Glengarriff and Ballylickey.

But if you prefer kayaks, they come in single or double options, and the company’s location on the pier means access to the sea is very convenient, either by the new pontoon for the powerboats, or the beach itself alongside for kayaking and paddle-boarding.

Our 17-year-old proved to be an able captain on our hour-long trip around the bay as Aaron recounted the fascinating history of this little patch of West Cork, from the sea battle in 1697, to the failed French attempt to land here in 1796, to the story of Bantry House, and of course the dreadful Whiddy Oil terminal tragedy when the Betelgueuse exploded in 1979.

Like a scenic bus tour of Dublin or Cork, this is one of those trips on our very own doorstep that’s a really worthwhile way to spend an hour or two.

Over in Rosscarbery, Mary Mannion is also reporting very brisk trade at the town’s two pitch & putt courses, both with magnificent sea views and plenty of social distancing possible.

‘It’s a very different summer for us, we had to close the café and the vast majority of our customers are Irish, but people are really enjoying it,’ she explained.

The two 18-hole courses are another great way for families to enjoy some well-spaced fun and while away a few hours together.

‘We’ve removed the seats from the clubhouse and outside, but there are plenty of food options in Rosscarbery, and we are finding we are very busy, even seven days a week, and we stay open til 7pm – or 8pm, if the demand is there.’

She says Irish families are the main customers now, and many have discovered the fun and competitive elements of pitch & putt for the first time this summer.

It’s a similar story at the Top of the Rock Pod Pairc in Drimoleague where local man David Ross has been busy since campsites got the green light to reopen on June 29th.

The family used the time under lockdown to do a lot of improvement work on-site and restore an old milking parlour on David’s grandfather’s farm.

While the season may have started a little late, the seven pods and seven tent pitches have been almost fully booked ever since, said David.

‘We have kept it under control and made sure we didn’t get inundated,’ he said, ‘but we don’t allow anyone to check in until 3.30pm, so we have everything sprayed down and sanitised. And we are making sure to observe social distancing at all times.’

Before this, up to 20% of business would have been from German, Dutch, US and Canadian guests, he said, but this year it is all Irish.

‘Some have bought tents for the first time, but they have come to the right place, because they get plenty of help here,’ he said.

The Irish are happy to discover the delights of Drimoleague, he said, with Castledonovan, a pitch and putt course, a nine-mile walking trail and the Glenilen farm and café all close by.

It’s also the start of the St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Walk to Gougane Barra, so the pods are also busy with keen walkers. There are plenty of animals on-site to keep the younger visitors happy and David says he thinks the season will extend well into September this year, with many families enquiring about bookings up until the start of October.

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