The Wild Atlantic Way is the longest signed coastal drive in the world. Stretching an impressive 2,500km, the Wild Atlantic Way links Malin Head in north Donegal to Kinsale, Cork. The route contains 157 discovery points across 9 Counties. Part 1 of my Wild Atlantic Way series looks at County Cork and some of the highlights it has to offer along the coastal drive.
Our journey began with the Copper Coast in Waterford. From here, we made our way west towards our first stop along the Wild Atlantic Way – the people’s republic of Cork! A County rich in history, culture, music and tradition, the Rebel County has plenty to offer visitors along their travels. Here are just a few of the highlights to look out for in Cork along the drive.
The Jameson Experience
OK, so technically Midleton isn’t part of the Wild Atlantic Way but it is definitely worth visiting. The internationally famous whiskey originated in Dublin but moved to Cork in the 1970’s. The tour begins with a short film clip introducing visitors to the history of Jameson whiskey. From here, the walking tour brings visitors all across the old distillery, showcasing some of the key buildings (some of which date as far back as the 1800’s).
One of the highlights (apart from the complimentary drink at the end) is the cask storehouse. In here, thousands of ageing whiskey barrels line the store walls and the smell emanating from them is simply gorgeous. Towards the end of the tour is my (actual) favourite part of the tour, the whiskey tasting. For just 16 Euro (cheaper rates available online) this tour is definitely value for money. The tour takes roughly one hour, ending in the gift shop where you can pour your own bottle of Jameson.
Kiss the Blarney Stone
Built by the McCarty family over 600 years ago, there is plenty to see and do at Blarney castle. The castle itself is unfortunately now in ruins but restoration work enables us to see and explore the castle. Atop the castle is the famous Blarney stone which is said to give anyone who kisses it the gift of eloquence. From the top of the castle, there is a beautiful 360-degree view of the estate.
But the castle is only half the story. The surrounding gardens and grounds are equally as impressive. With over 60 acres of sprawling parkland, the grounds include many beautiful gardens, arboretums, lakes, waterfalls and children’s play areas. Some of the highlights include Blarney manor house, the rock close and fairy glen, the castle dungeons and the poison gardens.
The fishing village of Kinsale
Kinsale is a historic port and fishing town in the south of Cork. As well as a strong fishing history, it also has a significant military history. We stayed for two days in Kinsale and I’m sorry we didn’t stay for longer. There is so much to see and do in this small town. Sailing, fishing, kayaking, scuba diving and whale watching (seasonal) are just some of the water based activities available. If you’re not up for adventures on the sea there are loads of land-based activities including horse riding, cycling, golf, walking tours and visiting the extravagant Charles Fort.
The town itself has an electric feel to it, especially in the summer months. Food enthusiasts will be spoilt for choice with a wide selection of fresh sea food restaurants to choose from. At night, the streets come alive with the sound of traditional Irish music playing from the many local pubs.
Charles Fort is located just outside Kinsale on top of the cliff face, looking out over the harbour. The star shaped fort holds significant historical and military importance. Despite numerous canon raids over its lifetime, the fort is still well preserved today. Admission is only 4 euro and visitors can walk freely around the grounds. There are loads of stone walled buildings to explore and the views of Kinsale from atop the battlements are spectacular.
Moving on along the coastline
Following on from Kinsale, Edel and I made our way along the coastline to Skibbereen where we spent a night partying with the locals in a small pub. Fuelled by locally brewed craft beer, we spent the night singing and dancing along to the tunes of a local trad-band. The next morning we hit the road again, stopping off in Schull (pronounced ‘skull’) for some lunch and a quick look around the marina.
Mizen Head – Ireland’s most southerly point
The drive to Mizen Head is slow, with narrow winding roads taking up most of the journey. The Wild Atlantic Way has an equally wild Atlantic road. However, you quickly forgive the quality of the roads once you reach the coastal inlets. Spectacular views of cliff fronts and sandy beaches mark the coastline throughout the journey with plenty of places to pull-in for those perfect Instagram opportunities.
The iconic arc bridge stems from the mainland out to the signal station. There is a viewing area to the right looking down over the bridge which offers some truly remarkable views of the bridge and coastline. As well as the bridge there are two great viewing points located on the seafront. To the left down the path you can see the sea arch and to the right across the bridge is a great viewpoint which looks out over the Dunlough Bay and as far as the Beara peninsula.
Tips and tricks
- Accommodation along the Wild Atlantic Way (and everywhere else in Ireland) is expensive. We camped everywhere we went which was far cheaper at only 20 euro a night. All of the camp sites have clean toilets, hot showers and many other amenities such as playgrounds, tennis courts etc.
- Bring a warm jacket. Even on a sunny day, strong cold winds blow in from across the Atlantic.
- Pack a picnic. Restaurants along the drive target tourism with ‘”traditional” Irish cuisine at extortionate prices. Hit a local supermarket and pack yourself a picnic for a much more enjoyable and substantially cheaper meal.
- The footpaths around Mizen Head are VERY hilly, so if choose to go down, make sure you’re prepared to make the ascent back up!
- Prepare for rain. Even if the forecast is sunny, it’s Ireland so rain is inevitable.
Thanks for reading,