This weekend we piled into the car and drove west with no real destination in mind and found ourselves on Mizen Head on one of the most beautiful days we have had since we crossed over into Ireland last month.
We had a bit of a late start that morning. Isn't that how it generally works when you travel in groups? We had a little bit of a lack of urgency since we planned to stay fairly close to the village. We started the drive by going to the Drombeg stone circle, which was only 25 minutes away.
The Drombeg Stone Circle has a little parking area and a nice path from the car park to the site which is easy strolling. A cow-proof gate makes it hard for strollers or wheelchairs, but the bigger gate was unlocked so it wasn't a problem. We had plenty of rain the week before, so the grass was soaked, but the gradual slope of the site was enough to keep it from being a muddy mess.
The highlight of the site is the stone circle, with a ring of stones ranging from about chest to head high. Unlike at Stonehenge visitors are allowed to walk right up in and among the stones, which was pretty neat. Near the stone circle there are the ruins of two prehistoric huts and also the site of a spot where the huts' inhabitants tipped stones heated in a fire into a pit filled with water for cooking. I made a mental note to adapt this fascinating technique to a low-tech hot-tup in the cabin I'd like to build one day.
The site is surrounded by the most beautiful views of hills, now covered in that characteristic Irish agricultural patchwork of fields and hedgerows. The ocean peeks through the notches between hills on either side of the rise, and there is a modern house overlooking the stone circle. How fantastic would that be, to have such gorgeous views of the ocean, hills and the stone monument right outside your window?
After Drombeg we stopped for lunch in Union Hall, at a cozy little pub restaurant called Dinty's. The food was delicious and generously portioned. Scott and I had smoked fish salads, Salmon for him and Mackerel for me, and the portion of fish was enough that we could have shared one salad with just a bit more greens. We also had a garlic potato gratin that was top-notch, as were the cajun chicken wings the Mudge ordered. The fish and shrimp duo that Sue and Martin had was also similarly great. If you find yourself in the area, I'd highly recommend you stop in for a bite. Not only was the food great, but the service was excellent, as well.
When we left, the owner saw us out the door with directions to Mizen Head. He told us if he only had one day to spend in the countryside, a visit to Ireland's most South-Westerly point would top his list. He showed us the direction we should head out of the village and wrote us a list of villages worth stopping in along the way.
The drive toward Mizen Head took us around some of the most beautiful coastline I have ever seen. There were villages with little harbors full of colorful boats, and the sun lit up the water in a perfect blue-green. We had to stop often to take it all in or to take a picture for later.
One of the places we stopped near a village called Goleen was called the Altar Rock. It was originally a tomb, but earned it's nickname when it was used for Mass during the 18th century due to the politics of the time. With Toormore Bay in the background, I imagine those church services were an impressive affair. We certainly felt inspired standing there, looking out at the tumbled crags jutting out into the aqua water.
After Altar Rock, we took a little detour to Crookhaven, which boasts the most Southernly Pint in Ireland. We nearly stayed for the rugby game at the pub (Ireland vs. France - how perfect is that!?) but since it was already a bit late we decided to keep going. I bought some postcards on our way out of Crookhaven with a fascinating bridge that turned out to be at Mizen Head! I was excited to see it in person.
Unfortunately we arrived too late, missing the gate closing by only 5 minutes. It didn't even occur to us that there would be a closing time, and certainly not so early as 4 pm. I guess those are the risks you take touring around in the off-season without a plan. As a consolation for missing the sights at Mizen Head, we still had a fantastic view from the gate of ocean cliffs and wind-swept grass falling off into the sea (see picture at top of this post). We are determined to get out there next time. While we are leaving Ireland at the end of the month, we absolutely plan to come back.