Want to kick back a bit in Ireland’s scenic destination of West Cork on the Wild Atlantic Way? Here is a suggested itinerary based in scenic Skibbereen, the hub of West Cork, exploring exquisite gardens and heritage sites.
Travel to Inish Beg Estate in Baltimore, West Cork and take a tour of the beautiful Inish Beg Gardens. Reached by a stone bridge off the Skibbereen to Baltimore road in West Cork, Inish Beg is a 97-acre organic estate in the River Ilen estuary. The extensive gardens and woodlands have even been selected as one of the 100 Best Gardens in Ireland (Liberties Press, 2011) as have Glebe Gardens in Baltimore. Walled, sunken, formal and woodland gardens at Inish Beg provide a range of unspoiled habitats with bird hides, ponds, and 5km of marked walks.
Explore Skibbereen’s Heritage Centre or have a picnic lunch at Lough Hyne if the weather’s fine. Then take a tour of Glebe Gardens, which includes romantic flower borders, an herb garden, courtyard gardens and the Harold Barry Walk which meanders through a small woodland to a disused – now flooded – railway cutting, with an abundance of fish, fauna and fowl.
Swimming all year is feeling like a bad idea already. Lough Hyne made it a bit easier. Still feckin' cold though! pic.twitter.com/z2CitKdcgZ
— Mark Graham (@YearOfFestivals) November 15, 2015
Over the bridge is the path to the wild flower meadow and the amphitheatre beyond; a venue for music and drama. The organic gardens at the Glebe are an ideal destination for both food lovers and garden enthusiasts alike.
After a spot of lunch in any of Baltimore’s renowned restaurants, head for Dún na Séad Castle. Built in 1215 by an Anglo-Norman named Sleynie, it became the chief residence of the O’Driscoll clan for 300 years, and was the centre for their trading and piratical activities. In 1631 the castle narrowly escaped attack by a band of Algerian pirates, who landed in Baltimore and took 107 captives to a life of slavery in North Africa. In 1649 it became a garrison for Cromwellian troops, before declining into a state of ruin.
In 1997 the extensive task of restoration began, which restored the castle to its former splendour. Visitors have a commanding view of the harbour and islands from the battlements and can peruse its 800-year history and archaeological finds.
In the village of Castletownshend, close to Skibbereen, visit Drishane House & Garden, and St Barrahane’s Church. Drishane House, built by Thomas Somerville, circa 1780 and home to successive generations of Somervilles, is a unique and timeless house containing portraits, objets d’art, and memorabilia of the family collected over 300 years. Edith Somerville who loved it and spent almost all her life there, left a strong imprint on the house and gardens. Explore magical paths through 18 acres of informal woodlands and gardens with spectacular coastal views, specimen trees, rare plants, swathes of daffodils and bluebells in spring, and montbretia in summer. Edith Somerville wrote in collaboration with her cousin “Martin Ross” (Violet Martin) under the pseudonym “Somerville and Ross”. Together they published a series of fourteen stories and novels, the most popular of which were The Real Charlotte, and The Experiences of an Irish R. M., published in 1899.
Take a tour of St Barrahane’s Church, which was built in 1826 by architect James Pain at a cost of £1,384, and used stone from Horse Island. There are 52 steps up to the church – one for every Sunday of the year, while the church boasts three magnificent windows by the famous stained-glass artist Harry Clarke (1899-1931).
Visit the Sky Garden at Lissard Gardens in Skibbereen. Within this 150 acres of gardens, ponds and woodlands is the Sky Garden, designed by the famous American artist/landscaper, James Turrell. This huge grass lined crater is entered through a tunnel to the centre of the bowl where visitors are welcome to lie on a stone plinth and gaze up at the sky – by all accounts an experience to be cherished.
— David Nottage (@davidnottage) June 3, 2015
Continue along the Wild Atlantic Way route north towards the Beara Peninsula, or south towards Kinsale, and be sure to visit the stunning Signature Points of Dursey Island and Mizen Head on your travels too.
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