Off the Grid to Sheep’s Head

We headed out of town with Cormac to spend a few days at his family’s property in Sheep’s Head, the smallest and least known of the West Cork peninsulas. Simply put, this means less traffic, tinier roads, a smattering of people, and more unbelievably wild and breathtaking views. Sitting in the family room with a roaring fire, while watching the sea and rocky hills beyond is more of a spiritual experience than one could imagine.

After arriving, we walked to the town of Kilcrohane, a half block comprised of 2 pubs, a gas station and a market. Only the pubs were open. We continued down to the beach, and passed numerous hand-painted signs for hiking trails along the way, criss-crossing creeks with stone bridges. We ended at a stone pier jutting out into the crystal clear Atlantic Ocean, and surrounded by rocky crags.

We took the beach trail back to the house, and passed a picturesque old farmhouse complete with apple-laden orchards, fresh duck eggs for sale, and several signs pointing hikers off to various trails.

We headed home, looking forward to all the goodies we had picked up earlier. Sarah made a piccata with the pork chops she picked up, while Cormac mastered the fire. Nic opened a bottle of Verdejo, and nibbled on the plate of goodness piled with cheeses, meats, duck pate and olives. Every delicious component from Cork’s English Market. We enjoyed a lovely dinner, swapped some music, and curled up by the fire for a movie.

After a good night’s sleep, we woke up feeling happy and refreshed. Time enough for a quick breakfast (granola, yogurt, blueberries), and we set off for a morning hike. Cormac navigated us to his favorite trail – a slow descent towards the lighthouse on the tip of the peninsula, which then looped back around the other side. Sarah had her camera at the ready commenting several times that she felt like she was in Lord of the Rings, and Nic was stoked as hell – an avid hiker who misses the abundance of mountain trails she left behind for the big city. Our first leg over the ridge was so windy that each photo was a battle to remain upright and not fly off the edge.

Fortunately, as we crested the ridge, the winds died down, the sun broke through the clouds, and we began our descent towards the lighthouse.

The mountain views against the bluest of blue waters were a majestic sight indeed. It felt like we were in uncharted territory. Of course, we weren’t. We spotted a helipad right at the coastline. In any case, this was a pristinely kept piece of nature complete with bogs and old farmhouse ruins.

Nic took the lead on our way back, and Sarah had a wide smile as we spotted 3 sheep moving down a clearing towards us. She greeted them with her usual “Hi, babies.” They sized us up with no fear, and stood quietly as we snapped a few pictures. Together, we climbed the final ridge and then went our separate ways. How fun!

Two hours later, we were back in the car & feeling great from the fabulous hike. We dropped Cormac off in Bantry to catch his bus back to Cork. There was time for a quick drink, and many thank yous for being such a good friend and guide in Dublin and throughout Cork.

After our goodbyes, we opted to explore Bantry for a spell. The town is nestled along the bay and known for its mussels, which Nic intended to eat. We found our way to The Fish Kitchen, up above the local fish market and well-known for its mussels and shellfish. Sarah ordered the sea scallops and Nic promptly ordered mussels, right from Bantry Bay! The mussels were perfect – steamed in a broth of white wine, garlic, butter, shallots, tarragon. Very French, and so delicious in its simplicity. Sarah loved the sweet scallops and tasted her first mussel, which she shockingly loved! Who knew?

On our way back to Sheep’s Head, we took Cormac’s advised, more scenic route. The coastal views alone would have been enough to delight us, but we also encountered a herd of cows in the road…twice. Most people might be annoyed with this, but not us. We weren’t in any hurry. The first encounter was heaven for Sarah, but a bit jarring for Nic. She’d never seen a family of cows before, and the steer looked more than a bit perturbed with us being so close to his family. Nic was sure that this steer, about 3 paces in front of our little Hyundai rental and looking huge, could easily take us down, car and all. Nic took a deep breath, and Sarah’s calm reassurance and quiet instruction not to stare him down got us through. After an ominous drive-by stare down from the steer, he moved his family along, and off we went. Our next encounter consisted of about 20 cows being lead back to pasture by a farmer on his tractor. This was followed by several cars, and, bringing up the rear, a diligent herding dog, making sure everyone stayed in line. We pulled over as far as we could in order to make room for the parade. The cows plodded briskly, looking forward to dinner and their evening milking, and the sweet farmer smiled & tipped his hat to us.

We finally arrived back at the house, and plotted our course for the next day. There was lots of driving to come, but tonight we were still in Sheep’s Head. Sarah lit a fire, Nic brewed some tea, and we enjoyed our last quiet night in this beautiful space.

Cork, Glorious Cork

We’ve heard so many outstanding things about the food in Cork that we eagerly entered the city, anticipating greatness.  We knew that if the proud people we had met in other parts of Ireland spoke so highly of this area, we were in for a treat. Thus far, we had not been even remotely disappointed.

Lucky for us, we had the pleasure of staying with our friend Cormac and his family in Cork City. We were greeted with wine, a beautiful meal, great conversation, and soft warm beds tucked within the rooms of their beautiful old estate. Oh, and we were also greeted by the Bonars’ dog, Twiggy. Sarah immediately embraced the little Bichon Frise while Nic realized she was falling in love with her first “little dog”. We agreed Twiggy deserves a mini gallery, so please indulge.

Thank you. Now back to Cork…

The next day, we set off for the famed Cork English Market. Upon arrival, it lit us up from inside. What a feast for the eyes! Upon further research, we learned it’s one of the oldest of its kind, trading as a market since 1788.This pre-dates it from most other markets of its kind (including Barcelona’s famed Boqueria Market).

Cormac, and his brother Maurice, took us immediately to O’Flynn’s Gourmet Sausage Company where we fell upon fresh pork sausages wrapped in chewy baguettes with caramelized onions, which we promptly inhaled. With bellies full, we were ready to explore. After getting the lay of the land, we headed off in opposite directions to collect supplies for our visit to Sheep’s Head. Sarah covered On the Pig’s Back and delighted herself with tastes of several Gubbeen sausages. Nic made a beeline for the wine shop, and then hit the cheese counter to sample some beautiful local cheeses from the beautiful French cheesemonger.

The English Market is located in the heart of Cork City, as it has been for hundreds of years and is open 6 days a week.  It was easy to load up on provisions for our stay in Sheep’s Head Peninsula. We knew we would eat well.

Before we headed off, we spent one more night in Cork with a visit to the Hi-B (Hibernian), one of Sarah’s cousin’s favorite pubs & a hidden gem known only to locals. Cormac and Maurice knew exactly where this Cork institution was located, so, with mobiles safely tucked out of site (grounds for dismissal!), we entered the tiny pub at the top of the stairs. A few Guinness’ in, we were knee deep in good political conversation into the wee hours.

The following morning, we loaded up the car with Cormac in tow, and headed out to Sheep’s Head. This is the smallest and least visited finger off West Cork’s shores. Just from hearing about it from the Bonar family, we couldn’t wait! We were not disappointed.