Student Ambassador Blog by Cashie Naylor – North Carolina State University
I once heard Ireland described as the nursery of serendipity and I have never heard a truer statement. There are so many places to discover off the beaten path and I have endless memories and pictures of the most random and coolest things I happened upon while studying at UCC. Almost anywhere you go you can find something striking and unique, whether it be a local fisherman painting by the sea or a fairy space where people leave coins for good luck (yes, I know of both from personal experience). West Cork County in particular holds a high number of amazing spots to explore that I consider hidden gems of Ireland as many people, even local Corkonians, aren’t familiar with them.
Some of my new best friends and I put together a day trip through West Cork in early May. We all wanted one last adventure together and had heard of how beautiful the area is. I will say it is hard to explore without a car (make friends who have cars, or at least friends aged 23 and up who can rent them), but West Cork turned out to have some of my absolute favorite spots in Ireland. We spent a day a week before our trip planning what we wanted to see, but overall stayed open-minded to changes or stops of places we saw along the way.
Our day started off traveling south towards Nohoval Cove, a beautifully hidden gem that is incredibly hard to find but so worth it (pro tip: use Google Maps not Apple Maps). Believe it or not we spent around 2 hours midday there with no one else in sight. The vast cliffs and ancient ruins make it a great spot to walk around and explore. There is just something special and tranquil about this cove that made me want to spend all day there. I mean seriously – look at these pictures. How is this not a popular spot for typical tourists traveling by car through Ireland? I guess it will just be our little secret.
From Nohoval we drove west towards Kinsale, a colorful little town that you’ll hear plenty about while in Ireland. We stopped through for a quick lunch at Dino’s, a famous fish & chips spot, before heading west along the coast. It is pretty easy to find beautiful, scenic routes as the Wild Atlantic Way runs through West Cork. Occasionally we would stop off at beaches or viewpoints as we made our way towards the tiny, coastal town of Baltimore.
After a long afternoon of scenic drives we ended up in Baltimore, where we stopped for a pint and dinner. We had the absolute best luck with weather that day with it being in the 70s, a rarity for Ireland in early May. Locals and tourists alike were out eating and enjoying the weather all throughout the streets of Baltimore. After dinner we took a short 15 minute walk to the Baltimore Beacon, a beacon sitting on a cliff high above the town. By the time we hiked up there we ended up in the midst of the most surreal clouded mist – once again the only souls around. We couldn’t tell how far the cliff below us dropped and we were surrounded by white rainbows appearing everywhere off the cliffs. I’m telling you mother nature was truly on our side that day. After some time the clouds moved on and we were left with a beautiful view of the bay as the sun set over the land.
Our incredible day of adventuring ended back in Castlehaven Bay for an excursion of night kayaking. We booked this night a couple of weeks in advance with Atlantic Sea Kayaking after hearing amazing reviews of the experience, and it did not disappoint. We met the tour guides right as night was setting in and prepped for our adventure in the bay. I won’t spoil it all for you but between the guides’ storytelling of pirate and war history related to the bay and the bioluminescent plankton lighting up as we paddled it was an incredible two hours that felt like five minutes (pro tip: if you book this excursion wait until mid-May or farther into the summer if possible as the bioluminescent plankton relies on sunlight and heat.) I definitely suggest Googling videos of kayaking with bioluminescent plankton, it’s something to see!
Whether you find yourself planning a road trip similar to this one, or just end up hopping on a local bus towards a town you’ve never heard of near Cork, make a day for you and your friends to explore the serendipitous nature of Ireland. I guarantee no matter where you look there are local adventures everywhere, and you’ll find yourself falling in love with the everyday beauty and hidden gems of this country.