Day 13 / Sunday, 23 September 2012
We were up and in Olive’s capable breakfast hands by nine o’clock. We were leaving Cork—we’d all loved it—but had a delightful day ahead of us yet.
I can’t tell you enough how much we all loved our stay at the Auburn House. It’s exactly what you look for in a B&B: comfy, quiet, reasonably priced. And Olive and her husband are just swell. I walked down to the car park to bring the car around and realized—go ahead, laugh—I didn’t have the car keys. So I huffed and puffed back up the hill and Olive took one look at me and sent Kieran off to do it.
By this time I thought I was familiar enough with Cork—and the map of Cork—that I could get us to the highway but … I was not. We got a little lost. (It seemed so simple!) So finally we relied on GPS Emily, who did get us out of town. We were going to take a leisurely drive along the N71, a repeat of the route Gerry and I had taken, also on a Sunday, back in 2003. As then, our destination was Kenmare, taking the much-less-direct scenic route; I remembered this as a leisurely day, with plenty of time to stop, take pictures, and so on. Go ahead and pull it up on Google Maps—you’ll see.
And we hit the road, first heading due south out of Cork, with gradual tweaks to the west … through Bandon (pop. 6,640) … Clonakilty (pop. 4,150) … Rosscarbery (pop. 936). We were headed toward Glandore, and the Drombeg stone circle; right around Rosscarbery we left the N71 for the R597, thinking we were on our way.
But we weren’t, actually. I have searched and searched and searched Google Maps, trying to figure out where we ended up—but no joy. (I’m not kidding when I say I spent at least an hour looking at Google street photos, “driving” up and down the coast trying to determine the location. Something has changed, I guess.)
Gosh, it was lovely. Misty, quiet. There were houses scattered around, but there didn’t seem to be a town, per se. We spent quite a bit of time there, taking pictures and picking up rocks (the two I picked up are sitting on the bookcase in the living room).
I was intrigued by the gulls, floating on the water in a small flock. Waves were coming in at a good little clip, and they’d ride one until it was about to crest, then flutter up into the air—and settle back down again once it was past. Over and over. I walked back to the car to get the long lens and took several shots.
Finally I asked one of the dog-walkers if we were on the road to Glandore. Nope! But he gave us directions and off we went, taking pictures along the way.
We backtracked and followed the signs and all was well. Gerry and I just happened on the stone circle back in 2003; it wasn’t a plan. So I was a bit shocked to read in Wikipedia that this site is “one of the most visited megalithic sites in Ireland.” It is a one-lane road that takes you to Drombeg, and on that sunny day in 2003, we drove the last two or three hundred yards or so on a cart track, with the fuchsias lining the lane brushing the car on both sides. Let me tell you, I am genuinely glad we didn’t meet someone coming the opposite direction from this most-visited site.
So we parked, and walked up the lane. It’s a nice little stroll, listening to the bees buzz in the fuchsia. As always, Jill and Alli were long out of sight up the lane, but then I looked around and I was alone. Margaret wasn’t with me. Margaret? I called. Margaret? I walked back. Margaret? Then there she was, coming around the curve looking very self-satisfied, with a cat-that-ate-the-canary grin—she’s been picking and eating wild blackberries. 🙂
And then there we were—step through a hedge, and there is a Bronze Age circle.
Just west of the circle are the remains of two prehistoric huts and their cooking pit, called a fulacht fiadh. This is how the ancients cooked: the pit was filled with water, perhaps diverted from a stream. A fire was built next to the pit; stones were heated in the fire, then dropped into the water, which then came to a boil—and cooked the meat placed in the water.
Back in the car, we continued on the R597 to rejoin the N71. This would take us through the village of Glandore. We stopped along the way, of course, to take photos! Lots of photos!
As we came through Glandore, we realized Alli needed her morning coffee and it was noon and we were all ready for something to eat. And there was a pub … so we stopped. I don’t mind saying we would have a very memorable lunch here. 🙂
I’ve always been in Ireland during the off-season, so I only hear about things like the regatta held here every August. Glandore Harbour is large, long and narrow—perfect for such sailing events. The village itself has a population of less than a thousand, but several nice restaurants and pubs (although there are no shops).
The Glandore Inn looked nice and we went inside. And even though you’ll have noticed how overcast it was, even though there was a considerable amount of mist in the air, we decided to sit outside. Because all in all it was a very nice day—and there was that spectacular view of the bay.
We had a really, really nice lunch. I chose parsnip and blue cheese soup (it was wonderful) and Margaret is still raving about the fish chowder she had. It even rained on us once, but such was the charm of the day that no one panicked, no one rose to take cover. This was Ireland, after all; we just carried on. And the rain passed after a few minutes. We lingered and enjoyed the moment. There was a little dog that belonged to the owners of the B&B down the road … but who was apparently a regular at the pub, as she had her own bowl just outside the door—although her preference was for treats from the patrons (Jill slipped her a few goodies).
But Kenmare was waiting, so we followed the road back up to Leap (locals pronounce it Lep; the population is fewer than one thousand) then turned west onto the N71. Through Skibbereen (pop. 2,000) … and then we spent a little time trying to find the Baltimore Beacon, although we eventually had to turn back without success. Those tiny roads can get confusing, and the afternoon was wearing on, and we still had a way to go to get to Kenmare. And that way isn’t always easy driving.
So … onward, N71. Turned sharply north at Ballydehob (pop. 810) and headed toward Bantry (pop. 3,309), which has a spectacular bay. The road drives right alongside the water, and has many places to pull over to admire the natural beauty.
Just before you get into Bantry town, there is a bayside cemetery that really grabs your attention. Gerry and I had stopped here in 2003—before they turned it into a tourist attraction. Bantry Bay is quite large, and has been the site of more than one maritime disaster—now memorialized in a small park just next to the cemetery (which seems to house local residents, not disaster victims). This turned out to be a theme on this trip: things have been “improved” … but I mostly don’t care much for the improvements.
And then back in the car! We must keep going! Except, of course, when nature calls in Glengarriff (population 800). We popped into a gas station to use the facilities. Next door, a massive hotel. Across the street, still, the bay.
As we drove through the shopping district in Glengarriff, some shops piqued our interest, so we stopped again. The most interesting thing (although one shop had some nice sweaters, with a good selection and prices—and if you’re in Ireland, a sweater is a good souvenir to buy) turned out to be the garda (police) station!
When Gerry and I were making our way to Kenmare nine years ago, he warned me that those last twenty miles into the town are … exciting (even with the pause!), and I did try to warn my traveling companions how wildly beautiful it is, the pass through the Caha Mountains … in the late afternoon … in the rain … through the tunnels. I have tons of photos of this stretch of the road from that trip. I have no photos from this trip, as the mountain road was a little too exciting for some members of the party. So we just didn’t stop. 🙂 However, I want you to see this—so here’s a little video that I am thrilled to have located. And it was made on a pretty, sunny day.
At last we arrived in Kenmare (pop. 2,175). In the pouring rain (although it did stop, finally). Both times I’ve been here it’s been late in the day without any time left on the schedule to explore … and what was on the schedule today was dinner at Tom Crean’s, a locally celebrated restaurant. (We also lodged here for the night; there are a few rooms upstairs, though it is not a B&B, as no breakfast is offered.) It’s named for Kerryman Tom Crean, who enlisted in the Royal Navy at the age of fifteen and in 1901 volunteered to join Robert Scott’s Antarctic expedition. He participated in four major British expeditions to Antarctica, including the one led by Ernest Shackleton.
As noted, Tom Crean’s has quite a word of mouth reputation for fine dining, and we were looking forward to it—even more so because Gerry knows the owner/chef. He had called and made these reservations especially for us. And as it turns out, this may have set the bar for our expectations too high.
I’m sure the restaurant is very nice. Lots of folks have left glowing reviews on TripAdvisor and such. But it wasn’t good for us. Jill and Alli declined to eat there, and they may have been right to do so. Again, the service was very, very slow. We’d had slow service at the Shelbourne for tea, it was slowish at the Pearl Brasserie in Dublin, it was very slow at Paradiso Café, the vegetarian restaurant in Cork. And it was extremely slow at Tom Crean’s.
Again, I think this is must be an Irish thing. I was checking the review of Tom Crean’s and found this, from the owner/chef: “As regards the bill, I have warned the staff to allow guests to relax and enjoy their evening and not present the bill until requested.” So clearly this is a cultural difference from the States; we are brought a bill, usually with a cheerful “don’t rush!” and we sit there until we are ready to get up. No one feels pressure just because the bill is lying there, nor do we feel pressured if the bill’s been paid and we’re still sitting there chatting. So that’s an illumination, for sure, about how to dine out in Ireland.
But get this: we were seated at 6:30, and the restaurant wasn’t busy, just a couple people in the dining room. It had been a long day, and we were ready to eat. Bread was brought, which we devoured, but the water didn’t come with it; we weren’t brought water until after 7:00. The starters arrived at 7:30. (Mine was French onion soup, but thickened, and not all that special; I’ve had better out of a can, honestly.) Again, the dining room was quiet; this was Sunday evening. The menu is predominantly fish and seafood, which is not good for me; I ordered the one chicken item on the menu, and it was unmemorable. Although I did eat it, because it didn’t arrive until after 8:00. That’s ninety minutes before the entrée arrived. And yes, we waited and waited and waited for the check; it was 9:30 before we were released from this award-winning (and expensive!) restaurant.
I should note that not all the service was this slow: the man at the next table came in long after us and was served before us. He was eating his dessert by the time our entrees arrived. So not only did we not get any sort of acknowledgment (“Oh, you’re the Yanks Gerry called us about!”), we actually got worse service than others in the room. I really hate to give a bad review, especially to a place I’d really anticipated with excitement. I hate to say it, also, because I checked the reviews online as I wrote this, and while most are enthusiastic, a few folks had the same sort of experience we had—slow service, so-so food, and high prices—and in every case, the owner responded very defensively (at least to these American eyes).
I won’t recommend this as a place to stay either. There’s no parking; you park on the street (good luck with that) and then roll your luggage up the hill. And you enter the accommodations from outside the restaurant. The wi-fi didn’t work; I called and asked what I was doing wrong but got no sympathy other than “It’s slow for us too.” Our room was freezing, with three single beds squished into it; the light in the hall was on all night; the rooms had ridiculous antique keys that were difficult to use every time. There was also a sharp point (the end of a nail, hammered up from the bottom) sticking up on the tabletop; I became aware of it pretty quickly but a person could hurt herself on that. The tiny cheap duvet cover barely covered the top of the bed; I had to tuck myself in like a sleeping bag to stay covered. I don’t think they’re particularly interested in the lodging part of the business, frankly. Which is fine; I don’t think I’ll ever go there again. Good night!
The man seated at the table next to us in Tom Crean’s seemed to get a meal from a different chef in a different kitchen. He relished every bite. Then he chose the cheese tray from the dessert menu—and I truly lusted after it. There were four different cheeses, with fruit, artfully arranged. I could have easily made a meal from it! Yum!