A Lighthouse Staycation at Galley Head, West Cork

A brilliant staycation at Galley Head lighthouse, West Cork, Ireland surrounded by stunning scenery.  The lighthouse is situated at the most southern point of the headland known as Dundeady Island and close to the town of Clonakilty.

Eight girls on tour staying in two private and interconnecting houses at Galley Head Lighthouse. Among us, Joanna Bourke, a Ballymaloe trained cook, who keeps us well fed and watered throughout! Check out Joanna’s fabulous food blog, The Chopping Board, for lots of great recipes and upcoming events.

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Chilled out vibes are set as we approach the lighthouse driving along the rugged coastline with the beautiful, tall, white structure in the distance, striking against the blue sky and green fields. Up and around a long winding road towards the first locked gate that opens to a private road that takes you to another locked gate, which opens into the private property of the magnificent lighthouse. Stunning. It feels like we are the only people on the island of Ireland, and on this part, we are!

Four of us arrive on the first day with the remaining four arriving the next day. We are lucky with the weather on day one, a clear blue sky and a stunning sunset – a thick fog is forecast for the rest of the long weekend but it does not dampen our spirits.

We are greeted by Lighthouse keeper, Gerald Butler and his partner Maria, who show us around the accommodation and promise to give us a private tour of the lighthouse during our stay. The rooms and kitchens are good-sized with fantastic views of the sea and lighthouse. Fully furnished, utensils, dishwasher, towels, blankets etc., plus some books, jigsaws and board games but there is WiFi for those who do not want to escape from the world completely.

After settling in, we pack a small picnic bag with beer, wine, cheese, crackers, Pringles and fancy plastic wine cups (our Ballymaloe trained chef has not arrived yet!) and head off to explore the surrounding area. We meander back down the bendy road a short distance to the nearby cliffs, wrapping up warm and settling down to watch the beautiful sunset. In the distance, and as the sun goes down, the beam from the lighthouse is visible and breath-taking.

 

 

The walk back to the lighthouse is fun and a little eerie but the beaming light guiding us ‘home’ is reassuring. The fire is lit and we relax around the kitchen table catching up over wine. It’s a clear night, so we grab some blankets and lie down on the ground outside for a short while looking up at the stars as the lighthouse beam rotates around the sky. The only sound being the sea beneath us. It is not long though before we return to our cosy house for more wine!

 

 

The following morning I wake up to spectacular views from my bedroom. The rest of the gang arrive and we get out and about to explore. Gerald stays true to his promise and comes back to give us a wonderful tour of the lighthouse – just before the fog rolls in.

The rest of the weekend is spent chilling, eating, catching up, enjoying great food, stories, music, singing, new friends, old friends, wine and more wine, open fires, walks and laughs, lots of laughs.

 

 

Throughout our stay I feel the ebb and flow of the sea and the energy from the lighthouse, even in the fog it shines brightly. I sleep better than I have slept in a long time. The energy among friends and place is electric and one of the best I have experienced.

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Gerald has written a wonderful book titled, ‘The Lightkeeper’ detailing his memories as a lightkeeper for Irish Lights and his experiences serving at many lighthouses on the Irish coast during his 21 year full-time career.  An extraordinary story-teller and charming man, Gerald says: “The secret to staying happy is about being constantly curious, being open to new things and to go with the ebb and flow of life.”  This lovely, short video of an interview with Gerald captures him and the stunning scenery around Galley Head perfectly!

If you’re planning a break away with family or friends I cannot recommend a stay at Galley Head lighthouse highly enough! A magical experience. Galley Head is an Irish Landmark Trust property and to book a stay, check out their website. Also, check out the Great Lighthouses of Ireland website to find out more about the lighthouses on the island of Ireland.

 

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West Cork Photography Breaks

A home away from home is how I would best describe West Cork Photography Breaks.  A perfect getaway filled with great food, nature, photography and fun, led and hosted by UK and Ireland based photographer, Celia Bartlett.

In Spring and Autumn Celia hosts a series of four-day photography workshops in the lovely ‘ Yellow House’ located on Toe Head, Castletownshend, which holds a Fáilte Ireland Welcome Standard for Quality Assurance and its welcome. Celia guides guests along some of the most scenic places in West Cork to photograph and learn more about this beautiful part of the country.

I love travelling around Ireland, taking photos (on my iPhone) and posting them on Instagram so when I heard about this workshop in the heart of the Wild Atlantic Way, I was keen to check it out.  Even though I find professional cameras a little intimidating, Celia reassured me that her workshop was for all levels and that I could use my iPhone if I preferred.

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Toe Head, Castletownshend, West Cork

When I arrived at The Yellow House, the kettle was boiling and Celia introduced me to fellow guest Sara, a lovely librarian from the UK. Celia served a delicious homemade chowder with giant prawns caught fresh that morning in Union Hall. (Celia is also trained in gluten-free food preparation). The house was charming and my bedroom was lovely, a perfect start to the weekend.

After lunch we went for a ramble to take some photos around Toe Head and the small beach just a stone’s throw away from the house. The weather was a little dull, but I found the experience very relaxing. Usually when travelling I like to take snap shots of the beautiful things I see, whereas here I was seeking out the shot to learn more about how to capture the right light, composition and angles with Celia’s guidance. I was hooked and it got me thinking about investing in a pro-camera. Later that evening, over a hearty Irish meal and a couple of glasses of wine, we shared some of our photos taken during our ramble and Celia provided her feedback. Sara was streets ahead of me but Celia’s easy-going manner made me feel comfortable. Celia gave me some great tips and it was obvious that she was used to working with all levels. Here are some of my favourite shots (taken with my iPhone)…

The next morning after a full breakfast, we headed off for a whale watching trip with Cork Whale Watch. The short drive to Reen Pier near Union Hall to catch the boat was beautiful and reminded me of a place called Vatos in Corfu.  At the height of the season, skipper Colin Barnes told us that he could see up to 90 whales in one day, including humpback and fin whales. We spotted several minke whales during our trip and hearing the sound of a whale exhale air explosively through its blowhole was incredible. We chased the birds gathering around whales to feed. Sara managed to get some great shots of gannets diving into the sea like bullets. She also got a great shot of grey seals resting on the Stag Rocks. Dolphin pods are usually spotted too but not the day we were out, unfortunately.

A couple of days later, I heard that basking sharks were spotted and filmed on one of Colin’s tours. The west coast of Ireland is one of the best places in the world to encounter or see Basking sharks, according to Emmett Johnston of the Irish Basking Shark Study Group from a recent interview with the Irish Independent.

Later that evening, we settled in front of the fire with a glass a wine and a delicious slow-cooked lamb meal. We went through our photos from the day and chose three of the best from Sara. I was happy enjoying the chats, wine and picking up lots of tips from Celia. Sara’s fantastic photo of the seals was submitted into the local newspaper and subsequently published. Result!

Our final full day was spent exploring Union Hall, Lough Hyne and Baltimore Harbour. We enjoyed a fabulous dinner in Richy’s Restaurant in Clonakilty followed by craic agus ceol in DeBarra’s pub, one of the finest music pubs in Ireland. Trad music sessions are held in DeBarra’s every Monday night and on the night we visited the owner was celebrating the birth of his first grandson, offering everyone a drink to wet the baby’s head! Only in Ireland. A great night to finish off a lovely weekend and we learned how to professionally photograph a trad session to boot!

Over the course of the four days, Celia encouraged me to try out her pro-cameras, she taught me the basics and shared lots of great tips. Feeling a little more confident, I took some shots of the trad session with Celia’s Olympus pro-camera. I no longer felt intimidated. I was hooked and a pro-camera has been added to my Santa list!

This is a lovely break away not just for those interested in nature and photography but also those seeking to try something new. It is also a great opportunity to meet new people with similar interests. Celia’s hospitality is second to none and all food served is locally produced and sourced. It was Sara’s first time in Ireland and she told us she had ‘experienced a real taste of Ireland’, ‘felt part of the community’ and found the ‘friendliness overwhelming’!  Sara, if you’re reading this…come back soon and stay longer, we’ll look after you.

The four-day all inclusive photography workshop costs €590 (subject to exchange rate). This includes accommodation, all meals, tours, use of photography equipment and transfers to and from Cork Airport. Bookings for 2016 Autumn workshops in September and October are open. To book and find out more click here.