West Cork Picnic Run April 2022
Our first picnic run of 2022 took place in beautiful West Cork, on Sunday 10th April, with cars based at the West Lodge Hotel. Upon arrival we were all greeted by our host and run organiser for the day, Ian Clayton. As well as an authority on all things Seven, Ian proved that he knows a thing or two about West Cork roads as well. Now, this scribe thought he knew his West Cork roads too, but while I always knew where I was geographically, I found myself dissecting all my familiar roads and heading up winding, twisting, boreens, that challenged both car and driver, but more of this later.
After the customary unloading of cars and greeting of our fellow drivers and passengers, Ian quickly gathered us together for a very brief and efficient morning briefing and distribution of travel packs, which included our geographical route map, ‘Tulip’ directions and additional info on the route, plus local tourist information. I have to confess at this stage that I got no further than the geographical route map and tulip directions before the run started, but I am now reading all the info provided by Ian and now I’m make sense of the route. I’m sorry Ian! A volunteer was looked for to lead the run and our newly elected chairman, Declan Grogan, raised his hand and committed to leading the group. Thank you Declan and your co-driver, whose name now escapes me, but a thorough gentle man you are.
So, at approx. 11am sharp (?) all six cars departed the West Lodge Hotel and headed west towards Bantry Town, passing Bantry house to our right and Whiddy Island a distant view to our left. As we exited the town towards Ballylickey, we turned right onto our first rural road and headed into the Mealagh Valley. Now, as mentioned earlier, I know my west Cork roads but not having studied the route map in detail, I innocently thought that these were the kind of roads to be travelled on during the day. Oh Innocent me! After five or six miles we turned right onto the first of Ian’s more challenging roads and for several miles trundled along on lovely ‘back roads’ until our first stop, at the monument for Captain Francis O’Neill, a local hero who is famous for collecting and publishing the music of hundreds of traditional Irish dance tunes back in the 1800s, which are still in print today.
Following a brief stop to regroup and have a wander around the monument, we moved on again and shortly joined the main Cork – Bantry road heading briefly towards Bantry, before turning left onto more rural roads once again, to climb the lower slopes of Coomnagorragh along some moorland country side, with views out towards Roaring Water Bay. Shortly afterwards we headed west on the N71 towards Ballydehob, but this piece of main road was short lived, as we were directed onto another narrow country road and even more challenging hills to navigate.
I have neglected to mention up to now all of Ian’s little ‘7’ arrows. As well as committing the route to map and Tulip directions, Ian placed small discrete arrows along the route, which were a real aid to navigating the route. It was very reassuring to see the little ‘7’ arrows appearing just when you were thinking ‘I can’t still be on the right road’. A real bonus, but a lot of hard work no doubt.
The geographical map in my head placed me somewhere between Bantry, Ballydehob and Durrus and sure enough, following another short stop at Barra Bhealaigh, overlooking Dunmanus Bay, we dropped down onto the Durrus – Schull road and into Durrus village. Following a sharp left in the village, we headed out along the northern side of Dunmanus Bay. This is a wonderful piece of road, nicely surfaced, but still interesting to drive, particularly at Austin Seven speeds. At the eight mile mark we stopped again, this time at the Air India Memorial. This spot contains a monument in memory of the 329 people who perished when an Air India Boeing 747 crashed off the Kerry Cork coast in 1985, following the detonation of a bomb planted by Sikh militants. Cork sculptor, Ken Thompson, created a wonderful sun dial in memory of the victims and is placed in a memorial garden looking out to sea. While we were stopped here we met a group of female sea swimmers who were fascinated with our little cars and took many photos to remember the encounter.
Back on the road, we travelled through Ahakista, now made famous as the Irish home of Graham Norton and also the Tin Shed pub, probably one of the smallest pubs in Ireland, but a great place for a pint! Within seven miles we were at our lunch stop and ‘Eileen’s Bar’ in Kilcrohane village where a very warm welcome awaited us. Family members and friends of some of our group were also here to join us for lunch and swell our numbers. Eileen had laid on some very welcome tea, coffee, scones and sandwiches, all of which were demolished in double quick time and here we settled in for a nice chat for an hour or so, where we recounted various memories of the morning spin.
After lunch we had the choice of some additional miles and to head out towards The Sheep’s Head. Five of the six cars made the short trip out, stopping at a viewing point about two thirds of the way out. Unfortunately, the weather was about to turn wet, so after a quick photo it was decided to head back to Kilcrohane and after one further good bye to Eileen and our extra lunch guests, we began the final leg of our journey back to Bantry.
This final leg of our journey took us along the northern side of the Sheep’s Head peninsula. Because the weather had turned windy, a bit wet and getting colder by the mile, drivers began to focus on getting back to The West Lodge car park and before long we found ourselves back at the junction opposite the hotel and all at once the ‘incredible tour’ was over.
Within a few minutes, all the cars were parked back up on their respective trailers and tied down awaiting their journey home. The odd pool of oil or coolant under some of the cars the only sign of the ninety or so miles just travelled. I always have a twinge of sadness when an enjoyable spin with good friends (and cars) has just finished and it is back to the real world again. Thankfully, both Ian and Declan spoke of our forthcoming runs during the summer and already I’m thinking of my next outing.
So…. a huge thank you to Ian for delivering a West Cork run to be remembered. For all the hard work you put into organising the day, the route map and tulip directions, the little ‘7’ direction arrows, the detailed description of the route of all that we would see, plus the tourist info pack. A lot of hard work and a wonderful day, Thank you again Ian.