Charging bulls and the lady in white | Exploring wild West Cork

As we set off in the morning we realised our tyre was stuck in mud, luckily the other side was on tarmac so we just rolled back and forth a few times until we could pick up enough momentum to floor it. It was a miserable, rainy day again so we did a long drive down into the heart of West Cork. The drive was really beautiful towards the end as we skirted along the coastline where the sea almost looked opaque, like a milky turquoise colour. Near Crookhaven was a walk to Brow Head, which is the most southern point of mainland Ireland, beating its neighbour Mizen Head by 9 meters. In fact we decided not to visit Mizen Head as it’s only open on the weekends and we’d much rather visit a similar attraction for free and without any other people. We followed a country lane uphill towards Brow Head, getting fab views behind us of other headlands jutting out into the sea. We stepped over a simple, rock-step stile into a farmers field and made our way to the end of the land. It was an extremely windy day so we were getting pretty battered on this wild piece of land that slipped away into sheer cliffs and jagged rocks below us. The sea was just a white mess of froth, crashing into the walls. We didn’t spend long in this inhospitable place as it was tough work in the wind so we wandered back and stopped at some old miners houses from the days when this area was used for copper mining.

We plodded back through the farmers field, chatting away and about 10 meters from the stile Craig suddenly said “oh shit” and I looked up to see a cow charging towards us. I don’t know if it was a bull or a cow, I didn’t have time to inspect it’s undercarriage, but angry it most definitely was. We stopped for a split second and so did the cow, staring right at us with his head low. I looked at how far we had to reach the stile and said “RUN” but we barely made it a meter before we realised he was too quick for us and we wouldn’t make it. So Craig quickly climbed over the dry stone wall that was next to us. The cow was still coming towards us and Craig was shouting at me to jump over the wall but I was struggling to get up as the top was covered in brambles. I made it onto the wall but I was moving slowly, trying not to get tangled while Craig was freaking out as it wasn’t very high up so he thought the cow would still be able to get me “YOU NEED TO JUMP DOWN LAUREN!!” So I followed him and leaped a meter down into the next field which was literally a huge pile of brambles. Oh my god. I ripped my trousers and cut my hand and even still Craig was shouting at me to hurry up as he could see the cow was moving towards the wall behind me. I thought we were safe now but Craig was still really panicked as the cow kept making frantic moves so we climbed up another dry stone wall. It was a right palaver, our hearts were pounding but we managed to get into the next field, claw our way through even more brambles and eventually rejoin the gravel track where the cow was now staring at us from behind the metal gate. There was a sign on the gate that we’d briefly read at the start of the hike, but it just seemed like the standard farmers sign, taking no responsibility if you have an accident on his land – we assumed falling off a cliff, not being charged by one of his bulls! I started walking back to the sign to read it and have a closer look at the arsehole of a cow but Craig was convinced the cow was capable of hurdling over the fence and charging us down the road…which made me laugh and then he said “Lauren, they can probably sense you’re on your period!!” Oh did I roar “it’s not a fucking grizzly bear Craig!” but to be fair I still wasn’t relaxed and had to keep looking back to check it hadn’t stepped over the very easy stone stile. The whole walk back involved us talking what had just happened, laughing now that we were safe and wondering if it was a bull or cow and why it was so damn aggressive.

After some lunch back at Helga we drove towards another remote spot in West Cork. On the route we passed Barley Cove which was a fabulous beach with a wide river inlet leading inland and surrounded by sand dunes. Apparently it was created overnight by a tsunami following a huge earthquake in Portugal. Even on this grey, gloomy day the water was an amazing milky blue colour.

We crossed over a bridge and drove down a winding road to the very end, right above the crashing sea. As soon as we parked up we felt Helga shaking in the wind. She was rocking from side to side and we didn’t feel safe leaving her there while we went for a walk. So we thought we weren’t able to do the hike as there wasn’t anywhere else to park which I was a bit disappointed about. Luckily as we left the area we spotted a stretch of hard grass beside the road where we could park away from the worst of the wind. It was amazing how we were a couple hundred meters from the coast yet sea foam was blowing past us like heavy blobs of snow. We walked back down the road and followed a trail across pastures towards Three Castles Head.

It’s actually the ruins of one castle with three towers. It was built in 1207 so it’s quite impressive to see parts of it still standing tall today. There’s a lot of stories regarding the haunting atmosphere around the castle which is emphasised by the remoteness of the area. The last family to have allegedly resided there apparently died tragically in suicide or murder. Some say a drop of blood drops daily from the tower but the story that holds the strongest is that the place is haunted by ‘The Lady in White’ or the ‘White Lady of the Lake’. Apparently if you see her you will die imminently and I actually knew about this story long before we visited as I’m a bit of a true crime junkie. Some of you may of heard of the ‘West Cork Murder’ a true story about a French women called Sophie Toscan du Plantier who was brutally murdered outside her holiday house in this area.

This little corner of West Cork, particularly the villages of Crookhaven and Schull, became a popular place for foreigners and misfits to settle as the locals were very welcoming. The people that moved here were called ‘Blow-ins’ but the atmosphere hasn’t been the same since the murder of Sophie because the killer has never been found. There’s been trials going on for years since it happened back in 1996 and the finger has always been pointed at an eccentric Englishman who lived very close to Sophie. His name is Ian Bailey and there’s been a lot of evidence to prove he may be guilty, cuts across his hands and a bonfire the following day but also how he admitted to some locals that he did it, later claiming it was a joke. Anyway, it’s a long story and who knows if he’s guilty or not but I found the whole case very interesting. More so because before Sophie was murdered she was walking around Three Castle Head and saw or felt something that terrified her, which I assume was the lady in white. She headed straight to a nearby farmhouse where her friend lived so she could express the fear of what she’d just seen. Apparently the friend wasn’t Irish and didn’t know the myths about the lady in white. If Sophie had knocked on the door of a local they would never of let her leave that night, but alas, she went home and it’s pretty crazy to think that a few hours later she was murdered.

Today we were visiting it for ourselves and as soon as we headed down a grassy slope we got a view of the dramatic cliffs dropping to our left and the castle sitting on the shores of the lake. The wind seemed to absolutely funnel through this area like we’ve never felt before. It basically sucked us down the hill like we were in a horizontal skydiving tunnel. Craig slipped over and I was charging down the slope faster than Usain Bolt! My goodness!! It was easier to walk on the little section of flat land where the castle stood so we headed over and had a peak inside the dark towers. The lake was absolutely inhospitable with whitecaps and such strong gusts of wind that it whipped up the water and created 15ft shoots of water that moved across the lake. Some say that the water spray is in fact the lady in white, but I didn’t get a bad vibe or feel her presence so I felt safe.

We tried to continue the walk up the next hill with Craig holding my arm and trying to drag me up through the wind but it was just too hard work so we decided to call it a day. We knew it was predicted to be windy today but I’ve never felt wind this strong…and unbeknown to us there had been a change in the forecast with a yellow wind warning in place and 100kmh winds!! As we headed back up the slope Craig said “good luck” before he charged up the hill. I however didn’t have the same strength and the wind was too powerful for me. I literally couldn’t get up the hill, the wind was hitting me like a brick wall and I kept getting thrown to the ground. It was a little funny to begin with but after I was thrown to the ground for the third time, slipping right back to the bottom of the hill I was feeling a bit panicked. Craig was nowhere to be seen and I started to wonder if the wind was the spirit of the Lady in White, dragging me down and back to the lake. So I made another attempt at getting up, crawling on all fours like a demonic creature and just as I got to the crest of the hill I saw Craig hiding behind a rock in the distance and I just had time to wave one arm in the air and scream for him to help me (along with some swear words!!) just before I fell back down the hill. Craig finally came down to help but the wind basically sucked him down the hill so I watched as he flew past me and slid down on his butt. We managed to regroup and try to get up the hill further along where it was less steep and eventually we made it up. I’m pretty sure the hill side is now scarred with my claw marks. What a bloody day!!! It was like trying to walk uphill while pulling along a tractor tyre. We found a little sheltered spot to camp and the following day we left the area. We pulled over in the colourful town of Ballydehob where we had a quick stroll and found a very handy water tap to fill up Helga with.

In the southern area of County Cork was Lough Hyne, a salt water lake and Europe’s first marine reserve. It’s connected to the Atlantic Ocean by a creek and it’s created a unique underwater habitat with 72 species of fish. A short hike up a wooded trail led us to Mount Knockoumah where we got a lovely view across the lake and rolling hills. Apparently at certain times of the year the Lough is a fantastic place to see bioluminescent plankton.

We couldn’t decide where else to visit in County Cork as we had our ferry back to the UK in a few days so we decided to do a big drive to Waterford so we could spend some more time in the mountains. We did make one last stop at Coppingers Court, a fortified house from the 17th century which now sits in ruins. It was said to be so grand that it had a chimney for every month, a door for every week and a window for every day of the year. Now it was just a roofless building made of rocks. Inside we could see a local farmer used the rooms for his cows which made Craig rather nervous after we were charged by one yesterday, he thought one could come inside the building and we’d be trapped.

We ended up having a lovely sunset while we spent the night parked up on a peaceful harbour. The water was so calm and even though it was raining on and off we had perfect pink and purple clouds reflecting across the sea.

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