AS COMMUNITIES realise the advantages of old railway lines, greenways are springing up all over the country.
The cherry on the cake is the Great Western Greenway in Co Mayo which attracts around 200,000 visitors per year.
By way of promoting their areas in a sea context there are now several blueways being designed around the country to encourage kayakers, canoeists and paddleboarders to check out some of our 1,148km of coastline.
Most of these water routes are in Mayo and Galway but Bantry is flying the flag for Cork with a just-opened network of three water routes in the harbour.
It might seem an odd time of the year to go kayaking, but on a calm day in a cosy wetsuit it is one of the best ways to explore nature.
There are several types of craft that can be used to explore the blueways. Conventional kayaks move swiftly through the water and are very popular. Canadian canoes have high sides and can take up to three people. A third option is the paddle board. Vanessa Gouldsmith and her partner Rob have been running their paddle boarding business from Skibbereen for five years and regularly run trips and courses in Lough Ine, Tragumna, Baltimore, Schull and Crookhaven. With the opening of the blueway at Bantry they expect much more business there.
Most paddle boards are used for stand-up paddling (SUP) and are more suitable for shorter trips around beaches and piers. Heading out from the harbour though we opted for a sit-down version, with a canvas seat built in. The board is really light and easy to carry down to the Abbey Beach on the west side of Bantry. Zipped-up in a wetsuit and lifejacket provided by Vanessa it is time to put these foam and fibreglass vessels to the test.
The water is completely still as we cross the pebble beach and push off. Manipulating the paddle is easy as we glide through the water like Daniel Day Lewis in Last of the Mohicans. Our destination is Whiddy Island which protects the inner harbour from the worst of the pounding seas. But on a day like this the extra security is barely required. First point of contact is the South Beach on the mainland and then it’s on to the North Beach on Whiddy itself. Rabbit Island is used for cattle grazing and lies just in front of the Whiddy pier. We stop for a quick look and to take pictures. The historic Bantry House can be seen in the distance.
Back ‘on board’ we glide past the Whiddy pub as we decided to adapt the route to our own selfish purposes and grab a coffee on the way back. There are hundreds if not thousands of mussels beds and it is a testament to the co-operation reached between the fishermen and the Port of Bantry that the route was established in the first place. Onwards then to the north-east of Whiddy near to Horse Island. The clarity of the water allows for vision right to the bottom on places and coiled starfish and darting tiddlers can be seen.
The route now crosses the harbour to Reenbeg Point and on to Railway Pier before fetching up at the Abbey Beach. However, we want our coffee so we head along for 2km back to Whiddy and the welcoming Bank House pub. On a lovely sunny day having got to this island under our own steam we are in good spirits. After coffee we retrieve our paddle boards, old hands by now, we cruise back to Abbey Beach in 20 minutes. A perfect day out and completely safe. Rob agrees.
“Paddling in Bantry is good as there is usually a part of it that is sheltered and quiet enough to be safe for all ages/ abilities. There are several areas to stop and take a break (especially the pub on Whiddy), excellent safe launching points and the scenery is beautiful,” says Rob.
The three Blueway routes do cater for all levels and can also be reversed/ mixed for variety and prevailing weather conditions. Rob says the main types of people who have been paddling this year are children, sports clubs, and groups of friends/ parties, mainly women and, or families.
He says Bantry has other advantages too. “Some of the main benefits of paddling in Bantry is that all the launching areas have good parking, the proximity of the town for food and drink, the good variety of accommodation in the area and from our point of view the availability/ access for rescue/ emergency services in the harbour,” he says.
Trail users are strongly advised to check the forecast, especially wind strength, before venturing forth.
- www.atlanticseakayaking.com www.bantrybayport.com
- www.westcorkseakayaking.com www.bantrybaysailingclub.org www.carberysailing.com
- www.darrenskayaks.com www.bluewaysireland.org