Kerry: Lone and level sands stretch far away

SHANNON ESTUARY, BUNACLUGGA BAY, NORTH KERRY

THE car park overlooks a weedy shore to the left; the white beach, backed by low dunes, begins on the right.

We set out, going right. Soon, we round Beal Point and now, to borrow from Shelley, “The lone and level sands stretch far away.” The beach is about 4.5km long; we walk eastward 3.5km along it and, at easting 93 on the OS Map, turn inland and walk approximately 5km of country roads back to the car.

On the strand, there’s a great feeling of space and distance. To our left is the estuary of the mighty Shannon. On a fine day, the sea reflects the sky, blue and glittering. The beach is wide; at low tide the distance from the dunes to the water’s edge can be 300m. At high tides, the sea laps the dunes, and we can take a path through them.

The northern shore, County Clare, is 4km distant, and looking left we see Kilcredaun Point, with its lighthouse.

On the point are two churches, a Holy Well and a gun battery built in 1814 to protect the deep-water channel that runs close to shore on that side, its 24-pound guns having a range of one mile. East of Kilcredaun, we can pick out the profile of ruined Carrigaholt Castle, built in about 1480 by the McMahons.

In September 1588, seven ships of the Spanish Armada anchored at Carrigaholt but got no aid or welcome. Nevertheless, the castle was besieged. After the Governor of Connaught had failed, the turncoat Donagh O’Brien, Earl of Thomond, captured it in the following year and hanged all the defenders, in contravention of their terms of surrender.

On the strand, we pass large tidal pools, with small fish and shellfish of interest to the amateur marine biologist. In summer, sand eels can be trapped in these, I’m told, and sprat (aka whitebait) which make a tasty starter. At low tide, on warm days, there’s the temptation to take off one’s shoes and walk in the almost tepid surf. For the budding botanist, a diversion to the dunes is also rewarding.

The dunes plants are specialists: the marram grass, the roots of which hold the sand in place against the sea, is prevalent, but there is sea plantain, sea dock, sea kale, sea holly, sandwort, goosefoot orache and a host of other ‘locals’ to be discovered. One will find colourful banded snails and, in summer, day-flying black moths with six red spots (six-spot burnets).

Across the estuary, we can see Scattery Island, an early monastic settlement with a round tower and a lighthouse, and Kilrush town.

After 2.5km, we reach a creek crossing the sand. Unless swollen by exceptional rain, it can be forded in stout boots or jumped or, if needs must, one can paddle across it.

We turn off the beach beyond a group of wild-looking cabbage palms, with houses behind, and a tarpaper-roofed flat-roofed “shop” beside a sandy road heading inland and a map board of the beach.

This is Letter; the sandy road becomes tarred and runs straight for about 2km. with some of the gunnera (giant rhubarb) growing alongside. At the cross, we turn along the coast road and about 2km along we pass Beale National School 1871, now a dwelling house.

At the Beal Point signpost, we turn down right to our Trailhead.


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