Noel Baker follows in the footsteps of Pippa Middleton and pays a visit to Glengarriff and the Eccles Hotel.
One delightful aspect of Pippa Middleton’s recent visit to Glengarriff was how, at the end of an evening, she tucked into a Tayto sandwich. Surely it’s only a matter of time before Ireland’s premier crisps are being served at Buckingham Palace.
The younger sister of the future Queen of England was in this glorious part of West Cork for a wedding and stayed in a bridal suite at the Eccles Hotel.
It certainly made for some fabulous advertising for the village and its surrounds, even if, as one local told me on a recent visit, for a few days afterwards it was a case of “Pippa this, Pippa fecking that...”
Pippa and co may have been over a wedding but Glengarriff has had its fair share of famous visitors and residents over the years, not least the late Maureen O’Hara, whose five-bedroom house went on the market earlier this year.
My gang arrived in Glengarriff at lunchtime on a Saturday and we headed straight for Jim’s Coffee house, located just at the point the road begins to slope down into the village. The sun was beaming, dogs were frolicking in the back garden and the place was packed.
We devoured some delicious sandwiches — the korma pitta bread is a real hit — and then made our way to the Eccles Hotel, with its unmissable cast-iron verandah catching the eye every bit as much as the view opposite it.
Luckily, our family room opened out onto the waterfront and its the kind of vista you just want to drink in. You can see why high profile figures have decamped here over the years, among them George Bernard Shaw and WB Yeats.
And given there has been accommodation available at this site since 1745, there have been many years. Pictures of Yeats et al feature at various points in a building that reeks of history and heritage.
It’s not your identikit nouveau hotel with feng shui sofas and ergonomically-enhanced bar stools.
It’s a treasure trove of windy stairways and open fires, where the heritage seems to bounce off the walls back at you.
Recently brought under new ownership, it will be interesting to see how those in charge maintain and even develop this rich and vital sense of classy antiquity, no matter what other tweaks are made to this beautiful old building.
It’s understood the new management want to push Eccles as a choice wedding venue. Clocking the spacious dining area and the views out the windows, it’s easy to see the appeal.
Whatever changes, that view will not, and for that we can all be truly grateful. Across to the right is Garnish Island, a planned subtropical haven of exotic plants and architectural delights.
The ferry trip across takes just a few minutes but the journey is enlivened by the expanding panorama of the bay and the chance to witness seals slouching on the rocks or bobbing along by the boat.
Once across, follow the maps to make your way around the Italian Garden, Happy Valley, and down the Dell.
There are some spectacular vantage points, not least the Martello Tower, which dates from 1805, well before businessman Annan Bryce and architect Harold Peto transformed Ilnacullin into the wonder it is today.
Back on dry land, we headed off to the Ewe Experience a few kilometres out the Kenmare Road.
This is obviously a labour of love, using the side of the mountain as a canvas for a marriage of ideas and nature.
Kurt Lyndorff, formerly an overseas reporter with Danish media, chiefly Jyllands Posten, and his partner Sheena Wood, an artist and ecologist, had previously lived on Mizen Head before they moved here and built a home and garden unlike any other.
You’re greeted at the entrance by artworks including a sheep poking its head out of a Morris Minor. Inside the theme continues, with eye-popping sculptures and artworks that range from a pig in a bath to a dinosaur peaking over the undergrowth to a dragonfly made out of tin and metal.
The trail takes you through the trees, climbing up alongside a waterfall, with the artworks and associated poems developing themes such as the evolution of the planet and man’s role within it.
From an adult perspective there is much here to ponder, from a child’s perspective it is simply a wonderful place to move from one surprise to the next. My three struggled to observe the ‘no running’ rule, but in any event, we all had a workout.
Just down the road from the Ewe Experience is the local nature trail, and you can’t turn left or right around these parts without a sign pointing you in the direction of a lake or a walkway.
The proximity of sea and mountain is really something, as is the sight of the sun setting in the distance over Garnish Island. We were all wrecked by the time we made it back to the Eccles Hotel.
One perfectly-cooked steak later, I was ready for the scratcher, although I did treat myself to a drop of Jameson and water as I sat outside on the veranda and watched the world go by - not that much did. And I bought my wife a bag of Tayto.
The following morning we took a stroll up through the village, which was already gearing up for a busy Sunday and busloads of tourists, breaking things up with a visit to the playground and another stroll along the walkway that brings you across the water’s edge.
After that it was time to leave, but even then this part of the world had another surprise in store. Until this particular morning I must have been the only man from West Cork to have never travelled the route from Glengarriff to Kenmare.
Having now done so, I can only marvel at the scene, the mountains and valleys and the sea disappearing in the rear view.
It’s only when you take in the sheer breadth of the geography here that you remind yourself that this country is still a knockout.
Disappear through the tunnel hoven out of ancient rock and appear out the other side, looking over into Bonane and south Kerry and marvel at the surrounds. Even Pippa and co might agree: it puts Bucks House in the ha’penny place.
Where to stay:
Glengarriff has plenty of options. Rooms at the Eccles Hotel start at €135 per night, see wwweccleshotel.com
Where to eat:
Again, loads of options. Jim’s Coffee House is great for lunch but be warned, they don’t take cards so have some cash handy. See their Facebook page for food details. McCarthy’s Bar in the village also comes recommended.
What to do:
The Ewe Experience (www.theewe.com) is well worth a visit, while another option is the Bamboo Park (www.bamboo-park.com).
There is also the local nature trail and various walks, plus the boat to Garnish Island is a must - enquire at the pier and see www.garnishisland.com. After that, there’s always just lounging around looking at the scenery.
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