According to Geoffrey Keating, a 17th-century priest, poet and historian, the River Blackwater at one time entered the sea at Whiting Bay but a “great convulsion of nature” in March 830 changed its flow and made its estuary at Youghal. One might fancifully ask if this stream was once that mighty river’s path.
The beach is broad at low tides, backed by a grassy slope; there are no dunes. In the far distance, we see Capel Island, 1km off Knockadoon Head at Youghal Bay’s southern entrance. The island’s tower is the truncated remains of a lighthouse which was built in the 1840s but not completed for fear its location would confuse it with other lights. The similar structure on Knockadoon Head is a signal tower from Napoleonic times. The island is now a bird sanctuary, managed by BirdWatch Ireland. According to legend, a notorious 17th century pirate named Nutt used Capel Island as a repository for his ill-gotten treasure, and at each burial site would murder a slave whose spirit would guard the hoard.
The beach, stretching almost 1.5km ahead, shows outcrops of low rock which can be bypassed along a route at the top of the beach even at the highest of spring tides but beware of any decaying seaweed which can be slippy .
Reaching the farthest rock platform, we find it holds some large pools repaying a closer look. The water, clear as glass, reveals fascinating worlds colonised by seaweeds of diverse shapes and colours, beadlet and snakelock anemones, limpets, acorn barnacles and molluscs, all at home and thriving in these miniature marine aquariums.
Continuing behind this platform, along a path amongst loose, sea-rounded stones, we come to a broken concrete slab, once a boat slip perhaps, a lifebuoy, and a track leading up to a bohreen. Behind us and eastward, we see Ardo Castle 4km away, an impressive ruin with towers, mentioned in the Civil Survey of 1654-1656 as being the property of James FitzGerald, a Catholic.
In more recent times, it belonged to Sir Joseph McKenna, a nationalist MP for Youghal. When he and his wife died, the family moved to England and, having no caretaker, it was looted in the early 1920s, then sold for the land that went with it. When the roof was taken off to avoid paying rates, it fell into decay.
Marestail, an unusual, primitive plant, thrives in profusion at the dead end of the bohreen where the beach track meets the road. The tender shoots are eaten in Japan. Also present are blowsy Japanese roses, often found growing wild along the south coast (they are salt-resistant) and Japanese knotweed, happily confined to a small patch.
Walking up the road, we pass the gable of an old barn. The road forks, and we go right, a short, steep stretch, with magnificent views of the long, curving beach below. The quiet road is romantic, a corridor through deciduous woodland, with dappled light. At a t-junction, we go right and immediately left, passing Monterey cypress (Cupressus macrocarpa) trees.
At the next T, we again go right, a quiet, slightly wider road, running straight into the distance. At the crossroads, we turn right on the country road running down to our trailhead at the beach.
From Cork, take the N25 Waterford road. 11 km beyond Youghal, watch out for big signs on left-hand ditch left Dungarvan, Waterford and signs opposite, on the right, for L6033 and L6024. Take L6033, heading towards the sea. Go through crossroads, following a brown sign ‘Whiting Bay’. The beach car park is our trailhead.
5km beach walk, then quiet, country roads. Natural history and human history. For 0.5km, a short steep track and bohreen, 6km.
OS Number 82
Aug 23: Knockadoon Loop, low level walk, meet St. Coleman’s Community College, Old Youghal Rd. Midleton, 2pm. Aug 24: Slievenamon Loop, grade B, 5.5 hrs, meet Distillery Lanes car Park, Midleton, 8.45am.
Aug 19: Bonane Loop, evening walk, meet The Square, Kenmare, 7pm. Aug 24: Borlin, Top of Coom, Grade A, meet The Square, Kenmare, 9am.
Aug 24: Clashroe Baegh, grade B, 10km., 4 hrs., meet Rackett Hall, Roscrea, 11am
Aug 19: Knockvicar, moderate, track and trail, (Sligo Way), 7mls., 2.75 hrs., meet Carraroe Retail Park, 10am.
Aug 23: Lissadel/Roughty, easy walk, 7mls., 3hrs., meet Institute of technology Car park, Sligo, 10am.