Four days in the Kingdom
I was most happy to acquiesce to her request. It sounded good, it made my insides thrum low. A five-hour haul down and across to that gnarled paw of Ireland's southwest where the twisted, arthritic fingers of counties Cork and Kerry claw out from the coastline into the Atlantic... I put the fins in just in case. We're a little ball-bearing rattling and ricocheting through a mute post-winter grey-green monochrome. At the various somewhere pitstops on the fringes of sodden bogs, or lolling pastures tattily coopered by fitful twists of blackberry and blackthorn, avian optimists fidget about in vain attempts to sell us Spring. Later we're plunging through deep valleys congealed with wet forest that spreads thick up the steep flanks of red sandstone mountains heaving up jagged and blackened by the deep shadows spun from low sun; peaks still bespeckled with a fading winter's icing. The roads are harrowing - lean, wet and wobbly, the bends all but blind from the chaos of far-gone hedges and stone walls, too close and teetering, that yaw inward. Here the speed limit is a point of pride for the locals for whom these roads are bloodlines; we try to comply by cranking the stereo up to drown out our screams of terror. Below: Offseason serenity is always cheap. Quiet respite for the stay - Pier cottage, an old stone coastguard hut in Castlecove, County Kerry. The black heads a-bob at high-tide revealed themselves as a writhing colony of seals on the drop; the lethargic sun-soakers, curious juveniles and cavorting pups were likely harbour seals - one of the two pinnipeds species of Ireland. The tidal drop of about four metres made for some fine rocky intertidal exploration and the chance to harvest a little serrated wrack (fucus serratus) for a steaming seaweed bath after dark. There is magic in gorging yourself on home-made pizza in front of a raging open fire as a slate-shaking storm hurls sleet and shrieks itself hoarse in the blackness outside... Down and out here there is light pollution, so with a new moon in phase and a post-storm clearance of clouds the view into the void above is spectacular. Below: Observe, contemplate and glean what you can - these pinnipeds are up there in the elite echelons of high performance sea sliders. Below: Intertidal supermodels are exquisite. I managed to snag a few little runners at a beachie in a little bay protected from the gale-force westerlies that were walloping the coast. On the inside, a thick minestrone of kelp and other debris kept snagging the leash and fins of the only other fellah out - thrashing away with his tri-finned wafer for enough momentum to get into trim. In stark, albeit covert, contrast the surf mat (4GF Standard) did its thing; prone, with the low/no-profile nose-to-valve, fins out and flying, I hung on trying to keep the manically contorted grin close-mouthed to eek out whatever top-speed was going to be. Below: Somewhere up the coast and around a bend... You say, "PAH!" I say, "potential." Wrong tide, swell direction, period? Perhaps. I'll be sussing this out again at a later stage. Until then... how the bloody hell do I get down/out there? Below: Elsewhere. Glimpsed but unridden (this time); a few foot of goodness. The long paddle out to this one would've been assisted by the screaming offshore but, by crikey, you'd be wanting that death-grip in effect for the entirety of the session.