Kilcommon to Ballycastle – 44kms
That’s now four, two day weather breaks we’ve taken during this trip. Yet again we have been fortunate in our choice of stopover places. Betty at Kilcommon Lodge Holiday Hostel couldn’t have been friendlier or more helpful. Washing, showers, breakfast and evening meals all catered for. All we had to do was catch up on blogs and hunt down guinness at the two local bars. At one of the bars we were even fortunate enough to be there for a wedding celebration and took in an extra evening supper courtesy of the bride and groom.
Our last evening was spent in the company of Chris McDaid and Jane Egan – two local paddlers of Scottish origin who found Scotland’s waters too tame and who now live in the wilds of Mayo. Chris and Jane came to collect us from the hostel and drive us into Belmullet for an excellent pub dinner. Here we heard colourful accounts of local paddling expeditions and some great information on the section of coast we were about to take on – “the best one day paddle in Ireland!”
We said our goodbyes to Betty, her dog and two pigs the night before as we were on the water for 7am today. We took the last of the ebb to speed us out of our creek retreat and through the potentially hazardous (though not today) surfy sandbar onto the calm waters of Broadhaven.
The cliffs start after Rinroe Point and continue round on to the north coast of Mayo for the next 30 kilometers. There are only a couple of inlets that allow shelter so on getting out into the atlantic and looking north to Kid Island we made a careful assessment of the conditions. The northerly winds were light and the swell was manageable so onwards we went through the stack populated gap between headland and island.
The cliffs are certainly impressive and dotted with caves and inlets that would be great to explore. However today wasn’t a day for getting too close as the reflected swell was providing entertaining bouncy conditions that kept us well out from the base of the cliffs. With a full boat and when on a long expedition a certain amount of restraint is required when viewing potential routes through choppy waters. The Stags of Broadhaven were in clear view further out from the cliffs and would have made for an interesting diversion had we just been on a day trip.
After several hours of what felt like the rinse cycle of a washing machine we decided to take a break at Porturlin. There was one island, Pig Island, between us and the refuge and we had the options of going outside, inside or through! We headed for the middle to get a good view of the impressive hole that cuts it’s way through the centre. But again… not today. The channel was just too narrow and the swell was crashing up on to the sloping slabs on the west. We instead cut through the short, peaky clapotis between island and mainland and then into the sheltered bay. Several crabbing boats were moored here though they were currently rigged up with lines and hooks to make the most of the short mackerel season.
We set off again after a most welcome lunch break. Although the best of the cliffs were behind us by this stage the bouncy waters continued for another couple of hours before the large rounded hills with their cliffed sides gave way to flatter lands.
Three weary paddlers made land on the beach at Ballycastle. The thick rotting seaweed and large shingle with sparse grass covering didn’t make for the best campsite but it was welcome nonetheless. No sooner had we set up camp then we received a message from Chris that he’d be down with Jane at 7 to take us out for dinner. These Irish paddlers (well Scots in Ireland in this case) never cease to amaze us with their kindness, interest in our trip and willingness to share local knowledge. After another excellent pub meal we were whisked off in Jane’s beemer to view the impressive Downpatrick head. The sea tunnel that cuts through it from SW to NE is probably the longest in Ireland (much debate was made over exactly how long – 700 metres maybe) and can be viewed from above in a few places where the roof has collapsed. It almost looks like a man made canal. Many people have paddled through it but we wouldn’t be doing it on this trip. Another thing to add to the list of “must dos” on future paddling trips to Ireland.
It was home for an early night after this as the Donegal coast, almost 60 kilometers across Donegal Bay, was our target for tomorrow.