Bere Island

Scuppered boatWe snuck out of Feargal’s early on before he woke up as we had to meet another friend of Joleen’s to catch a ferry. Caitriona (I think I have the spelling right) lives in Crosshaven, but has a family home on Bere Island, where her father grew up. There are two ferry routes over there and we, of course, found the wrong one first.

We did eventually spot the tiny turn-off for the one we needed (“Pontoon”) and Joleen reversed the car onto it. Nothing as substantial as a roll-on/roll-off job in this area. At a squeezed, the ferry will apparently take five vehicles, though they’d have to be bubble cars. The larger ferry fits five comfortably, I’m told, and seven if they’re sandwiched rather tightly. Caitriona was in that situation once and it wasn’t until she was wedged in that she realised the was completely screwed if the very sank – she had no sunroof and couldn’t open her doors!

Near the firing rangeI’m glad to report that our vessel didn’t sink and that Caitriona stayed outside the car for the trip over. I sat inside and read my book. It’s nice to get a bit of time to lose myself in a novel.

Bere Island’s around 7 x 3 miles in dimensions and the populations floats around the 200 mark. There are only two pubs and they’re pretty far apart. So if one’s shut, you’ve quite a walk to the other. We left pubbing till later and began by driving (the long way round) to Caitriona’s family home.

This turned out to be a fantastic old building set back about 100 yards from the sea within the only section of woodland on the island. The view over the sea was of Hungry Hill on the mainland, something it’s recommended to hike up if you have the time. Which I didn’t, sadly. It’s spectacular, frankly.

Inside the house was spacious and very old-fashioned. It had the kind of clean smell that reminded me of the dentist’s or doctor’s from when I was a child. All old furniture and wood with beds stacked in the rooms as you’d expect from a sizeable family. We stopped long enough to ditch the bags and sort out walking gear. Joleen had a few targets to hit photo-wise and they’d involve some hiking.

Small break in the rocksWe began with a spin round the island and over to one end where the only sandy beach exists. This coincidentally is near to where the Army and reserves (commonly referred to their old name as the An Fórsa Cosanta Áitiúil, or FCÁ) practise their shooting. There are a series of “pits” where the riflemen ensconce themselves and take aim at targets with a sandy bank behind them.

As it happened, some army types were kicking around in preparation for such an exercise and Joleen had a chat with one of them about the range and so on. I was told to “shut up” due to my accent prior to her engaging him in conversation. I’d not be a convincing spy. We did get to see the area where the “target-holders”, and I assume score-masters, sit. I’m sure if you spent long enough digging through the grey sand used to stop the bullets you could find yourself plenty of spent rounds.

Instead, we walked past and down onto some rather impressive rocks. The structure makes the island look like it was made of lots of narrow rock “plates” stacked up, which then toppled leaving them stuck into the ground at an angle. We found a very small enclave with a sand-like surface made entirely from smashed and ground seashells, predominantly blue and white in colour. The views were just stunning, and we were at sea level.

View over rocksDodging the army types, we drove around seemingly at random taking in the island as a whole. Some of the housing is a little bizarre. One is essentially a boat with the hull cut off. The top half has been dropped into a garden and passes as a small house. Another is a standard-enough looking caravan – with an oversized A-shaped roof quite literally strapped onto it and held in place by industrial-strength tent pegs.

The first major touristy thing to see was the cross – a large white concrete religious symbol sat atop the highest point on the island, so therefore a bit of a walk. Mass is often held there, though there is a drivable track that is used to get the older worshippers up. The track is closed regularly, though, and also on the 31st of January every year to all public passage. Apparently this is to use a loophole in the law to prevent a public right of way being created – as long as it’s shut at least once a year, no right of way can be introduced.

A window…The view from the top was – surprise – impressive, though it was pretty windy and cloud was closing in. We were also getting past the peckish stage and well into “hungry”. The walk back to the car seemed quicker, though it was downhill. Once out of the wind and with feet sighing relief, we opted to find somewhere to eat. Well, not so much “find” as go to the only place that we thought might be open. A cafe next to the ferry dock which is open long hours every day of the week. The food wasn’t brilliant (except the scone I had – delish), but hot, filling and reasonably priced. Entertainment was provided by a small child dropping the white ball into the pockets on a pool table then dashing to the window in the side to try and work out how it got back to the little hole at one end. He did this for about ten minutes. Well cute.

Weighed down with calories, we returned to the car and drove further round the island to a point where we could walk to the lighthouse. This is a marked walking trail and we followed it for around 45 minutes. The lighthouse is perched on the western edge of the island and – you guessed it – offers a wonderful view. Two men were visible down below taking photos and making notes about it. A popular structure!

Attack of the killer chickens!The sun came out for us, but the wind still gave us a battering as we packed up and trudged down to the car for the last bit of driving. The final sight to see was the Martello tower, again positioned at the top of a hill. Thankfully this one only involved a short walk!

The tower has had a lot of work done on it to make it tourist-friendly, though the lights inside didn’t work and someone’s smashed all the exterior ones that would light it up at night. Also, by the time we got there, the wind was blowing clouds all around and over us to the view was… well. There wasn’t one.

Cross on the hillAfter our hefty late lunch, food wasn’t a huge priority so we returned to the house to relax. Caitriona had a lie down while Joleen and I tinkered with photos and wrote blog articles on our laptops. A light dinner of ham sandwiches and strawberries was munched before we donned footwear again for a walk to the nearest pub, in Rerrin.

As we left the house, Caitriona turned to us. “I just saw a guy with a gun! He saw me and turned, then walked back up the drive to the gate!”

Great. And here’s me with an English accent. I assumed she meant some wandering farmer with a shotgun. Treading delicately out to the front of the house, it turned out it was a couple of soldiers, all camo’d up. Facepaint, leaves in their hats, the lot. And about 18 years old. With big guns.

Bere Island LighthouseThey quickly established this was an occupied residential property and asked very kindly if they could park two Land Rovers down near the water. Essentially, they were playing “hide and seek” with another team and had to remain hidden overnight. As I mentioned earlier, the house was in probably the only wooded spot on the island so I can see why they stopped there.

Caitriona gave them the OK and we disappeared off into the twilight for a couple of pints in O’Sullivan’s. The older army lot were in there. I assume they’d decided it was more fun to have a few drinks than go looking for recruits hiding in Land Rovers. Fair enough, I can understand that.

We walked home around midnight and the roads were completely dark. I’d brought my headlamp and wore it which made finding the path a lot easier. When we got back to the property, we spotted the “hidden” soldiers a little quicker than they perhaps would have liked.

Martello towerGiven that they’d left the interior lights of the Land Rovers on, kept slamming doors and were talking loudly this was hardly a surprise. Then Caitriona had a go at them for setting up shop in one of the old barns as the floors were weak.

We slept well. At least any potential burglars were in for a hell of a shock.

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