If the rias of Galicia seem out of reach on the far side of Biscay, how about somewhere closer to home? Maeve Bell suggests Glengarriff in the SW corner of Ireland


The West Cork coastline resembles a splayed hand with fingers of mountainous countryside pierced by three long deep inlets. One of the best known is Bantry Bay with the beautiful anchorage of Glengarriff at its head. Bantry Bay runs south-west to north- east; it is wide and deep with virtually no hazards until, some 15 miles from the entrance, you are almost at the head of the bay.

Whiddy Island on the south shore shelters the historic town of Bantry; don’t be discouraged by the trappings of the major oil terminal on Whiddy as the island, the town and Bantry House are all well worth a visit. But the jewel of Glengarriff lies on the northern shore.

The approach is straightforward. Leave Gun Point to starboard and Ilnacullen or Garinish Island, with its conspicuous Martello tower on the 41m summit, to port. Ship Island on the east side of Ilnacullen is foul on its eastern shore but the channel between the island and the shore is now marked by port and starboard buoys with synchronised lights. The typical tidal range at Springs is 3m.


There is a choice of several secure anchorages in glorious surroundings depending on wind direction and personal preference. The traditional anchorage is north-east of Bark Island in 3m depth, just a couple of cables from the pier, giving access to the village with its pubs, restaurants, shops and hotel, which are bustling with holidaymakers in summer. Shoal-draught boats can anchor to the north inside the 2m contour. If in peak season this area is already busy, there is plenty of room to the south of the island but in deeper water.

‘There is a choice of several secure anchorages in glorious surroundings’


For greater tranquillity, anchor towards Ilnacullen. Note that the power cable has been re-laid underwater on the same line as shown on the chart so there is now the choice of the area off the north-east point or the sheltered pool to the north-west with depths between 3m and 5m. From here it is just a short trip in a dinghy to the island’s slipway and the lush, exotic garden that was created almost 100 years ago in the middle of the wild, natural grandeur.

Designed by Harold Peto and now maintained by the Office of Public Works (an admission charge applies), many unusual and tender species of trees and shrubs flourish due to the favourable micro-climate and the warming effects of the Gulf Stream. The buildings at its centre are no less extraordinary – an Italianate casita closing the vista along the formal pool, an imposing clock tower and a Grecian temple.

When you come to leave, look out for the colony of seals on the island’s southern shore and remember that, with the prevailing wind being southwesterly, it may be a long beat back out. But it’s definitely worth it.