A Day On The Skellig Ring
By Cian McGuinness
What a stunning day it was today! Out of bed and the sun was shining, it was my first day off – though it never really feels like work here. I had checked the weather and we were set for rain by four pm but the weather always seems to lie in Waterville. So Darcy (my motorbike) and I set off to the Skellig Ring to catch the fleeting sun. I never feel alone when riding my bike. The immersive nature of being constantly exposed to the elements enables a deepening of connection with one’s surroundings. Turning the key, cranking the engine, I took off for the day around the Skellig coast ready to take in the sights and be bounced about on the uneven roads.
In the fresh cool breeze, only getting a little lost, I found the coast with its slow, windy roads and waving hellos from passing cars and motorcycles – something I find very endearing about the area. Soon the island perched upon a glittering ocean came into view. The durable old red sandstone peaks of Skellig Michael, rising 218m above sea level, are inspiring to see even from the mainland.
Soon after appeared a small bay filled with stacking waves on what appeared a calm day. Astonished by the volume of the ocean I pulled over, kicked down my side, and took a seat on one of the perfectly placed picnic tables. Nearby, an artist was sat painting the scene while a family danced around some rock pools to escape the splashing waves. Taking in the view, there was no distraction - everyone focused on their surroundings. A small boreen caught my eye, casually marked 80km/h even with tufts of grass centering it - I was tempted to explore. Hopping back on my bike I followed this bumpy road past an old farmhouse. The aged building spoke of the salty ocean air by its peppered paint work, fallen bricks, and bleached grasses crawling up its side. Like this, there are places you may catch a glimpse of while passing that look to be forgotten by time. Shells of brick, homes to our ancestors, places and stories still speaking today to the fleets of visitors eager to listen. Being here, amongst the history of the land, I felt proud to be Irish and proud of our will to survive in such remote and beautiful areas.
I carried onto Valentia Island visiting Bray Head and onwards towards the Tetrapod fossil. Being a student of geology, the tetrapod footprints were one of the first paleontology items we learned about! Totally nerding out, I took myself on a mini field trip to visit the footprints of one of our earliest ancestors. A steep pebble path lead to a small outcrop sectioned off by a row stainless posts and cable, presumably to preserve the trace fossil from being worn by our footsteps. The footprints, pressed into the 350-million-year-old stone, rest on the ocean's edge just as the animal would have crawled from the sea during the Cambrian era. Nearby is Valentia Lighthouse which, having used much of the station data in climatology assignments and lectures, I was equally excited to visit! The lighthouse, modestly perched at the end of the causeway, is surrounded by tall protecting walls footed exposed rock meeting the throwing ocean. Climbing back up from the sea level I carried along the Valentia ring as rhododendrons, though an alien invasive plant, framed the roads in green and purple. Then, back over the long bridge to Portmagee, I continued home along the ring towards Cahersiveen.
Entering Waterville I passed a string of about 20 bikes, presumably doing the Ring of Kerry before the Killarney Bike festival over the weekend. I waved to a few of them but no response, all riding Harleys and BMWs maybe they weren’t too impressed with my little Darcy, a 400cc Honda. Still though, what they have to enjoy for a few days I have a whole summer to explore.