“I was hoping that we’d see some basking sharks,” said Anne, the scuba diver instructor, a few minutes after I had been hauled back over the side of the speed boat, now piling the layers back on after my dip in the wintery waters off the coast of the Old Head of Kinsale.
Basking sharks are, on average, 20-25 feet long and are plentiful in these parts and I can imagine that I may have made my wet suit wetter had I seen one, me being unaware that they feed only on plankton.
Unfortunately, the water was not as clear as usual that morning as a prevailing wind was blowing in from the opposite to normal direction, but I still got to see plenty of jellyfish and explored the submerged rock face, which was well inhabited by all forms of shells and stuff.
It must also be noted that my scuba synchronicity needs a bit of work and I spent a fair amount of time on my back using the wetsuit’s buoyancy to marvel at the sheer cliffs that drop into the water from the Old Head golf links towering above.
Nature was at work and play in every nook and cranny on the sheer cliff face and to watch the gannets in hunting mode was awe inspiring as they scanned the water for fish before nose diving from a height to catch their prey.
The Ocean Addicts school cater primarily for groups of divers and they have great testimonials backing up their claims that the waters off the south coast of Ireland provide dives that compare with the best in the world.
They also cater for scuba divers and people looking to try diving for the first time, while the water-adventure family in Kinsale work together with kayaking, sailing and surfing options also available.
The speedboat trip bouncing along on the open sea provides excitement enough for those unwilling to dip their toe in the ocean – the backwards flip off the edge of the boat was a lot less scary than it looks – and the views of Kinsale and its surrounds are simply stunning as you head back into that protected cove with the ominous Charles Fort keeping guard on the Rebel County stronghold.
On board the Ocean Addicts anchored boat, which sleeps 12 and serves as a mobile B&B for diving groups, and the pot of tea and homemade scones warmed the bones as I was regaled with great tales of dives around the wrecks off the coast and the wall dives around Dingle.
The only thing I could barely believe was that I was served a cup of Lyon’s tea in Cork, which is surely a Barry’s tea stronghold. That’s the Rebels for you, I suppose.
Back on terra firma as lunchtime approached and a short stroll out of Kinsale’s centre to Scilly for an appointment with The Spaniard.
This renowned Kinsale pub has won awards for its food and traditional music sessions and that’s a combination that can only please. And it didn’t disappoint as I struggled with the last few bites of my Cajun chicken ciabatta.
Moving on and the walk out the coast to Charles Fort took no more than half an hour from Kinsale, food and drink stops aside of course.
And it proved very difficult to pass the brilliant bright orange façade of the Bulman pub, which looks out over the bay. With the sun shining, the rest of the day could easily have been played out in this enchanting exterior.
But it would have to wait for the walk back as I plodded further up the hill to the equally impressive Charles Fort.
Charles Fort was built in the 17th century and saw plenty of action throughout as Europe’s wars were played out in Ireland.
The fort was full of British soldiers and it took a hammering from canon fire and ground attack. The reinforced walls were filled with soil to help take the impact and the star formation of the fortress was deployed instead of the traditional ring shape due to the threat from canons.
The well-kept fort is a joy to walk around and the tour guide gives a great insight into the history of the Kinsale harbour and also about the life of the British solider living within.
It turns out that those who did take the King’s shilling enjoyed an awful existence and the ones who married fared little better. It was a job for life and the promise of seeing the world with the army never materialised for the men inside Charles Fort.
With a reputation as one of the country’s culinary capitals, I was looking forward to tasting the local produce and sampling the famous Kinsale dining experience.
The food at the rustic Crackpot restaurant provided immediate proof of the quality of food on offer in Kinsale. Everything is sourced locally with fresh fish coming straight off the boats and the meat and vegetables provided from nearby farms.
The restaurant wasn’t too busy that evening but the atmosphere was charming and I have been reliably informed that many weekend nights there can go on into the early hours with the in-house piano player getting the singsong started.
The night finished with a few pints of porter at the Greyhound Bar, a very cosy old pub with a lovely atmosphere and a fine pint.
Following a hearty breakfast at the Trident Hotel restaurant, which boasts excellent views of the harbour and beyond, the pace stayed leisurely for the remainder of the morning.
A walking tour of the town revealed the remarkable history of Kinsale, which included tales of Antarctic explorers, Italian merchants, the sinking of the Lusitania and, of course, the Battle of Kinsale.
Lunch followed at the Poet’s Corner café, where you can pass the time reading one of the many books on display or indulge in a bit of barter with some of your old books. You have to pay for the food, mind you, which is simple but stylish – the sandwich loaf is quite memorable.
And then back out to the Old Head of Kinsale – this time by car – for a round of golf at one of the top tracks in the country.
The course was voted number one links in the world, on a list where Pebble Beach in California was number three, so that shows the standard of what is on offer on the pretty promontory.
Eighteen holes of first class golf course fits like a glove on the Old Head peninsula and almost every hole provides outrageous views with the sea coming in to play on all but one hole. The cliff walk between the sixth green and seventh tee is just about the most spectacular stroll that you could find on a golf course.
The course will prove challenging for even the most seasoned pro but just to play this gem once will leave you wanting to come back and battle the elements time and time again.
It is perhaps a shame that this fine stretch of land is not open to the public as a perimeter walk would be a stunning addition to any Kinsale visit, so if you’re not a golfer, find one and offer your services as caddy.
The evening’s entertainment started off at Fishy Fishy Café, which is renowned as one of the top restaurants in Kinsale.
The range of fresh fish, from lobster to crab, crayfish to cod, monkfish, squid, john dory and haddock, on offer would impress even the most fussy foodie and again the quality of the dishes really shines through, which seems to be the norm not the exception in every eatery in town.
And what better way to end the evening than to enjoy a pub crawl around this lively little town where a mix of live music and cosy corners provided a fine finale for my 48 hours in Kinsale.
For more information about Kinsale, visit www.discoverireland.ie.