Sustaining the wonderful island of Sark

Sark, one of the car-free Channel Islands

If there is one place I could go back to this mid summer, it would have to be Sark. One of the Channel Islands, it takes a good while to get there but it is so worth it. Sark is a car-free and sustainable Channel Island lying 11 km east of Guernsey and about 40 km west of the Cherbourg Peninsula of France. I discovered it on a trip to (also gorgeous, but not quite so special) Jersey a few years ago, which I was heading to by ferry from the south of England. I got chatting to a crowd of cool young ones, who told me they were en route to Sark. They come every year around midsummer to gaze at the stars, because Sark is not only car free, but it is totally free of street lights and so an astronomical Arcadia.

Continue reading “Sustaining the wonderful island of Sark”

Cycling at Bedgebury Forest, UK

Cycling at Bedgebury Forest

If you Google ‘Bedgebury’ you’ll see that this is the National Pinetum and has been the UK’s finest collection of conifers since 1925. Which is gorgeous, but not if you are my teenage boys, who sort of lost me at ‘pinetum’.  If you research a little more deeply, however, and this is the point where my lads zoned back in again, you’ll find a load of cool videos of skilled mountain bikers taking on the singletrack trails of one of South-East England’s most exciting forest enterprises. Cycling at Bedgebury Forest is a superb day trip from London and a regular family day out from London for us now.

Continue reading “Cycling at Bedgebury Forest, UK”

Watching Jersey grow, the green way

I smiled at the irony of a man in a Panama hat, accompanied by a woman swathed in silk scarves, stopping their convertible vintage sports car to give way to our Number 1 bus as it left Liberation Station in St. Helier. I was taking the green way across Jersey,  travelling by bus, bike and boot power,  not only to discover its eco-friendliness, but also to allow myself a holiday where I truly slowed down. Some might say this is also a vintage approach to travelling, but  with the emphasis on green rather than glam in my case.

Continue reading “Watching Jersey grow, the green way”

Loving the Loop

“Are you really earthy and wholesome then?” a colleague asked me recently. I told her I was about 65% earthy, but reassured her that “I’m not one for eating placentas, though. I have my limits”. I guess the fact that I took two days and three nights to take on the 65kms Loop Head Cycleway in County Clare, is synonymous with my wishy washy green side. Eco warriors would have packed tents into panniers and cycled it in a day. Whereas I booked into three different accommodations, ate a lot more than lentils boiled up on a Calor gas, and finished it all off with a seaweed bath and a major pamper.

Looking North to rock stacks along North side of Loop Head Peninsula
Catherine on the Loop Head Cycle Way looking North towards Cliffs of Moher Photo: Catherine Mack

The Loop Head Cycleway starts and ends in Kilkee, also home to The Kilkee Thalassotherapy Centre, a seaweed bathhouse and treatment centre.  The Centre also has accommodation, so I booked in here for my last night, knowing  that if it poured the whole way round the Head, I would have that image to keep me going. The superbly helpful owner of the Centre, Eileen Mulcahy, not only allowed me to leave my car there, but also kindly arranged for a hired bike to be delivered. So, before I even straddled a saddle, I was already loving the Loop.

Amazing sunset at Loop Head lighthouse, looking back inland up the South side of the peninsula Photo: Catherine Mack
Amazing sunset at Loop Head lighthouse, looking back inland up the South side of the peninsula Photo: Catherine Mack

I set out along the North coast of the peninsula, my target for day one being the lighthouse at the tip, following a clifftop road, as magnificent as Moher at many points, but totally devoid of traffic.  After about 9kms of coastal cycling, I headed inland along gently undulating lanes as far as Cross, where I dropped my backpack at The Old School, an elegant conversion of a traditional schoolhouse which has been recently restored with love and pride by its owners (Tel:  + 353 (0) 65 6703666).

With a lighter load, I caught the sunset at the lighthouse, another 12kms from Cross following another quiet coastal path with some of the most incredible bays tucked away , such as at Bridges of Ross, a series of natural stone bridges sticking out into the sea.  My Loop love had been intensified by the fact that Ian Glendinning, owner of The Old School, had offered to pick me and my bike up at Keatings Pub in Kilbaha, just a couple of kilometres from the lighthouse, after dinner. Which was all too cool for school really.  Similarly, he dropped me back at the tip in the morning, so that I could continue where I left off, my School House packed lunch tucked into my pannier.

Bottlenose dolphins in Shannon Estuary off Loop Head  (Credit Tim Stenton 8 (2)
Bottlenose dolphins in Shannon Estuary off Loop Head (Credit Tim Stenton 8 (2)

It was a quick cycle along the calmer shores of the Shannon Estuary as far as Carrigaholt for more of a love in. I had booked in for an 11am dolphin watching outing and, within minutes on board Dolphinwatch’s boat Draíocht,   our brilliant skipper and guide, Geoff and Susanne Magee, had spotted some bottlenose beauties. For an hour and a half, they jumped and soared into the air, as all our hearts leapt in unison.

Pure Camping, Querrin, Loop Head. Photo: Pure Camping

My second night tapped into my 65% green side, without a doubt. A bell tent, with wood burning stove, awaited me at Pure Camping in Querrin, a further 8K up the coast. As did their home made sauna , a brilliant construction in one corner of the camping field which I crawled into through a small tunnel and,  when I was cooked through, I ran straight to bed and fell asleep to the soporific sounds of canvas blowing in the sea breeze.

My final cycle back to Kilkee was along tiny backroads which followed the wetlands of Poulnasherry Bay. This is a haven for birdlife, but Kilkee also has its own haven for human water lovers like me. The Pollack Holes are natural rock pools which you can swim in at low tide. I had put my togs in my bag just in case, as the Pollack Holes are not to be missed. “Just phone me when you are nearby, and I’ll run the seaweed bath for you”, Eileen had told me when I set off a couple of days earlier. Which I did, from the Diamond Rocks Café just beside the pools where other swimmers welcomed me to ‘the club’ and where I consumed a copious amount of choice carbs. From cake heaven to Bladderwrack bliss, my Loop was well and truly complete.

For more info on the Loop Head Cycleway see An edited version of this article was first published in The Irish Times.

swimming at the Pollack Holes, Kilkee Photo: Catherine Mack
Swimming at the Pollack Holes, Kilkee Photo: Catherine Mack