Today will be a short but (hopefully) sweet post on a charming seaside town in the East of Ireland. This is Courtown Harbour, which I mentioned in my last post when Magda, her boyfriend and I visited the Seal Rescue Centre. The purpose of the trip was seeing the baby seals so I didn’t get to see much of the town, but we did manage to squeeze a lunch in the Wishing Well. I had an open prawn sandwich which I thought was good, honest food, but I don’t think Magda was feeling her meal; I think it’s harder to win a foodie’s heart. I, on the other hand, could literally eat anything.
On the way to the Seal Rescue Centre, we walked a bit along the shore and I was amazed how busy the beach was. I hadn’t expected it as it was the first time I ever heard of Courtown but it turns out it’s quite a popular holiday destination among the Irish. Courtown is next to Gorey train station which is reachable from Dublin by a 1h40min train journey. So that might explain that, other than the fact that it is actually quite cute, don’t you think? I’m definitely keeping that one for a possible week-end getaway next Summer.
When I visited Wexford Lavender Farm with Magda and her boyfriend, they cleverly checked the stand in the café with all the leaflets of the surrounding attractions. They found one for the Seal Rescue Centre, located a few miles away from the farm. This looked too amazing to be missed, so we hit the Wexford road again and, in no time, got to the popular seaside town of Courtown (I’ll show you what the harbour looks like in a later post – edit: here is the post if you’re interested).
After a spot of lunch, we headed to the rescue centre and got a super-friendly welcome from the volunteers. We received a tour of the premises and got introduced to all the little seals on the mend. There were Anthony, Bubbles, Mr Yeat, Jenny (the master of the pool), the cutie pie Sea petal (look at her though in the first picture) and other pretties whose names escape me now. The centre was pretty busy as it takes care of all the seal pups in need all over the Republic of Ireland (and sometimes extends their help to Northern Ireland when their own centre is full). Amazed, we listened to the stories of how some of the seal pups ended up in the centre. One was found by a farmer in a middle of his field with no visible explanation as to how it ended there; or another apparently tired decided to jump on a passing boat and have a rest there.
Ireland counts among its seas 2 species of seals: the grey seal and the common seal (ironically the less common of the two). And if you ever encounter a baby seal washed ashore, the rescue centre has some steps for you to follow if you think it is in danger (you should never put it back to the sea).
After the introductions, we waited around for the seal pups’ afternoon snack. Volunteers follow three methods to feed their little patients, depending on their age. When they arrive to the centre, seal pups are sometimes as young as a few days and the volunteers have then act as substitute to their mother to help them survive. They will tube-feed the newborns with what they call a fish soup (blended fish). The method looks and sounds a bit traumatic, but the young seal learn to adapt quite quickly. The reason of the tube rather than a more reassuring-looking baby bottle is that the surface from where the seal pup breastfeeds from his mother is completely flat. Instinctively, they would never take a bottle’s teat. After several weeks (it takes much longer than breastfeeding as the fish soup is not as nutrient-packed as the mother seal’s milk), the volunteers will teach the pups how to feed on whole fish. During these 2 phases, the pups are being kept in kennels. Once they’re autonomous enough, they’re transfered to the pool.
Top Tip: Plan your visit around the seal pups’ feeding times. The volunteers will explain and then demonstrate how they’re taking care of them.
It is important for the volunteers not to interact too much with the seals and keep them wild, especially as they’re in the pool stage, the goal is to release them to the sea as soon as they reach a healthy weight. The rescue centre has an amazing 80% success rate upon release.
If you’re ever in the area, I encourage you to pay a visit to the centre, the staff are so friendly and I think it’s good for the soul to be reminded that humans can also do awesome things for the environment. Plus, you’ll be doing a good deed as the centre relies on the prices of the tickets they sell as well as donations to function.
Word of warning, the cuteness overload may be too much to handle though.
Seal Rescue Centre – website
Opening Hours: 10am – 6pm (Summer) / Phone in advance (Winter)
Admission: 4€ / <3 y0 Free / Family 12€
Feeding Times: 10 am / 12 pm / 4 pm
Last year, I got completely obsessed with this article on Kinfolk Magazine called “Tips for Growing Peonies“. I visited the page countless times and sighed so much at the beautiful photography. I had one thought in my mind: one day, I, too, will frolic in a flower field as painfully beautiful as this peony farm in Salem, Oregon.
I wondered if there was something similar here in Ireland. Surely among all the lush greenery the island has to offer, there must be one or two flower fields open to the public. Peony, lavender, sunflower, it didn’t matter. I stored that new goal of mine in my little goldfish tank of a brain for when spring came around the corner.
Fast forward to May, I hadn’t had much luck with my research and decided to ask on Twitter if anyone could help. The ever so knowledgeable Susan from Vibrant Ireland came to the rescue and recommended the Wexford Lavender Farm, which looked like the perfect fit with its cute little café.
So last month, Magda came to pick me up and off we went to Wexford. I should probably start a series on this blog called ‘Wexford with Magda’ , she took me to so many cool places this year in the sunny county.
The lavender farm is about 1,5 hrs away from Dublin by car (a car is probably your best bet to be honest) and even though it feels like the middle of nowhere, once you left the motorway the road to it is well signed.
When you get to the parking of the farm you’re met by a beautiful sea of purple and the distinctive fresh smell of lavender. The field in itself is medium-sized (2 acres), it is next to a play area for kids and a pen where 2 sheep hang out next to ducks busy having their very own pool party. Say quack?!
At the back of the field, a little sign promises woodland walks.
First; we headed to the café. The home-made cakes looked rather tempting and the shop was full of cute little lavender by-products but we stuck to coffee. We got cozy in the courtyard next to the little plant sale (5€ the lavender pot) and wondered how persistant the Irish sun was going to be that day. Spoiler: not very.
We finished off our floral escapade by following the sign to the woodlands. We first crossed a bucolic barley field and once in the little forest, opted for the shortest walk (I suspect Magda and her boyfriend were trying to spare my couch potato self). It was lovely and I stocked up on so much oxygen (translate: I nearly fainted – ed.: it was a 15 min walk), and I only wished it was blackberry season as the path was bordered with so much bramble.
The farm will close in the end of September so do go frolic to your heart’s content before the lavender goes into winter mode, it makes for such a lovely day out for the family. Also, check out Magda’s post and her swooning pictures of the day!
Wexford Lavender Farm – website
Opening Hours: 10.30am – 5pm (Apr – Sep) / Closed on Mondays, except Bank Holidays / Open for events on Halloween & in December, check out the farm’s website for updates
After spending the morning walking on the ‘Saving Private Ryan beach‘, we headed to Wexford city for a spot of luncheon. We then decided to head further South to the Hook peninsula.
At its very tip stands the very impressive Hook lighthouse. It is one of the oldest working lighthouses in the world. It is said that the place has served as a beacon as far as the 5th century. The structure, as you can see it today, is actually 800 years old of age.
First managed by monks (you can still see the door to a chapel at the foot of the lighthouse – see picture below), it was then administered by lightouse keepers from the mid 16th century up until the 1990s. It is today remotely operated by the Commissioners of Irish light, all the way from Dun Laoghaire, Dublin… the magic of electricity!
It is how the Hook Lighthouse has now been turned into a public attraction, Lonely Planet voting it the number one lighthouse no less!
The whole area is a feast for the eyes as when you stand at the foot of the lighthouse you can see the sea, the green countryside and the opposite shore.
We missed the last guided tour of the day by only a handful of minutes so unfortunately I didn’t get to see the view from the top of the lighthouse. I would love to go back to cross that off of my list and while I’m in the area check out Loftus Hall, the neighbour mansion which is said to be haunted!
You can read part I of my day in Wexford here.
Hook Head, Fethard-On-Sea
Opening Hours: 9.30am to 6pm (Jun-Aug) / 9.30am to 5.30pm (May & Sep) / 9.30am to 5pm (rest of the year)
Guided Tours (grounds are free): Adults 6€ /Student & Senior 4.50€ / <5 year old Free / <16 year old 3.50€
How was your week post Paddy’s day? Any memorable walk of Seamus? Hope you all had good fun! I was wondering how I could celebrate the occasion, I even thought about attending Dublin’s parade for a minute even though I’m not fond of crowds… Luckily my good friend came to the rescue and invited me to a little day trip in County Wexford. It was the perfect way to celebrate Ireland. I actually never went to Sunny Wexford. I was even dubious of the county’s nickname but the sun shone bright that afternoon and it felt great to get away from the city and discover a new part of the country.
Our first port of call was Curracloe which is famous for being the location of the D-Day scene in Saving Private Ryan.
We walked the coastal circuit, the whole 6 miles (10km) of it. It took about 2 hours. We started with the Raven Reserve. It is a beautiful pine forest where locals come to walk their dogs or run. It is supposed to be a good place for seeing birds and the Red Squirrel but I can’t say I saw anything. I suspect that it is easier with patience and a pair of binoculars.
The forest path leads to a grassy patch of the coast, which is another part of the bird reserve. There was a group of black birds of some sort on a sand island (see the black dots in the above picture) but couldn’t really make out what they were. I read as well that the beach is a good spot for seal-sighting.
Ballinesker Beach was picked as a location for Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan for its ressemblance to Omaha Beach in Normandy. Just like the French beach, it is a beautiful stretch of sand and I can imagine it to be a great place to spend the few Irish Summer days. But I have to commend the local kids as they were already enjoying the waves in the middle of March! Brr!
I had the loveliest start to the day, tune in this Sunday to see what other parts of Wexford I visited that week-end!
The Raven Reserve / Curraloe Strand / Ballinesker Beach – link
10 miles (6km) – take about 2 hours to complete the circuit
Bus: Bus Eireann 379 (Mondays & Saturdays)