Five kilometres or so from the home place, along the coast road, Toe Head projects, like a great toe at the end of a foot, into the Atlantic. Yesterday, the weather was again exceptionally fine, clear and sunny. At lunchtime, Lisi and I decided to take a short, circular stroll around this stubby peninsular.
We drove off from the coast road to park our car on a grassy patch at the eye of a creek, several hundred metres short of the boreen that makes a loop around the head. Beyond the rocky beach opposite our parking place a seal was frolicking in the sunlit sea.
Walking uphill towards the junction with the loop we passed an eclectic assortment of randomly sited buildings (There are no regimented building lines here!), some old and tumble-down, some new, designed to make the best of impressive locations. From one well-tended garden a large, cross-legged Buddha gazes north over stone walled meadows, the ocean to the distant Fastnet Rock. Flocks of Jackdaws avoided our cameras.
From the junction, the loop follows a deeply crenelated coastline, passing through pastures dotted with ruins; ancient farm houses and agricultural buildings, mnemonics of past times when stress-free lives played out almost entirely locally. Out of these abandoned buildings have grown soulless behemoths, the likes of Associated British Foods, PepsiCo, Kellogs , Nestlé and others; a tiny number of businesses, they presently control practically everything the majority of the population of the western world, and much of the remainder of it, ingests. Businesses who have diabolically gathered-in billions of previously free, now Faustian, people to slave for their livings. Oh, what joy to walk rather than to ride, cocooned in what I am coerced to believe is luxury, and to gaze and first-hand these revelations of nature, rather than to experience them ‘virtually’ on a sterile, wall-covering plasma screen.
A short distance beyond the furthest point of the head is a rocky island, in fact a gathering of three rocky islands, slabs of rock which rise from the sea; they are known as ‘The Stags’.
In 1973 Bibby Line commissioned Swan Hunter to build for them a giant bulk-carrier. This huge ship, the ‘English Bridge’ displaced nearly 90,000 tons and was almost 300 metres long. In 1977 Bibby Line sold the ship. After passing through various owners, each of who changed the vessel’s name, its most recent, and last, owner named it the ‘Kowloon Bridge’.
On 11th November 1986 the ‘Kowloon Bridge’ left Quebec, Canada bound for the Clyde with a cargo of iron ore. During a rough Atlantic crossing the ship suffered damage to her decks. On 20th November, she anchored in Bantry Bay for repairs. There, in heavy weather, the unfortunate vessel parted from its anchor, damaging its steering gear. At the time, a huge oil tanker was moored in the bay. To prevent the possibility of a collision, the ‘Kowloon Bridge’ was ordered out of the harbour. At this point, the crew were taken off the ship which was left, engines running, to reverse out of Bantry Bay into the relative safety of the ocean. The wind rose, turning the unmanned monster until it began to move east. Near Baltimore she struck rocks which disabled her single propeller, stalling her engines. She was now completely at the mercy of the sea. A few miles east of Baltimore, just south of the Stags, she ran aground onto a submerged reef, leaking 1,200 tons of fuel oil into the sea which it heavily polluted, causing considerable damage to local fishing and tourist industries. The following spring the ship broke up and sank. The wreck remains, marked by a buoy.
We viewed the scene of the final drama of the life of the ‘Kowloon Bridge’ from a little above where the down-sloping boreen flattens to snake along level ground to pass through a rather desolate landscape of abandoned farms; neglected land overrun with bramble and bracken. Here there are more ruins over whose long passed occupiers’ lives I pointlessly ponder. Abandoned and overgrown it may be but there is still great beauty here. Under grey skies the winter colour of scrubby wasteland is, predominantly, dull brown. In yesterday’s low, late-November sunshine, under a deep blue sky, the unkempt land sparkled with kaleidoscopic highlights of red, yellow and gold. Above the sky was deep blue; the edging sea ultramarine. Occasional lush green paddocks were occupied by horses. Evergreen copses obviated any possibility of the scenery becoming monotonous.
The boreen swung sharply to the left for the climb back to the junction where we would eventually regain the boreen back to our car. Along this road someone had sown a wild-flower meadow; a few marguerites, buttercup and ragwort were yet flowering. Back in the summer this field must have been something glorious. It caused me try to imagine how much, in my grandparents’ time, of their summer agrarian environments would have been empyrean floral carpets.
After negotiating a couple of steep hairpin bends we were at the summit of the hill, facing a bitterly cold, brisk north wind from which we had hitherto been sheltered. On our way back to the car Lisi noticed what looked to her like a flock of curlews in a field. A friendly farmer, passing by in his tractor stopped to remark on these birds and confirm that they were indeed Curlews. Curlews on the fields, he told us, were ever a sign of hard weather.
After our delightful stroll we drove on along the coast road towards Tragumna. At the sharp bend above Murphy’s Cove we stopped to look at what appeared at first to be a fleet of giant ghost yachts not far offshore but were, in fact, Fin whales, a pod of them, blowing vigorously, their fountains caught and made wide by the stiff breeze blowing towards them.