For summer 2019, we are partnering with the Journal.ie to bring you the 12 Great Irish Drives: the most amazing road trips in the country. Whether it’s with friends, family or by yourself these trips should give you the courage to get in the car and go explore.
This week, Paul Wilson soaks up the coastal scenery on Wexford’s Hook Peninsula, stopping at an 800-year-old lighthouse along the way.
Name: The Ring of Hook – see a full map of the route here.
Where: Co Wexford
The route: A loop along the Hook Peninsula, taking in Hook Lighthouse, the oldest operational lighthouse in the world.
What makes it one of Ireland’s Great Drives? One of the shorter drives on our list, the Ring Of Hook takes in coast, garden and exquisite cuisine. Oh, and they say sweetest strawberries in Ireland grow in these parts.
Photo opportunities: The black and white stripes of Hook Lighthouse make for excellent Insta-worthy snaps, but don’t forget Wexford’s many sandy beaches – Baginbun Bay is a particular highlight.
Journey time:1 hour, approx. Start at Wexford’s Bullring for Tintern Abbey, and Saltmills. Baginbun Bay and Fethard to Hook Head Lighthouse. Loftus Hall to Dollar Bay and back via Ballyhack and Dunbrody.
Hidden gems: Danescastle Fruit Farm in Bannow is worth a stop if you fancy sampling some of the aforementioned strawberries. And while you’re at Hook Lighthouse, be sure to take in the view from the balcony – you’ll be well positioned for whale spotting.
If you’re feeling courageous: Go ghost hunting at Loftus Hall, around 3.5km north of Hook Head, which legend says is haunted after dark.
On a trip around Ireland, the writer Eric Newby described the southeast ‘an embarrassment of riches’. Ready to explore the area yourself? From Wexford’s Bullring, take the R733 for the Hook Head Drive.
The southeast is a land of religion, conquest and rebellion. Co Wexford was one of the earliest areas of Ireland to be Christianised (in the fifth century). Tintern Abbey – one of the first landmarks on your route – was established by monks from the Cistercian Abbey at Tintern in Monmouthshire, Wales.
The nave, chapel and tower are standing, and there are regular 45-minute guided tours of the site.At the outlet of Bannow Bay, an Iron Age salt mill once existed, driven by the power of the sea – hence the name Saltmills.
At Danescastle Fruit Farm, Bannow, stop to sample some of the finest strawberries in Ireland. It’s said the sun shines more in Wexford than the rest of the island and accounts for the sweetness and juiciness of the fruit.
The R734 will take you to Fethard – ‘High Wood’ – and the 15th century Fethard Castle. Winding streets and lanes lead to Holy Trinity Church, the heart of the town’s medieval origins. The rolling breakers of nearby Carnivan Bay is a secret paradise for surfing.
South of here, protected by headlands, Baginbun Bay is a secluded clear sandy beach. Lobster fishermen farm between Hook Head and Rosslare, and the sea is rich with lobster and lobster pots.
At the tip of the peninsula, you’ll find Hook Lighthouse, the world’s oldest operational lighthouse. An 800-year-old medieval construction, 115 steps lead to the top for breathtaking views over the sea.
It’s no longer manned – automation arrived in 1996 – but there’s a visitors’ centre and regular guided tours. The view from the red balcony makes this one of Ireland’s favourite attractions: every year, Humpback, Fin and Minke whales return to feast on herring shoals.
Head back north on the peninsula’s western side. The R737 joins the R734 just beyond Loftus Hall. It’s a troubled place –this paranormal hotspot is said to have been haunted by the devil himself. Intrepid ghost hunters can enjoy a ‘paranormal lockdown’, should the spirit take them.
Between low hills at the end of a secluded lane, Dollar Bay is a quiet cove where Spanish gold was said to have been buried in 1700s by pirates.
If you’re looking for a slap-up lunch, Dunbrody Country House has a world-renowned gourmet restaurant and 300 acres of parkland to stroll around in.
A few kms north is Dunbrody Abbey and Castle, where an engraved plate from 1832 shows the Abbey bathed in sunlight glancing through scudding clouds. The Dunbrody Famine Ship is a replica of the SS Dunbrody ‘coffin ship’ that took famine refugees to America and Canada.
A detour north on the R733 is the John F Kennedy Arboretum, with 622 acres of 4,500 types of tree and shrub, forest plots, rhododendron and conifer. A panoramic road leads to the summit of Slievecoiltia, with views over the peninsula.
A few kilometres further is Barrow Bridge, Cumar na dTrí Uisce, or ‘the confluence of the three waters’. That’s where the Three Sisters – rivers Barrow, Nore and Suir, meet.
The N25 will take you back to Wexford and the Irish National Heritage Park, an open-air museum of human settlement in Ireland up to the Norman Invasion.