28 August 2012

Belfast Telegraph Sea Kayaking Trip

Belfast Telegraph Sea Kayaking Trip

PADDLE DO NICELY
Sightseeing on foot? OK how about the traditional double-decker tour bus? Forget that. A much trendier option is to see the sights and learn the history of a city from the comfort of your very own boat.

We hopped in the car in Belfast and in a few hours arrived in the ancient west coast city of Galway to explore the area with a spot of sea kayaking.

Galway, Ireland’s third largest city, is celebrated in song and story throughout the world and takes centre stage on Ireland’s western seaboard. With spectacularly beautiful scenery, it offers a medley of contrasts - the wildest and remotest of countryside teamed with one of Europe’s most vibrant and popular cities.

We started our kayaking tour at Kinvara Bay just outside Galway where our guide, Henry from Outdoors Ireland, got us kitted up for a sunset kayak. My wife and I were complete beginners but this was no bother at all so in we hopped and paddled off along the beautifully calm bay. A mere two minutes later up popped a seal to check out what was going on. It was a bit like being in a David Attenburgh documentary as we found ourselves bobbing along while baby seals swam around us having a good old nosey – amazing. We paddled along the rugged coastline past deserted limestone islands enjoying the sheltered inlet, which is part of the larger expanse of Galway Bay and further out the Atlantic Ocean.

We drifted along past an old stone fishing pier leading us to the beautifully preserved Dunguaire Castle, a 16th century tower house believed to have once been the royal palace of the legendary King of Connacht. The castle's 75-foot tower and its defensive wall have been restored to excellent condition, and the grounds are open to tourists during the summer. The most photographed castle in Ireland, it hosts medieval banquets for the public with costumed performers who recite Irish literature and play traditional Irish music.

So with the warm breeze in our hair, the sun in our face and the gentle lull of the water off we paddled back along the coastline, stopping to share a flask of tea and some chocolate before arriving back at our starting point just before sunset.

Back in Galway City we arrived back to a warm Irish welcome at The House Hotel, a boutique 4 star hotel in a fantastic location just seconds from Quay Street, the bustling centre for nightlife. One of the best things about this hotel is they have got the balance between stylish and welcoming perfectly right – the d├ęcor is funky and modern but at the same time warm and inviting. Our room was spacious, quiet and beautifully decorated. They also offer city centre car parking in a nearby car park where you can park at a discounted rate of €8 for 24 hours during which time you can take your car in and out as often as you like.

Dubbed ‘The Cultural Capital of Ireland’, the city is famed for its vibrant music, arts and events scene. During the summer months the 70,000 strong population swells, as visitors are drawn by the city’s many festivals, an International Festival of Literature, the Galway Arts Festival (Ireland’s largest), the Oyster Festival and the Galway Races, which
attracts 200,000 people over one week.

When we arrived the City was fresh from hosting the finish of the international Volvo Ocean Race hence there were even more visitors than normal and the pubs and clubs were bursting with all types of nationality creating a vibrant carnival atmosphere.

The city itself has many relics of its medieval past and is worth taking time to explore so the following day we got back in the kayaks, this time leaving the peaceful nature of Kinvara Bay behind for some exploring around the busy working docks of Galway Harbour. Henry was our guide again although this time we were part of a larger group of eight. The water was certainly a lot choppier as we set off at the edge of the harbour and into the open sea. I must admit I felt rather glad we had been out the evening before in Kinvara Bay as I like to think I looked like I knew what I was doing and had a few snorts of laughter at the poor novices trying to work out how to steer their kayaks out of the harbour.

From the docks we travelled past old fishing boats and stone piers into the Claddagh Basin where Henry tells us historic tales of the famous Claddagh Ring and its origins.

Now just because we were in the City didn’t mean we had to forgo nature completely as there were a surprising number of beautiful swans serenely floating around. We were however warned to keep our distance as apparently they are not as friendly as the seals. We left the hustle and bustle of the city and headed out of the harbour to Mutton Island where we parked up out kayaks to stretch our legs and enjoy the by now expected hot tea and chocolate.

Back at The House Hotel we kicked of the evening with some drinks in the stylish Cocktail Bar followed by a meal in the restaurant where we both enjoyed a well earned meal from the hotels restaurant.

Sea Kayaking is a fantastic way to see the sights of Galway, it was great to do something totally different when visiting a city and this was invigorating and a little bit magical, like we were on a special secret guided tour. I would highly recommend Outdoors Ireland as they not only provide the best of equipment, their guides are relaxed yet keep you safe and boy can they tell you a story or two about Galway’s rich history.

Mark McCormick
Belfast Telegraph

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