The Islands of Adventure
The islands off Kerry’s coast are bathed by the Gulf Stream with a climate that is fickle, often tempestuous, but utterly seductive. An extraordinary light plays on them; their forms change continuously in response to kaleidoscopic weather patterns. Some are easily accessible, others not so. Puffin and Scarriff islands, both uninhabited, are seldom visited. The first is an important nature reserve; access is restricted by BirdWatch Ireland. Scarriff, remoter still, is a world away. Here, feral goats roam the tangled vegetation and abandoned cottages stare forlornly across restless seas as the only reminders of past habitation.
On a calm murky day, a rib boat left Portmagee with 3 BirdWatch Ireland members and 7 intrepid MVers aiming to scale 2 offshore summits. The distinctive whaleback Puffin Island with its black, rugged cliffs soon loomed out of the mist, its cliff-face vantage points home to noisy colonies of Atlantic Puffin, Manx Shearwater, choughs and gulls; their raucous calls filled the air. The island looked impossible to land on, the sea sucking greedily at slimy rocks as the rib pulled into a rocky inlet. Care was needed to scramble ashore followed by a steep climb up a cliff gully. The vivid emerald ground of spongy moss and wiry grass is honeycombed with the burrows of rabbits, Puffins and Manx Shearwaters.
The summit was easily attained, offering fine views and a sense of glorious isolation. A silvery luminescence periodically bathed the mainland that shimmered in and out of the mist, revealing cliffs and zawns gouged out by the merciless Atlantic. The wind bore the rhythmic chugging of fishing boat engines. The lesser peak opposite rises dramatically from a deep narrow inlet that almost dissects the island, with sheer cliffs either side. Mesmerised, we watched the antics of hundreds of puffins just feet away, amused by their colourful beaks and comical expressions as they stared quizzically at us, unconcerned by our presence.
The rib thumped over the restless waves towards Scarriff, scattering seabirds that protested nosily. Eventually the island appeared, summit shrouded in mist. The rib slowed, the eerie shrieks and wails of seabirds rent the air as we glided beneath towering cliffs bathed by seas of petrol blue, spotting sea urchins, jellyfish and seals in the clear water. The unnerving solitude of cliffs and sea and the utter desolation of the place seemed carved into the old steps leading ashore.
The terrain was different here: knee deep grass, ferns, heather and furze. The nondescript summit, shrouded in mist, was attained after an easy 1.6 km climb. The forlorn shells of abandoned cottages down slope and the constant low moaning of the sea engendered a sense of sadness, leavened only by the soft purring of a male Storm Petrel discovered in a wall crevice. Our departure signalled this Atlantic outcast’s return to its eternal loneliness. This special day will be etched forever in my memory. Thank you, Wicklore.