Galley Head - West Cork's most accessible Seawatching location
Galley head is located along the coastal route between Clonakilty and Rosscarberry.
It is located about 65km from Cork City Centre and has a superb track record for seawatching, producing birds such as Black Browed albatross, Fea’s petrel, Wilson’s Petrel, Little Shearwater, Long tailed skua in the past (rare in Cork) and most recently Madeiran Petrel.
It is easiest reached by following signs for Ardfield from Clonakilty, however once beyond ardfield, sign-age is poor. Keep going straight out of Ardfield until you come to a small beach (Red Strand). This beach is good for gulls on occasion and is worth a check. Carry on past the beach and take the first left turn. Carry on straight for a few kilometres until you reach galley head’s tip. In previous years you could travel all the way out to the lighthouse compound. This is now gated off and the easiest parking spot is some 400 meters back along the headland, in an obvious turning lay-by adjacent to the ruins of an old fort.
Walk up along the road through the old fort walls, into the lighthouse compound and climb over the wall. There is a grassy track which descends down to your left (east). This leads down to a small grassy hollow which provides good shelter.
The lighthouse cottages are actually available for rent here.
They are quite expensive (1,110 a week in season), however they sleep a good many people and a large group intent on plugging galley and the nearby headlands during seawatching season and autumn could do a lot worse.
Though its best to bear in mind that Galley would be unlikely to get a whole week of good conditions for the avid sea-watcher (the Bridges is more suited to a long extended stay)
Seawatching is typically best in early morning and late evening, as the sun faces you head on during mid-day, however depending on the conditions, the birds may move all day long.
Most birders look slightly east from the hollow to pick up oncoming shearwaters. However I find that for the petrels, it’s easiest to pick them up looking directly south, when they are visible for longer periods against wave troughs.
Nearby large towns include both Clonakilty and Rosscarberry, both of which would have facilities such as a selection or restaurants and pubs and various hotels and bed and breakfasts. These would be no more than 20 minutes or so from Galley.
There are smaller villages nearby, such as Rathbarry and Ardfield, which do have some bed and breakfasts around. But you will be hard pushed to find other amenities in the area.
The most reasonable bed and breakfast, just 5-10 minutes from the head, is Kilkerran House. (30-40 Euro) however others in the area can charge 50-60 Euro.
There are hostels in Clonakilty (the larger of the two towns), but not in Rosscarberry.
West cork has become quite a gourmet food destination over the past 10 years and many restaurants in the area offer excellent fare for an evening meal.
An Sugan pub in Clonakilty has some amazing seafood, though you will pay for it.
The Incheydoney hotel is also good for food.
Otherwise, if you are intent on doing things on the cheap there are no shortage of take-away joints.
The trick with Galley is to watch the weather. If you are in the area and a good South westerly with squalls or drizzle is coming in it is the place to be. Even then, however, it can be hit and miss. And there are times when the sea just seems devoid of birds. But when its good...it is very very good.
Great article - really useful - so many thanks.
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