Starting the day in Strandhill, Sligo we drew back the curtains to beautiful views across the bay and after enjoying a delicious breakfast buffet we checked out of Strandhill Lodge and Suites. Leaving there, we took the car the short distance down to the beach where we were pleased to find free parking.
It was a lovely spot for an early morning walk and although there were intermittent rain showers blowing through, nothing could take away from the natural beauty as we watched the waves rolling onto the shore. The beach is renowned for having some of the best surfing conditions in Ireland and there were several surf schools and hire shops dotted along the seafront.
Our walk continued along to one of the Wild Atlantic Way discovery points with an information board and impressive views across Sligo Bay and inland to Knocknarea Mountain.
Knocknarea is one of Sligo’s most distinctive features, monolithic in appearance at 327m (1,073 ft) high it dominates the skyline and is visible from miles around when not shrouded in mist.
Having blown the cobwebs away with our bracing walk, we set off in search of oysters. Sligo Oyster Experience is based in Strandhill and at 11.00 a.m. we met up with our tour guide Aisling and the other people booked on the tour. The experience begins with a 15 minute walk along the rugged Sligo coast with Aisling explaining the history of Sligo’s native oysters along the way.
On arrival at the oyster farm we were introduced to Aisling’s husband Glenn who runs the operation and he guided us through how oysters are cultivated and what makes the Sligo area suited for oyster farming.
We learnt that it typically takes 5 to 6 years for an oyster to develop and grow ready for market. Glenn showed us how juvenile oysters are placed in nylon mesh bags and hung from trestles in the shallow waters of the natural harbour. Looking out towards Coney Island we could see many oyster beds, which along with the numerous inlets provide ideal conditions for the culture of shellfish.
We learnt that as the oysters grow they are brought back to shore at least once a year to be size graded and placed into new bags with sufficient room for another years growth. When they reach market size they are then harvested, cleaned, sorted and packed live in ice boxes ready for dispatch. Sligo oysters are sought after worldwide with large orders regularly shipped as far away as Russia and Asia.
After our tour we were led into an attractive courtyard where we were given a shucking demonstration by Glenn and Aisling. Shucking was a new word for me and if you didn’t know either, it’s the process of opening the oyster shell to reveal the delicate meat inside.
The tour then concluded with tastings of the freshest oysters from farm to table served with a selection of condiments including a delectable seaweed dressing. Also on offer were crackers, Irish seaweed cheese, grapes and Sligo Arethusa oatmeal stout making it a good value experience at €45.
Before arriving, I knew little or nothing about oysters except that they are one of the most coveted of seafoods but I soon came to appreciate their popularity from the sweet flavour of each slurp of the shell. If you are nervous or uncertain about trying oysters there’s no need to be, I’ll certainly be ordering them in restaurants from now on!
After returning to the car, we drove back to Strandhill beach which had come to life and was much busier than earlier, so much so that it took us several minutes to find a parking space. We had come back to try yet another new experience but one rather different from oysters.
Located on Strandhill promenade is Voya Seaweed Baths where we had booked a one hour session. I hadn’t a clue what to expect as I was led into a beautiful private room complete with a Victorian style free standing bath and steam cubicle. The friendly attendant explained how everything worked and suggested spending the first few minutes in the steam cubicle as this would help to open the pores.
I took her advice and then immersed myself into a bath of wild organic seaweed. It was blissful laying back soaking in the bath water, occasionally letting more hot water trickle in to top up the temperature. The time flew by so it was just as well there was a clock facing the bath so that I knew when I needed to get out.
Bathers can either shower after bathing or better still leave the oils to soak in and work their magic, so I did just that which left my skin feeling silky smooth. The seaweed bath was an opportunity to relax and unwind and we both enjoyed the experience immensely. A new spa lounge and reception area is currently under construction where clients will be able to relax with a herbal tea after bathing. For the moment, complimentary drinks are available from their pop-up cafe outside.
Located next door to Voya is Shells Cafe so we popped in there next for a bite to eat. It’s a gem of a seaside cafe and even on a mid-week afternoon it was so popular that there was a queue for tables.
My nacho salad with fresh leaves, peppers, avocado and lime was to die for and I think the same could be safely said for the BLT sandwich across the table. We rounded off our lunch with large cappuccinos and then had a look in their attractive little gift shop next door filled with local arts, crafts and foodie delicacies.
We couldn’t visit Sligo without having a proper look around it’s county town so we then hopped back in the car and drove into Sligo town centre. It looked quite different from the previous evening but equally attractive as we wandered its streets where we came across many traditional shop fronts which I find so attractive.
The river winds its way through the centre and along both sides of Hyde Bridge are rows of cafes and bars with outdoor terraces to take in the lovely views. The centre is compact and easily walkable.
There’s a statue outside Ulster Bank of the world famous Irish poet and Nobel Laureate W.B. Yeats who drew inspiration from Sligo town’s charm. It was erected in 1989 on the 50th anniversary of the poet’s death.
Also of interest nearby are the ruins of Sligo Abbey which we would have liked to have explored but was closed so we just peered through the iron railings surrounding it. I very much liked the feel of Sligo and it’s yet another place I would happily return to.
It was then onto our next destination just north of the centre at Rosses Point where we were spending the night at the Yeats Country Hotel.
First impressions were good as we entered the spacious lobby where we were welcomed by Marie on reception who speedily checked us in so that we were soon heading up to our room. The hotel has 98 rooms many of which have recently been refurbished. Our spacious room was beautifully appointed with large bay windows overlooking the sea, a comfortable sofa and attractive soft furnishings.
Rosses Point is an old seafaring village and whilst it was still light we took the opportunity to have a walk around the peninsula. To one side of the hotel stands the County Sligo Golf Club, a challenging links course complimenting the natural beauty of the area.
On following the path around the bay our attention was drawn to a bronze statue entitled ‘Waiting on the Shore’. This highly evocative statue of a woman with her arms outstretched to sea pays tribute to the men who sailed the seas of the west coast of Ireland and to the women who waited patiently at home praying for their safe return.
We enjoyed a leisurely stroll along this unspoilt stretch of coastline taking in the stunning views out to sea with the backdrop of Benbulben Mountain in the distance. Benbulben’s shape is very distinctive with its large flat top and is often referred to as Ireland’s very own version of Table Mountain.
We spotted two ladies taking a swim in the Atlantic Ocean, better them than me as it must have been very chilly so late in the year. A walk was quite enough for us followed by a relaxing pre dinner glass of wine in our lovely room.
We opted to eat in the hotel’s cosy Winery Bar and Grill with its open log fire. Service was friendly and efficient and we both decided on seafood starters of a smoked salmon salad and tempura prawns, tasting fresh and flavoursome.
We followed these up with slow cooked Irish stew and pasta Carbonara which again were faultless. We couldn’t manage a dessert so instead took our coffees into the main lounge where live weekend music was taking place with the talented Kevin Cassidy, which we enjoyed listening to feeling cosy in front of an open fire.
It had been another memorable day enjoying some of the best that County Sligo has to offer, what an adventure our Wild Atlantic Way journey was turning out to be!
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