Hill Walking in West Cork
The Sheep’s Head Way
Discover the beauty and wonders of this little Peninsula on the Sheep’s Head Way.
Gillian takes a few days walking on the Sheep’s Head Way in West Cork.
Gillian has a real love for the outdoors, flora and fauna and there is nothing she enjoys more than discovering a new place to walk. So, she decided to walk on the little peninsula in the south west of Ireland with it’s small towns, beaches and coastlines.
So Gillian has written up a blog of her adventures on the Sheep’s Head Way.
Day 1 – Bantry to Glanlough – Sheep’s Head Way
We started off from Bantry this morning at Trail Marker No 1 which took a bit of finding. This evening, I submitted a Google Pin for ‘The Start of the Sheep’s Head Way’ so it should be easier to find in future.
The trail no longer goes through Bantry House Gardens so I walked along the sea front, keeping the old stone walls of Bantry House on my left and enjoyed the sea views. The road sweeps inland at the cemetery and up toward the West Lodge Hotel and then crosses over the busy N71 and out into the countryside.
I found an old holy well, still lovingly attended by local lady, Mrs O’Sullivan, whose husband tells me she minds the grotto and he minds the trail as it crosses his land. It was lovely to meet him and take the time to have a chat about the route and thank him for his time and generosity to us hikers.
I was soon back on the main road for a short spell before leaving and starting the ascent up to Booltenagh along a narrow tarmac road with a green line of grass up the middle. This section zig zagged for 3 kms with an ascent of 166m. I had to double check this when I got back to base because if you told me, it was 30km and 2166m, I would have believed you. I know there were lovely views but next time, I am taking a taxi up to Booltenagh.
The walk from Booltenagh to Glanlough was over open moorland with spectacular views over the bay to Hungry Hill to the north and over West Cork to the south. There were places where the path was very steep, slippy and mucky for short stretches but manageable with care. The path disappeared towards the end as you approached the road which may the going slow.
I discovered Bog Myrtle, a sprig of which in your hat will keep the Midges at bay but then so will the wind. I also found Sundew plants which I believe were oblong-leaved sundew and are quite uncommon. Sundews eat midges which is good news, however, apparently, only one a month which is not so good news.
Overall, there is an impressive amount of signage with each trail marker numbered and clearly visible as you proceed along the ridge. Underfoot was wet over rocks with boggy tracts so boots, gaiters and poles are recommended. I found that stretch of road up to Booltenagh hard going.
Tomorrow, we were planning on continuing from Glanlough to Cahergal but we are expecting very bad weather so we will decide when we see what hits the peninsula overnight and into the morning.
I was not expecting to have my rest day after day one!
Day 2 – An unexpected Rest Day
Walking the Sheep’s Head Way was supposed to be the Glanlough to Cahergal section but Storm Agnes had a different idea so we had our rest day today.
We are staying at the Bridge View House in Kilcrohane, a classic 100 year old West Cork farmhouse overlooking Dunmanus Bay with Mizen Head in the distance. It is a family run business and everyone has been so nice and accommodating.
We went to bed last night with the window open – Big Mistake!
We were woken at 5am with the window slamming shut, the house whistling and the rain lashing against the front of the house. Wind gusts of 100km shook the building during the day and we watched massive waves crashing against the rocks at the nearby shore.
At 4pm, the rain had stopped so we ventured out towards Durrus and found the road covered in seaweed and stones from burst seawalls so we turned around and headed back to Ahakista. We stopped at The Tin Pub for refreshments (it would have been rude not to), had the chats with the landlady and a couple now living in London and back home on holidays. Lovely views out over Dunmanus Bay from the back garden which is next door to the holiday home of a certain famous Irish BBC chat show host who shall remain nameless!
Storm Agnes determined everyone’s movements in Ireland today and proved the old adage – the best laid plans can go astray! We knew it was best to go with the flow and so tomorrow we are back on the hills.
Every day is a school day!
Another Simply Delicious meal in The Bridge View House – Baked salmon, fresh vegetables and buttery potatoes.
Day 3 of Walking the Sheep’s Head Way. – Glanlough to Cahergal @ 16km
We started off this morning where we finished on Tuesday and made our way to no 91 to start a lovely, gentle ascent to Gouladane at 300m. Being on the north side of the peninsula, we were sheltered from the tail end of the southerly Storm Agnes winds but once we reached the top of the ridge, it was blowing hard!
Out came the poles, up went the hoods as we headed west along the crest of the Peninsula. Sheep’s Head Peninsula feels very much like an Island. We seem to be surrounded by the sea. Bantry Bay and the Beara Peninsula to the north and Dunmanus Bay to the south with the Mizen shrouded in mists. Hungry Hill on Beara disappeared today.
We started our descent to The Goats Path Road along an old road created by the Board of Works to bring turf down off the mountain. It must have been a substantial piece of engineering in its day. Once we finished this section, we continued along the Wild Atlantic Way to the Old Horseshoe Road and on to this sections final stop at Cahergal. This is a remote place, silent but for the wind and the waves, not many birds around today.
We headed back to Kilcrohane for another delicious meal – Pan fried, stuffed chicken breast with fresh vegetables and a well deserved glass of wine.
We haven’t made it into Eileen’s Pub yet – maybe tomorrow!
Day 4 – Cahergal to Tooreen (Lighthouse)
Today, we started off in bright sunshine, driving over to Cahergal and catching Hungry Hill in all its glory across Bantry Bay on Beara. We were not long on the trail before we came to a cluster of ruined cottages and tiny buildings on a series of terraces. This is known in Ireland as a clochán, a small settlement without a church, school or shop. This group of cottages was nicknamed the Crimea because the people who lived here 170 years ago were always fighting and so the area was so called after the war which was raging at the time.
As we continued along the coast, we came upon the remains of an old copper mining village. Copper mining has been going on in this corner of Ireland for almost five thousand years.
We had a fun walk across a cliff ledge where Sheep’s Head Way have placed a rope for assistance and then a fantastic walk to the Light House at the tip of Sheep’s Head Peninsula.
The views are just sublimed on this section of the trail. Every turn took our breath away.
We stopped off for a Cupán Tae (cup of tea) at Bernies Cupán Tae at Tooreen, at the Lighthouse car park, and headed up to the old Signal Tower, which eventually blew down in 1990 and back to base. I could see the signal tower on Mizen and over looking Baltimore further south. We also looked over Three Castle Head which deserves a blog of its own.
Overall, a day of strenuous underfoot conditions after the recent storm, I will be glad not to see a bog again for a while but I think I will see plenty again in the morning.
Dinner this evening was the best Fillet steak I have had in an age with pepper sauce and fresh vegetables.
Too tired to go to Eileens’s pub this evening – maybe tomorrow!
Day 5 – Walking The Sheep’s Head Way. Kilcrohane to Durrus.
We woke up to a Met Eireann weather (Rain) warning and a very sore Achilles so when we saw the rain streaming in sheets across the bedroom window, we decided ‘You wouldn’t put a dog out in that!’ so we rested our bodies. When the rain let up, my friend sat on the bridge behind the church and bathed her feet in the rushing waters of the Kilcrohane River and would you believe – not a pain has been felt since!
The next day was sunny and off we went down the road to Farranamanagh (An Fearann Meánach – Land of the Monks) via fields and around private gardens. We met Daffodil, the donkey and a field of Alpacas. Herons, swans, egrets, cormorants, turn stones and sea gulls were on or near the water as we walked along the strand. We had a lake on one side and the sea on the other.
We crossed over stepping stones and climbed for a short while to another great view and came to the ruins of what was once a Bardic School i.e. a school for poets back in the 1600’s.
Soon, we were crossing the main road and took the old road to Ahakista along a gentle climb under the Sheep’s Head Peninsula Ridge towards Durrus. We walked over open moorland, farmland, some roads, around a ringfort, over bridges and around the ruins of a medieval fortified house. We had clear views over Mizen and the twin beacons on Mt Gabriel and back across Dunmanus Bay, the stretch of sea between Mizen and Sheep’s Head.
We met plenty of cows and sheep along the way who were not a bit interested in us and descended into the lovely village of Durrus in time for a well-earned dinner in the O’Súilleabháin Bar, the only place serving food so late, that is 6pm!
Day 6 – Walking the Sheep’s Head Way – Durrus to Bantry
We were on the final stage today and leaving the pretty village of Durrus behind, we started off down the Old Creamery Road. There is a big re-route here and we turned off the main road and up through a series of small hilly fields, past ancient hedgerows already laden with holly and hawthorn berries. We crossed over a stream, through a stream and over an electric fence.
Another great thing to say about The Sheep’s Head Way trail apart from the impressive amount of signage is that wherever you pass over barbed wire or an electric fence, it has been wrapped and the electric fences are clearly marked for your safety.
The weather was cloudy and overcast but still warm. We walked around some forestry and eventually came to Barnageehy or Bearna Gaoithe which means Windy Gap and boy, did it live up to its name. The landscape seemed quite barren without the sea which had accompanied us all week and kept us on our toes but then we saw the town of Bantry in the distance, surrounded by hills and Bantry Bay.
We started the descent into Bantry and as we arrived, we came to another re-route taking us through the back lanes of Bantry instead of through Bantry House and Gardens as per the OSI maps. We arrived back to marker no 1 and our walk was complete.
They say hunger is a good sauce so we stopped at the first place on our Bantry list that was open – The Brick Oven for a pizza.
If I were to do this over, I would book a taxi to pick me up at Barnageehy rather than walking the 7 kms on tarmac. This would allow me to return to Bantry earlier in the day and choose from a wider variety of restaurants.
Another great day on The Sheep’s Head Way and to our B&B for a shower and the sleep of the dead!
Walking and local information:
Map: For this section of the Shepp’s Head Way , we recommend OSI Sheets 85 and 88 maps.
The Sheep’s Head Route is approx. 95km with choices to just walk sections of it.
Type: The walks along the way vary in difficulty and length, so just do your homework before embarking on your walk.
Food and Drink: There are many places along the way to get your snacks for walks and meals in the evenings..