Climbing the Sugar Loaf, into the mist, a disturbing cache, an apparition, sleeping under Hungry Hill.
I live within an hour’s drive of the Beara Peninsular but for one reason or another have never walked the Beara Way so for the next three days I plan to put that right. I have some nagging worries about this trail: current information about it is not great and can be variable, even the routes on the OS maps don’t always correspond with what I have seen on the ground; downloaded GPS files can be unreliable and it’s a rugged route over some high passes that I don’t fancy being lost on.
From near the entrance to the Glengarriff Nature Reserve , I cross the footbridge across the tumbling river and walk along the shady path with moss dripping down the rocks beside me. It’s a cool morning in Glengarriff: An Gleann garbh “Rugged Glen”; there has been rain overnight leaving dampness in the air but patches of blue sky peep through the trees.
I am out on a small road that I have never been down alongside the Coomarkane River. It is beautiful here: tree-tunnels over my head, Rhododendron in full bloom, fox-gloves in purple profusion and birdsong all around.
As the road climbs gently and the trees begin to thin, I am in a green landscape framed by grey rocky ridges and dotted with huge erratics: boulders left behind by receding glaciers; small trees and shrubs have rooted themselves on their tops. The river cascades down and meanders along the valley and cloud hugs the tops of the ridges.
The Coomerkane Valley opens out. It has been partially invaded by Rhododendron but this is not the first invasion here: earlier I passed Derrynafulla ‘Oakwood of the Blood ‘ where Crown Forces took O’Sullivan Bere’s herds, forcing him to take his people on a march to Leitrim on the last day of the year 1602. Of the 1000 men, women and children who left, only 35 arrived, and those who stayed behind in Coomerkane were slaughtered: dark times.
I reach the ladder-stile that marks the start of a hard, steep climb up to 550 metres. The red line of the route looks impossibly steep on the map but on the ground I find a stony track that dog-legs its way up the contours to make the going a little gentler: nevertheless, my lungs and legs are soon in the red zone. I take shorter strides on the rough stony surface, the plodding drumbeat of my boots accompanied by the tip-tap rhythm of my walking poles. At each turn where I stop to look back, the small houses in the valley are even smaller, the distant hills begin to show on the horizon, catching patches of sunlight, and soon I can see above the nearby hills across to Bantry Bay, glassy calm with Whiddy Island casting long reflections in the waters.
I am up behind the Sugar Loaf: Gabhal Mhór “Big Fork”; and just over a kilometre ahead of me is the high coll. I only see it briefly as cloud drifts down from the ridge, thinner at times, drawing the curtain back to let me glimpse the pass.
Below me loughs Derreenadarodia and Eekenohoolikeaghaun (untranslatable?) lie moody and deep in the high valley under the shadow of Glenlough Mountain: Cnoc Ghleann Locha “Mountain of the Valley of Loughs”. Above me looms the shadowed summit of the Sugarloaf capped by cloud. There is silence except for the sound of my boots squelching through the boggy grass that sucks at my steps.
I come upon a stash of belongings stuffed under a rock: a large yellow torch, a fat paperback book, some clothing, bits and pieces of this and that perhaps left by someone regretting a desperately overweight pack. I leave the heap undisturbed in case someone returns for it and as I look up, for one terrifying, heartstopping moment, I see a dark figure sitting motionless, wrapped in a blanket on an outcrop overlooking the lough… But it is only a column of black peat formed on top of the rock. Mountains can be eerie places!
The trail ascends ahead and I follow the line of yellow posts ever more steeply up to the pass. At the top at last, the cloud has cleared and I take in the view: ahead and below me is Toberavanaha “Well of the Blessing”; behind me Bantry Bay and beyond into West Cork and Kerry, layer upon layer of hills and valleys stretching into the distance. It’s breathtaking although for a few moments I don’t have much of it to spare.
Down a winding track to the lough where I sit on a rock to eat lunch gazing into the dark, peaty-brown water and the insects sculling over its surface.
From here the route is easier, following a fence down through boggy ground and eventually joining a newly surfaced road. I hop up and over a wall to inspect a large standing stone, nearly take a tumble jumping down again, but recover and join a track that has recently been devastated by a digger leaving almost impassable ruts. Onto the main road as it crosses the old bridge in Adrigole and a welcome cuppa in Peg’s Shop before making my way to Hungry Hill Lodge where I spend the night with the misty bulk of Hungry Hill: Cnoc Daod “Hill of the Tooth/Teeth(?)” waiting for me tomorrow.