A long, long road, a stiff climb and a skiddy descent. Missing the feeling of remoteness. Closing the circle.
This is the last full section of the Beara Way except for an alternative segment from Lauragh that misses Kenmare and then joins this route into Glengarriff.
Herself drops me off near the bridge into Kenmare and I set off on a bright morning knowing that this route only leaves the road for a couple of short sections, and one of those involves a steep climb. It is not a route I might have chosen if it did not complete my circuit of the Beara Way; it’s going to be hard on the feet, knees and hips.
The road is pretty enough as I pass the cascades on the river Sheen, now mostly within the grounds of a posh hotel, but for the next 15 kilometers (9 miles) or so I walk along a tree-lined lane with farms and houses dotted along it and good views across pasture land towards the distant Caher Mountains. As I have noticed on some other sections of the Beara Way, the main route seems to have been overlaid with cycle ways, bridleways and shorter loop walks and although the usual walking-man markers are still here, none of the brown and white signposts make any mention of the Beara Way itself. It is only by checking the OS map that I know that I am actually on it.
There is some traffic along the narrow road and I am passed by tourists heading for the Bonane Heritage Centre, a farmer ferrying sheep back and forth in a trailer and the postman, whose van I see three or four times during the morning. I step into the verge to let each vehicle pass and with the houses dotted along the road there is no feeling of remoteness here. I stop to help two lost cyclists who only have Google for a map. I can’t find anywhere to sit for lunch; a likely looking rock turns out to be on the corner of a drive to a house where a woman is sunbathing; she probably won’t welcome being overlooked by a sweaty hiker! Even the Heritage Centre car park doesn’t have any tables to sit at unless I pay to go in.
The small road undulates gently, gradually rising and after two and a half hours the landscape has begun to change to purple heather and red-berried rowan trees amongst large boulders, bracken and more open views towards the climb ahead. The metalled road ends as the postman exits from the last house and a stony track leads obliquely up the hillside before petering out onto a steep path through high bog-grass. I surprise sheep resting in the sunshine and they pee before making off. I wonder why they do that: it doesn’t seem to be a particularly wise evolutionary survival strategy does it?
Strange spikes poke up above the horizon behind the pass between Esk Mountain (Cnoc na hEasca “Hill of the Moon”?) and Barraboy Mountain (Cnoc Bharr Bui “Hill of the yellow top”). As I get higher an ugly telecoms tower looms into view, it’s transformer humming gently behind security fencing. The steep track down serves as an access road and is surfaced with skiddy shale and chippings. A wedge tomb is marked on my map but I can’t see it and there is no way over the fence anyway.
I cross the N71 road and go over a ladder stile into pasture and a steel bridge leading to a path winding between bracken. Through some thin woodland and then around a collection of rusting vehicles into the denser woodland of Glengarriff with sunshine lighting patches on the soft, peaty path that is a welcome respite for my sore feet: I enjoy the hollow sound it makes. Down towards Esknamucky where the Canrooska river tumbles under a road bridge and I am in the familiar territory of Glengarriff Woods Nature Reserve and the sunny glade where children are playing around the picnic tables.
Across the bridge where I started the first section of the Beara Way and I have completed a full circle! My hike is not quite over yet; I carry on for another 2.5 km (1.5 miles) into Glengarriff town where Herself is waiting and we enjoy a large ice-cream.
Afterthoughts: this was a physically arduous route, due to the long road. There were fine views but the lack of remoteness made the experience less enjoyable. There are several historic sites in the vicinity and after research, some of the loop walks do visit them so it may be possible to combine the Beara Way route with some more interesting diversions. The alternative route from Lauragh via Dunkerron is probably a better option and could be combined with parts of the loop walks, something to be explored later perhaps!