Lockdown Loops – 5

Crossing the ridge – Gortnakilla to Ahakista

Herself drops me off at Gortnakilla on the north side of the Sheep’s Head where I join the Sheep’s Head Way path that climbs up to the ridge. I am following what looks like an old road built to bring turf down from above. The track meanders back and forth around hairpins, rising steadily, its downhill edges supported by neat dry stone revetments.

There were cars parked by the road and I half expect to see other walkers but there are no bootprints here, just cattle-poached soft ground between rock and gravel sections. After a pair of magpies fly off with flashes of white I am alone and even the sounds of the waves breaking on the black beak of the Gortnakilla headland fade into the distance far below me.

The track becomes rougher and steeper, the waymarker posts above me outlined on the horizon against a grey sky. I reach ‘Windy Gap’, a junction leading to the Seefin and Barán loops, but I stay on the main route to continue eastwards, passing old turf cuttings and patches of bright green sphagnum that may hide deep bog – step if you dare. My sketch shows a small enclosure which may have been used to stack turf, (there is a name for these enclosures but I can’t recall it ).

Historic enclosure for stacking turf Watercolour sketch
Possibly an old enclosure used for stacking turf

Lunch perched on a rock overlooking Dunmanus Bay, across the Mizen and out to Cape Clear. There is complete silence, only interrupted by the occasional rasping cries of Choughs somewhere below me.

Where the trail dips to a saddle in the ridge I turn onto the Mass Path that crosses the peninsular here, used in the past to reach mass in Rossnacaragh. Old field walls run across the hillside, once fertile but now unsustainable for modern agriculture. More bog holes, slippery rock and scratching gorse before the path joins the road down through Maulnasskeha.

After the dull browns and silence of the ridge, the green of the fields seems vibrant, cows grazing, some with young calves, robins jousting vocally across fence posts, crows squabbling in the treetops and water babbling down the stream towards the sea.

I cross the bridge and re-join the Sheep’s Head Way over the rough ground to the stone circle and home.

Walking man icon

About the route

This is a linear route following the Sheep’s Head Way from the north side of the peninsula over to the south side via the Mass Path. Although part of the official main route, the track between Windy Gap and Gortnakilla seems to be seldom used probably because there is a more spectacular route along the ridge to Seefin taking in the highest point on the peninsula and avoiding a long road section. All parts of the route are well marked.

View route in Google Maps
Distance: 7.2km
Max elevation: 254 m
Time: 2.5hrs


    1. Peter Clarke

      Fortunately it was last weekend when I walked this route. It would have been difficult up there today for sure!

  1. Adrian Thomas

    Apparently that lovely track you ascended was built as a famine relief project with a view to turf extraction. There isn’t much sign of extensive turf cutting though. The culverts under the track are a masterful work considering when they were built.

    1. Peter Clarke

      I agree – there is some impressive stonework there. There are more extensive peat cuttings nearer to Roskerrig (on the Barán Loop) that might have used the track. The higher end of the track had some rather untidy ‘repair’ a few years back and unfortunately appears to have lost its original way in places.

  2. Finola

    We saw those turf enclosures up in the Wicklow mountains – can’t think of the word either.

  3. Robert

    Great writing, Peter. And a beautifully atmospheric sketch. I have in my mind that it is a ‘clamp’ of turf, but I don’t know where this came from…

Leave a Reply