Walking a familiar trail, noticing things missed before, re-visiting an idyllic spot, light at end of the world.
I have divided this route into two posts, although I walked it as one journey.
I set out from Letter West on a familiar trail, following the Poet’s Way around the end of the Sheep’s Head peninsula in a 10 mile loop.
It’s a cloudy, fresh morning with autumn in the air; Dunmanus Bay is still and reflective below me as I follow a short road section before hopping over a dry-stone stile into steep, rough pasture.
Familiarity changes my experience of walking. Like re-reading a favourite book or re-watching a movie, the map is in my head making wayfinding easy but new details emerge, perhaps not fully noticed before. Here are initials on a field gatepost – the man who made them has passed on now but I remember his mark in other places nearby too; he made sure he was not forgotten.
I make a detour to the Caherurlagh Marriage Stone (Cathar Iolrach ‘Eagle fort’). The remains of the ‘caher’ (stone-built ringfort) are just visible behind it but the walls have mostly gone now and the stone itself is between a wall and a wire fence; no longer the most romantic place for a wedding.
It’s always muddy on this first stretch after the ladder-stile and I find a higher path that avoids some of the wetter areas. I have looked for other ways here before but they all lead back to the bog eventually.
Up over a low rocky ridge, a short clamber down the other side and I have left the main Sheep’s Head Way to join the Poet’s Way, signed on the rock with yellow paint.
This ruined house now stands in an open field and I wonder how it must have looked in its hay-day. Each time I pass, a little more has decayed and the roof is now a gaping hole but it has such a wide view over to the coast by The Cove and across Bantry Bay to the Beara that it must once have been a good place to live.
Except for the path that goes down to The Cove between two straight walls, I have now re-joined my last route on the Sheep’s Head and continue westwards along the north side of the peninsula. After the last bungalow, everything begins to feel more remote, it’s just me, the sheep and the view until a man passes with a bucket of something for his flock and we have a brief exchange about the weather before leaving on our solitary ways.
This part of the townland of Eskraha (Eisc Rátha ‘Fort of the stream/waterfall’ ?) is one of the most idyllic places on the Sheep’s Head. Accessible only by foot, a waterfall drops into a deep cauldron connected to the sea through narrow clefts in the rocks. The waves surge through the clefts making low, hollow sounds; deepening as the tide rises.
Today I take some time to go to another waterfall higher up the stream. I have seen it in the distance before but never found the path to it and after a few attempts I find the place and make a mental note of it for next time.
I take a break by the waterfall and then head off westwards again, soon settling into the rhythm of moving through the wild landscape. The path climbs up muddy slopes, hugs precipitous sea-cliffs and alternately crosses rocky outcrops and ankle-deep bog. A deserted group of buildings sits across a small valley with old peat workings now colonised by wetland flora before the path arrives at ‘Daingean‘, a junction where the main trail joins the Lighthouse Loop.
The last section before the end of the peninsula winds its way through boulders spread across the valley floor between high slopes strewn with unstable looking rock and the sea-cliffs dropping down into Bantry Bay. Seagulls and crows wheel overhead and hover on the updraughts.
I meet a man who has been whale-watching and is excited to have seen several far out in the bay. He seems familiar somehow but I can’t place him – until later (see part 2 of this post).
I reach the iconic lighthouse that looks out into the Atlantic. It’s a humble little lighthouse but sits perfectly on the rocks that meet the ocean waves far below.
About the route
The Poet’s Way is a long loop around the end of the Sheep’s Head peninsula. Its official starting point is the car-park in Tooreen but I started at the Letter Cillin car-park in Letter West and followed the main Sheep’s Head Way route from there until it met the loop.
Distance for this section about 8km (5 miles)