Walking home and rediscovering familiar trails. Being thankful for where I live
This is the first stage of my plan to re-walk all of the Sheep’s Head Way and I start from Bantry on an overcast day with the possibility of rain and sunshine: typical West Cork weather.
The start of the Sheep’s Head Way doesn’t get the fanfare it deserves in my opinion. There is a board with a now faded map but the first way-marker is fixed to a mundane telegraph pole and is easily missed; it points directly across the main road and the next ‘walking man’ nestles in the undergrowth beyond the archway of the gate-lodge to Bantry House.
The driveway up to Bantry House is quiet, cool and leafy with huge trees filtering the light and I am soon in another world as the roadway climbs and curves gently towards the house. In the parterre waiters are arranging glistening wine glasses on crisp white linen under the shady purple wisteria; I decide not to climb the hundred steps today!
Out through Bantry House car-park; through the gate by the Bantry Sailing Club; around the fishponds; up through the well-kept grounds of the West Lodge Hotel; across the main road and I am out of the town and soon crossing fields.
A short detour brings me to Lady’s Well , a holy well still in regular use and immaculately kept by the local community.
I meet a friend unexpectedly and help her to pick litter from the beach, then start the steep climb up the road to Boolteenagh (Buailtineach ‘Place of the little boolies or cattle enclosures’) stopping to pick warm, sweet blackberries and gaze down at two ringforts and Whiddy Island where a tanker is being manoevered by tugs from the oil terminal.
The section between Boolteenagh and Glanlough is one of my favourites. The views stretch in all directions: south into the green valley of Coomkeen and over to Durrus and Mount Corin; along Dunmanus Bay and across the Mizen; north over Whiddy Island and Bantry Bay to the Beara and into Kerry; east over Bantry and the surrounding hills. It’s magnificent! Cairns and ancient field walls punctuate the route and there are short detours to a ruined homestead and a group of booley huts . There is even a large standing stone if you know where to find it. (This section is also part of the Coomkeen Loop )
I eat lunch overlooking Loch na Fuilla (‘The lake of blood’) where the rushes are rippled by the breeze and when I pass them they whisper softly. Further along the ridge, after descending from the windy trig point, the road from Coomkeen snakes across my path on its way to Fahane and Gerahies down on the coast. From here, the ridge rises and falls repeatedly; one of those routes where there always seems to be an extra climb before the final one. The descent from 230 metres down to Glanlough is slow going over rough ground churned up by cattle – finding the path needs concentration.
At the little ford at Glanlough the ducks and geese choose the safety of the deeper water and I have a choice too: call for a lift or walk another 5.5km (3.4 miles) home to Ahakista. I take the latter option and set off up the steep road on the Glanlough Loop. Out onto grassland again I take a brief rest overlooking small loughs where seagulls are bathing in the sunshine. The colours on this stretch are fabulous: on the low rocky outcrops heathers in deep purple and blue-greys jostle with the bright yellow flowers and deep green foliage of the Irish Gorse and the orange-browns of the bog asphodel. I think about how I don’t have a vocabulary to describe this unique landscape adequately and wish I had some local words like Robert MacFarlane describes in his book ‘Landmarks’ .
Across the road and onto a familiar path I walk often to the last stone style onto the road into Ahakista and home.
My route followed the first sections of the Sheep’s Head Way Westwards and then joined the Glanlough Loop (also part of the Eastwards leg of the main SHW). 20km (12.5 miles) in about 6 hours.
Route descriptions on ‘Living the Sheep’s Head Way’ website: