Ballyvourney to Millstreet: A long hike through unusual landscapes. Overlapping trails and a confused ending.
I abandoned this section back in June when the heatwave took hold and it was just too hot for me to hike.
Herself drops me off in Ballyvourney on a cloudy day with a cool breeze blowing. The forecast is for a mixture of cloud, sun and showers. As I start up the small road between an industrial estate to one side and green fields to the other, the edge of the first shower brushes past but doesn’t dampen me.
The path jumps up from the road between rocks and into farmland. For the next kilometre or two it skirts around the edges of one field after another, protected from cattle and crops by a wire fence. On one long, sloping field, the route bizarrely follows three sides of the rectangle instead of heading straight up the short side to a stile. The late summer grass is knee-high and dripping with dew and recent rain; it wets my trousers and my new boots get their first soaking.
I enter the blighted landscape of clear-felled forestry passing the ‘no unauthorised access’ signs next to the ‘walking man’ way-markers. Further on, felling is still in progress nearby as I enter a chasm between vast stacks of cut logs, the track slippery with mud churned by heavy vehicles.
Back into the shade of uncut forestry, I find a small, gushing waterfall. I filter and drink the cold, clear water which has “the sting of life” as Nan Shepherd calls it1. I don’t linger – a posse of horseflies are out for blood and they stay on my tail for a while. At the top of a slope a breeze blows my pursuers away and I find a stile to sit on for lunch.
At the crest of a low rise an apocalyptic scene opens up: a sea of turbines dotted across the low hills with a wide, flat track snaking between them. I have never seen so many turbines, nor been so close. They stand like clumps of Triffids2 planted on the hills, their blades turning venomously in the breeze. The track is wide and newly built for heavy vehicles, the grey surface-dressing dusty in the dry patches but clinging to my boots in the wet. Large road signs mark each junction, reminding me of a vast apron of an airport. I pass directly under several turbines, their blades slicing the air above me. Some breathe slow, sighing breaths. Others roar like jet engines taking off. A steel-fenced sub-station hums a low-pitched note like the bass chant of Tibetan Zen monks. I try to count the turbines but there are too many and I lose track of the number. A maintenance truck passes, escorted by a black SUV with its hazard lights flashing. I feel very small, out of place and strangely vulnerable in this alien landscape.
After a very weary tramp along the wide track, the path turns off onto the ‘Coomacheo Bog Bridge’ kindly funded by Cork County Council and Millstreet Tidy Towns. The ‘bridge’ is two parallel boards laid across the bog and they bounce. It’s fun but feels a little unsteady in places. A right turn after the bog takes me into high grasses, gorse and heather, the path barely visible in places but the colours are rich and heartwarming after the bleak landscape of the windfarms.
Nearer to Millstreet, the route joins the Duhallow Way.3 Here the way-markers become confused and none of the expected routes are marked, being labelled instead as the Claragh Loop. The path deviates from the map and I have to trust that this loop will emerge at some point near Millstreet. It eventually does, but I am very tired by now and take two wrong turns which lead to dead ends. Finding a Duhallow Way sign I follow that into forestry. It is some of the darkest, coldest and spookiest plantation I have ever been through and I have to check that I am not wearing my sunglasses!
I eventually reach a road which takes me through a housing estate to a junction with the main road through Millstreet. There is a reward here – a ‘Centra’ shop that has ice-cream. I sit and enjoy most of a ridiculously large cone before it melts and drips down my arms.
About the route
This is a long route but without any serious ascents or descents. The landscape is varied but I didn’t enjoy the sections through working forestry or the wind farms, although they did provide an unusual experience. Not good sketching weather, so only one from today.
The last section around Claragh Mountain needs careful navigation to avoid joining the Duhallow Way in the wrong direction or the outward leg of the Claragh Loop. The route deviates from the line shown on my OS map in several places; more recent editions may be better. Note that the route is marked in different places as the Slí Gealtacht Mhúscrai, Beara Briefne Way, Duhallow Way and Claragh Loop.
Overall, the Slí Gealtacht Múscrai is a spectacular route through some of the best scenery County Cork (and a little bit of County Kerry) has to offer. It is not heavily used and I saw no-one anywhere until Millstreet on this last section. The route is not always clearly marked where it overlaps with others.
View my route in Google Maps
25kms (15.5 miles) in about 7 hours (Includes my detours. The actual length of trail is around 23km). Total ascent: 905m. Max elevation: 538m
- The Living Mountain – Nan Shepherd, (written in 1940s, published 1977)
- The Day of the Triffids. John Wyndham. 1951
- The Duhallow Way combined with the Avondhu Way forms the Blackwater Way which is, in turn, part of the Beara Briefne way and the European E8 long distance walking route where you can walk nearly 5000km from Dursey Island to Istanbul (map).