Cork: Breathtaking views on Courtmac Loop


A SECTOR of The Seven Heads Walk, this loop takes us from the pretty Courtmacsherry through old beech woods and onto empty cliffs with panoramic views of ocean and headlands. It returns us via a fuchsia lined path to a byroad, and thence back to the village, passing the avenue to the old Earl of Shannon Kincragie estate.

The trailhead is the car park at the east end of Courtmacsherry. A pathway ascends above it; this is our route. It passes bungalows, crosses a meadow and enters the woods, carpeted with bluebells, wood anemones and ramsons in springtime. The giant beeches, in full leaf, create an almost cathedral-like effect. The path, once used by charcoal burners, is well-made; the sea is below on the left and there are fine views of the opposite shore.

Now, passing through a stile, we come upon a breathtaking view of the sea below us, the Old Head of Kinsale, with its white lighthouse, and open fields stretching ahead.

On sunny days, the sea is almost too bright for the eye. Horse Rock, redoubt of grey seals, lies offshore and, depending on the season, one may enjoy sightings of great Northern Divers, of terns in passage or of mackerel shoals rippling the surface while big, white, cruciform gannets rocket down on them from on high.

At clefts in the cliffs, rock pipits and ravens nest; we may see choughs, dark, glossy crows with red legs and beaks, foraging in the fields. Gorse, sometimes golden, rims the cliff tops, and stately horses graze on the sloping fields above. But it is the wide expanse of ocean, the fresh air and the away-from-it-all feeling that is most dramatic.

As we walk beyond the bay mouth, we see the big, white Garafeen Strand (Harbour View) on the opposite shore and, beyond, Coolmain Castle, owned by the Walt Disney family.

Walking along the field bottoms — kindly permitted by local land owners — we reach a small wooden bridge and a narrow, grassy laneway on the right. We can go no further on the field edges (Broad Strand, a magnificent beach, usually deserted, lies beyond; this will feature in another loop).

Turn right, we follow the path, The Fuchsia Walk, once the daily itinerary of ladies of the Earl of Shannon’ retinue at Kincragie House, a narrow avenue lined with deep purple fuchsia in September, where speckled wood butterflies pirouette around one’s knees.

Reaching a bohreen, we turn left along a leafy road. After passing a new estate, we go right down a lane, and then past an estate of smaller houses. On our right, are Kincragie woods bounded by a stone wall. Following this, we reach flowerbeds and a pavement and follow it, going right, downhill, alongside the motor road. Submerged in the shade of tall trees, we pass the pretty gate lodge and broad tree-lined avenue of Kincragie House — now in ruins. The mini cliff-face of shaly rock on our right is colonised with mosses and maidenhair ferns and, after rain, springs spill from the crevices and splash merrily downhill to the sea.

At the corner, we turn right, passing the quaint St John the Evangelist Church of Ireland.

Returning to the Trailhead, we pass the Courtmacsherry Hotel, once the summer residence of the Earl of Shannon, facing the small strand. The magnificent cork oak on the lawn is over 200 years old.


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