Cork: Stepping it out in magical Long Strand

RATHBARRY, CASTLEFREKE AND THE LONG STRAND (CLONAKILTY)

THE R598 takes us to our trailhead, the car park across the road from the beach at the western end of Long Strand. Behind us, is Lough Rahavarrig. With this on our right, we set off on a rough path parallel to the road, passing along an old stone wall. The path swings right, through a picket fence, and climbs steeply until we reach level ground under big pines where the path divides.

We take the left fork, finger-posted High Cross, continuing uphill and passing through a gap in the old estate wall to Croghna Hill. An impressive Celtic Cross stands on the summit. Erected in 1902 by Mary, Lady Carbery, in memory of her husband, Algernon William George, the 9th Baron, it stands 30ft (9.5m) tall and is the highest memorial cross in Ireland.

Leaving the monument, we cross the grass and take the track downhill. Soon, another track joins from the right. Shortly, we are walking beneath tall Monterey pines. Looking east, we see the ruined Rathbarry churches to the right and, at centre, the ivy-grown ramparts of the first Rathbarry Castle.

The path widens to a forestry road and before long we emerge onto a tarred estate road where Coillte, the forestry company, has erected a plaque with a map and information for visitors. We walk right, along the road.

Soon, a pasture rises to a ridge on our left with Castlefreke on top, stark against the skyline. This is the best view we will get of the mansion, a perfect photo opportunity.

Continuing along the road, we must watch out for a gap in the ditch signposted Rathbarry Churches in ruins. Here, stepping-stones cross a stream to a narrow funeral path. We follow it, and when a broad path joins from the left, we walk straight ahead and go through a stone stile into the church field. On Aug 7 last year, the 11th Baron Carbery was laid to rest in the family crypt in the most recent of the churches, built in 1825, replacing the structure 500 years older alongside it.. The contrast between the neat cut stone of the new and the rough fieldstones of the old is apparent.

Returning the way we came, we go right at the junction. Shortly, a pole barrier is seen, barring vehicle access from the road beyond. We take the narrow path going right and continue along it until it rejoins the road at a pretty cottage, the former gate lodge. Passing the lodge, we cut straight across the public road and go through a stile onto a track through wild wood. After passing alongside Kilkeran Lake, we cross the coast road, and head left to the southeastern end of Long Strand. Before the river which crosses it to the sea, we take a footworn path through the dunes and emerge onto the huge expanse of the strand.

It is an exhilarating beach, changing colour and moods with the weather. On sunny summer afternoons, the sands are pure white, colonised by pale persons turning pink, and the dunes stagger in the heat. On wild evenings, as the sea beats in and rain in ‘pillars’ moves down the grey sands to meet us, it is lonely and magical, the sea soughing in the pebbles and the oystercatchers piping in the mist above our heads.

Start point: From Cork take the N71 south west for 50km to Clonakilty. Continue about 7km beyond the town on the N71 and take the R598 to the left, signposted Rathbarry and Castlefreke. When this road forks, keep left. After 4km we reach the Long Strand and, at its western end, our trailhead.

Distance (and time): 3hrs, 7.2km

Difficulty: Not difficult, but tracks will be muddy after rain.

Map: OS Number 89

*For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie

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