Island walk in the shadow of guns

WHIDDY ISLAND WALK, WEST CORK

FROM the quay we set off up a narrow road and at the T-junction we turn right. As we proceed, we look out at the mussel-lines afloat across the waters of inner Bantry Bay.

Over the back of Chapel Island, and far behind the bay shores, we see Knockboy Mountain rising to 706m, part of the Shehy range. Opposite the green-painted letterbox, we turn right and walk down a narrow road.

Off to our left, on the other side of Bantry Bay, we can see big mountains, blue, misty peaks rising further and further back, the Caha Mountains and the borders of Kerry. A small, green lane runs down to the sea and a boat slip, opposite uninhabited Chapel Island.

From here, when the tide is down, one can work one’s way along the beach to the site of an American seaplane terminal dating from World War I. Seaplanes were stationed here to search out German submarines on the convoy routes to and from America along Ireland’s southwest coast.

A short distance beyond the lane, a gate to the right of the road, with a ‘Private Property’ sign at the time of writing, leads to a field which one must cross to reach the Middle Battery, the largest of the three gun batteries on Whiddy Island. Walkers may make their own decision about visiting the site.

The battery was completed in 1806, in response to the incursion of a French fleet into Bantry Bay in 1796. The North East Battery (1807), now inaccessible, was of smaller diameter (58m), as was the West Battery (1808) at Reenaknock, at the centre of which is a fortified tower. Both of these housed a hundred men and eight guns. Clearly, the English greatly feared a landing by the French and a countrywide uprising by the Irish. Walkers visiting here should proceed with care, for fear of open wells or pits. A circuit of the barracks, along the parapets, presents a 360 degrees view of spectacular scenery.

The road below the Middle Battery continues west. The quietness, the entire absence of traffic and the magnificence of the Caha Mountains across the broad expanse of sea are amongst the outstanding features of this sector. We arrive at a field gate; this is as far as we can go east. We now return the way we have come.

Arriving again at the post box, we turn right, pass some houses and, ignoring two turnings, continue on the straight road southwest. We shortly see the Kilmore Lakes, with reed mace in the wet ground nearby, and water lilies on the surface.

The second lake we encounter is divided from the sea by a thin strip of land, which is regularly inundated. Sea birds are common on these waters, gulls and cormorants, and trout swim beneath. Herons fish in the shallows, and snipe may be flushed from the surrounds.

Arriving at a T-junction we can, if we have time, go left and stroll down the south side of the lake to the sea, but our itinerary now takes us right. Reaching another T-junction, we go right again, circling back to the post box and the pier. Nearing the post box and post-office, it is best to pass the first road on the right and follow the ‘top’ road around.

The island peace is palpable as we walk down the quay to catch the boat. There is hardly a sound.

Start point: A ferry plies regularly from the pier on the N71, entering Bantry from the south, the main Cork road. We park beside the pier. The ferry takes 12 minutes to cross the 3km of water to Whiddy Island. For timetables, see whiddyislandferry.com, or call 086-8626734.

Distance/time: 6km/2.5hrs.

Difficulty: Easy on bohreens and roads. Binoculars are invaluable.

Map: OS Discovery Series 85.

* For maps and information on ordnance survey products, visit: www.osi.ie.

MIDLETON HILLWALKING CLUB

(midletonhilwalkers.com) Feb 8: Saturday walk, Kulacloyne Loop from Carrigtwohill train station. Meet car park to left of entrance of St Colman’s Community College, Old Youghal Road, Midleton, 2pm.

Feb 9: Sunday walk, Knockshanahullion, The Vee, grade B. Meet Distillery Lane’s car park, Midleton, 8.30am.

DUBLIN, HF WALKING CLUB

(hfwalkingclub.com) Feb 5: ‘To Hell and Back’, moderate. Meet Taney School, Sydenham Villas, Dundrum, 10.30am.

Feb 8: Knocknacloghogue, moderate. Meet Taney School, Syndenham Villas, Dundrum, 10am.

Feb 9: Bonanaraltry to Glencree, moderate. Meet Taney School, Syndenham Villas, Dundrum, 12 noon.

GALTEE WALKING CLUB

(galteewalkingclub.ie) Feb 9: Carrauntoohil walk, grade A moderate. Meet Daly’s filling station, Cork road, Killarney, 9.30am.

Feb 9: Slievenamuck walk, grade B. Meet Christ the King statue, Aherlow, 10.30am.

Feb 9: Forest walk in Bishop’s Wood, grade C. Meet Bishop’s Wood car park, Dundrum, 11am.


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