SHEEP’S HEAD POINT, WEST CORK
The track going west leads us downhill; when it splits, we head for the waymark on the path above. Dunmanus Bay comes into view and the northern tip of Mizen. The tracks are rocky. Stepping stones have been installed over wet ground.
Our views of the broad Atlantic and the wild landscape are magnificent. The Sheeps Head is a national treasure. Where possible, the power lines to the lighthouse should be buried; retaining the unspoiled ruggedness should be a priority.
Sometimes the track passes between ridges and panoramas are temporarily obscured. Near the headland’s tip, a short ascent above the path will reveal Lough Akeen directly below. Care should be taken: the location is perfect for a Tarzan-like dive straight down into the black depths, but I imagine most walkers would prefer not to.
Beyond Waymark 252, the beacon on Bere Island, marking the channel into Bere Haven, is very clear. The hills behind the Beara mountains continue into Kerry, soft humps and contours fading into the distance.
At a plateau, we go fairly steeply downhill, Lough Akeen on our right, reeded at the western end. Signs warn about the cliffs nearby. Beyond a footbridge, we see their formidable precipices on our left. The tip of Beara become visible and the westernmost end of Dursey Island extending beyond Crow Head.
Below us, the helicopter pad serving the lighthouse is ringed with white-painted stones. A sign directs us to the lighthouse, an automatic station 82m. above the sea. Its twin stands on Calf Rock off Dursey, opposite. Together, they guide tankers safely into Bantry Bay to the Whiddy Island Oil Storage Depot.
We retrace our steps past the helicopter pad, and descend, left, toward a waymark below. Waymark 242 is in a rocky valley with fallen slabs large enough to offer shelter. A shallow, kilometre-long gorge follows, with sides sloping to the flat floor as if it had been scoured out; however, glaciation is unlikely to have reached these peninsulas. The lichens on the rocks are cobalt blue, pastel green, cadmium yellow, red and grey. Some are snow-white blobs, like paint. Signs warn us as we pass close to a cliff with drops of 70m into the sea.
Far below, a smooth sea rock, shiny and grey, is like the back of a humpbacked whale. Fulmar glide on the air currents or sit on their nests in grassy niches. Sheep graze on ledges no bigger than hearthrugs, hundreds of feet over the sea. Passing Post 236, we reach a stile and ascend a slope, following the posts. The salient near 235 offers panoramic views over Bantry Bay.
At Post 231, we follow the waymarks steeply uphill to complete the loop: the ‘main’ track continues east toward Bantry. On the slope, we come to a galvanised gate with a stile and some stepping stones. Eastward stand the gables of a roofless stone house, with overgrown fields marked in front. This is the first indication of settlement. Soon, we pass more rough fields, the stones cleared from them forming the boundary ditches.
A roofless stone ruin, with one small window in the gable stands near the track, once the pathway into this smallholding, climbing alongside walls colonised by saxifrage and ferns. Below, on a ditch, a wind-sculpted tree, a stunted blackthorn, has managed to grow. Shortly, we see the electricity poles again and then, above us, Tooreen Turning Point, our trailhead.
The N71 Cork city to Killarney road, and turn south onto the R591 signposted Durrus. From Durrus, take L4704 along Dunmanus Bay through Ahakista and Kilcrohane to our trailhead at Tooreen Turning Point, approx. 8km beyond Kilcrohane.
Schull, Lower Town. Meet East End Carpark, Schull, 1.45pm.
Midleton Hill Walking Club www.midletonhillwalkers.com
Ballyannon Woods, short walk, meet St. Coleman’s Community College, Old Youghal Rd., Midleton, 2pm.
Comeraghs, Grade B, 5hrs, ascent 500m approx., meet Distillery Lane Carpark, Midleton, 8.45am
Carrauntoohil, (members only) B+, meet Copley St., near City Hall, Cork, 8.45am.
Tomies Wood-O’Sullivan’s Cascade, B, meet The Square, Kenmare, 10am.
Hell and Back, moderate, meet Sydenham Villas, off Kilmacud Road Upper 10:45am
Grand Canal, meet Bord Gais Theatre, 11.30am
Dublin Mountains, meet Sydenham Villas, 10am
Crone Wood, moderate, meet Sydenham Villas, as above, 12 noon.
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