Walk of the Week: Coolmain Beach, West Cork

Birdwatching amid the sands and a silver sea

Walk of the Week: Coolmain Beach, West Cork

SETTING off, we have the channel from Kilbrittain Creek on our right between us and the huge expanse of Garafeen Strand (also called Harbour View Beach). Depending on the turns of the tide, more or less sand and mud will be exposed. Behind us, we see the arches of the stone bridge under which the Creek flows, tidal upstream for a half kilometre, and broadening as it nears the sea.

Because the bird life is so much a feature of this walk, it is worthwhile mentioning the most common species and the features that make them easily identifiable. Space limits my mentioning them all.

As the incoming tide brings them closer, one will see many wading birds, including oystercatchers (black and white, with red beaks and legs) bar-tailed and black-tailed godwit (pearly grey, with pink, slightly upturned beaks, the tail of one distinctly barred and the other jet black), whimbrel and curlew (very alike but the whimbrel is smaller, with a dark head stripe in line with its beak), grey plover (grey, with a stout build and stout black bill), dunlin (tiny, grey birds in small flocks skittering about like mice on the tideline) redshank and greenshank (grey, medium size, red legs or green legs, the former making a great racket when alarmed) and knot, possibly ruff, snipe, turnstones and ringed plover in the tidewrack near the rocks. Grey herons and Little Egrets (pure white) stalk the sandy channels.

Of ducks, there will be shelduck (white, with black heads and necks, chestnut breasts, and scarlet beaks), mallard (like common ‘puddle ducks’), tiny teal (the male has a golden spot near the tail), widgeon (red-brown head with creamy forehead and crown). There may be Brent Geese (small, black and white).

There will be black-headed, black-backed, herring and common gulls, cormorants ducking and diving offshore, and gannets (big, white, cruciform birds with black wingtips) rocketing into the sea if the mackerel shoals are ‘in’.

We walk with the sea on the right, enjoying fine views of Garafeen Strand and the low dunes behind. After passing an old, single-storey house with church-like windows, we see stone gate posts and Coolmain Castle amongst trees. Built by the de Courceys in the 15th century, it was taken over by the MacCarthy Reaghs, and, in the mid-17th century by Oliver Cromwell. Roy Disney, nephew of Walt Disney bought it in the 1990s, renovated it, created parkland and planted the trees.

Opposite us, the shore of Courtmacsherry Bay forested all the way to Wood Point at the tip presents a romantic view. We arrive at Coolmain Beach, much favoured in summer, where the strand side of the roadside wall catches the afternoon sun.

We set off uphill on a bockety, little-used road. At the top of our climb, we see west to Broadstrand Bay and Barry’s Point on the Seven Heads. Retracing our steps when the road ends, we walk downhill with magnificent views over the entire bay as far as Timoleague. Courtmacsherry nestles beneath mature woods on the western shore, with boats in the channel and the bright orange Courtmacsherry Lifeboat moored off the pier. As we return to the trailhead, the origin of Courtmacsherry’s ancient name, Chuain na hUisce Geal, ‘the harbour of bright water’, become apparent. On good days, the sea, shines like silver beneath the sun.

Start point: Take R600 Cork Airport-Kinsale-Clonakilty road. After Kinsale and Ballinspittle, we see the sea. Turn left onto L7303 (brown sign “Coolmain: Beach Fishing”), then immediately right. The sea on our right. 200m along is good parking, our trailhead.

Distance: 4km

Difficulty: Easy walk with splendid views and bracing air. It’s worth noting between September and May, there will be opportunities to enjoy and, with the help of a good guidebook, identify many migrant bird species that winter on Courtmacsherry Bay.

Map: OS 86 and 87.



Sep 12: Twilight Walk, moderate/easy, 2.5 hours. Meet O’Donoghue’s, Fanora 6.45pm. You will need a hi-vis jacket and torch.

Sep 13: Wild Burren Western Peaks: experienced walkers. Ascent 1,000ft, 8 hours, register Clubhouse, Community Field, Ballyvaughan. 8.30am.

Sep 13: Fairy Forts-Hidden Treasure. Experienced walkers, 5 hours, meet Clubhouse 9.15am.

Sep 13: Dangan Crest, moderate, register Clubhouse, 10am.

Sep 14: Wild Burren Eastern Peaks, challenging walk, 7 hours, ascent 1,000ft.

meet/register Clubhouse 8am.

Sep 14: Hag of Loughrask and Fulacht Fia, easy, green trail, 2.5 hours, meet/register Clubhouse 11am.



Sep 14: Lough Inagh and Western Way, Grade A/B, meet Crescent, Boyle, 9am.



Sep 14: Catholes-Ridge of Capard, Grade A, 10km, 5 hours, meet Catholes Car Park 11am Sept 14: Cullahill Mountain to Durrow, Grade A, 17km, 4 hours, meet Castle Arms Hotel, Durrow, 1pm.

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