Cork: Finding heaven amid the sparkling sea of Sheep's Head

TIP OF SHEEP’S HEAD, WEST CORK

Cork: Finding heaven amid the sparkling sea of Sheep's Head

LEAVING the car beside Laharandota Lough, our Trailhead, we walk towards Kilcrohane, passing a smaller lough on the left. At an iron shed and slab bearing a fáilte sign, we take the byroad going right, sign-posted The Signal Tower.

It climbs steeply and, after some houses, becomes a wide, level track like a turf road, passing another shed. It branches left, while we continue toward the backbone of the peninsula and the Sheep’s Head Way fingerpost ahead. Fingerposts guide us over Ballyroon Mountain to the Tooreen Turning Point where we return to our trailhead via the road.

As we climb, the path winds between rocks, through dwarf Irish gorse and ling heather, sometimes crossing a ‘lag’ of boggy ground. Soon, Bantry Bay with the Slieve Miskish Mountains on the Beara peninsula come into view to the north. On clear days, the mountains of Iveragh may be seen, blue and hazy in the distance. To the south, Dunmanus Bay is laid out below with the hills of the Mizen Peninsula beyond and the ocean beyond Three Castles Head.

Only a single wall remains standing of the Signal Tower, one of chain built along the coast by the British fearful of a French ‘armada’ similar to that which arrived in Bantry Bay in December 1796. A warning fire lit in one tower would alert the next and local forces could be mustered along the chain.

On leaving the tower, Lough Akeen near the peninsula’s tip comes into view; in the evening sun it looks like a drop of molten gold.

We reach the bench mark on Ballyroon peak (232m) and, crossing a stile, arrive at a concrete hut, a Look Out post during World War II from which all traffic between the tips of Muntervary, straight ahead, Beara, northwest, and Mizen, almost due south, would be spotted.

On the north shore of Bantry Bay, we see the white rocket-shaped beacon on Bere Island. Doo Lough (the black lake) lies below us, still and dark. After another stile, we descend toward the Turning Point, where the motor road ends.

There we may sample excellent homemade fare at the Sheeps Head Café. To sit within or without this haven at the ‘end of the world’ at sunset is a transporting experience. The sun sinking into the western ocean bathes all around in pink or golden light and the headland seems like the prow of a huge, dark ship sailing across the red ocean. We may well see troops of black choughs tumbling and diving against the sunset.

From the Turning Point, we follow the signpost back toward Kilcrohane. The trailhead is an easy walk along a quiet country road with spectacular views across to Beara. There is little traffic except on summer weekends.

Under blue skies, the waters of Bantry Bay sparkle below us. The scene is truly ‘heavenly’, especially in late summer when the gorse is at its brightest and best with purple mats of heather in between.

Half way along, 1.5km from the Turning Point, we begin to descend sharply, passing a bye-road to a farmhouse on our left. Coolturtaun Lough is clearly visible, with a farm road at its eastern end. Farmhouses dot the landscape; as we walk east the land is better, the terrain kinder. Soon, Laharandota Lough and the car park comes into view.

Start: South off the N71 Cork city to Killarney road onto R591 signposted Durrus.

From Durrus, take L4704 along Dunmanus Bay through Ahakista and Kilcrohane towaords the trailhead at Laharandota Lough which is approximately 8km beyond Kilcrohane.

For variety, go north across the peninsula at Ballyroon, 3km in Kilcrohane direction from trailhead, and back to N71 via spectacular coast road over Bantry Bay.

Distance/Time: Loop, part Sheep’s Head Way, 6.5km/2hrs.

Difficulty: Moderate

Map: OS Discovery 88.

* For maps and information on OSI products: www.osi.ie

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