LEAVING the harbour, our trailhead, we walk uphill, keeping right, ignoring the steep road going left. Soon, after passing the memorial to those drowned in the Fastnet Yacht Race in 1979, we pass a pub and a road going right, signposted “Loch Ioral”. We continue, passing various houses and another pub. In August, the roadside and fields are splashed with the vivid orange of flowering montbretia.
Now, sheltered South Harbour is ahead, with steep land rising on the other side. The water in the harbour below is blue and clear when the sun is shining. We pass what was once the Priest’s House, fronted by the Millennium Wall. Ignoring a left turning, we pass the Hostel, once home of the energetic Rev. Edward Spring, an Irish-speaking Kerryman whose mission was to convert the Roaringwater Bay islanders to the Reformed Church. During the Famine, 1845-48, the soup he dispensed in Protestant schools and churches kept many a body and soul together, albeit they returned to their own priests when the emergency passed.
We reach Trá Mór, with a picnic table beside the pebbly beach. Just before the Telegraph Station, set up in the 1860s, we go left towards the old lighthouse. The Station fulfilled a unique and historic role. As liners from the US passed, a boat would be rowed out to collect sealed containers thrown overboard with the latest news from America; this would then be cabled forward, ahead of the liner’s arrival in the UK. Thus, the humble islanders of Oileán Chléire were the first Europeans to know of the American Civil War and the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
We walk uphill, rounding a bend or two before a waymark for The Glen Loop directs us into a surfaced driveway leading to a white house. Before we reach it, a sign saying “Hikers” and a second Waymark direct us through a gap in the ditch onto a path. We follow this onto the headland of Pointanbuillig.
This is a route to compare with any in Ireland for wildness and beauty. From here there are magnificent views out over the Atlantic, ‘the western ocean’ as the Blasket Islanders called it. The Fastnet Rock with its lighthouse is the only permanent feature; it stands stark and dark, silhouetted against the sea. From the dizzy height of the path, we look down on cliffs and rock platforms.
We are heading north-east along the cliff tops with the Signal Tower built in 1804, and the old Lighthouse ahead. We take the waymarked path downhill before we reach the Tower to join the tarred road below.
We turn right and continue to a waymarked stone stile on the left, joining a traditional Mass Path, and soon reaching the crest of the hill and panoramic views over Roaringwater Bay.
Emerging at the church, we turn left. Beyond is the Heritage Centre, housing many items of interest from the long history of Oileán Chléire. On the right, is Cléire Goat Farm, where one may buy a goat’s milk ice-cream from the owner, a blind Englishman, long-time resident and a great singer of ballads.
This is a lovely route downhill. The stone walls are so pale with lichens that one might think they are whitewashed. We soon reach the junction with the harbour, and our trailhead.
From Cork, take the N71 west to Skibbereen (80km). From the town take the R595 south to Baltimore (13km). Here we take the ferry, departing regularly from the pier to Cape Clear (45mins).For current ferry timetables: www.cailinoir.com.
Rough land and paths through low-growing gorse and heather. Bare ankles would suffer: stout boots would be a good idea.
OS Discovery 88
Dec 10: Lurganboy, moderate, 11km, 2.5hrs, meet at car park of the Carraroe Retail Park (Curry’s end), 10.00am.
Dec 14: Gleniff Horseshoe, easy, 10km, 2.5hrs, meet at car park of the Institute of Technology, Sligo, 10am.
Dec 15: Carrantoohil, grade A, meet Daly’s filling station, Cork road, Killarney, 9.30am.
Dec 15: Slievenamuck forest tracks, grade B, meet Aherlow House Hotel, 10am.
Dec 15: Glenstal Woods Loop, grade C, 3hrs, 15km, meet Murroe School, 11.30am.
Dec 15: Galtees, grade B, meet Maxol, Mitchelstown, 9am.
Dec 15: Galbally and Moore Abbey, taking in Dunryleague mehalithic tomb, grade C, 3 — 3.5hrs, boots advisable, meet Galbally village, Glen of Aherlow, 11am.