BERE ISLAND is close to shore, but it has the same feeling of apart-ness from the mainland as the further flung islands of West Cork. Looking at it from the sea front of Castletown berehaven, it seems little different in character from the beautiful and rugged coast to east or west but one seems to be entering another world the moment one steps off the ferry.
We begin the walk at the West Pier and set off uphill. Some of the cars are falling to pieces where they stand and these, along with a couple of wrecked boats, somehow make the scene picturesque and distinctly not ‘mainland’.
Arriving at a T-junction, we turn left. Ignoring a crossroads, we continue on the straight road east. We soon cross Ballynakilla Bridge and pass the old school — a site with marvellous views — its yard overgrown with rushes, loosestrife, montbretia, bindweed and a dozen other wildflowers. We ignore the right turning, uphill. We have spectacular views of the Slieve Miskish Mountains across the sound, with Hungry Hill to the right.
Now, as we top a rise on the road, we see a Martello Tower on a bare hill ahead of us. We ignore the left turning marked the Beara Cycle Route; Greenane is signposted, ahead and there is a roadside map of the island. Pines line the road, with occasional large trees, sycamore, with red leaf stems and ‘helicopter’ seedpods, and ash, with leaves that move in the breeze like feathers. We ignore another left.
At a nest of roadside signs, we head right, uphill, signposted the Standing Stone and the Lighthouse. We shortly reach the Standing Stone, or gallán, on our left, with a plaque telling us that it dates from the Bronze Age 2000 BC to 500 BC.
This spot affords magnificent views. On the lower slopes, the hill wears a skirt of green; above this, it is brown in dry weather but silvery and magical after rain where the ribs of rock catch the light as they run up to the flat summit. We can see another tower at the eastern end of Bere and, looking across Bantry Bay, the big caves and coves on the southern shore, and the tip of the Sheep’s Head protruding far into the Atlantic.
Opposite the Standing Stone, we leave the road and take the hill track. A stile gives access. A cross is visible on the small hill ahead. The higher we go, the better the views, and it is breathtaking to look down on the world below. Shortly after passing the cross, we reach the top of our gentle climb. The scenery is wild and rugged, of rock and bog; there is no sign of a house or a human being. Bird life is scarce too, mainly ravens and rock pipits, but kestrels and peregrine falcons may be seen too.
The path reaches a T-junction, and we go right. We are heading downhill towards the Bere Haven Sound, back to civilisation. Now, to the left, is the continuance of the Beara Way leading to the west end of the island and then back to the pier — this option can be easily followed on the map and adds about 4km. to our walk.
We ignore the track and continue on the road. Reaching the dorsal road again at Ballynakilla Bridge, we turn left and then go right, down to the pier, and our trailhead.
From Bantry we take the N71 north to Glengarriff, where we turn left onto the R572. We follow this to Castletown- Bearhaven, where we take the ferry to Bere Island. See bereisland.net for ferry timetables.
One steep sector for about 200m on a rough track. Good shoes or boots needed. Off-road loop is closed on Jan 31 each year.
OS Discovery 84
* For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie
Jan 19: Sunday Walk, Fermoy/Corrin Loop, grade C, 4hrs, meet at Distillery Lanes Car Park, Midleton, 9.15am.
Jan 19: Clear Lake, Glendaline Gap, grade A, 10km, 4hrs, meet at cattle mart, Mountrath, 11am.
Jan 19: Knockbarron Woods, grade C, 5km, 2-3hrs, meet at Kinnity Community Centre, 11am.
Jan 19: Glen Cush Horseshoe, via Lough Curra and the Galtees, grade B+, 5.5hrs, meet at Maxol, Mitchelstown, 9am.
Jan 19: Kilworth Woods Loop, grade C, approx. 3hrs, meet Corbett Court, 11am.
GALTEE WALKING CLUB (galteewalkingclub.ie)
Jan 19: Knockmealdowns, A, meet at Grubb’s monument, the Vee, 10am.
Jan 19: Muskry High Loop, B, meet at Rossadrehid waterworks, 10am.
Jan 19: Bansha woods forest paths, C, meet Bansha woods car park, Kilshane, 11am.