WITH the church in front of us, we set off right. Taking great care on this short, busy road, we continue until we come to a gate on the right, with a green road leading to Knockdrum Fort. Bronze Age, 3,000 to 4,000 years old, it was ‘restored’ in the mid-19th century and is wonderfully preserved. There are 80 steps to reach the top. The view is spectacular. Ahead and below, we have a 180° panorama of sky, sea and islands; behind us, 180° of undulating landscape, rising to blue, distant hills. Knockdrum was a lookout point for invaders. It offers one of Munster’s finest vistas. On a clear day, we see as far as Hungry Hill, on the Beara Peninsula, and the Macgillicuddy Reeks, near Killarney.
Leaving the fort, we retrace our route along the green road. Three tall, slim ‘pillar’ stones stand stark against the skyline on the hill on our left. How extraordinary they are, standing there for, perhaps, 4,000 years, aligned with the rising sun on midsummer day.
We turn right, onto the R596, towards Castletownshend village; caution should again be exercised, on this short stretch of road. Castletownshend was a Protestant, Anglo Irish village, an enclave of the ascendancy, with the wild Irish all around. The castle, built on the site of an older one, burnt down in 1856. It is now a private residence and guesthouse. The village street, descending from the impressive gates of an estate, is striking and like no other in Ireland.
With the castle gate on the left, we take the lane down to the pier. On the opposite shore is Reen Quay; further up are the impressive ruins of Raheen, an O’Donovan castle. Returning to the village, and again passing the castle gates, we turn right up a cloister-like lane. A sign announces St Barrahane’s Church of Ireland, with a fine, hexagonal stone tower just ahead. It is a lovely church, shining and polished, with a patina of time and an ambience of solid sanctity and British patriotism. The village is a cul-de-sac; to leave it, we must return the way we came, uphill and sharp-right, taking the left turning, signed ‘Tragumna 10km’. At a T-junction, we take a sharp left down to Castlehaven Castle, well worth the diversion. Looking out to sea the ruins of the Castle, which collapsed in 1924, are on the ‘cliff’ at the bottom of the hill on our right. It was once as grand as the aforementioned Raheen Castle; now it might be the ruins of a peasant bothán. A sea battle raged in the bay during the Battle of Kinsale, in 1601, and the castle, ceded by the O’Driscolls to their Spanish allies, was a target for English guns.
Returning to the main road, we turn left, continuing west, as we were before. Reaching Castlehaven Cross Roads, we turn left again, toward the sea. A side road, left, leads down to Tracarta Strand. We follow our road around to the right and shortly pass Sandycove. At Sandycove Cross Roads, we turn right. The road is straight, and pleasant, with much fuchsia in the hedges and little traffic. Arriving back at Castlehaven crossroads, we now turn left up the hill. Knockdrum fort comes into view atop the hill, and we arrive at our trail-head.
From Skibbereen take the R596 towards Castletownshend.
After 5.5km we come to Castlehaven national school and the fine, plain St Barrahane’s church. We park in the large car park opposite the church.
Almost all on paved roads. Two sets of steep steps, and two steep roads. These are not essential to the ‘loop’, but the diversions are well worthwhile.
OS Discovery 88
* For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie
Mar 5: Purple Mountain hike, grade B, 15km, 5.5hrs, meet Kate Kearney’s cottage, Gap of Dunloe, 10am.
Mar 8: Sliabh Chois na Binne, Galtymore, Cush, grade B+, 15km, 6hrs, meet Firgrove Hotel, Mitchelstown, 9.30am.
Mar 9: Musheramore Mountain hike, grade C, 6km, 3hrs, meet at St. John’s Holy Well, 10.30am.
Mar 9: Knockbrinna, Beenkeragh, Caher Peiste Circuit, grade A, 17km, 6.5hrs, meet Cronin’s yard, Carrauntouhil 9.30am.
Mar 9: Galtees, difficult, 5hrs, meet outside Garvey’s Supermarket, Holy Ground, Dingle, 10am.
Mar 9: Comreraghs walk, grade A, meet Melody’s Bar, Ballymacarberry, 10am.
Mar 9: Woodland Loop, grade C, meet Lady Gregory Pub, Kilmoyler, 11am.
Mar 9: Sunday ramble, Ballylacken to Ballyvaughan, easy, 20km, meet Omniplex, Headford road, 9.45am.
Mar 9: Clear Lake, grade B, 12kms, 3hrs, meet Cadamstown car park, 11am.