Willows and alders line the banks. There are some fine old house on the ridge opposite, above the marshy fields, Our route offers the opportunity of seeing many of the birds of Irish freshwater habitats, with prospects of sighting that most elusive and beautiful of river birds, the kingfisher. Grey herons sometimes fish in the spray at the foot of the weir, and sleek, black cormorants, highly unpopular with anglers, dive and surface in the flow. Below the weir, on the midstream islands left dry at low water, mallard and Blackheaded gulls roost in full view and waterhens, with their bright red, orange-tipped beaks and green legs step daintily about. The dipper, like a large, black wren with a white breast, is sometimes seen. Walking underwater is their special talent, foraging for caddis and small crustaceans. There are otters on the Bandon, but they are rarely seen in daylight hours.
We walk downriver. The weir come into view, the footbridge in the middle distance and the main town bridge beyond. The path ends at a small section of the original town walls. Just before we reach it, a ramp will take us over the mound on the right to the car parks entrance.
The river’s most spectacular sight is the seasonal runs of salmon up-river to spawn. This section of old wall, directly above the salmon ladder, is a favourite viewing perch. More exciting is watching the fish attempting to leap the weir itself, throwing their powerful, silver bodies out of the water, sometimes making it to the top, sometimes not and being carried back to the base to try again.
A tall Scots pine stands on the opposite bank above the weir. I have seen a kingfisher, a heron and a cormorant all simultaneously perched on its branches. Below the weir is a quaint ‘cottage’, actually a pumping station. A mill once stood behind it.
Emerging at the car park entrance, we walk left and pick up the pavement along McSwiney’s Quay. The buildings behind us and across the river were semi-derelict warehouses until the Celtic Tiger years when they were renovated as ‘period’ business premises or bijou riverside flats. Some of the latter could profit from renewed attention.
We cross the footbridge. Bandon was founded in 1588 at the start of the Plantation of Munster by English colonists granted the land by the crown. Those interested in history might go straight ahead to the site of the old Fair Ground and Market; however, our route turns right, down a ramp, to a path following the northern shore.
As we approach, the view of the four-arched town bridge is complimented by the tall, elegant windows of the Methodist Church, built 1821, on the street to its right. We pass under an arch and go left up a ramp, emerging onto the street at The Allin Institute, opposite a memorial statue to Séan Mac hEaol (McHale) a Free State TD shot by IRA in 1922.
We cross the town bridge to find steps descending to a quite path leading downriver, away from the town, for about a kilometre. Once, warehouses lined the opposite bank. At the Exercise Park, we turn and retrace our steps to the bridge and along McSwiney Quay to our trailhead.
Bandon is 29km, 25 mins, west of Cork city on the N71. In Bandon, turn right at the bridge and immediately left, down the river bank. At the end of the street, continue into the Riverview Shopping Centre car parks, our trailhead.
Easy. One set of steps.
OS Discovery 87
* For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie
Three days of walking over the bank holiday weekend, with three guided walks on each day. All levels of fitness catered for, with easy grade C walks, moderate grade B and three grade A walks for the more experienced and ambitious walker. Base point is Lisvarrinane Community centre, with registration opening one hour before each walk. See aherlow.com for further details.
Two days of walking, with six walks of varying difficulties to choose from, including an easy stroll on the dramatic and historic Whiddy Island. All walks must be pre-booked at bantrywalkingfestival.com.
Two walks each day in the unspoiled beauty of Donegal, followed by a warm cultural welcome in the local bars and restaurants. All proceeds go to MS research. See donegalgathering.com for further information.