PASSING through the arch, we walk up the tree-lined driveway to reach the beautiful wrought-iron gates that lead to Bantry House and the magnificent gardens that surround it.
A circuit of the exterior of the house is well worthwhile. In the parterre, sometimes called the Italianate gardens, low boxwood and yew hedges are arranged in patterns, with paths between. Then, turning right at the house corner we pass a peristyle, a large terrace open at the front. On warm days, tea and sandwiches are served at tables looking out over a sunken garden and the bay. The scene on the terrace, with the tall, French windows behind, recalls a colonial mansion with white-uniformed servants delivering tiffin to functionaries of the Raj.
Inside, this is one of the finest historic houses in Ireland. The proportions and furnishings of the rooms, the collections of fine paintings, tapestries and objets d’art are all exquisite, while the breathtaking beauty of the views from the windows are unequalled in any other Irish stately home. Having taken in the house and gardens, we exit via the iron gates and walk along the back of the house. At a magnificent copper beech, a path joins from the right. We go straight ahead on a gravelled path and soon reach a ‘cross-paths’. To the right, a series of flagstones leads to an exceedingly pretty ‘Japanese’ bridge over a stream, with a red-leafed Japanese maple completing the oriental effect. We cross the bridge and join an earthen path which re-joins the gravelled path opposite the gates and continue right, uphill, through a tunnel of trees.
Speckled wood butterflies, brown with white spots on their wings, fly about in the patches of sunlight. Soon, we reach a gate, and a spur road; a waymark directs us right to the road proper, nearby. Reaching this we go right, uphill. We soon top the rise and see Bantry bay below us, with the Caha Mountains on Beara rising dramatically beyond. We cross the N71 and set off down the small road directly opposite.
Opposite a house on the left, we take a paved lane that becomes a grassy track, ending at a gate. Just before it, on the right, we climb a stone stile and join a grassy corridor, with a stream on our left. At the end of the corridor, we reach a steep ladder-stile. Soon we begin to walk uphill on a cow path, slippery after rain. The views are magnificent, especially when acres of golden gorse lie between us and the blue sea. We are directed right and pass through a gap to go right, across a field. We emerge onto a paved road, via a final, formidable ladder-stile.
As we walk downhill, a magnificent panorama opens below us, all the way from the western tip of Beara to Whiddy Island near the eastern end of the bay. It is a vista almost without parallel even in West Cork. Reaching Ballyrah House entrance, we take the hairpin bend going right, downhill. We cross the N71 again and walk up the driveway of the hotel, passing along the front of the building.
We follow a delightful path across the hotel grounds to the gate lodge and the gate beside it. Crossing to the pavement opposite, we walk towards the town and our trailhead. Bantry is a lovely town and there is much of interest still to be enjoyed.
Bantry is 80km west from Cork City on the N71. We begin the walk just west of the town, parking between the cinema and the Maritime Hotel, where a stone gate lodge, in the form of an arch, gives access to the grounds of Bantry House.
Easy paths (can get slippery after heavy rain) and byroads.
OS OS Map 85
* For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie
JUNE 20 — 22: A fantastic weekend of walking and much more in the inspiring setting of Killarney National Park. The 12 walks on offer cover a range of walking abilities from the challenge of The Reeks and Carrantuohill to easy strolls through the National Park, all led by experienced guides. Evening entertainment will be provided at the festival headquarters at the Gleneagle Hotel, with BBQs, music, song and dance long into the night. See killarneywalkingfestival.ie for further info and registration.
Jun 22: Newquay, short road walk, meet Linnane’s Pub, 1.15pm.
Jun 22: The Devils Mother hillwalk, grade B, meet at the Omniplex, Headford Road, 9.15am.
Jun 22: Mid Maamturks hillwalk, grade B, 10-15km, 5-7hrs, meet at the Omniplex, Headford Road, 8.45am.
Jun 22: Coomloughra Horseshoe, grade A, 8/9hrs, meet at the Ash Tree pub, 8am.