We continue on the tarred road, the Beara Cycle Route, rough land on the left and tranquil Ardgroom harbour below us on the right. In July and August, the road verges seem on fire with swathes of orange montbretia in flower, and there are stands of purple loosestrife, pink Greater Willowherb, creamy meadowsweet and buddleia, blue or white. Across the Kenmare River, Sneem nestles beneath the range that rises to Carrauntohill, 1039m., Ireland’s highest peak.
We ask why huge Kenmare bay is called a river. The answer perhaps lies in its early Irish name, Inbhear Scéine, ‘wild river mouth’; the Roughty and Sheen spate rivers enter it. Another version holds that an English milord who owned the bay shores wanted to assert fishing rights and dubbed it a river so that these would be granted or granted at less cost.
We turn sharp left, inland, at a handpainted sign for “Hekerthaus” and a Ring of Beara sign. Optionally, we may go straight ahead, making a wider round via Pallas Pier, used in mussel cultivation, and Bird Point pier, favoured by anglers, adding 3km before rejoining the Cycle Route.
Commercial groups produce organic mussels on Kenmare River. Not everyone is happy with this; the mussel ropes, suspended from lines of floating barrels, contradict the image of unspoiled Ireland, the deep bay with wild mountains on either sides; clearly, its natural glory is compromised. However, mussel farming provides a livelihood where the land is often unyielding.
A gentle climb takes us past patchy fields onto a mountain road. Now, the views over the bay are westward as far as Lamb’s Head, below Caherdaniel, on Iveragh. On a long rockface, St. Patrick’s Cabbage, a Lusitanian saxifrage, grows from moss high above the road. After a dog-leg turn, at a T-junction, we go left.
We must carefully watch out for Waymark 49, 200m along on the right. We take the track opposite, beside a No Dogs Allowed sign. After another 200m, we see Waymark 50 ahead and now follow the yellow waymark posts, always visible ahead. Beyond post 52, stepping stones cross a wet lag, and a ladder stile climbs to a ridge above. Butterwort, an insectivorous pastel green rosette producing a violet flower, is common; also bog cotton, spike rush, cross-leaved heath, Irish dwarf gorse, and bog myrtle with red stems. Rocks are often beautifully patterned with lichens.
The ‘top of the world’ views are glorious — southward, the Caha range and north, across the bay, the backbone mountains of Iveragh, with Ardgroom village eastward below us. Small Heath and Grayling butterflies are common. We pass two ruined houses at post 56, bare stones and a single gable stark and emblematic against the backdrop of sea and the sweeping green peaks of Iveragh, another is almost subsumed by willow and bracken colonising what was once its home acre. After trekking 2km. across this paradise, we arrive, too soon, back at the unpaved roadway at Waymark 60, and turn right, back to our trailhead.
Ardgroom is on the R571 Wild Atlantic Way Kenmare-Castletownbere road.
In the village, The RC church car park, is our trailhead (alternative trailhead, see Paragraph 1 below) Magnificent views, varied terrain. 10km.
Byroads above the sea, one short, steep stretch, then a footworn track along a high ridge with panoramic vistas. Option to shorten or lengthen the route. Good boots advisable.
- For maps and information on Ordnance Survey products visit: www.osi.ie
Sept 2: Courtmacsherry to Timoleague and return, 2 hrs., meet Courtmacsherry Hotel Car Park 7pm.
Sept 3: Knockmealdowns, grade B, meet The Gap Car Park 10am.
Sept 4: Sugar Loaf, grade C, 10 km., 4 hrs., 650m, meet Lismore Castle Car Park 10:45am.
Sept 6: Charles Fort and Preghane Point, Kinsale, grade D, 4 hrs., paths and headland, meet The Spaniard 10:30am.
Sept 7: Tomies and Sheehy, Gap of Dunloe, grade B, 12 km., 4.5 hrs., 800 km., meet Kate Kearney’s Cottage 10:15 am.
Sept 6 & 7: Two-Day Challenge, 7 hrs. per day, overnight camp, over highest peaks in Mournes. Booking essential, fee £59, children £49, meet Day One: Silver Valley Mountain Park, Mourne Mts., 9:30 to 10:30am.
Sept 7: Cliffs of Moher, coastal walk, 4.5 hrs., meet outside O’Connor’s Pub, Doolin 11am.