THE waymarked Beara Way follows the signpost toward Lough Fada. We walk west on the coast road. The views are, immediately spectacular, Coulagh Bay below the road, the Quay with fishing boats to the east, low-lying Eyeries Island and, beyond, the high mountains of Miskish and Knockgour. The road is all ups and downs. Illaunnameanla island, close to shore, is below us, a favourite of harbour seals. A solitary electricity pole carries power to a navigation marker.
Our first stop is The Hag of Beara. “One of the oldest mythological beings associated with Ireland”, the iron plaque at the gate says. The legend says this is the head of the pre-Christian goddess, An Cailleach Bhéarra, turned to stone as she waited for her lover, Mannanan Mac Lir, the sea god. The rock is time- and weather-worn. In some legends, the Cailleach was the goddess without whose endorsement a king could not be crowned; in others, she is the shaper of the landscape of bays and mountains. Visitors leave trinkets on the rock, coins, keyrings, shells; the appearance is that of a pattern tree. The plaque records her enmity with Saint Caitiaran who brought Christianity to the region, and a post-Christian legend says it was he who turned her to stone.
We next stop at Kilcatherine, a 7th century monastic site possibly built by the monks that raised the stone beehive huts on Skelling Michael, 9 miles offshore. Texts differ as to whether Caitiaran was male or female; in some the saint is named Caitighearn, The Cat Goddess. An eroded gargoyle-like head — some say resembles a cat’s face — protrudes at the end of a fluted neck over the roughly corbelled arched entrance to the ruin, now reduced to roofless gables with the eastern window of crude field stones beautifully made. One of the earliest stone crosses in Ireland stands below it. Ancient and modern graves surround the church, with many stylised Celtic crosses and old graves marked with stumps of stones.
We continue, enjoying magnificent vistas of Coulagh Bay and then, ignoring the road to Kilcatherine Point and, topping a rise silhouetted against the sky, come upon a breath-taking vista of Kenmare Bay with the misty blue mountains of Iveragh, mountains behind mountains, east to Coomcallee and Carrantuohill. The narrow road switchbacks through dips and rises, treeless highlands and wooded valleys.
Above Cleanderry Harbour, its mussel lines sheltered by islands, we turn right and are soon on the Beara walking route. Now, crossing moorland, we watch for a waymark on the left and a No Dogs Allowed sign opposite, and take a footworn track going right. After crossing a metal bridge, we follow the waymarks: the next is always visible from the last. This is moor and bog, with bog myrtle, bog cotton, reed grass and sphagnum. After a kilometre, we come in view of Lough Fada, the long lake. Here, at the eastern end, a stream flows out, reaching the sea at Cleanderry.
Our route takes us along the high ground, the lake on our right, reed beds between us and the water. This is thoroughly wild country, only the waymark posts to connect us to the present time. At the end of the lake, we emerge on a narrow tarred road and, as we walk downhill to the trailhead, enjoy vistas of Coulagh Bay and the Slieve Miskish mountains.
Driving north of the village, passing the church and Post Office, pick up the Beara Way coast road, and continue 4Km to a signpost, on a broad curve, indicating Lough Fada to the right. Park here, the trailhead.
15km, allow four hours.
: Coastal road, steep ascents and descents; can be windy. 3km stretch of moorland trail, muddy in wet weather.
Registration Centre: Foxford Sports Leisure Centre from 8.30am, all walks begin here.
Fees: €10 short walks; €15 moderate; €20 long, including bus transfers.
Ox Mountains, hard, 16km, 5½-6hrs, ascent 525m, meet 10am;
Tranaghmore/Drummin Wood, moderate, 14km, 3½-4hrs, meet 10.30am;
Rinanny Loop, easy, 4½km, 1½-2hrs, meet 11am;
Farbreige, moderate, 7km, 3-3½hrs, ascent 410m, meet 10am;
Loch Muck/Cloongee Loop, moderate, 10km, 3-3½hrs, ascent 200m, meet 10.30am;
Moygrove Loop, easy, 6km, 2-2½hrs, meet 11am.
Ballingeary South, D+, 10km, 3hrs, ascent 250m, meet western end Ballingeary, 10.45;
Glencush Horseshoe, B, 12km, 6hrs, 1,030m, meet Firgrove Hotel, Mitchelstown, 9.30am;
Knockeenatoung, C, 12km, 4½hrs, meet Firgrove Hotel 10.45am.
www.ardarahillwalkingclub.com Oct 5: Stoney Man, B, 4-4½hrs, meet Glenbarow carpark, 10.30am.