You’ll earn your mince pies with a bracing walk on Sheep’s Head, says David Young
HERE’S how to snap out of a grey-skies malaise and it will work for all ages, all family configurations, and even the most cantankerous. Break out of your festive comfort zone, and earn your hot port and mince pies by following this guide to the ruddy-cheeked walk and the rewarding country pub.
Start with a beautiful part of the world not a million miles from your doorstep. Pack a little: not for a house-move, just enough for a few days. But make sure you’ve got a rain jacket, wellies, and a few layers. And socks. Head out and when you return you’ll be feeling ‘fresh’.
So, your adventure — if you choose to accept it — is to decamp from the city, or wherever you are, for a foray down the Sheep’s Head peninsula and the Ballyroon mountains. Where? It’s one of the country’s most stunning places and although the wind occasionally howls, it also has one of the mildest climates.
Trust me. Daffodils are known to pop up in January. And think of how you’ll be met by stone circles, standing stones, a castle, a tower, and old churches as you ramble. Chances are you’ll likely spy a dolphin or a whale as you skip along coastal paths. Be warned though — there’s a haunted elder bush en route.
Get thee to west Cork. Amid the many jewels in the Rebel County’s crown, this peninsula offers something unique. A slender ridge of rugged yet welcoming walkways and loops that lead you to incredible vantage points. It’s not even two hours out from Cork city. Take the N71 and steer for Bantry. Just before rolling into town, take a left for Durrus. Or, if you miss that turn, take the very next one for Kilcrohane.
WHERE TO STAY
You’ll be spoilt for choice. The villages of Durrus, Ahakista and Kilcrohane all boast affordable B&B accommodation and the providers will work with you on the rate, especially if you’re staying for two or more nights. Give yourself a couple of sleepovers to get the full experience.
Throw into the mix the added extra of the ‘walker’ package on offer. That is, if you proudly sport your intentions to explore the Sheep’s Head on foot, your hosts will do all they can to help you. They’ll drop you off at any point, from which you can trek back to your bed. They’ll even prepare a packed lunch for you, and an evening meal, if you ask nicely.
THE WALKING BIT
You can be as brave as you like. From day-long strolls to one-hour sallies. You can start in Kilcrohane village — with a stiff drink at Eileen’s and step out the remainder of the peninsula, on and off road; break your exploits by setting down for a wild picnic at the lighthouse when you reach the end. Your worthy pilgrimage will be flanked by views left and right that will erase all your troubles. And real pubs await, with refreshments that you’ll more than deserve.
If you’re wondering about your fitness, and how long you might last, or even how far you might make your kids traipse before their blood-sugar levels crash, then take the shorter routes. Some are as brief as a spin around the block. And doing a few over the course of a couple of days will really give you the sense of adventure you’re after.
WINDSWEPT AND LONELY
Not a chance. You can join other walkers or bid them the very best, and take your own path. Just you and your kin. Or whoever you choose to impress down this way
Knowing that you’ve got the comfort of home in your accommodation, without having to drive anywhere, is one hell of a safety blanket. This should be fun, after all. You can leave the pioneering for later in the new year. Your proper country walk is just that — a walk to refresh the senses like you won’t if you stay at home.
And it’s to be followed by stepping into personable establishments that can bring you back in time to the way pubs used to be. Of course, there’ll be a fire in the hearth and live music, in these intimate venues, all through the holidays. So, you can be entertained yet still chat, without watching the clock.
My wager is — any time spent down the Sheep’s Head is never forgotten. An utterly dramatic and powerful landscape, it’s a treasure matched only by the warmth of those who welcome you there. The stratagems and spoils of the world’s money markets matter not a jot down here. This is an asset with endless reserves — reserves than can never be exhausted nor hawked. Without fail, it’ll take the ennui out of grazing in front of mind-numbing movie repeats on the telly. Just think about it — you’ll be rolling more new year’s resolutions into one short blast than ever before. Try it. Might even be habit-forming.
Awards: Winner of the European Destination of Excellence
Home Front: Voted Best Walk in Ireland (Country Walking Magazine, November 2011)
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