Sheep’s Head Walk – The (Mostly) Dry Half

Our 6-day route around Sheep's Head

Our 6-day route around Sheep’s Head

Day 1

After a fitful night of sleep but an excellent breakfast we started out on our walk. The beginning of the trail was a little meandering but went past Bantry House, the local great house. We walkers were allowed to pass by the house, but we didn’t feel like paying the fee to wander through the gardens.

Bantry Bay, seen from the drive of Bantry House

Bantry Bay, seen from the drive of Bantry House

Pretty soon we were on country roads and skirting farm fields. Then the path took a long uphill climb to the peaks of the ridge. Once we made it to the ridgeline, we stopped and sat down on a hump of rock to eat some lunch out of our bags. We had beautiful views down both sides of the peninsula.

The north side of the peninsula

The north side of the peninsula

The north side of the peninsula from a little higher up

The north side of the peninsula from a little higher up

We were lucky to have good clear weather, but it was raining most of the day just to the north of us. There was a rainbow over Bantry Bay that moved around but lasted pretty much all day and was at times quite vivid.

Perma-rainbow over Bantry Bay

Perma-rainbow over Bantry Bay

We had a good map of the peninsula and detailed walking notes for the trail, but we started to find the walking notes strangely inconsistent. For much of the trail, they were very precise and informative, some of the best walking notes I’ve ever read, but then they would completely miss some rather important things, like the spot where you have to go sideways up a steep series of ridges interspersed with bogs. We were also finding the walking a good deal rougher than the description and photos on the website we booked the tour through had led us to expect. We were prepared for rough country walking. That was what we wanted. We were not prepared for scrambling sideways on our hands and knees up hills made of mud and animal poop with bogs at the top, which was what we got. The end of the day’s walking really soured the experience for us. It was a long trek down a slope with poor trail marking and no visible path that was slick with fresh sheep droppings and full of boggy pockets. We dubbed it “Sheepshit Hill” and coming down that took more time and energy than getting up onto the ridge in the morning had. We were both very glad to have our Finnish walking poles with us for stability and testing the ground ahead. Without mine, I would certainly have tumbled into fresh sheep leavings three or four times.

By the time we got to our B&B in Glanlough that evening we were tired, dirty, and getting very worried about the rest of the trail ahead. Fortunately, our B&B that evening was great, run by a charming older couple who gave us tea and scones as soon as we arrived (and were the only ones to take E’s dietary restrictions into consideration on the whole trip). After a shower and a bit of a rest, they drove us out to a local restaurant to get dinner. There was another walker along with us, a German lady, and we chatted over dinner, which was very pleasant.

Day 2

We had left the trail the previous evening and walked along the road a ways to get to our B&B and the trail notes had us backtracking to get back on the trail, but after the first day’s walking, we didn’t feel much like doing that, so instead we set out along the road looking for another path, known as the Old Mass Path, that goes across the peninsula. The Old Mass Path was described in our guide as a trail that the few people on the northern side of the peninsula used to take to go to the nearest church, on the southern side, and it crossed the Sheep’s Head Way we were walking, so we figured we could use it to get ourselves back on track without having to walk back so far. We reasoned that a path that old ladies used to take to get to church couldn’t be too hard a climb. Well, apparently the old ladies of Sheep’s Head were made of tough stuff, because the Old Mass Path was a brutal slog up near-vertical rocky slopes and over bogs. We were exhausted by the time we got to the trail crossing.

The south side of the peninsula

The south side of the peninsula

We’d had sunshine in the morning, but the weather was starting to get windy and rainy. After walking the ridge path for a while, we came to a place where another path crossed and we had a choice of either continuing along the ridge path to Seefin, the highest point on the peninsula, or turning off and taking a lower, more sheltered path. There was a signboard at the crossing that said “Half an hour to Seefin,” so we figured we could manage that and pressed on.

Looking ahead to Seefin peak

Looking ahead to Seefin peak

After half an hour, we came to another signboard that said “Half an hour to Seefin.” Cue much grumbling and the coining of a new term: “Irish half hour.” (A distant cousin, perhaps, to “Mañana Standard Time.”) Fortunately, the weather was clearing up. We found a sheltered spot in the sun to sit and have some lunch, then we pressed on to Seefin.

The views from Seefin were glorious. We could see the whole peninsula and a long way into the distance besides. I’m glad we decided to push ahead and make it to the top.

The view from Seefin (to the south, over Dunmanus Bay)

The view from Seefin (to the south, over Dunmanus Bay)

Self portrait at Seefin

Self portrait at Seefin

Then it was a matter of getting down. There was a path down, but it was extremely rough and treacherous. Today the danger was not sheep crap but uneven rocks. We both came close to twisting our ankles a couple of times and only made it down the last rocky scramble by inching along on the seats of our pants.

What we came to know as "Breakankle Hill"

What we came to know as “Breakankle Hill”

We called back to the B&B we had stayed in the previous night and got a pick up to go back there for another night. We had dinner at the same restaurant, though the German lady had moved on already to the next stage of her walk.

Day 3

We got driven out to the foot of Seefin again in the morning and there we had a choice. We could take one path that went back up into the peaks, or we could take a lower path down by the coast. We decided we’d had enough of the peaks and took the lower path.

Here, finally, we got the walk we’d been looking for: quiet old farm roads and country paths, rugged but well marked and with good footing. It was such a nice change from the trackless peaks. We enjoyed the first part of our day’s walk very much.

Finally, the quiet country walk we were looking for

Finally, the quiet country walk we were looking for

This led us to an old abandoned village (known locally as “Crimea,” for reasons we were never able to get clear) where the ruins of old stone cottages stood near the shore.

Ruins at Crimea

Ruins at Crimea

From there on, the path became rougher and required some coastal rock scrambling, but it also took us past some interesting abandoned copper mines and worker housing.

The "Miners' Path" to the abandoned copper mines

The “Miners’ Path” to the abandoned copper mines

The ruins of miner housing, we're guessing

The ruins of miner housing, we’re guessing

As we continued down the peninsula, the path got rougher and more difficult. Our walking notes warned us about a boggy stretch that had us worried. We decided to press on and stop for lunch only after we had gotten past the bog. The bog turned out to be no problem, though – easily crossed by a couple of stepping stones. With relief, we sat down on the hill on the other side to have some lunch.

Hooray for Finnish walking poles!

Hooray for Finnish walking poles!

Our notes were vague about what came after the bog and by this point we were starting to worry about what that meant. We carried on over more rough ground until we came to the worst part of the trail, the only section of our walk that actually made me fear for my safety, as we had to pick our way along a narrow cliff ledge high above the sea. The day had started out calm and partly sunny, but by now it was getting windy and wet, which made our footing on the cliff ledge that much worse. We made it safely through that section of trail, but this made us finally give up on the route notes. For the following days, we walked by the map instead.

There is a little lighthouse at the tip of Sheep’s Head. When we spotted that, we knew that we had made it to the halfway point. The next three days would be spent walking back to Bantry along the southern side of the peninsula.

Sheep's Head light

Sheep’s Head light

We called up our next B&B and, after a bit of trouble with the phones we got a pick up and a ride to the B&B in Kilcrochane. This B&B also has a restaurant in-house where we had dinner. It was convenient to have dinner so handy, but sadly the rest of the B&B was old, cold, and poorly taken care of and we were not very comfortable in our stay there.

 

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