From Kinsale, the gourmet capital of Ireland , to Dursey on the tip of the Beara Peninsula, is a stretch of Ireland which is unrivalled in its natural beauty, variety and colour. Generally known as “West Cork”, it has a culture and history all of its own. Among its people there is an indigenous ability to thrive amidst difficulties and an optimism founded in the good humour, which pervades even in the worst of times.
Craftsmanship has thrived in this area, with local arts and crafts shops, potteries and art studios in nearly every town and village. Artists are drawn here to paint the landscape to the backdrop of the incredible light. They comment on the unusual way the landscape can come alive with the light cast by the diversity of sunshine, cloud, rainbow and sea spray, which enhance the “forty shades of green” that make up this enthralling vista.
West Cork has carried a reputation for its food for many centuries. Generations of understanding in farmhouse cuisine, coupled with a wide variety of fresh seafood, local meats, vegetables, herbs and dairy produce, has produced a quality of food in West Cork which is unsurpassed in its wholesomeness, taste and creativity. The “Taste of West Cork” symbol epitomises all that is best in this area.
West Cork is also a walker’s paradise. Long before the development of its walkway network, tourists came here in the sixties and seventies just to walk its narrow winding roads where they found a new vista around every corner. Since 1992 various farming communities of West Cork have been busy developing walking trails and footpaths through areas where there had previously been no access. Today there are up to 300km of designated walking trails which include the Sheep’s Head Way, the Beara Way, the start of the Mizen Way and various shorter routes like the Seven Heads Walks and the walking network of Glengarriff Nature Reserve and the Gearagh. West Cork surpasses any other area of Ireland in both the quality and extent of its walking network.
The Sheep’s Head Way, known as Slí Mhuintir Bhaire in Irish, is a long distance walking route of over 150km encompassing the Sheep’s Head Peninsula and the general Bantry area. Whiddy Island, in Bantry Bay, has a Walk and is connected by ferry to the mainland. From Drimoleague to the east, the Mealagh valley and Kealkil, Carriganass Castle with links to the Beara Breifne Way and which leads to Gougane Barra; local communities in these areas have all developed their own walks which are linked with The Sheep’s Head Way. The walker can experience spectacular views from various ridges, shoreline, cliff tops, and lake sides. As well as our native wildlife and rare wildflowers and plants, one can often observe dolphins and seals, sometimes whales, at sea. The walks also include the numerous monastic, archaeological and historical sites in the area where possible.
Starting in Bantry, the western route follows the ridge of Bantry Bay west along the Goat’s Path Road, all the way to Sheep’s Head—the end of the Peninsula. It then turns south and follows the contours of Dunmanus Bay through Kilcrohane, Ahakista and Durrus before returning to Bantry. The total length of the ring is around 180km and it can be completed in about four days walking. There are several very accessible loop walks of shorter distances, in addition to ten Fáilte Ireland Loop Walks with trail heads at Carriganass, Mealagh, Drimoleague, Bantry, Ahakista, Kilcrohane, the Blackgate and Sheep’s Head.
These trails are colour coded and afford the self guided walker a wide variety of walking experiences from one to seven hours duration. Consult the guide to the Sheep’s Head Way which is available from numerous local outlets and for the Eastern routes, consult the Drimoleague Heritage Walkway booklet.