I ventured into West Cork I heard about a peninsula
containing a huge network of walking trails. West Cork
comprises of a series of peninsulas: Mizen Head, Sheep's
Head and Beara. Unlike the lush green Dingle Peninsula
and the Ring of Kerry, both of which are swarming with
bus loads of tourists, West Cork's peninsulas are both
rugged and less visited. The roads are too small to
allow large buses, and so large tour groups do not infest
the area. It's a much more agreeable part of the country
to visit, and is just as stunning, if not more so, than
Dingle and Kerry.
tiny village of Glengarriff signifies the start of the
Beara Peninsula. Glengarriff is simply one road with
more accommodation than shops. I stayed in the Murphy's
Village Hostel, run by the very friendly and helpful
Tony and Susan Murphy, with a little help from their
children. It was here that I learnt all about the Beara
Way, a 197-kilometre network of walking trails that
link Glengarriff with Dursey Island and Kenmare via
the entire length of the peninsula, Kenmare being in
actuality just 20 kilometres north and Dursey Island
lying at the tip 48 kilometres from Glengarriff. Beara
is dominated by the Caha Mountains, which run from end
to end down the centre of the peninsula.
is a fountain of information when it comes to walking
in the area. As well as being the start of the Beara
Way, Glengarriff is also host to its own network of
walking trails on its outskirts. Behind the hostel is
the Blue Pool Amenity Area. Inland from the village
lies the 300-hectare oak and pine Glengarriff Woods.
informed me that it is exactly 16 kilometres from Glengarriff
to the nice new hostel at Adrigole along the Beara Way.
set off around midday. I had never really done any long
distance walking before, and foolishly set off with
no water and just two small chocolate bars for sustenance.
I figured the walk would take four to five hours. My
companions were better prepared.
trail led on past a farmhouse being guarded by a dog.
We soon found ourselves heading in to the mountains.
Stretching out before us was a rolling, rugged terrain
covered with sheep and their discarded faeces. The sky
was overcast, yet so far it hadn't rained. In fact this
is the best weather for hiking.
hiked on along a grassy country road. One of the girls
had drawn a rudimentary map, copied from the map on
the hostel wall. This wasn't really needed however,
as the Beara Way is well signed. It's part of the national
network of Irish Waymarked Trails. A mile or so past
the farmhouse we turned off the road and followed a
rough, sodden trail that led on through a forest and
then up towards Sugarloaf Mountain. At 581 metres it's
hardly a mountain, but low cloud level gave it an impression
to the contrary. The trail led over a pass between Sugarloaf
and Gowlbeg mountains, at the top of which was a magnificent
view of Bantry Bay and Hungry Hill, the highest mountain
on the peninsula at 686 metres.
had seen hardly a soul since leaving the main road.
Beara is a true wilderness, littered with historical
monuments and archaeological sites. Over 600 have so
far been identified. While the girls wandered off to
view a standing stone and wedge grave, I took the opportunity
for the much-needed expulsion of bodily gases.
until now things had gone fairly well. Walking in such
beautiful countryside, and good company, had helped
keep my mind off all the aches and pains. The landscape
had been challenging: we'd crossed streams, wound through
a forest and scrambled up hillsides. We'd fought gravity
and been rewarded with stunning views.
Beara Way signposts had faithfully led us this far.
When we came to a T-Junction, the sign indicated for
us to turn left. Next to it was a sign indicating that
Adrigole was only three kilometres away. Our delight
the bottom of the road was another T-junction, and no
sign of a town. I asked for directions in the petrol
no actual town,' said the lady behind the counter. 'It's
just an area.'
area, as it turned out, that is ten kilometres long
with a small scattering of houses. Obviously the inhabitants
liked their space, or didn't like each other. I asked
about the hostel.
it's about three miles back that way, so it is,' she
said. 'It's a nice hostel. It's new, you know?'
had heard that.
we had no choice but to trudge on along the main road
for a further three miles, each milestone coming in
the form of local people.
two more miles. It's a nice hostel. It's new, you know?'
was beginning to wonder if they were being paid to say
were all dead tired by this time. Personally, I felt
like I had gone twelve rounds with Lennox Lewis and
was having to carry him on my shoulders on his victory
taking the left turn at the T-junction we had added
more miles onto the journey, and consequently more hours.
We should have gone straight on. It seemed that signpost
had been moved. By taking this route we missed out on
incredible views of the Healy Pass, a winding road that
rises 334 metres and cuts through the rugged mountain
we crossed the bridge just short of the hostel. Here
we did a little dance of joy that resembled a trio of
pensioners attempting to do an Irish jig.
hostel was indeed nice and new. Over the years it has
grown and developed. Patrick, the owner, has turned
the area outside into a camping ground. It's an ideal
base from which to hike Hungry Hill or the Healy Pass.
night we all nursed our sore bodies with the healing
effects of Irish stout in the pub just outside the hostel.
Beara Way continues from here right on through Castletownbere,
Ireland's largest whitefish port, and on to the tip
of the peninsula. Here you'll find a scattering of lovely
colourful little villages set aside magnificent views
of the Atlantic. You can visit the ruins of Dunboy Castle
and Puxley Mansion, legacy of the family who controlled
the wealth from the nearby copper mines.
Beara Way then continues on along the north of the peninsula,
part of which lies in County Kerry. Beara is without
doubt a wild and harsh landscape, and that in itself
makes it a mecca for the hiker and climber. Just be
aware that some Beara Way signposts might have been
moved by bored local children.