Enjoy the wild and unspoilt scenery of Sheep's Head in West Cork

As we continue our 12-part series, ‘Exploring Natural Cork’, RICHARD GORDON visits Sheep’s Head in West Cork, between the bays of Bantry and Dunmanus, famous for its rugged and spectacular terrain.
Enjoy the wild and unspoilt scenery of Sheep's Head in West Cork

STUNNING: Sheeps Head in West Cork. You can catch up on Richard’s series on EchoLive.ie Pictures: Richard Gordon

SHEEP’S Head is a sliver of peninsula that pokes out of Cork’s coastline between the bays of Bantry and Dunmanus. It’s famed for its rugged and spectacular terrain.

The southern perimeter boasts the gorgeous villages of Ahakista and Durrus, whilst the northern drive is more wild and sparsely populated.

There are many walking trails on and around this peninsula, you could even spend six days walking the full length of it, and more if you liked, as there’s an Eastern Trails section which extends for 200km and spreads towards Drimoleague and Gougane Barra; quite the pilgrimage across some stunningly unspoilt landscape if you are that way inclined.

Don’t worry, there are some laid- back routes too in the realms of one-to-seven hours. The main Sheep’s Head Peninsula is a 93km hike that begins and ends in Bantry town and encapsulates incredible coastal scenery along the way.

I arrived on an evening when the air was dry and the sun was working hard sending warmth towards our country. A rare and delightful, hot summer’s day.

I drove as far as Bernie’s Cupán Tae at Tooren, which is a quaint little tea shop at the end of the road and the beginning of the walk known as the lighthouse loop.

There are picnic benches here that look straight out onto the horizon and on this glorious evening it felt as if they were peering out onto the edge of the planet, with nothing but the planet’s own curvature obstructing the view. Much like the constant tweeting of birds in a forest, the constant bleating of sheep is present here. I can confirm that Sheep’s Head is indeed teeming with sheep.

Sheeps Head is well named, with plenty of ewes and lambs.
Sheeps Head is well named, with plenty of ewes and lambs.

In my summer shorts and t-shirt, with my camera slung around my neck, I embarked upon the final steps of this mighty peninsula. Immediately I was struck by the views across the bay towards Mizen Peninsula with the water looking so deeply blue.

There are several homes nestled into the land that have that view as a permanent from their windows.

There were many small flocks of sheep roaming about in their own directions, with little lambs scampering along by the heels of the elders. 

The older ewes appeared quite calm around the human that was photographing them, clearly well used to and unfazed by the sight of roaming people.

There are different walking trails, for different levels of walkers.
There are different walking trails, for different levels of walkers.

The walk was winding, the path was beaten in, and the surroundings were alive with swaying blades of long grass, glinting in the falling sunshine. I passed only a small handful of people, all enjoying the peaceful solace of the area. The closer I got to the tip, the more breathtaking the sights became. There’s a lake that seems to appear out of nowhere as your eyeline dips over a verge and looks down into a valley.

The reflective stillness of the water is a sight to behold as I watched birds soar across it to a nesting site on the far side of the lake.

Like peering off the edge of the planet
Like peering off the edge of the planet

I walked down through the soggy rushes as close as I could get to the lake. It felt like I was stepping down into an avian domain as the many gulls were perched on their amphitheatre across the water watching me from above, squawking into the air. I continued on to a bridge that takes you across a small stream. Just beside it was an extremely sheer cliff face that offers goliath views of the geology being bombarded by the endless force of the ocean’s waves.

The lighthouse at Sheep's Head.
The lighthouse at Sheep's Head.

Further again is the lighthouse that stands like the final vestige of humankind before the might of the Atlantic takes over. Bunches of wildflowers were scattered around, as were giant boulders on the precipice of the peninsula. The sun fell and the gentle breeze swirled around in the air. It was a perfect evening for a walk to the lighthouse as I sat there feeling the hypnotic rhythm of the water’s surface perforate into my mind.

I soaked in the moment for a while and then turned back, passing others on their way to the lighthouse. 

They were wearing hoodies and jackets as the warmth of day was beginning to leave. I was slightly jealous of their timing because they were going to be able to watch the orange sun sink into the horizon line and splay its angular light towards them. Next time I’ll coordinate my visit better to capture the sun’s sparkling departure.

On the drive back through the peninsula, I passed the eclectic bars and cafés which have no doubt struggled the past year with the lockdowns and lack of tourism. I can only hope that the near future breathes vital life back into the area so it can bloom again as it should.

Next week: Mullinhassig Wood

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