12 post-festive walks to try across Cork

Looking for some inspiration on places to walk over the festive holidays? RICHARD GORDON has some suggestions
12 post-festive walks to try across Cork

The Marina. Picture: Richard Gordon

THE yearning for some fresh air and the need to move after all those mince pies, is upon many of us. So where to go to stretch the legs? Richard Gordon shares a list of some of Cork’s most beautiful places to stroll, wander, explore and hike this festive season.

The Marina

We start with the city and a lap of the docks. A very convenient and much-beloved route with sights of Páirc Ui Chaoimh stadium, the Atlantic Pond, native wooded areas, some scattered archaeological sites, and views across the harbour. For a city stroll, this jaunt encapsulates a lot. Families are often feeding birds, cyclists are often peddling down the Greenway and couples are often power walking along the water for some evening exercise.

It’s one of Cork city’s busiest walking routes, and for good reason.

Ballycotton Cliff Walk Picture: Richard Gordon
Ballycotton Cliff Walk Picture: Richard Gordon

Ballycotton Cliff Walk

Travelling east to a village perched on the water’s edge. Ballycotton was actually named as one of Europe’s ‘secret villages’ by the National Geographic magazine in 2018 for its remote beauty and history – and the jewel of the village is the stunning cliff walk.

The further you walk from the village, the more gorgeously isolated it feels, with the lighthouse sitting atop a small island watching your every move. There is a viewing point by Ballyandreen from which the full cliff walk is visible. A gorgeous East Cork stroll on our beautiful Irish coastline.

Glengarriff Nature Reserve Picture: Richard Gordon
Glengarriff Nature Reserve Picture: Richard Gordon

Glengarriff Nature Reserve

Out west to an ancient stand of native woodland. The White family of Bantry House acquisitioned Glengarriff Nature Reserve as part of their estate in the 18th century and they planted pine trees back in the 19th century which can still be seen today. There are also oak trees present in the park that are considered ancient – a rare find nowadays.

The park offers a variety of walking trails; a short river walk, a long meadow walk, or even an ascension walk which takes you up to a viewing point of Bantry Bay.

Three Castle Head Picture: Richard Gordon
Three Castle Head Picture: Richard Gordon

Three Castle Head

Staying west, to a spectacular fragment of Irish history sitting on a cliff’s edge named Dunlough Castle. To get here, rather than following the road to Mizen Head Visitor Centre, turn off and take the road to the western side of the peninsula until you arrive at the car park. The castle is on private land; however, it is open to the public. A donation box is at the beginning of the trail and a few euros per person is appreciated. This is for those who are craving a dramatic walk in an epic location.

Ballincollig Regional Park Picture: Richard Gordon
Ballincollig Regional Park Picture: Richard Gordon

Ballincollig Regional Park

(Gunpowder Mills)

The remaining structures of the Gunpowder Mills can be found scattered throughout the 130 acres of Ballincollig Regional Park. Often hidden within thick vegetation, various buildings can appear unexpectedly as you stroll through the woods. The park is free and open to the public. There’s a very helpful app that can be downloaded called ‘Powdermills’ which gives brief descriptions on the functionality and history of each building. The December opening hours are 9am to 5pm.

Curraheen River Walk

(opposite Lee Fields)

For another city walk, a casual stroll along the banks of the river at Lee Fields is beautiful. If you’re after something a bit more wooded, then cross the road and try the walk amidst the trees. It’s about a kilometre long, but for an area so close to urban life it feels like a green oasis with tall, mature trees.

Just as you enter the walk from the main road and swing a right, you’re met with a gorgeous corridor. When the sun is unobstructed by cloud it splices through the canopy. I love the distinction between the coniferous trees on the right and the deciduous on the left.

Mullinhassig Woods and Waterfall

To the north-west of Cork city, there is a particular wooded ravine that slots into a lowland called Mullinhassig Wood.

Located in Aghavrin, it boasts one of Ireland’s most beautiful waterfalls. There’s a remote feel to this place and when you’re standing by the river, the steep sides of the gorge are covered in vegetation, and when you look up beyond them all you can see is the sky.

Sheep's Head Picture: Richard Gordon
Sheep's Head Picture: Richard Gordon

Sheep’s Head

Back to the sharp coastline where a sliver of peninsula pokes out between the bays of Bantry and Dunmanus, famed for its rugged and spectacular terrain.

Bernie’s Cupán Tae is the last vehicular stop before the beginning of the walk known as ‘The Lighthouse Loop’. There are picnic benches peering out onto the edge of the planet there, with nothing but the planet’s own curvature obstructing the view.

Doneraile Park Picture: Richard Gordon
Doneraile Park Picture: Richard Gordon

Doneraile Estate

Now for some idyllic antiquity in north Cork, for those seeking a mix of grandeur and elegance.

Doneraile Estate, which includes 166 hectares of park, is an expanse of rolling lawns and woodlands built in the 1720s. The gardens are beautifully tended to with white benches, perfectly mowed grass and dappled flower beds. There’s an impressive collection of rare tree specimens for the botanically intrigued.

A glacier once sat west on the Sheehy Mountains, and when it melted the fluvial wash carved up the land and the River Lee was born.

The beginnings of the River Lee at Gouganne Barra are actually signposted as ‘An Laoi’. It’s fascinating to see the origins of this translucent trickle that eventually wraps itself around the island of Cork city centre roughly 89 kilometres away.

There’s a steep staircase of rocks that take you up the mountain, with little bridges to cross streams and twists through clustered wooded patches. There are parts of this wood that are the archetypical ‘fairy-tale forest’.

Gazing from a summit and out onto the panorama, the lake where St Finbarr’s sits can be seen. To explore these beautifully serene uplands would be a few hours well spent.

Marlogue Wood

Heading east along the perimeter of Great Island will eventually take you to Marlogue Wood. There’s roughly 22 hectares of forest and what I find so unique about Marlogue is its different elemental textures.

After walking through a typically leafy patch of deciduous forest, you’ll see rows of coniferous trees and feel the gradient of the island, and then the shimmering blue water of Cork Harbour undulating through the vegetation comes into view.

There’s such an epic feel to this wood.

Barley Lake Picture: Richard Gordon
Barley Lake Picture: Richard Gordon

Barley Lake

Now to finish with something for those who are prepared to get muddy. Barley Lake rests like molten glass in the mountains. Upon arrival, there are no clear walking trails so one must utilise their intuitive orienteering skills. The area is bogland and the mossy sod will squelch up to your shins in parts, so I recommend wellies with good grip.

A sight to behold, as is the view down into the valley towards Glengarriff. The woodlands, the bog, the geology, all combine to make this place a remarkable point of Ireland’s natural beauty, and a suitable finale to this compilation of Cork’s scenic spots. Happy walking.

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