Into the nose of the wind on Kealkill
The extra effort makes this loop in Co Cork all the more enjoyable
A small piece of my heart will always remain in west Cork since a youthful summer holiday spent walking, sailing and exploring its rugged peninsulas. This is resolutely my type of place – an off-beat but authentic visitor experience stoutly built around music, art, sailing, quality food and, of course, walking. So it’s a pleasant journey down memory’s old avenue as I traverse the solitude of the Cousane Gap and continue through the summer hues of the Cork countryside to the timeless little village of Kealkill.
Exploring the unfrequented fusion of forests, mountains and lakes north of this settlement is my objective. Starting at Carriganass Castle (see panel), I take the road crossing the Owenbeg River and then ramble left on a byroad that weaves an erratically upwards into the hill country. Reaching a stile, the arrows beckon cross country to a ruined 19th century cottage. Here things take a somewhat unpromising turn, though, when a rough, wet, trail leads to a fern enclosed intersection, lacking a directional arrow.
Perplexed, I take the lower option and soon find myself on dangerously steep ground and become swallowed in gorse and heather. Struggling back to the junction, I go uphill instead and eventually find a waymarker skulking deep in the greenery. Now the going improves as I reach the crest of Póc an Tarbh ridge and enjoy sweeping vistas across the unrelieved emptiness of the west Cork landscape to the austere Caha Mountains nudging a rugged passage out to the Beara Peninsula.
Another stile now accesses forestry and soon a firebreak leads to Barr an Adhmaid road. Certainly, there’s plenty of timber, but this isn’t really a road. Instead it’s a delightful gravel lane offering transcendent vistas over the lavishly remote Borlin Valley.
Reaching Maughanasilly crossroads, I find myself yearning further discovery. I continue up the Maugha Road by following the waymarkers for the Srón Na Gaoithe loop. Almost immediately my curiosity is captured by Maughanasilly standing stones, signposted to the right. Here, among the five huge upright boulders, the veil of time is momentarily lifted and I feel just slightly in touch with my pre-historic ancestors.
A steep marshy firebreak now leads to a fence bisecting the sawtooth eminence of Knockbreteen Ridge. Again, memorable panoramas abound with Knockboy (Cork’s highest mountain) to the northwest and the unmistakable tabletop of Hungry Hill adorning the southwestern skyline. Tracking the fence left until my route descends sharply to where a convenient steel handrail has been added as a welcome safety measure, I soon arrive at a forest track leading undemandingly to a stile where the trail succumbs to a public road. Here it’s just a 30 minute amble downhill to Carriganass Castle. Despite its modest extent and elevation, I now conclude that the Keakill circuit is a walk packing real attitude. Ideal for discerning hikers who like their outing gritty and a bit raw; this is a loop where effort must be invested to savour reward from an ageless landscape.