I LOVE THE SPECIAL atmosphere of islands outside the holiday season, so the summer-like weather at the end of March saw me heading for Sherkin Island. With the permanent population busy about their occupations I had the beaches and the walking routes to myself. My plan was to walk the road to the end of the island and return via the cliffs.
When you reach the end of the road go through a gate that says, “Beware of the bull”, and then turn up the track to the right. Here I met a landowner who told me that they hoped to have a loop walk developed.
A narrow track brings you to the cliffs looking over Gascanane Sound to Cape Clear. Benign on that day, the sound is a formidable place in bad weather. If there is a south-east gale blowing against a spring tide in full flood, fearsome seas with waves up to 10-metres high roar through the channels between the offshore reefs.
The cliffs are composed of vertical strata of shale, whose erosion gives rise to dramatic jagged profiles. A stout stone wall guards the edge.
Continue along this boundary to reach a spot that records a height of 101 metres, one of the two summits of equal height on Slievemore.
There is a view eastwards here as far as Galley Head, lost today in the thickening heat haze. But I had a clear view of the Stags and the Kedges, offshore outcrops, which are the remnants of headlands long destroyed by destructive storm waves.
On a clear day, the view to the west reveals the elegant outline of the Mizen Peninsula running southwest from Mount Gabriel and backed by the summit plateau of Hungry Hill. But the panorama had melted into the mist and I had to be content with savouring the myriad islands of Roaringwater Bay lazing on the shimmering sea.
Until the loop walk is in place, casual walkers should retrace their steps at this point as the rest of the route is typical west Cork upland which requires an experienced eye to spot the easiest route. Try to keep to the rocky ribs where the furze is lowest and keep to those nearest the cliffs.
You will come across narrow cattle tracks which will ease your passage but they can lead you down into denser vegetation if you lose your concentration. Towards the end you will come across the ghosts of ancient tracks that vanish under briars in places. As you get near Gneeves, keep the hillock and the greenhouse on your right and you’ll come to a gate onto a road that leads back to the pier.
If a path is ever cut through the rough patches, not a difficult task, it would be a most magnificent amenity on this beautiful island and a brilliant counterpoint to the beautiful silver and white beaches on the low-lying west side of the island.
SHERKIN ISLAND, CORK
Map:Ordnance Survey. Discovery Series. Sheet 88.
Grid reference: 029 258
Start and finish:The pier on Sherkin Island
How to get there:Take the ferry from Baltimore. Baltimore is on the R595, 12km south west of Skibereen (N71).
Time:Three to four hours
Suitability: easy/hard. Casual walkers should just go as far as Slieve More and then retrace their steps. To do the full cliff-top route, walking boots and gaiters are essential
Food and accommodation: information on facilities and ferry timetables on sherkinisland.eu