Walking on water
I walked straight out of my lodgings at Drumcloc the next morning to take in the top of the headland, where a circular loop took me offroad again through fuschia-lined fields to an ancient well and shrine in a hollowed glen, where the statue of Our Lady jumped out so suddenly from behind a hedge I thought I had had a vision.
The next vision to behold was the more manicured grounds of the 18th-century Bantry House, also open to Sheep’s Head walkers giving much more pleasant access down to Bantry harbour than on the main road. Here, Sheep’s Head Way has you “walking on water”, leading me out to Whiddy Island, just 10 minutes away.
This must be one of the least visited islands in Ireland, most people associating it with an oil terminal which is tucked away on its southern most point. But don’t judge a book, or confuse a storage terminal with a refinery, as Whiddy is still a walking haven, with ancient hedgerow-lined trails leading me to what felt like miles away from anything, never mind heavy-duty industry, which managed to keep out of sight for most of the time.
One of the trails led me up to an exquisite ancient graveyard dating from the 6th century, overlooking the bay in one direction and the island’s Kilmore lakes in another. Another led me to a derelict battery, sunk into high ground by the British during Napoleonic times to keep an eye out for the French armada.
These are fine architectural creations which Tim O’Leary, the skipper on the Whiddy Island Ferry and also the co-manager of the island’s only pub – the Bank House – (crab claws and chips a must), is on a personal pilgrimage to restore, some day. I have no doubt that he will do too, because the local people on Sheep’s Head Way like to show off and share their surroundings. Except on January 31st, that is, when they keep it all to themselves.
By not opening up their land every day of the year, the farmers retain their rightful claim to land ownership – which seems like a great deal to me. But then again, I get 364 days of walking access. They get just one day’s rest from the likes of me, and I hope they make the most of it and have one big hooley on the head.
And if they do, we walkers owe them more than a pint or two to say thanks for letting us party in paradise for the rest of the year.
For more information on Sheep’s Head Way, see thesheepsheadway.ie;