On a Cape Clear day
A settled spell in the weather at this time of year can give the opportunity for a wonderful day’s walking, writes TONY DOHERTY
PEOPLE INVARIABLY associate Irish islands with summer seas, but a settled spell in winter or early spring can give the opportunity for a wonderful day’s walking and a feeling of being on holiday rather than just out for the day. Such is the case with Cape Clear island.
From the moment the ferry chugs into North Harbour in Cléire you know you have arrived somewhere special. The great cliffs to port and the cut-stone piers to starboard are an imposing threshold to a day of exploration on this enchanting island.
A steep road leads to a distinctive col and carries on down the far side to South Harbour which is a spectacular horseshoe bay. Follow the Gleann Loop markers uphill to spot height 105m. The track is narrow, muddy and flanked by dense thickets of gorse, so I’d recommend boots and I wouldn’t advise you to wear shorts. Continue along the edge of the cliffs to spot height 120m, which is a fine vantage point to view the coast from Toe Head, through the Fastnet Rock to the Mizen.
Cape Clear first appeared on a map in 1339 as Cap d’Clar and has been an important landfall since. In bygone centuries, the empty sea below would be alive with sailing trawlers and tall ships waiting to pick up pilots.
Looking inland, the ravages of famine and emigration can be seen in the abandoned fields. But this is not a melancholy scene as Cléire is home to a small but vibrant community of farmers, service providers, artisans and artists.
Further along the clifftop there are two structures, one, a signal tower dating from 1805 and the other, an abandoned lighthouse which was built in 1817, but being at a height of 120m above sea level it was frequently lost in mist. It was replaced in 1854 by a cast-iron lighthouse on the Fastnet Rock, which in turn was replaced by the present granite tower in 1904.
The path now leads down on to a third-class road. Make a short detour here for a closer inspection of the lighthouse and signal tower. Once back to the point where you came on to the road, head downhill as far as a yellow gate on your right where you can take a short cut across to the next road, past a barn and through a small plantation. This is a temporary route which the landowner has permitted until an old right of way nearby has been restored. It will be way-marked when ready.
When you come out on to the road below turn right and head up to the first telegraph pole on the right. Across the road from it is a stone stile from whence a path leads uphill to the island’s church. The view is, as they say, “thar a bheith go halainn”, better than beautiful. With Mount Gabriel and the mountains of Beara providing a distinctive backdrop “Carbery’s Hundred Isles” lie basking on the sparkling reaches of Roaring Water Bay.
The road leads back down to North Harbour where, if you haven’t been too tardy you will have time for a mighty mixed grill in Tig Sean Rua before the ferry carries you back to reality.
The late Paddy Burke, the genial host of the then most southerly pub in Ireland, always warned of the dangers of being captivated by Cléire. He maintained that it could lead to a serious case of “Cape Fever”, the main symptom of which was an overwhelming desire to stay longer than you had planned. So pack your pyjamas the next time.
Route: Cape Clear, Co Cork
Start and finishThe pier in North Harbour, Cape Clear.
How to get thereTake the ferry from Baltimore. Baltimore is on the R595, 12km southwest of Skibbereen (N71). Timetable on capeclearislandferry.com.
TimeThree to four hours.
SuitabilityRoute is moderate . Map, rain gear and walking boots needed.
MapOrdnance Survey Discovery Series, sheet 88.
Food and accommodationInformation on all facilities and services on oilean-chleire.ie.