Walk for the Weekend: Garretstown, Co Cork

Makings of a fine hike can be found in an area rich in history just outside Ballinspittle

Traverse the long sandy Garrylucas strand (the best for bathers) to its dunes, which lead on to a cliff path offering great views.

Traverse the long sandy Garrylucas strand (the best for bathers) to its dunes, which lead on to a cliff path offering great views.

 

It’s a long time now since anyone walked out to the Old Head of Kinsale without a golf bag or special permit. But while nothing will make up for the loss of standing at the lighthouse on a blustery summer’s day, there are still the makings of a fine hike in an area rich in history.

Outside Ballinspittle lies the triple-ringed Ballycatteen Fort, where in AD 910 the armies of Deas-Mumhan (south Munster, or “Desmond”) defeated the Vikings in battle. You can catch a glimpse of this at the start of your walk, on the R600 out from Ballinspittle, where mixed woodland (holly, hazel, elm, birch), partly crowded by rhododendron, skirts the conifer plantation.

After a quick inspection of the 19th-century Sunday’s Well, take a left on the L7313 and, with the Anglican church up ahead, enter the wood on the left via a narrow forest track, turning right when it meets the circle route, and then follow the blue route uphill.

Hang a left along the old deer wall, climbing to the highest part of the park where, on a fine day, you can see the final resting place of the Lusitania, sunk by a torpedo from a German U-boat in May, 1915.

Today, the main view here is of Coillte logging, and of the dark thicket of unhappy trees at its interior, destined for the English MDF market. Yet around the corner you return to a remote quiet.

There are quiet beaches here too, but after about 1km the public track disappears into the ocean.
There are quiet beaches here too, but after about 1km the public track disappears into the ocean.

Down to the sea

Continue on the (unmarked) blue route and past the milk-pots at Whites Crossroads, keeping the wood to your left. Here, fields of barley roll down to the Atlantic surf to your right amid the sweet smell of hay bales.

It’s a Friday and the roads are quiet as we round the corner by Blue Horizon and walk across Garretstown Beach, known as Coakley’s Beach after an old hotel finally being redeveloped.

Come up off the beach here to the cliffs, and descend again to the tiny Nun’s Beach, which once offered seclusion to Marian enthusiasts drawn to the moving statue in nearby Ballinspittle At low tide, Nun’s Beach segues into the sandstone outcrop of the Curlew Rock, where many a Cork childhood is spent dodgy the encroaching tide, or digging canals between rock pools under the sandstone sea bluffs.

Traverse the long sandy Garrylucas strand (the best for bathers) to its dunes, which lead on to a cliff path offering great views, not least the wave-like rock formations below, criss-crossed by swallows.

There are quiet beaches here too, but after about 1km the public track disappears into the ocean. Continuing onwards runs the risk of being beaten off the beaten path – or charged by excitable bullocks. So return to the road and walk through Lispatrick to the Napoleonic-era Signal Tower and Downmacpatrick Castle.

There, the cliffs and the Old Head isthmus are a reminder that, for all the area’s 21st-century fences, this remains a place apart.

Garretstown Walk, Co Cork

Map: Discovery Series No 87
Start: Ballinspittle bus stop on the R604 at the entrance to Ballinspittle Wood
Finish: Signal Tower/Speckled Door
How to get there: Take the Local Link from Kinsale to Ballinspittle Wood, returning from the Speckled Door.
Suitability: At a 150m ascent and the same down, moderate fitness is needed for this 14km walk, especially if taking in the cliffs.

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