The Sheep’s Head Way
The Sheep’s Head way is a 200km walking route with ten loop walk options located on the narrow Sheep’s Head peninsula in West Cork, Ireland between Bantry and Dunmanus Bay. The route also extends eastwards from Bantry to Drimoleague and Gougane Barra offering further walking opportunities in the region e.g. long distance walkers can continue on to the Beara Way and further to the Kerry Way. More information on walking routes can be found here www.thesheepsheadway.com.
The narrowness of the peninsula means that you are never far from the glorious Atlantic Ocean, even on the outward stretch when you climb to the route’s highest point, 300 metres above sea level, on the heathery Seefin ridge. The terrain is varied and includes old boreens, open grassy and heathery hill, rocks, fields, quiet country roads and some short stretches of woodland path. The aggregate ascent over the whole route is 2,460m, which includes a few long ascents.
The way offers linear walks and loop walks of varying distance and difficulty. Long distance walkers can take linear walks staying at local Bed and Breakfasts who transfer on luggage to the next house each day. Alternatively the day or occasional walker can come, park and take a loop walk.
The remains of copper mines, a blow hole, stone circles, standing stones, a holed marriage stone, a cairn, a famine graveyard, high cliffs, a Napoleonic signal tower and old churches are some of the varied attractions to be discovered along the way. Patience may be rewarded by the sightings of dolphins and whales off the westernmost tip of the headland. Here too one may catch sight of a Chough, a protected bird living only on the cliffs of Sheep’s head and cliffs off Ireland’s south west coast.
On the peninsula the colourful villages of Durrus, Ahakista and Kilcrohane offer places to stop on route for refreshments and a warm welcome. One can also detour from the walk to visit local artisan craft makers like Cronin’s Forge ironwork near Durrus, Dun Oir Crafts and Pottery on the Goat’s Path, Dunbeacon Pottery, Durrus cheese or Heron Gallery in Ahakista to name a few. The Sheep’s Head Co-Operative hold a producers market every Sunday morning in Kilcrohane village, where locally grown and made food and craft is sold.
The Sheep’s Head Peninsula is an EDEN Destination of Excellence, the area won the award in 2009. The 2009 award focused on promoting sustainable tourism in protected areas, much of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula is a National Heritage Area, with designated Special Areas of conservation (SAC) and Special Protected Areas (SPA). The peninsula is home to protected species of bird, in particular the Chough as well as several protected plants species found on the hill such as the Pale Dog Violet (Viola lactea) and Spotted Rock Rose (Tuberaria guttata) and the Kerry Slug is also known to this area.
The interlocking rams logo for the Sheep’s Head Way a registered trade mark. The rams are one of the images depicted/carved on the 6th century Kilnurane Standing Stone which is located near Bantry. The image illustrates the Gospel story of the people of Gideon and the Israelites who fought for many years; no one won and no one surrendered, they accepted to live together! Thus the interlocking rams symbolise togetherness and resilience.
Eva La Plante of The New York Times visited the area in the Spring of 2001 and after wrote an article on the Sheep’s Head Way titled ‘Keeping the Landscape Hurdle Free’, in it she wrote “Walking the Sheep’s Head Way is not for the fainthearted, but the excitement and beauty far outweigh fear. My children happily negotiated muddy ground, clambered over rocky mounds and peered over the cliff to see nesting herring gulls. Running ahead after a picnic lunch, they delighted in finding a week-old lamb nursing from its mother.” Journalists from all over Europe have visited in recent years. More recently the Lighthouse Loop was featured in Christopher Somerville’s book ‘50 Walks through the Heart and Soul of Ireland’.
The area is proud of the fact that the peninsula has been called an unspoilt hidden gem. The people of the area respect and value this place and its beautiful ruggedness and hope that visitors will show the area the same respect and experience it leaving nothing but footprints!
The walk exists with thanks to the two hundred plus landowners who allow the trail to pass through their lands.