Our work takes us to some amazing places and last month’s dramatic fieldwork along one of Ireland’s longest national waymarked trails is no exception. In Ireland, epic history, nature and outdoor activity are natural companions, and our time exploring The Beara-Breifne Way from Co. Cork to Co. Cavan certainly proved that; experiencing the same dramatic and often haunted landscapes that Chieftan Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beara and his 1000 followers did over 400 years ago. Like Donal, we even got into a few scrapes ourselves along the way…
Day 1. Drama from the off
Following defeat in the Battle of Kinsale in 1603 OSB eventually gathered his clan and hoped for a safe march North to Ulster… our own plans for a leisurely start were thwarted as our first task involved traversing a stretch of open sea called the Dursey Sound via cable car. Calm and bright weather put pay to Nisha’s hopes of having to give this experience a miss – I have to admit to having my own reservations upon seeing the 50+ year old structures – but it truly was a unique experience – bumps, jolts and yelps included…
After regaining our composure, we set off up the Beara Peninsula. Each turn in the road offering up one spectacular view after another, passing through colourful villages and enjoying the famous Cork hospitality at each stop along the way. We ended our first day overlooking Bantry Bay and the town of Glengarriff, feeling more than a few aches in the muscles… Like O’ Sullivan knowing that this was just the beginning of our expedition.
Knee knocking; Dursey Cable Car
Day 2. Facing the Elements
We set off for the Coomarkane Valley to follow the way up and over the Caha Mountains – however, the calm weather of day 1 gave way to high winds as we began our climb, any hopes of a scenic lunch at the top were blown away along with the memories of the hospitality the night before…
Unlike Nisha ‘the mountain goat’ Hawkridge, who nimbly picked her way up the trail, the strong winds and boggy conditions left me on my back side on more than one occasion – to the sound of giggles somewhere uphill! However, we eventually found ourselves at the upland lough pass which we had been aiming for. After basking in the dramatic views of the Beara Peninusla, all that was left to do was make our way down, navigating our way around some very feisty sheep, and head towards the much more tranquil setting of Gougane Barra, finishing our day marvelling at one of Ireland’s best toilets… Our conversation that evening turned to the realities for those who trod these paths 400 years before us without the benefits of our modern clothing, communications and the importance of their ability to read the land and the weather.
Majestic views; Bantry Bay
Day 3. Taking the Low Road
After a well-earned evening of tea and cakes in Millstreet, we moved onto the North West Cork Way section of the BBW, where the landscape transitioned from a rugged upland setting, into a more gentle arable experience. We were immediately drawn to the riverside settings that run throughout the area. Travelling along tranquil country paths, bustling with walkers and runners, it was easy to forget the stories of ambushes and perilous river crossings that had started to dwindle O’Sullivan Beare’s numbers already on his march throughout this deceivingly scenic landscape.
The day wouldn’t be complete without one final hill though, so after a bit of a navigational hiccup, we were able to find our way above the trees on Ardpatrick Hill, giving way to broad panoramic views over the farmlands of Ireland’s ‘Golden Vale’.
Award winning toilets; Gougane Barra
Day 4. Valley through the trees
The tranquil setting of the Golden Vale is broken up by pockets of smaller wooded hills, providing us with our first sustained feelings of enclosure and shelter. As we progressed towards the Glen of Aherlow, our thoughts again turned to O’Sullivan Beare’s journey, and how he and his followers would see pockets like these as an opportunity to shelter from the elements and the eyes of potential enemies. We needn’t worry, Tricia (our unofficial office travel agent!) already had our wonderful B&B lined up for the evening and hospitality from the locals was assured.
Passing through the Glen of Aherlow, the spectacular views of the still snow-capped Galtymore Mountain emerging from the latest wooded section of the trail took our breath away. Before ending our day in Tipperary, we had to take the advice of one local, and stop for a while and enjoy the full view of the Glen…
Intrepid explorers; Graeme Smith & Nisha Hawkridge
‘Look out for part 2 as we continue north from Offaly to Cavan, encountering some battles of our own.’