Up the hill from the other side on a beautiful day. A real stone circle and a fake, a green river valley, a wedge tomb in cool woodland, a long boggy climb, a flowing spring, a mountain kitchen and a winged man.
On my previous hike up Mullaghmesha, I took a route off the hill back to Bantry instead of contnuing on the Sheep’s Head Way (East) and St Finbarr’s Way over the summit and onward to Kealkill. 1 I have not walked all of the eastern sections of the Sheep’s Head Way before and want to explore one of the several options shown on the OS map.
It’s a beautifully warm day with blue skies and billowing cloud – perhaps the best weather of the year so far. Herself drops me at Kealkill and I start up the steep winding lane out of the village, making my way past two snappy Jack Russells. Nearly at the top, I take the short path to the stone circle which has everything: a five-stone circle, two enormous standing stones and an unusual radial cairn plus stupendous views in all directions.
Over the ridge I descend into the Melagh Valley: rolling green sheep pasture bordering the little meandering river. I take a waymarked route off the road across rough boggy ground only to join the road again – staying on the road would have been quicker. The next 6 kilometers are all on road except for a short section through woodland.2 It’s pleasant enough in the warm sunshine but road walking does get tiresome, even though there is a fake stone circle on the way. It’s strange how, even though the stones look right they just don’t feel right somehow.
Off the road onto the ‘Melagh Woods Loop’, carefully marked through shady deciduous woodland and along the river crossed by an arched metal footbridge. A short spur takes me to the Barnagowlane wedge tomb which is quite small but has a big story:
The wedge tomb is indicated on the 1902 Ordnance Survey map as Knockanenaclora an angicisation of either Cnochán an Altórach (the hillock of the altar), or Cnocán a’Nealora (‘hillock of the look-out man’).
In the bog to the west of this tomb human remains were found and reported to the Royal Irish Constabulary sometime around 1912. The body was found in a turf bank and was dressed in a uniform with buckled shoes. It was later re-interred under a flagstone some distance west of the wedge tomb. There is speculation that this may have been the remains of an informer who came to the area in Fenian times (around 1867) but the identity of this unfortunate person will remain a mystery.
In the boggy hollow just south of the wedge tomb a bed of wattles was previously exposed on a bank of turf. It was 2 feet from the surface and showed up white against the black turf. This feature was believed to have been part of a pathway which once led across the boggy ground. With thanks to David Mylar, author of “An archaeological Survey of the Meelagh Valley”3
I sit by the tomb to eat my lunch. Down by the river I refill my water bottle.4
Back onto the road, I pass the first stile and turn up the steep hill that heads towards Dereenacrinnig West on the map before taking the waymarked path though forestry and onto the hill. It’s a steep, boggy climb for the next kilometre or more but the view at the top is breathtaking. I can see down the Beara, Bantry Bay and the Sheep’s Head to the west; over the Mizen and Roaring Water Bay to the south and northwards to the Sheehy Mountains.
Before a stile over a fence I take a detour to Tobar Úr (“Fresh well”): a natural spring bubbling from the hillside, then continue towards Coomanore Lough. On the scarp above the lough a man is standing beside a vehicle with a hang-glider making an incongruous sight in this barren landscape. As he is about to launch into the air, he changes his mind and sets the wing down; perhaps the wind is not right for him or maybe Daedalus whispered a warning?
A rustic seat in a small hollow is dedicated to the memory of Owen O’Sullivan who helped to plan this route and called the place ‘His Kitchen’. It’s a fitting memorial in such a beautiful spot.
I have re-joined the route I took in the opposite direction a few days ago but leave it again to get to the house of ‘George the Sky’ which I missed last time. George was George Mahony and the house, now ruined, was built in the early 19th Century. There is a good description of the house and family in the guide book5. His house has now almost dissolved into the landscape with a small tree taking over the small yard in front of the building. It must have been a hard existence up here but to sit and watch the view may, perhaps, have eased things sometimes.
I take a shortcut through a gate and down behind the two huge boulders that give the place its name: Glanachlogha (“Glen of the stones”) and back onto the track. At the end of the track a group of cattle are huddled around the gate blocking my path and I have to circle around above them to move them away, but they go without too much fuss.
Down the road with Castle Donovan getting closer to meet Herself at the bridge and a quick paddle in the icy water is a welcome treat for the feet!
About the route
Together with the route described in Part 1, this is a spectacular hike with several points of interest, varied terrain and panoramic views on a clear day. Not advisable in poor visibility unless your map-reading skills are very good because the waymarker posts are some distance apart on the high exposed sections and there are very few landmarks.
The route described here is best done in the opposite direction, making a very long but continuous hike from Drimoleage to Kealkill. Taking the more direct route down from Mullaghmesha (via Glanareagh on the OS map in a north-westerly direction) looks shorter but steeper and avoids a long road section but misses the Barnagowlane wedge tomb.
Note that the route I took from George the Sky was an unofficial shortcut via a gate in the fence, emerging behind the two massive rocks on the track. The map linked below, includes the alternative routes which are all shown on the OS map and are waymarked although I did not follow them.
19km (12miles) in about 6-7 hours. Total ascent 750 metres, Maximum elevation: 491 metres
- The St Finbarr Pilgrim Path continues from Kealkill to Gougane Barra, see ‘Over Conigar’
- See my map for alternative routes that leave the road but miss the wedge tomb and the riverside woodland section.
- From a panel by the wedge tomb
- I am trying a filter to reduce the weight of water I need to carry. The Sawyer Mini works well as far as filtering goes but the bag meant for collecting the water is poorly designed to the point of being useless.
- Sheep’s Head Way Eastern Routes and Drimoleague Heritage Walkways‘ (ISBN 978-0-9563184-0-4)