A familiar face recognised, loughs and lookouts. Signs and signals from the past.
In Part 1 I came to the lighthouse at the end of the Sheep’s Head along the north side of the peninsula. In this post I hike the return leg, completing the Poet’s Way loop.
Before starting the return leg of the Poet’s Way, I take a diversion steeply down from the helicopter landing circle near the lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. Clambering down a gully and then choosing one of the sheep tracks that lead off in all directions, I am grateful for my walking poles to check a slip that might end in the waves crashing on the rocks far below.
On the slope looking out towards the south-west is an ‘EIRE’ sign that was one of the 80+ sites built around the coast from 1939 to declare Ireland’s neutrality in WWII and to provide navigation aids for pilots and seamen. It is good to see that this sign, made of white-painted stone, has recently been restored.
It’s lunchtime so I head off up the well-trodden path, past Lough Akeen, looking as dark as ever, to the car park and the Cupán Tae. Bernie Tobin is as welcoming as usual and so is the salmon sandwich she makes for me. I am joined by the man I met on the north side earlier who had been whale watching. I still can’t place him until he tells me of his heart problem and I remember that I met him before on my Beara Way hike!
Another detour takes me down below the Cupán Tae to the row of cottages that cling to the cliff. Below them are the old field systems impossibly steep above the waves. I think the cottages are all holiday homes now – the epitome of ‘getting away from it all’ perhaps, but something is missing from the place, its genius loci has diminished leaving a sense of loss, even though it must have been a hard life here.
Back on the trail, I go steeply up a peaty path through gorse and heather, still showing their colours, to the ‘LOP’ (Look-out-post – see below for their history). No windows now but it must have been relatively cosy with its fireplace and was, perhaps, not a bad posting for the Coastal Watch with that view?
The path follows the ridge leading up to a trig point and a long view down the peninsula with Doo Lough rippling darkly below me. Up here the essence of the Sheep’s Head becomes clear: it’s a precipitous, narrow spine of rock surrounded by vast tracts of deep sea; vulnerable and wildly beautiful. Whatever is built here ends in ruins eventually, like the signal tower that once stood guard on the ridge but is now just a finger of stone: constructed in 1805, it was felled by lightning in 1989.
To Foil Beg (‘Small cliff’), across the only road that snakes down the peninsula this far west, then the last trudge back towards the start of my route: boggy and slippy, colder now evening is near, and finally to Letter Cillin car-park to make my way home.
About my route
The Poet’s Way is a long loop around the end of the Sheep’s Head peninsula. Its official starting point is the car-park in Tooreen but I started at the Letter Cillin car-park in Letter West and followed the main Sheep’s Head Way route from there until it met the loop.
Full loop: 16 km (10 miles) in about 5.25 hours