Closer Encounters – Fastnet Trails

The view from Cappaghglass, on the Rossbrin Walk

The view from Ballycummisk, on the Rossbrin Walk

Today (Sunday 28 June) a newly established system of walking trails was formally launched – by longstanding local TD (now retired) Jim O’Keefe – at Aughadown: we were part of the crowd

The Unveiling – from top left: mover and shaker Eugene McSweeney with Jim O’Keefe; Jim and the Fastnet Walk Trails Group Committee cutting the ribbon; on the inaugural walk – Fr Patrick Hickey giving us the low-down on smuggling at Roaringwater Pier; the wonderful Kilcoe National School Band
At Kilcoe Trailhead - the walks unveiled!

At Kilcoe Trailhead – the walks unveiled!

Rediscovering what we’ve only recently discovered… is that the best way of describing our experiences exploring the just launched Fastnet Trails? We have been traversing and driving around the boreens – local lanes and byways – that permeate this beautiful stretch of coastline and country on our own peninsula (Ballydehob is colloquially termed ‘the Gateway to the Mizen’) for the full two years that we have lived permanently here at Nead an Iolair. We have taken in the vistas – from the windows of our car – and appreciated the profuse combinations of sky, sea and mountain as we passed on our way; now, we are seeing everything anew, and in closer focus, because we have started to walk the trails.


Old Copper Mine at Ballycummisk (Rossbrin Walk)

Old Copper Mine at Ballycummisk (Rossbrin Walk)

Towards Mount Gabriel - Butter Road Walk

Towards Mount Gabriel – Butter Road Walk

It may seem strange that many of these walks are along roads but don’t let that put you off! Remember that here in rural Ireland the old lanes were made to serve farmsteads and are little used today by anything more than very local traffic. I did the hike home from Ballydehob this morning (after my usual excellent coffee break in Budds) on the long route, passing by Ard Glas (Ballydehob Rossbrin Walk): I pootled along for well over an hour and didn’t see a single vehicle in the whole of that time! In fact, a passing car (or bicycle or tractor) is an event: invariably it involves a pause in walking while the time of day is passed in leisurely conversation during which acquaintances are made and news is passed on…

Have you time for a chat?

Have you time for a chat?


lisheenacrehig map

Before the official opening Finola and I undertook one of the walks (Lissheenacrehig Walk, starting at Kilcoe Trail Head): we deliberately chose the one that seemed perhaps the least interesting as it heads north inland and doesn’t pass directly by Roaringwater Bay. I’m not sure what we expected – after all, we had travelled all the little roads on this route by car previously – we are great explorers! In fact, our eyes were opened and we were surprised to be presented with wide views focussing on Mounts Gabriel, Kidd, Corrin and all the rugged uplands in between, and to be given the huge bonus of time to stop and scour inviting rock surfaces for new examples of Rock Art (we didn’t find any). But also it was the closer encounters which we really valued: a wealth (if that really is the right word?) of ruined sheds and cottages; wells, walls and wild flowers; an old burial ground with its memories of lives lived; the tumbling waters and green rocks of the Roaringwater River just before it empties itself into the Bay; archaeology (viewed from a distance on this occasion – the standing stones and ring forts are on private land and – as always – permission should be sought from the owners prior to visiting: that, of course, creating further opportunities for chat and dawdling).

View to Mount Kidd, Rossbrin Walk

View to Mount Kidd, Rossbrin Walk

Butter Road Walk

Butter Road Walk

The signage on these walks is clear but discrete – you’d have to try very hard to lose your way. Very occasionally there are information boards: these have been well thought out and attractively drafted. At the end of our sample walk we realised we had taken three hours to do the 7.5 kilometres: the well produced trail information recommends allowing an hour and three quarters! I think that emphasises our predisposition to get diverted in every possible way…


Discrete signage on the Butter Road

Signage on the Butter Road


Useful signs along the way…

In all there are 80km of walks set out, from Schull in the west to Lisheen in the east. They are easily accessible, and there is ample parking at all the Trailheads.


The one trail which is largely away from surfaced roads is the Butter Walk, running between Ballydehob and Schull. This an ancient way – Finola has written about it and its fascinating history previously. It’s magical to get into the heart of rural Ireland and to immerse yourself in nature and a past writ so clearly on the landscape.

Along the Butter Road

Along the Butter Road

We really believe that West Cork is pulsating with an underlying energy! So much has happened (and is happening) during our time here. Much of it is, of course, down to people who have been working away for years – often behind the scenes and, therefore, unappreciated – but future generations will realise what a debt is owed to these innovators: West Cork has been steadily and deservedly building its reputation as good food capital of Ireland, for example – and the opening of Uillinn in Skibbereen will emphasise the equal importance and historical context of the arts in these remoter landscapes. For music, drama and literature, also, we are always spoilt for choice: the furthest we have to travel is half an hour to see and hear world class performers in all these genres.

Roaringwater River, Lisheenacrahig Walk

Roaringwater River, Lisheenacrehig Walk

Roaringwater Bay Panorama

The latest asset to bring West Cork to the fore is this – literally – trailblazing one: the establishment of a network of walking routes along the coast, through the countryside and into the wild places. Fastnet Trails has been quietly gestating now for some time: the launch today shows how much work has been undertaken already – and what fruition has been attained. On behalf of everyone locally we thank the organisers for achieving the realisation of their dreams which benefit all of us and the generations to come. A grand start has been made: undoubtedly, more good works will follow.

Light and shade: Lisheenacrahig Walk

Light and shade: Lisheenacrehig Walk

Lisheenacrehig Loop

Fastnet Trails are recognised by the National Trails Office and the Wild Atlantic Way: the venture has been organised by The Fastnet Walks Trails Group with the help of the Community Councils of Aughadown, Ballydehob and Schull


26 thoughts

  1. Top post Robert and some awesome pictures. West Cork is truly blessed. It’s good to hear about the opening up of walking trails as there has been (I understand) a reluctance among landowners to agree to open access. In the UK there are far more established ways through a combination of the law and a more relaxed attitude to walkers.


  2. As a Canadian with a great love of Ireland, one that is not only related to my family history but one that is also linked to my lifelong passion and profession as an environmental educator, I stumbled upon your blog and am making a mental note of this trail system for my next vist. In Canada we often have a smugness about our pristine “true” wilderness but I was more than a little surprised at how my limited hiking in Ireland to date has been immersed in a wild landscape. There is something about seeing the treeless bones, abandoned dwellings, ancient forts, mountains and coastline, that echoes of history / story / the Earth. I can get this feeling walking down a narrow lane in Ireland.


    • I have seen your impressive Canadian ‘wilderness’ – it’s compelling. This is quite different: softer and easier – but it also draws you to it, perhaps because there is so much ancient history deeply etched into the land.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I have wandered the road up from the Skeaghanore Pier to Kilcoe at many times of the year and each walk sees me counting the prolific wild flowers that find a niche in verges and walls. My record so far is 42. Can anyone top that?


      • That does include blossom on shrubs and trees. Does that still count? And may I just say how excellent your photographic coverage is. Particularly impressed by the Air India memorial day piece. Proper photo-journalism. This from a cynical old ex-press photographer.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think tree blossom etc should still count, Jeff. We’re off on the Butter Road again today and I’ll report back on numbers there! Thank you also for the comment on photographs – Finola is by far the better half in that respect: she has a natural eye for what will make a good picture – and she knows how to use her camera! I tend to limp along on automatic settings…


  4. Thanks for the kind words, wonderful photographs and for taking the time to experience some of the trails already.
    Your take on the Fastnet Trails knits together all aspects of the experience this project aims to offer. The hard work done in setting this project up will be rewarded by participation and enjoyment and your wonderful and well illustrated artcle here is a great pointer for everyone. Eugene.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much, Eugene – although it’s you and your team who deserve the real thanks. I was out walking again this morning (before the rains came!) and, quite honestly, there’s no better place to be…


  5. Excellent photographs and dialogue . Thank you for sharing the Launch of the Fastnet walking Trails with us and for writing a positive article . BOB

    Liked by 1 person

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