Walking West Cork – Half the Colla Loop!

The first post of 2021…

I never expected to live in plague-ridden times, but that’s where we find ourselves – at the start of a new year. And – because of the plague – our travels are restricted once again. On the very last day of 2020, keeping things as local as possible, we hastened to Schull and explored half of the Colla Loop on the Fastnet Trails.

We started at the Trailhead by the pier at Colla (header picture). I have drawn our route as a dotted red line on the aerial view, above: we walked ‘widdershins’ – anti-clockwise. You will find the whole of the Colla Loop on the leaflet here. The full trail from Schull and back is 9km: by my calculation our own version carried us a mere 4km: there was a lot of uphill, though, and it was very satisfying with great views to the south, over Long Island Sound, and then to the west: it’s always good to be following the setting sun.

Colla had been taken over by a swan family, who wished us well on our journey. Their sentiment was echoed by some four-legged friends on the steep way up the hill:

As we left the small boreen, following a green path through a signed gate, we began a climb which opened up a panorama behind us, encompassing Long Island and Cape Clear. The day was perfect, a few scudding clouds giving perspective to a a vivid blue sky which seemed to have been borrowed from the summer:

In fact, the views in every direction get even more rewarding as this walk progresses: we were surprised that we had never ‘discovered’ this little corner of West Cork before! Every rise, and each bend in the track, opens up a new prospect.

A ‘telephoto’ view towards the end of the Mizen (above) reveals the inlet of Croagh Bay in the foreground, with Crookhaven beyond. You can just make out the top of ‘Black Castle’ at Castlepoint in the centre of the picture and a Napoleonic-era signal tower at the summit of the highest ground at Brow Head.

At the highest point of the walk we are back on a partly metalled boreen. I was particularly keen to find the site of . . . the ancient school of Sancta Maria de Scholia, ‘a place known in early times as a centre of learning’. . . which is indicated on the Archaeological Monuments Survey just to the right of the bend in the trackway, above. However, this record has been superseded by another site further to the west (indicated with a question mark on my aerial view) where it is noted:

. . . In rough grazing, on a S-facing slope overlooking Long Island to the S and Skull Harbour to the E. Recent reclamation work exposed a level earthen platform-like area faced externally on its curving S side by a roughly constructed drystone revetment. According to local information, this is the site of Scoil Mhuire or Sancta Maria de Scala, a medieval church and school that gave its name to this townland and to Skull village . . .

National Monuments Record 2009 – CO148-040

I suppose we can make up our own minds as to which of these two sites claiming to have given Schull its name is the most likely candidate. If it’s about having a good view, for me it has to be the first.

As shadows lengthen, a trail marker (above) tells us we have been walking on Coffin Hill. I can find no specific reference to this name and can only assume it was the route used to reach the burial ground just outside Schull village when coming from settlements to the north.

From the high ground we had clear views of Schull set below Mount Gabriel (upper picture); our route turned west along the ridge and followed the sun. We wanted the idyll to go on forever . . .

The road began to descend, and we found ourselves approaching a neighbourhood of scattered houses that heralded the way back to Colla. On our half-a-trail we passed half an abandoned house: the other half still shows signs of occupation:

We could not have celebrated the close of such a momentous year in a better way! We are determined to rise to the challenge of the restrictions we are currently faced with and discover all of our beautiful byways. We are so fortunate to live in this wonderful land, and we look forward to heading out with you on many more voyages during 2021!