Cork is a walkers’ Eden, with stunning coastal paths and ancient pilgrim ways which bring you over mountains, through hidden valleys and on into the ancient, deep woods - following the paths made by the first Christian missionaries.
Two walks – the Sheep's Head Way – with its stunning cliff top paths - and the spiritual St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Way (sometimes known as the “Cork Camino”) are celebrated as the jewels of West Cork Walking. But there are many paths and trails to explore in this area, with over twenty listed, mapped and graded here.
This four-day itinerary will bring you to the wild west of Cork, where you can walk through history, against the epic backdrop of some of the most stunning landscapes of Ireland.
Take your time to research the treks which suit you best. But be assured that West Cork is a walker’s paradise.
Arrive in Cork. Drive west from the city for one hour towards the town of Drimoleague. One popular place for walkers and hikers to stay is the Top Of The Rock Walking & Pod Camping Centre. This dedicated walking and hiking centre (also a working family farm) has accommodation, information and gear for walkers and hikers. The mountain peak known as the Top Of the Rock is the traditional starting point for St Finbarr’s Way.
Begin your walk of the St Finbarr’s Pilgrim Way - it’s a challenging 36km route for experienced hikers, over three mountain ranges and across four river valleys, finishing at the ancient monastic settlement at Gougane Barra, with its famous church on the lake. There are stunning mountaintop views, glacial lakes, hidden valleys and ancient woods.
Today it's a shorter but equally satisfying walk, The Pilgrim's Way, the final section of the bigger route which will bring you into ancient Gougane Barra, a place of peace and contemplation since the 6th Century.
You can spend your two days in and around Drimoleague and Gougane Barra walking the mountains and the trails.
Travel on for 35 minutes or so to Bantry – you can stay in this old fishing port and market town and use it as a base to explore both the Beara and Sheep’s Head peninsulas and take in the very popular walk on The Sheep's Head Way.
The Sheep’s Head is a peaceful, unspoilt peninsula, reaching out into the Atlantic, which has some of the most beautiful land and seascapes in all of Ireland. The climate is remarkably mild, thanks to the year-round warmth of the Gulf Stream.
There are various looped walks, most taking just three hours or so to complete. They are clearly marked, maps are available and you do not need a lot specialist gear in the summer months at least. Do bring stout walking shoes, though and be prepared for high winds, rain or sunshine (possibly all at the same time), whatever the time of year.
Walks from Carriganass Castle - close by the Sheep’s Head, you will find the ruins of this ancient stronghold of the O’Sullivan clan. There are a number of short (3hr or so) looped Walks which will take you past standing stones and deserted farmhouses, some, empty since the Great Famine.
And finally, after all of that walking, you may want some refreshments. On the Sheepshead peninsula or close by, there is the tiny village of Ahakista, where the quirky Tin Pub (with its gorgeous Beer Garden running down to the sea) is a hidden gem which you could easily pass by without noticing.
Or, some 40 minutes’ drive from the Sheep’s Head, you will find the tiny harbour village of Crookhaven. It’s a gorgeous drive around the bay (Brow Head pictured), and at the very end of the road, you will find O’Sullivan’s Bar, sitting on the harbour wall and serving their famous open crab sandwiches, coffees and beers. It’s the perfect spot to relax, look out over the fishing boats and yachts bobbing in the harbour and reflect on your West Cork walking odyssey.
Alternatively – if you are heading back towards the city - for a very special gastropub experience in a little seaside village, there is the charming, award-winning Mary Anne's Pub & Restaurant in Castletownshend - some one hour and twenty minutes’ drive back from the Sheep’s Head, on the road returning to Cork.