Hiking Solo in Ireland: Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai - Ballyvourney - Gougane Barra - Kealkill
This is the second part of hiking the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai. You can find the first part - from Millstreet to Ballyvourney right here. By the time I arrived in Ballyvourney, I’ve already hiked the Avondhu (Blackwater) Way, so I had already eight days of hiking under my belt. My body needed a rest day, but there wasn’t really a good place for me to stop. I couldn’t afford to stay two nights in a hotel just to rest, and I also couldn’t stay two nights in one spot wild camping. I found this part of Cork lacking in campsites, so I just had to keep walking till the one in Eagle’s Point. A long walk but the stay in that beautiful area was well worth it!
Without farther ado, I welcome you to the second part of this beautiful trail.
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Day three on the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: a rainy walk from Ballyvourney
Well-rested, well-fed, and energized with two cups of coffee, I was ready to take on the next section of the trail. It was drizzling, so I put the rain jacket on, but it stopped pretty soon after I started walking.
On the way out of the village, I passed by a holly well. I went inside to see what it looked like. I find folk religion fascinating, so I enjoy checking out small local shrines with their half-burnt candles, sun-bleached images of holy patrons, or Jesus. Some include tokens of gratitude from the faithful. There were cups close by the well, so I guess people consider it beneficial to drink the water. I don't know what kind of beliefs are attached with that particular Holly Well, though.
For the next 7 km or so, the trail leads on the road. Easy to walk, but very hard on the feet. As I struggle with plantar fasciitis and the general sensitivity of the feet, I could feel the pain already by the fifth kilometer.
I was hiking wearing the rain jacket, but for a long time it wasn't raining, so I took it off. Of course, as the Murphy Law predicts, it started to rain soon after. And not just lightly - a full-on deluge. I tried to find my rain pants and put them on as fast as I could, which is always hard when it's windy. So, put them on wet pants.
Day three on the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: I guess I like adding extra work
The road stopped, and the way continued across a pasture. The rain was falling hard, making it challenging to see correctly. There was no clear path, and as I tried to check the map, I knew more or less the general direction where I was supposed to go. I walked on what looked like a path until I reached a half-damaged gate with a fence. That didn't look like the continuation of the trail. I rechecked the map, and I was about 300m off the path. I also saw that I could continue on the way I was at the moment, as it reached the road I was supposed to enter anyway. So, as I don't learn from my mistakes, instead of going back the 300m through high grasses, I pushed on this path, which later I realized I had to walk an extra 3km on the road. *Facepalm*
Don't do such silly things, kids. Just go back to the trail you missed.
On the photo below, the trail leads somewhere around the hill on the left. Not where I’m standing. The photos are taken with my phone, as it’s waterproof. The camera was covered with a dry sack. That’s why the quality is not as good.
The only good thing about the extra road walking was that the views were lovely. It stopped raining and the dark clouds created dramatic atmosphere.
My feet hurt horribly, and each step required biting my teeth to overcome the stabbing pain in my heels.
Day three on the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: on a soft bed of grasses
I was happy when I reached the trail again as it moved me off the paved road. It didn't elevate the pain entirely but helped a bit.
The rain stopped by then, and I could enjoy walking a bit more. I was glad I didn't take the rain pants off, as the wet grasses were reaching up to my hips at some moments. I started to look for a camping spot, but I was all the time close to farms and pastures, with no hidden area for a tent.
After a couple of kilometers, I found a secluded spot in the high grasses. Close to the trail but hidden from farms and villages. If only I knew that I was right next to a very famous spot - but I discovered it only the next day. That night was to be very comfortable, as I had to pitch my tent on high grasses, creating a thick and soft bed for me.
Dealing with health issues
I was happy I could finally lie down. The feet pain became a real problem, changing my plans. I hoped to walk around 20 km/day on my Irish walks, working on my stamina. For the past few years, I suffered from anemia, which (unknowingly to me) got very serious. I discovered it in February or so and was taking iron supplements for a couple of months before the trip. I felt stronger and had much more energy than before. That's why I wished for more distance training. But although I could have walked on, my feet hurt so badly, I had at moments tears in my eyes. I had to talk to myself constantly to force my feet to move. At the moment, I had no idea what was the problem, only later, people told me I had typical symptoms of plantar fasciitis.
I had to accept that I just wouldn't do much in terms of the distance. I could do only about 5 km pain-free, and around 10 km, the pain was like walking on sharp lego bricks (just lego with spikes). I was happy whenever I did more than that - as it always was with the pain. Sometimes it just is what it is. We might have plans and hopes, but our health demands changes. I wanted to do much more, but there would be no sense beating myself over it, like it was my fault. It’s no one’s fault, it just is. And the only sensible thing to do is accept it and act accordingly.
Day three in numbers: 15 km; 473 m gained; 236 m lost.
Day four on the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: through history & culture
The weather forecast said it was to stop raining in the morning, so I decided to get up when it's dry out. Well, it stopped raining at around 11 am. By this day, I was already tired and needed a day off, so it was hard to be all chirpy in the morning. It was also enjoyable in a tent. As I pitched on very tall grasses, I had a very comfortable mattress under me. The downside of this was that it was a bit unstable. I am not sure what exactly went wrong, but I discovered a pool in the far corner from my head. Maybe something touched the walls? Not sure. I knew one pair of socks were completely soaked. The bottom part of my backpack was also in the pool, so the hip belt was completely wet, as was all that was in its pockets - including one camera battery. Completely wasted, no saving. It's good that all other electronics were safe on the other side of the tent.
When I finally left my camp and climbed maybe a hundred meters, I realized I was right next to a very famous spot: the ruins of "The Little Church," or Eachros - An Teampaillin. It was at this place that Donal Cam O'Sullivan Beare, with his one thousand followers, stopped for a rest during their escape from Glengarriff on the New Year's Eve of 1602. The route of their flight makes today's Beara-Breifne Way.
Where are my cookies?
I walked for about an hour on a very picturesque and pleasant road before I reached Ballingeary. On google maps, I found there was a gluten-free cookie-making factory, which created quite the motivation to find it. I walked back and forth before asking a gentleman painting a fence about it. You could only imagine my disappointment when I understood it was just a bakery, and they didn't have any store - you could order their cookies online.
I stopped by a grocery store to buy a banana and a cup of coffee, which I drank on a bench in front of someone's house. When I moved on, I saw there was a pub there as well. I couldn't just walk by a pub and not step in, could I? It was a beautiful old place run by an older couple. They had no coffee, but I was happy with tea and a Kindle.
The owner turned the tv on, and I heard it was not in English. I chatted with him about it, and he told me that about half of the people living in the area speak Irish.
Not finding any more excuses not to go, I started my walk forward.
Day three on the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: to the glory of Gougane Barra
The trail follows a backcountry road, and with every step, the landscape was getting more and more pretty. All around me were rolling hills and meadows, pastures, rocks, and some trees here and there. It's a pity I walked toward the brilliant sun, as it was hard to take photos.
The view of mountains and the Gougane Barra loch below is genuinely breath-taking. Each element of the scene fitting perfectly and filling my eyes with joy and amazement. Absolutely stunning!
I reached the lake and could admire the picturesque St Finbarr's Oratory on an island (well, not an island anymore but rather a peninsula) nestled among trees. There was a hotel, and a gift shop there and many people walked around. Some were wedding guests from the hotel, some tourists who came by car to visit the famous chapel and The National Forest Park right next to it.
I stopped for a while to eat a snack and fill my memory with the beauty surrounding me. Soon, I couldn't wait anymore and had to find a place for the night. I considered walking toward the National Forest Park but thought it was too accessible and exposed for wild camping. So I started to climb up the trail, out of the valley. I hoped to find something on the way.
I was lucky as I did indeed. Not far from the trail, hidden from view, and not doing any damage. I pitched my tent and was happy to rest. Even though I didn't do much mileage, my body was ready for a more extended rest.
Day four in numbers: 13,7 km; 300 m gained, 287 m lost.
Day five on the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: stunning views with every step
I knew I had to get going much earlier than the day before if I wanted to reach the campsite at Eagle's Point. I started going around 10 am, so pretty early for me.
For a long time, the trail is a non-stop steep climb. The path was rather muddy, and parts of it were moved as to form a proper way or such. The additional difficulty in climbing to the top was that you wanted to stop and stare at the view behind you all the time. I can imagine how fantastic it must be to walk the trail from the other direction- probably even more beautiful than what I experienced the day before.
I enjoyed the sunny weather, although I had to battle pretty strong winds. When I reached the top, I had some bogs to cross, but nothing too wet or challenging. I was craving coffee and was looking for the right spot for a lunch break. The wind was much stronger on that side of the mountain, so I also need a somewhat sheltered spot. And a view, of course.
Day five on the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: what I love the most - coffee with a view
After walking for another twenty minutes or so, I found a perfect spot. On a rock, with a view of Kealkill and all the way to the shore. Absolutely magnificent!
I boiled water, brewed a cup of coffee, and enjoyed the view. These are the kind of moments I hike for. I just absolutely love them.
My issues with plantar fasciitis came back pretty soon after I completed my break and started the long climb down to the valley. On my way down, I soon reached a path leading through someone's farm. The gate into it was open, and I didn't need to cross a stile. I soon noticed what looked like a cow and a bull on the other side of the fenced (but with an open gate) pasture. The closer I was getting, the more obvious it was that the animals were not tied down. The stile I needed to reach was about five meters from the bull, and I tried to walk as close to a fence as possible, so it wouldn't feel threatened. When I crossed the stile on the other side of a gate, I breathed with relief. A real bull! With a ring in its nose! Next to a cow he was probably protecting. Right on a marked trail.
Day five on the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: what is this *!@&! mess?
But that was not the end of my not-so-pleasant adventures at the end of this trail. After a few short moments, the trail took me to a field of chaos and mess after felling. The path has disappeared, and I could only see broken branches, pools of boggy water, and no way to walk safely. I kind of thought I could see a path or at least what could be a path before the felling, but pretty soon, I lost it and had absolutely no idea which way to go. Not only that, I had to cross branches and trunks of felled trees, and there were also bushes and a fence. I used the ViewRanger to have a general idea in which direction I should go to find the next part of the trail. I was basically trailblazing through all that mess. After half an hour or so, I could see something of a path leading up a hill. When I reached it, I thought my problems were over. Oh, sweet summer child!
I could see the direction and pretty soon I could even see the trail in the distance, but between me and the path were waist-high grasses and bushes, felled trees are hidden in this jungle, and quite possibly pools of bogs, too. I started to plow my way to the trail (and the only open spot to cross the fence), slowly moving my feet to feel the ground under me. I kicked a tree trunk hidden in the grass, and when I tried to cross it, I slipped and dived headfirst, with the backpack going over my head, so it was laborious to get up, with no place to support my hands, as there was a hollow space under them. When I finally got up, all angry, tired, hurt, and now also dirty, I was cursing aloud at everything around me. I was glad I didn't break or twist any limb. Good to go solo, no worry about anyone seeing my lower moments. I was so done with it all when I got to a path!
Day five on the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: up-up-up-down-down-down! to Kealkill
When the trail took me to a road, the magic of stunning views was gone, and I could only feel the pain in my feet. I knew I still had a few kilometers to walk before I would reach Kealkill, which was not the end of the journey, as I needed to walk for another 5km to reach the campsite.
After a long and pretty dull walk on the road, the trail turns left to cross over a mountain. The trail goes very steeply up the hill on what looked like a recently prepared trail through woods. A very steep and hard climb, especially for an already tired hiker! At the top, there is quite some meandering, and then a steep at moments climb down the mountain. The views were beautiful, and I could clearly see how much more I still had to walk. Walking down, I reached the hard surface of a road again, and with every painful step, I was getting closer to the end of the trail. I reached the beautiful ruins of Carriganass Castle but gave it only a quick look before I moved on.
I almost cried when I saw the big board with "Kealkill" written on it! I took a few selfies to commemorate completing the trail and walked on to figure out how to get to the campsite.
Day five on the Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: catching a ride!
Before I even noticed, Kealkill ended. It was made of two fast roads meeting in a fork. There was hardly any shoulder to walk on by the tarmac, and the cars were speeding by alarmingly fast. I decided to stop at by a driveway and hope to hitch a hike.
I was lucky - after about half an hour, a lady stopped to pick me up. I was genuinely grateful that she did - not only because I was tired and my feet hurt badly, but also because the road would be too dangerous to walk on. There was no shoulder space by the road, and there were often bushes and trees right next to it.
The good lady was not turning toward Glengarriff, but she did go that way to give me a ride all the way to the campsite's gate! She said she never been there and decided to take a look.
The campsite at Eagle's Point is enormous, and it's a mixture of caravans, huge family tents, and small tents. I had to walk for about 20 minutes before I finally found a spot I liked. I paid for two nights, but pretty soon I decided to take another one to have a good rest.
Day five in numbers: 19 km, 550 m gained, 734 m lost.
Sli Gaeltacht Mhuscrai: the Summary
I loved the trail. Yes, there was this disaster of a jungle at the end, but I hope it's fixed soon. It's a beautiful trail, and I highly recommend it. All the more so if you are interested in Irish history and culture. I advise to start early in the morning in Millstreet, so you divide the trail differently. If you walk more miles than I do, you could do this trail in four days without much problems. I also highly recommend staying at the Eagle’s Point campsite, its setting at the rugged rocky peninsula is just glorious. And as it’s so big, you can find more secluded and quite places to pitch your tent. I arrived there over a sunny weekend, so it was packed, yet I still could find solitude. A great place for a rest day.
Have you hiked this trail or any other in this area? How did you like it?
Let me know in the comments below!