Saturday, 17 May 2014

Oilean Chleire / Cape Clear Island : see a kaleidoscope of ocean and sky walking on Ireland's southernmost island

  • Ferry services to island from Baltimore (all year) & Schull (summer only) - 45 mins
  • Compact island 3 miles long by 1 mile wide, ideal for walking
  • Main walking route on surfaced (v. quiet) roads, with optional marked trails
  • Pub, restaurant, shop and heritage / maritime centres on island
  • Some steep climbing on main route (do anti-clockwise to ameliorate this)
  • Goat-farm with its shop can be visited : goats can be visited, are very tame
  • Spectacular views of Roaringwater Bay and Mizen peninsula
  • Archaeological and ornithological attractions abound on the island
  • Main route approx 2.75 miles / 4.5 kms long

 Travel out to Oilean Chleire / Cape Clear Island in the south-west of County Cork on a sunny summer's day, and you'll run out of superlatives. There's something indefinable about this island, a part of the West Cork Gaeltacht, that makes it a very special place to visit.

 Now is a good time to visit, as Oilean Chleire needs the support of visitors as it took quite a battering in the savage storms earlier this year. The quay and roads in the North Harbour were damaged, and the chipper van was washed away. Those problems have been sorted out, and Cape is open for business.

 Your ferry will deliver you into the North Harbour, a narrow-mouthed cleft between cliffs which opens out into a haven with beach and seaside restaurant. Make sure to check your boat's return times, especially to Schull which has fewer sailings. You should aim to arrive in the morning, and leave by late afternoon. Bring your own picnic, as there aren't food outlets spread across the island, or buy food at the island shop or restaurant. See for all ferry info.

 The maritime centre on the harbour, and the church of Naomh Ciaran (St Kieran), are worth visiting by the harbour. Then follow around the harbour to the left, passing the restaurant, and strike up the hill to your right (for an anti-clockwise circuit of the island - a glance at the very steep hill to your left shows why we are doing this.)

 This road takes you to a low height, where you gain a view of the beautiful South Harbour below you. In warm sunny weather, this bay has the look of a Greek cove, albeit one with a stony beach. A turning to the right up a steep hill offers the option of walking by Lough Erral and further out for views of the Fastnet lighthouse, but unless taking this you continue on to the shore of South Harbour.

 The road takes you to the right around the harbour's shore, and then, at an old schoolhouse, you take a left to continue your circuit. The stone walls, and abundant wild flowers, along the walk give a feeling of peace and tranquillity. After a kilometre along this route, you'll pick up signs to the right for the island trails, one of which brings you to the mouth of the South harbour. If you've time, this is well worth doing.

 Follow the road as it curves around to the left, bringing you to a stunning view over Roaringwater Bay with its many islands, and to the Mizen peninsula beyond. Continue, and take a left as you descend the hill, at a T-junction (these roads are extremely quiet!). Follow along the road, passing the island church and heritage centre, with a detour to the ancient marriage stone if wished. Further on, you can visit the goat farm, its shop too and see them being milked (up till noon).

 Continue down a steep hill, and you're back at the harbour, for refreshments. Bonne voyage!

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