Some of the prettiest walks near Bantry Ireland are on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. This post describes two such walks, one to the copper mines and the other to the nearby Sheep’s Head Lighthouse.
Crimea and the Gortavallig Copper Mines
This hike on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula took a little over two hours and it was rather rough. Have sturdy shoes and be prepared to take your time.
Drive south out of Bantry on the N71 towards the harbor, past Bantry House on your left and on past the Westlodge Hotel. You’ll soon see a brown sign on your right pointing towards the Sheeps Head (see Google Maps 51.672057, -9.476344).
Take this road and keep driving until you almost get to the end of the Peninsula where you’ll see a parking area on the right (check it out on Google Maps at 51.581115, -9.767660). You’ll be tempted to turn around when you see this road narrow down to almost nothing, but be brave. You’re probably in a rental car, so how much damage can you do?
Looking towards the water, you’ll see some yellow man path markers. Carefully follow these along the coast to your left. This stretch of coastline is the most rugged and dramatic of the entire walk. It passes above some rocky headlands and sea inlets flanked by vertiginous crags. Be careful and use your hands when you need to.
In a short time, depending on how fast you’re walking, you’ll come upon an abandoned hamlet called the Crimea (although nobody seems to really know why. Check it out on Google Maps at 51.579034, -9.777095). The sturdy roofless houses remain along with outbuildings, walls and trackways. The fields that supported the village can clearly be seen. People were living here up until the late 1940s. Be sure and take a moment to take in the stunning coastal views.
Keep going and you will eventually come upon what remains of a copper mine opened by Gortavallig Mining Company in 1845 by William Connell from Cork who imported miners from Cornwall to work and live in nearby buildings (check it out on Google Maps at 51.575335, -9.785904). This must have been rough living indeed.
‘A complete wilderness of barren cliff, which has been for the past ages the undisturbed resort of the Eagle, the Hawk, and the wild Sea Bird, has, by our labours for the past 16 months, been changed into a valley of active industry, giving reproductive employment, food and comfort to numbers of hitherto starving but peaceable inhabitants of one of the wildest districts of the United Kingdom. For you can hear now, on our well secured dressing floor (mingled with the roar of the Atlantic) the busy voices of men, women, boys and girls, all engaged in breaking, dressing and preparing the ore for market.’ William Thomas, Report of Gurtavallig Mine, June 1847
The enterprise was an utter failure. After all this effort and industry, the mine was found to be unproductive and closed in 1848 after extracting only one shipment of 88 tons of copper ore.
The remainder of the walk is just as beautiful and rugged. Please be careful.
Keep walking along the coast and you’ll eventually get the opportunity to return to the road. Make your way back to the car park from there.
Sheep’s Head Lighthouse
You’ve come this far, you might as well see the light house at the end of the Sheep’s Head. Hearty individuals can continue on the coast path, following the walking man signs. Or, you can get back into the car and drive down to Bernie’s Cupán Tae Sheep’s Head Cafe (see Google Map at 51.544902, -9.828748). It’s a good place to park for this hike.
Follow the signs on down to the lighthouse from the parking lot. Sheep’s Head lighthouse marks the southern tip of Bantry Bay and was put into operation for the first time on 14th October 1968.
Did you know that each lighthouse has it’s own signal that ships out at sea can use to fix the position? The Sheep’s Head Lighthouse light flashes three times every fifteen seconds. The light is white, but a red sector of the light warns mariners of the submerged South Bullig rocks, off Three Castle Head to the south.
Keep walking along the marked path for as long as you like, but frankly the views aren’t worth the trudge through wet bogs after the summer rain. Durnsey island is a much more productive walk.