Far from the Madding Crowd

(by Gerry Moss, July 2011)
A climbing trip to quiet West Cork.

Heading for the mountain crags at this time of year can be a little bit tricky. As always, you need dry weather but, in addition, during July and August, you need a brisk breeze. Any touch of humidity and the midges come swarming. Which is why, when we decided to head off for a few days last Monday, we opted for coastal crags – where you can nearly always depend upon having a sea breeze.

With the weathermen promising us some settled weather, particularly in the south, we opted for Sheep’s Head in West Cork, as neither Jane or Joe had been there before. It’s a long way down from Dublin, but it’s worth every mile of the journey, for it is truly an idyllic place, with views of Dunmanus Bay and Mizen Head on one side and Bantry Bay and the Beara peninsula on the other.

The community of Muintir Bháire have chosen the red blossom of the fuschia as the emblem of the area and aptly so, as the banks lining the narrow roads are covered in it, along with a profusion of many other flowers. Happily, the roads running along both sides of Sheep’s Head are too narrow to be negotiated by tour buses, so it has avoided the type of constant traffic that you find in places like Dingle and the Burren, for example.

We based ourselves in the little independent hostel in the village of Kilcrohane – it has only eight bunks and a tiny kitchen – so we were lucky enough to have it all to ourselves.

There is a wide variety of routes on the peninsula, ranging from delicate slabs to fingery walls and blocky overhangs. We left Dublin just before eight and were climbing shortly after noon. Our first climbs were on Carrignacappul, only a five minute walk from the car, yet as peaceful and remote as you could wish for. This is Joe on Be Not Afraid, a delightfully delicate VS, with excellent friction:

In the same area Jane led Calum’s Corner, a fine V. Diff, in a very atmospheric setting, starting from a small ledge at sea-level, which is accessed by a long abseil:

Then it was a short walk back up the road, followed by an equally short stroll along The Sheep’s Head Way to the striking Dooneen Wall. This is Jane on The Crooked Crack, another fine V. Diff:

On Tuesday, we opted for Tooreen, near the tip of the peninsula, where there are several outcrops, discovered by Herbert and I some years ago, while scouting out the area. Our target was Square Faced Buttress, a fine piece of rock as yet without any routes but, believe it or not, we all agreed that the weather was too warm for climbing here, as we were sheltered from the sea breeze. What fickle people we Irish are!

Fortunately the hillside hereabouts is peppered with outcrops and we were able to choose one suitably brushed by a pleasant breeze. We dubbed this one Whale Buttress for, as we climbed, we were entertained by a large whale puffing, blowing and lolling about in the sea below us. All part and parcel of The Sheep’s Head scene.

These are some shots of us putting up new routes in glorious weather:

On the Wednesday we dropped back to sea-level again, visiting the crag overlooking Trá Ruaim, with its little stoney beach and pier. We agreed that, rather than repeating the routes already there, we would add a few more. Which we did.

To end our trip we decided to take the plunge, and have our first dip of the year. Well, some of us did. One, who shall be nameless, only managed to get the lower half of the two-piece swimsuit wet. But this didn’t prevent the nameless one from chiding us for hesitating at the water’s edge, or from instructing us, in no uncertain terms, to get on with it and Man Up.

Never mind. It was a grand way to round off our trip, and the refreshingly cool water ensured that Joe was fully alert for the long drive home.

We arrived back to lower temperatures, blustery winds and frequent showers. In other words, an average Irish summer.