Where is the Sheep’s Head Way?
The Sheep’s Head Way offers a captivating coastal loop walk that winds its way through the stunning Sheep’s Head Peninsula, situated in the picturesque County Cork, Ireland. It is a picturesque location known for its stunning natural beauty. Sheep’s Head is the narrowest of the fingers of land that extend from the south west mainland of Ireland out into the Atlantic, nestled between Bantry Bay and Dunmanus Bay.
Why should you walk the Sheep’s Head Way?
If you enjoy coastal walking, then this is an excellent trail to hike. A tranquil and serene atmosphere, breathtaking vistas of rugged cliffs, pristine beaches and the wild Atlantic Ocean, and a diverse flora and fauna make it an unforgettable walking experience.
The Sheep’s Head Way is a popular choice for hikers who want to experience the natural beauty of Ireland while immersing themselves in the local culture.
The remains of an old copper mine, a blow hole, stone circles, standing stones, high cliffs, a Napoleonic signal tower and old churches are just some of the varied attractions to be discovered along the way, while careful observance and a lot of patience may be rewarded by the sighting of dolphins and whales off the westernmost tip of the headland. The narrowness of the peninsula means that you are never far from the glorious Atlantic Ocean.
When is the best time to walk the Sheep’s Head Way?
As with any part of Ireland, it is worth noting that the phenomenon of ‘4 seasons in a day’ is likely to occur. Seasonally, spring shows us the first touches of life in the form of wildflowers and frolicking lambs, summer will tend to be warmer and dryer, autumn offers a new palette of colour, and winter transforms the area into a moody hibernal scene, windswept and cloud-covered, yet awe-inspiring none the less.
The trail remains pleasantly serene throughout the year, making it an ideal choice for those seeking solitude and wishing to avoid crowds.
For weather, the ideal time to hike is between April and September, with the summer months being ideal in terms of daylight and offering (somewhat) more predictable weather, though it is still essential to pack waterproof clothing when visiting during this time.
The Hillwalk Tours hiking season is from March to October, during which time we are happy to help you organise your hiking trip.
How long does it take to hike the Sheep’s Head Way
The full Sheep’s Head Way is 93km in length in total, including all alternatives and extensions. It usually takes between 6 and 8 days to complete. This depends on the pace you walk it, fitness levels and what activities and attractions you may like to visit along the way.
At Hillwalk Tours, we offer Gentle, Moderate and Challenging tour grading levels depending on the balance of physical challenge and comfort level that you require. Within these levels, you can choose between 6 to 8-day hiking tours to complete the full trail or part of it. All you have to decide is how many kilometres/miles you would like to walk per day and we’ll take care of the rest!
Types of Trails
Choosing the right hiking tour for you can be, at times, tricky. It is always important to consider your own physical capability and comfort levels.
For example, at Hillwalk Tours, we have grouped each trail route we offer into three categories depending on personal preference and fitness levels. These are – gentle, moderate, and challenging. Each of these categories, depending on the destination, will include anything from 4 to 13-day itineraries, with customers given the option to add rest days where they see fit.
Our gentle hikes are perfectly suited for those who would consider themselves as a part-time hiker who enjoys taking photos and meeting locals while taking in the spectacular scenery. Our moderate hikes will suit people who are used to regular exercise and appreciate the opportunity of covering plenty of ground each day without going beyond their limits. Finally, our challenging hikes are for hikers who look to set off early in the morning and not stop until they have reached their destination.
With regards to our Sheep’s Head Way trail, we offer Gentle, Moderate and Challenging hikes. Each of these hiking categories cover the following average hiking distance and time each day:
Gentle: 13-16km or 8-10 miles and between 4-6 hours per day
Moderate: 16-20km or 10-12.5 miles and between 5-7 hours per day
Challenging: 22-26km or 14-15.5 miles and between 5-8 hours per day
Hillwalk Tours Guide Notes
If you decide to walk the trail with Hillwalk Tours, you will receive a detailed walking pack once you have fully booked your hiking holiday. This walking pack will include detailed Ordnance Survey (OS) maps and unique route notes and walking directions written and constantly updated by our route development team. By personally walking each trail and creating our own detailed route notes, it allows us to provide more itineraries, route options and alternatives than what you will typically find across generic guidebooks. It also includes GPS tracks meaning you will never have to worry about getting lost.
Starting and Finishing Point
The main trail is a circular walking route that commences in the picturesque town of Bantry, located in County Cork. From there, it meanders along the serene north coast of the peninsula, leading to a captivating lighthouse, before retracing its path along the southern side. The trail begins with peaceful country roads, transitioning into a delightful blend of gentle coastal paths and rugged mountain terrain. The final leg of the journey back to Bantry predominantly follows tranquil country roads, occasionally punctuated by forest and mountain tracks.
Sample Sheep’s Head Way Itineraries
The following are examples of Hillwalk Tours Gentle, Moderate and Challenging itineraries of hiking the Sheep’s Head Way.
Day 1: Arrival in Bantry
Day 2: Bantry – Finn McCool’s Seat (17.5 Miles / 28 Km)
Day 3: Finn McCool’s Seat – Kilcrohane (17.4 Miles / 28 Km)
Day 4: Kilcrohane – Durrus (11 Miles / 18 Km)
Day 5: Durrus – Bantry (12.5 Miles / 20 Km)
Day 6: Departure from Bantry
Day 1: Arrival in North Queensferry
Day 2: Bantry – Glanlough (10 Miles / 16 Km)
Day 3: Glanlough – Cahergal (11 Miles / 17 Km)
Day 4: Cahergal – Kilcrohane (14.5 Miles / 23 Km)
Day 5: Kilcrohane – Durrus (11 Miles / 18 Km)
Day 6: Durrus – Bantry (12.5 Miles / 20 Km)
Day 7: Departure from Bantry
Day 1: Arrival in North Queensferry
Day 2: Bantry – Glanlough (10 Miles / 16 Km)
Day 3: Glanlough – Finn McCool’s Seat (7 Miles / 11 Km)
Day 4: Finn McCool’s Seat – Tooreen (9.5 Miles / 15 Km)
Day 5: Tooreen – Kilcrohane (8 Miles / 13 Km)
Day 6: Kilcrohane – Durrus (11 Miles / 18 Km)
Day 7: Durrus – Bantry (12.5 Miles / 20 Km)
Day 8: Departure from Bantry
Hillwalk Tours Sheep’s Head Way Map
The Sheep’s Head Way Path Terrain
The Path is well waymarked. Throughout the path, you’ll find clear and visible signage, including distinctive markers of a yellow hiking figure and directional arrows. These waymarks guide you along the designated route, ensuring that you stay on track and don’t miss any of the stunning coastal views or important landmarks along the way.
Difficulty of the Sheep’s Head Way
The long-distance hiking trail in Ireland is quite beginner friendly, so it’s ideal for first time hikers and those who like to take their time and see the sights. That said, the Sheep’s Head Way is suitable for walkers of all abilities, with some sections being more challenging than others.
At Hillwalk Tours, we offer three tour grading levels (gentle, moderate and challenging) depending on the balance of physical challenge and comfort level that you require. Within these levels, you can choose between 5 to 10-day hiking tours to complete the trail. All you have to decide is how many kilometres / miles you would like to walk per day and we take care of the rest!
Sights & Attractions on the Sheep’s Head Way
Sheep’s Head Lighthouse
Located at the very tip of the Sheep’s Head peninsula, in Toreen, the lighthouse stands as a beacon of maritime safety and a testament to Ireland’s rich coastal heritage. Its construction was completed on October 14th, 1968, marking the beginning of its vital role in guiding ships along the rugged Atlantic coastline.
Bantry House & Gardens
Nestled in the delightful town of Bantry, you’ll discover a truly impressive 18th-century house accompanied by breathtaking gardens. This stunning historical gem belongs to the White family, who were once the Earls of Bantry. Stepping into the house and strolling through its meticulously maintained gardens is like stepping back in time, offering a glimpse into the opulence and splendor of the past. It’s a must-visit destination for anyone seeking a touch of history and natural beauty rolled into one delightful experience.
Durrus Farmhouse Cheese
Tucked away in the idyllic Coomkeen, you’ll stumble upon Durrus Farmhouse Cheese, renowned for their authentic Irish cheese-making craft. This hidden gem is a testament to the cherished traditions of Irish cheese production. If you’re a cheese enthusiast or simply appreciate the art of traditional craftsmanship, a visit to Durrus Farmhouse Cheese is an absolute treat that promises to tantalize your taste buds with their delightful creations.
While in Durrus, you’ll also come across Cronin’s Forge, an iron forger’s workshop brimming with exquisite and inventive wrought-iron creations. This hidden gem is a haven of skilled craftsmanship, where traditional techniques blend with artistic flair to produce stunning decorative ironwork.
Heron Art Gallery & Café
This delightful establishment not only showcases the talents of local artists but also serves as a cozy haven for weary walkers to sit back, relax, and savor a well-deserved break. With its warm ambiance and inviting atmosphere, it’s the perfect spot to immerse yourself in the creative expressions of the community while enjoying a delicious cup of coffee or a tasty treat.
Along the Sheep’s Head Way, an abundance of wildlife thrives, offering glimpses of various mammal and bird species. The diverse ecosystem of this coastal area provides a habitat for these captivating creatures, adding an extra touch of natural beauty to your journey along the Sheep’s Head Way. Some of the wildlife you may encounter along the Sheep’s Head Way includes otters, seals, badgers, peregrine falcons, choughs, and various other bird species.
It is of course great to get up close and personal with any of these animals. However, to maintain these experiences as much as possible, it is important that hikers interact as little as possible with the wild animals.
The do’s and don’ts regarding wildlife are, as always, self-explanatory. Feeding is of course out of the question, but also try not to run after animals for photos. Leave the animals alone as much as possible – after all, you are visiting their “home”.
History of the Sheep’s Head Way
Inspired by Dubliner and lifelong mountaineer Jim Leonard, Tom Whitty, and local farmer James O’Mahony, the three spearheaded a local committee dedicated to bringing the Sheep’s Head Way to life. In 1995, their ambitious journey commenced, marked by the placement of the first waymarker and the daunting task of mapping a trail through awe-inspiring landscapes. Through unwavering determination and the cooperation of numerous landowners and farmers, they obtained the necessary permissions to traverse private land, transforming the dream of the trail into a remarkable reality.
Then on July 10th 1995, Mary Robinson, then President of Ireland, officially opened the Sheep’s Head Way. The trail quickly became popular and even won some awards, such as the Waterford Crystal Trophy for Best Walk in Ireland.
Did you know?
Inspired by the carvings on 6th Century Kilnaruane standing stone near Bantry, the Sheep’s Head Way logo is a pair of sheep with their horns interlocked. The sheep represent the gospel story of the people of Gideon and the Israelites, who fought for years without victory or surrender, eventually agreeing to live their lives together in harmony.
Sheep’s Head Way Pop Culture
Film and TV
The Run of the Country (1995)
Directed by Peter Yates, this Irish drama film is set in rural Ireland, including on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. It tells the story of a young man who falls in love with a local girl and must navigate the complexities of their relationship while dealing with family conflicts.
The Young Offenders (2016)
A film with a subsequent TV series continuation (2018-present), which is set and filmed in Cork, including some scenes on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. This is a comedic coming-of-age story that follows two teenagers from Cork who get in to all sorts of badness.
The Silver Branch (2017)
This documentary film directed by Katrina Costello explores the life and philosophy of a farmer, poet, and philosopher named Patrick McCormack. The film showcases the stunning landscapes of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula and offers a contemplative look at rural Ireland.
Return to Montauk (2017)
While not specifically set on the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, this romantic drama directed by Volker Schlöndorff includes a scene filmed along it. The film follows a writer who revisits his past in an attempt to reconnect with a lost love.
Wild Ireland: The Edge of the World (2017)
This three-part documentary series, presented by Colin Stafford-Johnson, explores the wildlife and natural wonders of the west coast of Ireland. The series includes footage from the Sheep’s Head Peninsula, showcasing its stunning coastal landscapes and diverse flora and fauna.
“A Slice of the Coast: A Story of Sheep’s Head Peninsula” by Jim O’Mahony
This book provides a local perspective on the history, culture, and people of the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. It delves into the area’s past, highlighting its unique characteristics and the lives of its inhabitants.
Food and Drink
Cork is known for it’s black pudding, a type of blood sausage commonly used all around the island of Ireland as a part of a ‘full Irish breakfast’ or an ‘Ulster fry’ in Northern Ireland. (Read all about the food of Northern Ireland in our Ultimate Guide to the Antrim Glens & Coastline) Pictured alongside it below is white pudding, another common Irish breakfast item.
Full Irish Breakfast
And on to the full Irish! A full-Irish breakfast is typically made up of sausages, bacon, black and white pudding, eggs, baked beans, mushrooms, grilled tomatoes and bread. Irish soda bread is used mostly (see below) and it is typically accompanied by lots of tea or coffee. If you are in a hurry, go to a local shop and get a breakfast roll – whereas many of the above ingredients are added into a fresh baguette. You really have not lived if you haven’t tried one of these!
A typical Irish dinner if there ever was one. A classic Irish stew contains beef or lamb with vegetables such as potatoes, onions and carrots. This is a perfect, nutritious dish for those that hike as it will fuel you throughout the day and also keep you warm. Don’t be surprised if you see a beef stew made with Guinness!
Ireland is renowned for its superb and fresh quality seafood. From fresh fish to shellfish, Ireland is a big producer and exporter of seafood. Examples of this fabulous seafood includes salmon, monkfish, pollock, hake, oysters, prawns and mussels. For all of you fish and chips lovers out there, you have not lived until you have tried an Irish fish and chips from a local ‘chipper’.
Seafood Chowder is a hearty soup made with seafood, vegetables and cream and is a popular meal throughout the pubs and restaurants of Ireland. It usually contains fish such as salmon, white fish, and prawns mixed with onions, potatoes, swede and cream. It is typically served with homemade brown bread and is another dish that will keep you full throughout the day!
Bacon and Cabbage
This dish of sliced back bacon boiled together with cabbage and served with potatoes (some form of white sauces optional) has long been a traditional dish of Ireland. This is because each of the ingredients were readily available as they grew their own cabbage and reared their own pigs. You’re trip to Ireland is incomplete until you have tried this typical Irish dish!
Possibly Ireland’s most beloved ‘comfort’ dishes, Shepherd’s Pie is made with a layer of ground beef or lamb and veggies, and is topped with creamy mashed potatoes before being baked to perfection. The dish actually originated in Scotland where crust was used in place of potatoes. However, once it arrived to Ireland, potatoes were quickly opted for instead, and the dish has become a household favourite throughout the country.
Did you even go to Ireland if you didn’t have a pint of creamy Guinness? This dark stout is made from barley, hops, roast malt extract and water. Some of the barley used is roasted to give Guinness its dark colour and unique lactic acid flavour. Brewed at St. James Gate Brewery in Dublin since the late 18th century, this Irish pint is exported across the world, making approximately $2 billion annually. Any Guinness connoisseurs will tell you, you have not had a Guinness unless you have tasted one in Ireland!
No, we aren’t talking about Irish roasted coffee beans here. This is a caffeinated alcoholic drink that consists of whiskey, hot coffee, brown sugar topped with cream. There are plenty rumours about how this hot beverage came to fruition but the most commonly believed story is that a head chef in the restaurant of the Foynes Airbase added whiskey to the coffee of some tired passengers who were awaiting a storm to pass. The rest is history!
Is the Sheep’s Head Way Vegan Friendly?
The vegan diet has become more and more popular throughout Europe in recent years, and you will find that there are plenty of vegan options available in most eateries. Each of the accommodation we work with at Hillwalk Tours have given us their guarantee that vegan breakfasts will be catered for once they have been informed. That being said, some of the more rural locations of the trail may have limited options so we advise bringing certain items such as plant-based milk, nut butters or protein powders if you so choose.
In addition, the following apps show restaurants which offer vegetarian and/or vegan opions:
There are various other Irish trails available to you once you have completed the Sheep’s Head Way. Here are the other Hillwalk Tours Irish hiking tours we offer:
Sheep’s Head Way Tips and FAQs
Probably the most common question asked when walking the Sheep’s Head Way or planning any hiking holiday is – what will I pack?
Once you have fully booked your Hillwalk Tours hiking holiday, you will receive a detailed ‘recommended equipment’ list inside your walking pack. For those of you who are still unsure, here are some of things we advise you bring along with you on the Sheep’s Head Way:
– Waterproof Clothes
– Fleece and other warm clothing
– Base Layer
– Light and comfortable trousers
– Wicking Socks
– Suitable Hiking Boots
– Hat and Gloves
– First Aid Kit & Foil Blanket
– Whistle & Torch
– Insect Repellent & Midge Net
– Mobile Phone
– Plug Adapter/Converter
For more on what to pack – check out these packing musts.
If you are thinking of bringing your four-legged friend with you, it is important to note various situations. It is advised that dogs are always kept on a short lead and close to their owners. While walking along the Sheep’s Head Way, there are certain periods where you may cross or come close to farmland areas. Dogs are not welcome in fields with livestock or vegetable. Realistically, it may be more hassle than it is worth, and it might also distract you from taking in the spectacular views and remaining in the present moment.
In addition, due to most of the accommodations we work with not accepting pets of any kind, it is not possible to bring any pets, such as your dog, on a Hillwalk Tours hiking holiday.
The Sheep’s Head Way is generally considered safe by hikers, but it’s always important to take necessary precautions when embarking on any outdoor adventures. Stay on designated paths, be aware of tides and coastal conditions, carry a phone, and most of all use common sense and you will be ok!
If you experience any difficulty or an emergency of any level, it is advised that you phone the relative emergency services on 999 or 112. It is also important to note that mobile/cell phones can call this number with or without mobile/cell phone reception.
For those who have fully booked their Hillwalk Tours hiking holiday on the Sheep’s Head Way we provide 24/7 on-call support to all of our customers and you will also receive a detailed description on how to remain safe on your hike.
The hike is great for solo hikers who want to get away from it all! But in addition to the previous points some additional precautions can’t hurt! Stay visible, make sure and inform someone you are going, stay visible, and trust your instincts.
Generally, our tours take place between the months of March to October to hopefully allow for good, dry weather and longer days of daylight while you carry out your tour. This will hopefully ensure that you enjoy your hiking experience with us to the fullest. You can also check out the individual tour page for the Sheep’s Head Way on our website.
Our 7-Day tours include 6 nights of accommodation – specifically the first 6 nights on your hiking tour. Your tour finishes on the seventh day when you check out of your last accommodation. These 7-Day tours include 5 days of hiking. The first and last days of all our hiking tours are travel days used to transfer to/from the town where your hike will begin/end. If you would like to hike for 7 days, simply select one of our 9-Day tours.
Once final payment for your tour has been received, you will be sent an email with a digital PDF copy of your hiking pack documents such as your route notes, accommodation details and evening meal suggestions etc. You will also be posted a hiking pack (either to your home address or first accommodation on your tour) which will include essential physical items for your tour such as the required maps for the trail and luggage tags*.
*If you’d prefer to receive a physical copy of your full hiking pack documents too, it’s essential that you reply by email within 48 hours of booking your tour in order to let us know.
A breakdown of the documents and items you can expect to find in your hiking pack are as follows;
– Route notes (prepared by a member the Hillwalk Tours team who has walked every step of your tour)
– Detailed hiking map(s)
– A high-quality waterproof map-case
– Full details of your accommodations and where you will be staying
– Our tips on the most interesting attractions to visit along the trail
– A look at fascinating local history
– A guide to the best places to eat and drink
– Safety information, emergency contact details & the country code for walkers
The Sheep’s Head Way Image Gallery
Hillwalk Tours is an award-winning walking tour operator which specialise in self-guided walking holidays in Ireland, Scotland, England, Wales and along the Camino de Santiago in Spain. Our goal is to create happy experiences for all of our customers, suppliers & staff.
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Leave No Trace
We like to walk in nature and since you are reading this – we believe you do too! It is important to ensure that our impact on the environment is limited so that hikers can enjoy the same view after us. The rule applies: when you leave, make sure that nature looks the same as when you arrived or simply put “leave no trace.” As more and more people take to the great outdoors, our collective mark on the environment increases.
What does this mean in reality? Of course, do not leave any rubbish or waste behind. Do not collect stones, flowers, or other “souvenirs”. Don’t carve your name on a tree or break branches… I think you get the drift. It is imperative for walkers to play their part in making sure litter, damage to vegetation and all forms of pollution are limited.
Noise can also be a form of pollution. Whoever walks through a forest talking and laughing loudly, for example, ruins the peace and quiet of other walkers, who can no longer hear the birds. The same goes for cell phones that suddenly start ringing. Keep the volume down and respect your surroundings. Ultimately, the point is to ensure that as many people as possible can enjoy walking through nature. So that applies to you, but also to those who tread the path after you.
Hillwalk Tours proudly supports sustainable tourism and loves the countryside as it is – wild, peaceful and clean. We are proud to support the “Leave No Trace” initiative that aims to preserve the natural beauty of each nations countryside where we offer hiking holidays. We try to create happy experiences for our accommodation too, and the restaurants, shops and taxi companies that serve our walkers. These are often small businesses located in isolated areas that have been left behind by urban migration and a lack of investment in rural regions. Their warm hospitality and friendly welcomes epitomise the magic of a Hillwalk Tour and we’re dedicated to helping keep these rural communities alive.
The Benefits of Hiking
In recent years, walking and hiking outdoors has been widely reported to have numerous physical and mental health benefits. The following are examples of some of these benefits:
Improve strength and fitness
- Weight loss
- Muscle gain
- Improve metabolism
- Improve digestion
- Better quality sleep
- Increase in Vitamin D
- Improve discipline
- Sense of achievement
- Living in the present moment
Hiking Equipment List
For a more in-depth list of recommended hiking equipment list, click here.