THE SHEEP`S HEAD WAY – HIKING ON THE SOUTHWEST COAST OF IRELAND

Last updated on February 6, 2024

They still exist, the Hidden Gems or hidden treasures – you just have to look for them and not everyone will find them. But those who do find them will be able to enjoy them all to themselves!

Sheep´s Head Peninsula
Sheep´s Head Peninsula (Foto: Ronan Le Manach on Google Maps)


Intro

One such Hidden Gem is Sheep`s Head. The small peninsula, or peninsula, stretches like a little finger into the Atlantic Ocean.

The little finger goes unnoticed by most visitors to the Irish island, because the larger neighboring peninsulas of Mizen Head and Beara have a higher attraction.

Not to mention Iveragh, the Ring of Kerry, and Dingle, where it can get quite busy in summer.

Sheep`s Head is a bit off the mainstream, often you have the trails practically to yourself. When there is a lot going on, there is still little going on. Finest nature without many people- that`s how we like it!

But let’s take a closer look.

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The Sheep`s Head Way at a glance

Sheep`s Head is located in the southwest of the Irish island. South of it is Mizen Head and north is the Beara Peninsula.

Only a few people live on this small peninsula. The next bigger town is Bantry. This is also a very good starting point and destination for the Sheep`s Head Way.

On arrival you can admire the beautiful gardens of the historic Bantry House and get food and drink.

There are a number of well-marked hiking trails on Sheep`s Head. The ridge in the interior of the island is much less high than for example in Killarney National Park and so you can hike much easier. Less steep and less strenuous.

And yet the climbs up the beautiful ridges reward you with wonderful views over the peninsula and the gorgeous coasts. On a clear day you can also see the neighboring peninsulas.

There are different options for the route on the Sheep`s Head Way. The hike across the peninsula is a little under 100km long. If you include the loop on the mainland, it is about 175km. You can also walk longer or shorter, depending on how much time you have.

Unfortunately you can’t bring your dog with you. Since large parts of the trail run over private land, where sheep also graze, dogs are not allowed on Sheep’s Head Way.

Sheep´s Head Way overview
Sheep´s Head Way overview (photo: Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg)


Weather and best time to travel the Sheep`s Head Way

Ireland is characterized by mild winters with little frost and warm, but rarely hot summers. Unlike on the continent, the Atlantic Ocean has a balancing effect on the temperatures here.

The southern and western coasts of Ireland benefit from the Gulf Stream. These comparatively warm waters keep the coasts completely ice-free in winter. Only the higher mountains occasionally carry a small cap of snow.

In summer you can expect 20-25 degrees, in spring and autumn it’s more like 12-16 degrees.

It can rain from time to time, as in Germany. In the winter months, however, stormy winds with lots of rain blow over the island, while the summers are much drier.

The main hiking season is certainly between May and September. But also in April or October/November you can be lucky and have good weather with mild temperatures.

By the way, we live in Ireland (second home). In summer we run our motorcycle rental business here (www.easycruiser.tours). We also have nice guest rooms (www.the-view- accommodation.ie) for hikers, motorcyclists, golfers, etc…. In that respect, we know the climate very well.

Sheep´s Head Lighthouse
Sheep´s Head Lighthouse (photo: Craig Fleming on Google Maps)


Tips for clothing and equipment

As a hiker you surely know the onion principle: Better wear several thin layers of clothing than one thick one. This has also proven to be very useful in Ireland.

Thin functional underwear, quick-drying hiking pants and a semi-windproof softshell jacket, one or two thin fleece shirts to wear underneath and thin rain pants and rain jacket to put over and you are almost complete.

There are also hiking pants and jackets with Goretex equipment, which can be useful especially in spring and fall. then you klangst omit the separate rain gear.

Good hiking socks and sturdy hiking boots or trekking boots complete the clothing. You will be mainly on stony paths and partly off the beaten track and too soft shoes would torture you quickly. Sneakers are completely unsuitable.

Avoid cotton!!! It gets damp quickly, dries badly and cools you down. Sports shirts and leggings made of synthetic fibers, on the other hand, work very well.

Don’t forget the headgear and a sunscreen for the nice days!

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Arrival by public transport

There is a bus station directly in front of the terminals at Dublin Airport.

You can take for example Bus Éireann Expressway:

Take the next bus from the airport to the city – just ask at the information desk which is the next bus.

In the city there is the Busaras bus station. Take line 245x from Dublin/Busaras to Cork. Then take line 236 from Cork to Bantry.

Alternatively, you can take the train from Connolly Station to Cork (Kent) then take the bus.

Bus Éireann bus services can be found here. Irish Rail train connections can be found here.

Hiking trail on sheep´s Head Peninsula
Hiking trail on sheep´s Head Peninsula (photo: Siddharta S on Google Maps)


Where to stay and where to shop

Important to know: Many B&Bs and hostels are closed during the winter months. In this case, you should find out beforehand if your planned accommodation is open.

In general, I would recommend you to plan your route in advance and book your accommodations in advance. Many B&Bs have only a few rooms and if they are full, you may have to add a few kilometers to the next accommodation – I would not recommend it. We mostly use Booking.com or Airbnb apps to book accommodations.

If you’re thinking about wild camping, I have already written an article about it, wich I will link at the foot of this text.

The stages

There is a very good Irish blog: Tough Soles by Ellie and Carl, who have hiked all of Ireland’s 40+ long distance trails. They have also made excellent maps of all the trails, which you can download from their website and print out for yourself. The Sheep`s Head Way maps can be found here.

There is another website Main Sheep`s Head Way, where the route is described very well.

I know Sheep`s Head through my motorcycle trips. We have our second home in Ireland, and run a motorcycle rental business there during the summer months (www.easycruiser.tours). We are located directly on the Wicklow Way on the southern edge of the Wicklow Mountains and also offer accommodation for motorcyclists and hikers. I also like to hike, but honestly I haven’t hiked the Sheep’s Head Way yet.

Below we take a look at a possible variation of your hike across the Peninsula. This is about 93-97 kilometers of trail, with about 1600-1700 meters of elevation gain in total, for which you can plan about 5-6 days.

If you want to hike longer, you can add the mainland loop, then you come to about 175km.

Important to know: Of course you can also hike longer or shorter and then your stages will look completely different – make the way your way!

Cliffs at Sheep´s Head
Cliffs at Sheep´s Head (photo: ride 2 b free on Google Maps)


Stage 1: From Bantry to Glanlough

Distance: about 14 kilometers, overnight stay in or near Glanlough

Stage 2: From Glanlough to Tooreen

Distance: approx. 24 kilometers, overnight stay in or near Tooreen.

Stage 3: From Tooreen to Kilcrohane

Distance: about 15 kilometers, overnight stay in or near Kilcrohane.

Stage 4: From Kilcrohane to Durrus

Distance: about 18,5 kilometers, spending the night in or near Durrus

Stage 5: From Durrus to Bantry

Distance. approx. 21 kilometers, overnight stay in Bantry

Sheep´s Head Peninsula
Sheep´s Head Peninsula (photo: Alexandr Grahhin on Google Maps)


Food and accommodation:

Local B&Bs, hostels and other accommodations generally cater to hikers. They often offer pick-up at a waypoint for a small extra charge. You can then, for example, spend two nights at the same B&B and take advantage of the small transfer.

The hosts are also the best address to recommend you shopping possibilities and pub restaurants on the way.

In Ireland not everything is always on the homepage, but you can always talk to the people and they will usually help you to find a solution.

I would always recommend to book in advance and ask the host for recommendations – they know their peninsula best!

Maps, hiking guides and other resources about Sheep`s Head Way

Here are a few helpful resources for you:

Online maps (printable): Tough Soles,

General info and list with accommodations: Living the Sheephead Way

Navigation apps: Komoot, Hiiker.

Walking guide: Adrian Hendroff, the Beara and Sheep`s Head Peninsulas

Walking maps: Two maps, 1:50000 from Ordnance Survey

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Conclusion

The Sheep`s Head Way offers wonderful walking in beautiful scenery. You walk on natural, but well signposted paths.

The mountains are not too high, so it doesn`t have to be too strenuous, but they offer wonderful views to the coast and the neighboring peninsulas.

For all its beauty, Sheep’s Head is a tranquil place, visited only by a few nature lovers.

And so Sheep` Head is a little pearl among the beautiful peninsulas of the Irish southwest coast – or a Hidden Gem!

So, what are you waiting for? Let’s go to Sheep’s Head – for hiking, of course!

More interesting articles for you

SOUTHERN IRELAND ROUND TRIP WITH DAY HIKES – 9 GREAT IDEAS FOR YOU

HIKING THE WICKLOW WAY – ALL INFO FOR YOUR VACATION PLANNING

HIKING AND WILD CAMPING IN IRELAND – IMPORTANT TIPS!

THE ULTIMATE PACKING LIST FOR MULTI-DAY HIKING IN IRELAND


Photo credits cover photo: Sheep on a cliff, photo by Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg (www.easycruiser.tourswww.the-view-accommodation.iewww.irland-insider.dewww.ireland-insider.com)

Uli Written by:

Hello and welcome to my blog. Originating from Germany, my family and I now live in Ireland (at least part time). We have travelled this amazing isle many times and know many parts of it very well. In this blog, I would like to share valuabe tips and information for your next trip to Ireland with you. Enjoy the content, yours, Ulrich Knüppel-Gertberg