The Walks Scheme launched in 2008, is a maintenance based payment for landholders who maintain sections of trails that traverse their lands. The scheme is currently in place on 39 trails nationally, with 1,911 landholder participants. There is a commitment in the Action Plan for Rural Ireland to expand the walks scheme between 2017-2019.
The renowned Sheep’s Head Way walking route begins in Bantry and leads you out to the lighthouse at the tip of Ireland’s unspoilt Sheep’s Head peninsula and back, tracing the coastline. It then extends through West Cork’s valleys and mountains from Drimoleague to Kealkill to meet the Beara Way and Slí Gaeltacht Mhúscraí.
The Lighthouse at Tooreen is perhaps the most iconic section of the Sheep’s Head Way and is one of the most important tourist attractions of the whole area. Many visitors drive the dramatic route over the Goat’s Path on the Wild Atlantic Way out to Tooreen, just to walk the 1.7km trail to the lighthouse, which is located within a Special Area of Conservation.
Because of this popularity and the nature of the ground surface, the trail to the lighthouse became considerably eroded due to the heavy usage, and was so worn in sections that walkers (many inexperienced) were finding it hard to negotiate. This also resulted in walkers diverting from the existing route – finding other safer, drier routes themselves, which in turn eroded further trails into this important habitat.
After seeking approval through planning authorities and with the agreement of the National Trails and Wildlife Service, plans to upgrade and re-route the trail were put in place. Funding was sought through the Trail Maintenance Funding Scheme in 2014 from the then Department of Environment, Community and Local Government.
The Project was granted €30,000 and work commenced in spring 2015 – with slow careful, low-impact construction, a new surface was laid and rough steep sections were eliminated. Any sods removed for new sections of trail were carefully re-used to cover old eroded sections of trail, all with the aim of making the trails as natural as possible and providing a solid safe surface for the visitors.
The work was finalised in spring 2016 – and has been recognised as a huge success by visitors, locals and stakeholders. Visitors of all ages and abilities now can walk to the lighthouse and enjoy the magnificent views.
One lovely response from a delighted local was ’’My 86 year old mother has managed to walk the first mile of the path and is thrilled to be able to walk off road and to see such beauty. She could not walk the path in previous years as it was too difficult for her’’
Probably the nicest result of all.