CLEGGAN HEAD WALK
Cleggan Head lies on the northern side of Cleggan Bay (see photo right). It's a very beautiful area, and well worthwhile exploring.
HOWEVER, you should note that Cleggan Head is privately owned, and is expertly run, primarily as a sheep farm, by the Musgrave family, on scientific principles rooted in the aim of maintaining the delicate ecological balance between plant and other life over the head. This is wonderfully described in Tim Robinson's book "In the Pool of Darkness" - see the chapter entitled "An Ear to the Earth" (click here for more details). Having read this, you will appreciate that Cleggan Head should not be treated lightly or with disrespect.
Given that it's privately owned, it's wonderful that walkers are permitted to walk Cleggan Head; and it is a walk worth doing! We are pemitted to walk the track which runs through the main farm buildings, and the buildings now forming part of Cleggan Farm Cottages (click here for their website), a set of beautifully situated holiday cottages, out along the track on the southern side of Cleggan Head, as far as the deep gut called Port (locally pronounced "Perth"), where on the right hand side is an ancient Holy Well (now dry).
Cleggan Head is reached by leaving Cleggan village in the direction of the N59, and just on the outskirts of the village, turning left to cross the causeway - Cleggan Beach on your left, and the beginnings of Ballynakill and Carton Lakes on your right. Note there is a stream running beneath the causeway road at the far end; the stone bridge (see above photo) is worth stopping the car for, to enjoy the lake water running underneath into Cleggan Bay, through a lovely small stone bridge. A hundred or so metres on, with a derelict building on your right, you will see a left turn sign-posted to Cleggan Farm Cottages (watch out for the sheep motif), and it's an easy drive along the tarmac road, along the side of the Bay, to a parking area. Here, park the car and walk the rest of the way.
NOTE THAT UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE DOGS ALLOWED ON THIS WALK, EVEN ON A LEAD. IT'S A WORKING SHEEP FARM, AND YOU WILL SEE WELL-MANAGED SHEEP HERDS ALL OVER THE HILL, WITH INTENSIVE LAMBING IN THE SPRINGTIME. DOGS ARE THE LAST THING NEEDED IN SUCH AN ENVIRONMENT. SO, NO MATTER HOW WELL-BEHAVED YOUR POOCH IS, LEAVE HIM/HER AT HOME!
On foot, you pass through a thick stand of mostly Sycamore and Horse Chestnut trees, with the harsh call of crows and rooks, and through the farm buildings, beautiful in themselves. The holiday cottages are to the right; the main residence to the left. Remember: private property; so we must respect the owners' privacy.
There is a series of gates, easy to open and close; do close them behind you, as the sheep are carefully moved from one part of the head to another, and the gates are an important element in the management and control of the animals and the plant life.
After you pass the farm buildings, the old walled farm gardens - partly being recovered these days - are on your left. The view across Cleggan Bay is lovely, and you get a different perspective on Cleggan village and harbour, across the bay.
Just after the far wall of the walled garden, heading left off the track towards the bay (watch out for soggy parts within the grass), you will find a wonderful example of a Neolithic wedge tomb (see photo left). This must be one of the oldest such tombs in Ireland, and it's a humbling thought that this tomb was erected before the Great Pyramid was thought of. It lies more or less opposite to the equally impressive Sellerna Dolmen in a field on the other side of Cleggan Bay, on the Cleggan side of Sellerna beach.
As you walk along the track, past heathers and bracken, keep your eyes well peeled. During the summer months, and particularly if the day is warm and sunny, the insect life in particular is spectacular - and changing constantly throughout the year. Below are just a few of the moths and butterflies we spotted and photographed on the Cleggan Head walk in 2011.
Green Hairstreak butterfly - maybe the smallest butterfly you will see in Ireland, and utterly beautiful among the Bracken...
...Lead Belle Moth...
...Mating pair of Meadow Brown butterflies - lady on top....
....Lesser Yellow Underwing moth....
...To show you but a small selection.
On a warm sunny day also, you may just be lucky enough to spot a lizard - this is the only lizard species found in Ireland: the Common Lizard (completely harmless, common enough, but a rare enough sight nonetheless; so consider yourself lucky if you spot one). This was photographed on Cleggan Head on one of the very rare warm days in Summer 2011.
Peregrine falcons inhabit the higher parts of Cleggan Head, too, and you may sometimes see one, circling overhead, and mewing protectively if it's circling overhead its nest.
On your way along the track, you will see a memorial to a family member, tragically killed many years ago, we believe, in a riding accident.
So... on along the track. After one of the several gates (keep 'em closed, unless one has been deliberately propped open by the farm management!), taking a left up and over the grass would lead you to the white beacon marking Cleggan Head for boats (and easily visible from Tra Bhride in Rossadilisk, or from Sellerna). Just past this and down the cliffs is a deep cave, in which birds such as Cormorants nest; and on the rocky walls of which are trapped buoys and rope, washed in by the waves on a high tide. But let us keep to the track, on this walk - if you have access to a small boat, though, the cave beneath the beacon is worth exploring, if carefully.
The track ends at a stony shore within a narrow gut - we're told it is referred to on the Admiralty charts as "Port", but it's pronounced "Perth" in these parts. Stony it may be, but it's a beautiful, secluded bay, great for a swim on a warm day, or just for sitting and enjoying the peace and the view. At the outer end of the gut are low rocky cliffs of ancient schist, with tunnels worn into them by the sea, and showing an interesting and lovely formation. To the right of the stony beach is a Holy Well (now dry), which you may find traces of if you look around.
Just before Port, along the right side of the track, grow lots of Common Nettle: with a nasty sting, but excellent food for many larvae (caterpillars) of butterflies, moths and other insects. The black caterpillars on the left don't look parricularly handsome...
...though they may be beautiful to themselves; but they are "eating machines", storing up the energy they'll need to pupate and, in due course, transform into the really beautiful (to us, too!) Peacock Butterfly. The specimen on the left was photographed in Emlough, near Rossadilisk, feeding on nectar from a mint flower; but on many occasions you will see countless Peacocks on Cleggan Head.
It just goes to demonstrate that we should never dismiss out of hand, as unlovely, either our more common wild plants such as Nettle, or (to us) unlovely caterpillars. The caterpillar on the left is destined, in time, to become a Ladybird, loved by all.
The higher ground around Port reveals deep and dangerous precipices, such as that on the right...
...And lovely views far to the north, including the islands of Inishturk and Clare Island in Clew Bay, Achill Island, the Mweelrea and Partry Mountains, and the distinctive shape of Croagh Patrick of the penitential barefoot walks, just visible in the photograph above.
But this brings us to the end of our Cleggan Head walk, and we return back along the track, grateful that we've been permitted to walk this private track and enjoy such beauty - unspoilt even though it's part of a thriving farm.
The photographs on this and other pages on this website - unless otherwise attributed - are by local photographer Heather Greer.