I’ve been writing a lot about islands lately. My most recent post was all about Garinish Island. Before that I wrote a detailed guide to Skellig Michael. Now, Dursey Island completes the trio. Dursey holds its own in such illustrious company. The Dursey Island Loop is a 14km waymarked trail that crosses the island. We found it to be the perfect way to explore and take in all Dursey has to offer.
Ireland has 63 populated islands. Dursey Island comes in at the lower end of this list both in terms of population and size. 6 residents semi-permanently inhabit the 5.7 square kilometres of island.
Dursey Island is located at the very tip of the Beara Peninsula in County Cork. The island is separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water known as the Dursey Sound. This body of water can be overcome in the best way possible. A cable car! In fact, it’s Ireland’s only cable car.
Dursey is made up of a series of steep inclines that form the spine of the island. The Dursey Island Loop winds its way up and down these hills as it makes its way to the end of the island (Dursey Point) before looping back to the cable car station.
There are no shops, pubs or restaurants on the island. We found the feeling of isolation absolutely wonderful. You do need to remember to bring everything with you for the walk though (water, lunch, snacks etc.). Be prepared!
The Cable Car
We arrived at the Dursey Cable Car car park shortly before 11 o’clock on a brisk September morning. A return ticket on the cable car is €10 per person and only cash is accepted. All information relating to the cable car can be found on durseyisland.ie.
We found out the hard way that it is really important to check the website prior to arriving on site. The previous morning we had driven the whole way out there (from Kenmare) to discover scheduled maintenance being carried out on the cable car.
Another day, another attempt. All seemed to be operating smoothly the second time around and we paid the friendly man in the ticket office for our fare. We then waited about 10 minutes for the next available cable car to come along.
To be 100% honest, the cable car didn’t really inspire me with confidence. The car itself is bumpy and shaky as it makes its way over and back. There is also a consistent gentle whine as it trudges back and forth. But sure look, it made it all the more adventurous!
We clambered onto the car when it arrived. Things moved around a little but it wasn’t overly difficult.
The car has room for 6 but there was only one other couple on board along with us. We heard a message through the intercom asking us to close the door. Once we did, we were off. The cable car started along its journey.
We made some small talk with the other couple during the 8 minute or so trip over to the Island. They were staying in the nearby old lightkeepers cottage (presumably the family home for the lightkeeper stationed on nearby Bull Rock) which they pointed out to us on the mainland as we trundled across the water in the cable car. It’s quite difficult to know what exactly distinguishes a lighthouse keeper’s house when it’s not attached to a lighthouse. So while not fully sure which house they were talking about, we smiled and agreed that it looked lovely.
Starting the Dursey Island Loop
One of the first things we noticed when arriving on Dursey Island was that the information sign relating to the Dursey Island Loop did not not really correspond with what we encountered after alighting from the cable car.
The information sign indicated that the Dursey Island Loop followed the road for a while before branching off in two directions which eventually loop back to each other. In reality, as soon as we left the cable car we had the option of either going left or right. Basically, taking the high road through the hills or the easier low road (over actual road). The below images set out the difference. I also include here a link to alltrails.com where you can look at the Dursey Island Loop route in more detail.
In any event, we now had a choice. Whether to start cross country over the hills on our way to Dursey Point at the far end of the Island, then back to the cable car via the road way. Or vice versa.
Being adventurous, we chose the high road and went over the hills to start the Dursey Island Loop. The other cable car couple chose the low road and we bid them farewell.
Markings on the Dursey Island Loop
Apart from the slight confusion at the start, the Dursey Island Loop is easily navigable. The route is well worn and identifiable through the large sections of cross country walking. In addition, there are luminous yellow markers that provide a really clear indication of the route to travel. The yellow markers are placed every couple of hundred yards or so. As such, it’s easy to see the route laid out in front of you.
The First Climb of the Day
So off we set. With the cliffs hanging over Dursey Sound to our right, we moved upwards towards the first peak of the day.
Knockaree stands at 561 ft (171m). We didn’t summit Knockaree but got high enough to get a clear view of what the Dursey Island Loop entailed. The Signal Tower is just a spec in the distance sitting atop Cnoc Bólais. That was to be the first target of the day.
We continued along the narrow path and were soon going downhill again. One of the best things about the Dursey Island Loop is the constant good views we got to experience. We were pretty much always at a height. As a result, amazing seascapes were never far from view. Coming down Knockaree we had views of the Skellig Islands and Iveragh Peninsula to our right. Over our left shoulders we could see the small hamlet of houses that exist on the Island with the last tips of the Beara Peninsula in the distance.
Farming is the main activity on the island. This became very evident to us with each step we took. There were smatterings of sheep droppings everywhere. In addition, we noticed areas of scarring on the landscape where gorse had been set on fire.
As we followed the well marked out path and tracks, we came across a nice rural scene as we crossed a stile over a boundary wall. A farmer and his wife were out herding some sheep. Ably assisted by their wonderful sheepdog “Jack”. Jack looked to me to be doing a great job but some of the angry shouts and whistles from the farmer suggested otherwise.
We stopped to enjoy the show for a while. A simple country scene. We felt completely removed from the normal hustle and bustle of our daily lives. Which is one of the great things about hiking I think. A real sense of escape.
The Signal Tower
When the show was over, we continued along our way again. We skirted around Kilmichael Hill (633ft/193m) as we approached the 3km mark. The Signal Tower had loomed in front of us from the moment we ascended our first climb earlier that morning. It slowly was getting closer. Even still, the distance still seemed great from Kilmichael. In reality, it was roughly one kilometre.
We took one step at a time. We found it difficult to hurry to be honest. While the path below us was well worn and easy to traverse, the views around us were just sublime. As such, we walked slowly and gently. All the time trying to just take it all in. Looking backwards, we enjoyed amazing views of the path we had already travelled.
The slope got a bit steeper the closer we got to the Signal Tower. The peak stands at 252m and is known as Cnoc Bólais.
This marked our highest elevation of the day. We stopped a while to take in the view.
Our original plan was to have our packed lunch at the Signal Tower. We reached our destination just before 1pm. So perfect timing! However, on arrival we made the decision that it was slightly too blustery on the exposed summit. We moved further downhill to a more sheltered spot for our lunch.
One of the tricky things on Dursey is to actually find a spot to stop and sit for lunch. As mentioned above, there are sheep droppings absolutely everywhere! We perched ourselves on a couple of rocks and ate our well deserved lunch.
A Choice of Routes
As we made our way downhill from the Signal Tower, we could see the path clearly laid out in front of us. The official Dursey Island Loop turns back here and joins the roadway to bring walkers back to cable car.
We also had the option of continuing on. The linear offshoot brings you to the very end of Dursey Island. It adds about 3km to the walk. This extra 3km contains two steep hills which need to be tackled both out and back. So 4 tough climbs altogether. In saying all that, it is completely worth it. If you’re feeling fit enough for it I would highly recommend the extra effort.
Journey To The Edge of the World
The first climb is to a high point of 505ft/154m. Looking back, the Signal Tower was just a speck in the distance.
Amazingly, we walked such a distance in only half an hour or so. It was around here that we encountered our friends from the cable car again. Like ourselves, they look enamoured by the beauty of the surroundings as they picnicked on the side of the slope.
They jokingly enquired as to what took us so long to get there. They knew they had completed the easy road part of the loop though and looked to be trying to summon up the energy for the more tiring return trip. We left them to it and continued on our way. Getting closer and closer to Dursey Point with every step.
The last hill of the day is the smallest of the day’s peaks at a height of 318ft/97m. It’s definitely the steepest climb of the day though. From the summit, we then walked the short distance downhill to Dursey Point.
As we descended to Dursey Point we could get a closer look at the nearby islands. These were Calf Rock straight ahead and The Cow and Bull Rocks close together to our right. We didn’t get a chance but I’ve heard great things about the boat trip around Bull Rock.
The ruins of an old lighthouse are clearly visible on Calf Rock straight ahead of us. The lighthouse was destroyed in 1881. Indeed the ruined building we now stood beside at Dursey Point is the remnants of the temporary lighthouse built to replace the Calf Rock beacon. Ultimately, a more permanent fixture was installed on Bull Rock in 1889 and is still operational today.
Dursey Point is a stunning experience. Beyond the ruins of the temporary lighthouse is a sheer cliff face. With no rails or any sort of protection, it’s very exposed. I didn’t venture too close to the edge to be completely honest! Still, the views were fantastic even from a few yards back.
We stayed there at what seemed like the edge of the world for quite a while. With the whole place to ourselves it was quite an experience. Unquestionably definitely worth an extra 3km walk!
The Return Leg of the Dursey Island Loop
When we finally decided to turn for home, we tackled the two steep climbs again before reaching the roadway.
In reality, the road, once we reached it, is a quiet country boreen. We didn’t meet a single car in the 5km walk back along the road.
The return loop felt a bit different. While still surrounded by amazing beauty, we didn’t perhaps feel the same awe-inspiring emotions of the outward leg or at Dursey point. The scenery provided a lovely backdrop and the conversation flowed as we walked back towards the cable car. All in all, very enjoyable.
We encountered a few more people the closer we got to the cable car. Despite this there were only 6 ahead of us in the queue to board. We spent the short waiting time considering what ice cream we would get once we got back to a place with a shop. Tangle Twister anyone?
As we boarded the cable car, we could see our friends from this morning trudging down the last hill towards us. We agreed among ourselves that taking the country route on the way out was definitely the best option.