Fifty years I ago I don’t think it would have been unusual to have walked to Bantry Market on a Friday. I didn’t quite walk the whole way from Ahakista but I did walk it from Durrus. Leo had to be picked up the airport at 10.30 and that needed the car which meant that we might have to give the market a miss that week. So I suggested that I could be dropped off in Durrus and I would walk to the market and there would be sufficient time for me to get there and get in the shopping and to be picked up by the car as it came back.
So I was dropped off around 9.00am by the bridge behind St James’ Church to start on the walk up the hill to Coomkeen. The rain was a constant persistent drizzle soaking into the pockets of my coat and down the back of my neck. Despite the grey rain and the wind I soon felt hot as the road started up on the gentle incline to the top of the hill.
The ditches on either side of the road were flush with water and the sound of it percolated the air. The only other sound was the birds in the hedges on either side, the angry disturbed song of the blackbird surprised off its perch, the twittering of wrens and gold crests.
The walking was for the most part easygoing and not too steep. I soon past over the line where there were green fields on either side and the ground turned rough and peaty occasionally breaking into a small oasis of green and trees where a turn in the road created a kink that allowed warmth and sufficient soil to gather so that more would grow other than heather and gorse.
The sides of the road were alive with montbretia and it spilt over the tarmac its bright orange flowers bright and clear amidst the drizzle
Two third of the way up I was distracted by signs for Durrus Cheese and failed to look at the map. It turns out that the farmhouse where they make the cheese is at the end of a cul de sac and I had to turn about and retrace my steps for quarter of a mile to get back to the main road.
Only one car passed me on the way up. The driver slowed down as I stood back to allow him to pass, rolled down his window and asked if I was okay. I reassured him that all was fine and that I did not in the least mind getting wet and that I was on my way to Bantry. He offered me a lift but having determined to walk I thanked him and said no.
At one point I was surprised by a sheep in the hedge. It was almost as frightened as I was by the noise that it made to get away from me and back into its field. Further on a ram with black horns blocked the road. Only a few days before I had been told a story of a walker who found himself being charged down by a ram when he got between him and his ewes. This one paused for a few moments then ambled back off the track.
At the top the world was covered in grey. I have been there before and you can see the whole sweep of Bantry and Dunmannus Bays laid out in front on either side of the spine of the Sheep’s Head, but today they were all covered in cloud pressing down on the ground. There was no sound of water as it had nowhere to run down and all I could hear was the wind and air coming in off the sea.
The walk down was easier and should have been a gentle amble into Bantry. Part way down I came across six guilty looking bullocks that appeared to have just escaped from their field. They eyed me balefully as I approached and then as one turned to scramble around the loose gate they had just come from like so many school boys caught out of bounds.
At the bottom there was a choice of routes towards Bantry. The first took you on a road close the sea; the second was across country and took in a Holy Well and Mass Stone. I took the second option not knowing when I might be that way again.
I met the only person I would come across on the walk. I could see on the road ahead a horse standing quietly next to a tumbled down stone shed. As I got closer I could see the horse was tied to a cart on which there appeared to be a rusted gate. An old man come from behind the shed and put an ancient fork on to the cart. We both said good morning and I think that was the last we understood of each other. He must have been in his seventies, with a well-creased weather beaten face and very few teeth and eyes that were ringed with red. His words came in a confused jumble of sound as I told him I was on my way to Bantry having walked from Durrus. I think he said I had about two miles to go as he pointed over a nearby field. He probably thought I was mad. We wished each other good day.
The signs for the Sheep’s Head took me over the field he had pointed over. The rain had turned the grass to thick mud, which, unless I was careful, came up over my boots. To avoid the mud I had to walk through tall sedge that soaked through my trousers. Some while back I had passed a Beware of the Bull sign and I eyed the fresh droppings and the hooves that obviously been churning the mud warily.
The Mass Stone was behind a newly painted grey gate and down a slippery steep staircase. As my feet skidded on the wet stones and visions of myself falling and cracking my head and being rescued by the farmer with no teeth.
The Mass Stone was crowned with a life size statue of the Virgin Mary and fresh flowers had been laid on the rocks amongst statues of the saints.
There was more thick mud before I made it to the main road into Bantry. It was then a mile long slog along the tarmac cars and lorries rushing past. Not surprisingly the walk had taken longer than expected, about 2 ½ hours. I paid back the man on the Gubbeen stall from the previous week when I had forgotten my money and bought more cheese, sausage and a 5Euro bag of haddock for lunch and supper that evening.
I made fish fingers with the haddock. Cutting the fish into slices about an inch thick. The breadcrumbs took a while to make, cutting up the stale bread in the tin, toasting it in a low oven for half an hour (whilst I went up to the pub for a pint), once is was crisp and hard grinding it down to a crumb in a bowl with a piece of wood, sieving it to make sure it was fine. I seasoned the breadcrumbs with smoked paprika, salt and pepper.
I then lined up three bowls, the first with flour, the second with two eggs lightly forked and the third with the breadcrumbs. I then floured the slices of fish, dipped them in the egg and covered them with the breadcrumbs. Once they were all done I heated an inch of sunflower oil in a pan until it made a pinch of the breadcrumbs sizzle and I fried them all off.