The Beara-Brefine Way (BBW) is a 688 km thru-hiking trail that runs from the Beara peninsula in Co. Cork right up to Blacklion in Co. Cavan. This trail follows in the historical footsteps of one of Ireland’s greatest events, the Beara-Brefine Way takes you on a unique hiking adventure. From wild rugged coastline to mesmerising mountain ranges this thru-hike will take you through the heartlands and lesser know places where curious locals love to stop and chat
The Terrain consists of mountains, woodland, bogs, rivers, wild Atlantic coastline, rolling hills, quaint rural villages and farmland, meeting many forms of life both wild and domesticated along the way. To walk this trail is to dive deep into a wealth of history and discover one of the greatest Irishmen you’ve probably never heard of and in doing so being immersed in Irish culture and heritage as you explore what rural Ireland has to offer.
On New Year’s Eve 1602, one-thousand people and soldiers forced out of their homes in the Beara Peninsula were on a desperate 300mile march to Leitrim. At the head of these exiles was Donal Cam O’Sullivan Beare, last of the Gaelic chieftains opposed to Elizabethan rule in Ireland. With only a days ration these hardy souls had to endure what only can be called an
epic struggle of hardships, war, hostility, death and bitter Irish winter.
Walking this trail is to walk in the footsteps and immerse yourself in one of Irish history’s greatest events The march of O’Sullivan Beare. From daring life and death river crossings to fighting an army 4 times their number the details of this story have the makings of a great Hollywood
Although Donal Cam made it only 34 others made it to Leitrim along with him, however, it must be said that given the dramatic events that unfolded in those 14 days it’s a miracle any of them survived at all. 35 made it to Leitrim many died but not everyone else died, some managed to settle along the way as they couldn’t keep up and if you should meet somebody with the surname O’Sullivan along the way you very well may be talking to a direct descendent of those 1000 that left Beara in 1602.
The BBW connects 12 national waymarked trails some already well established the Beara Way, The Miners Way and some that were created to connect the trail like the North West Cork way. It stretches from the coast of Cork, cuts up through the middle of the country and ends in Blacklion on the border of Northern Ireland running through eight counties. The trail
historically runs from South to North but you can also go unconventional and walk from Blacklion down to Beara. The sections are
- The Beara Way
- Slí Gaeltacht Mhuscraí
- North West Cork Way
- The Ballyhoura Way
- The Multeen Way
- The Ormond Way
- The Hymany Way
- The Suck Valley Way
- The Lung Lough Garra Way
- The Miners Way and historical trail
- The Leitrim Way
- The Cavan Way
Hiking time can take anything from 25-35 days to complete depending on your speed and hiking level.
The path less travelled.
The BBW is a relatively new hiking trail and not yet well known. When I walked this trail in 2018 I seemed to be the only one walking it about 5 other people walked it ahead of me that summer who I found out about along the way.
Thru-hiking trails are becoming more popular and seem to be getting more crowded for those looking to hike solo without the traffic, this trail offers a unique hiking experience. Ireland is a massive tourist destination and as such can be super busy, one aspect I really enjoyed about this trail was how it took me to unknown places. I’m Irish and even I didn’t know most of the places I walked through existed yet it was such a pleasure discovering and learning about them.
The BBW would be classified as a medium difficulty thru-hike yet anyone considering this trail should be under no illusion of how difficult the start is. The Beara Peninsula has very unforgiving terrain and the hiking at times can be very tough for thru-hiking, however, the views and scenery of the rugged coast are utterly amazing. As you make it along the trail things get easier and it all flattens out and the mountains give way by the time you reach The Multeen Way (stage 5). The only exception to this is the Curlew mountains that are part of the Miners Way (stage 10). You will encounter mountains, Atlantic coastline, forests, bogs, farmland and rolling hills.
Camping and facilities
Given that the BBW is still relatively new it does lack decent facilities campsites, hostel and even shops can sometimes be hard come by. If you are expecting the infrastructure of the Camino then you will be in for a very rude awaking. Now if you are in the mountains you can camp anywhere
along the BBW, however, if you find yourself in the countryside as the sun begins to set don’t be afraid to ask a farmer if you can camp on their land for the night. You may get some very strange looks but 99 times out of 100 they will be happy to accommodate.
A real lifeline for me were rural pubs that are of course when they are opened as some pubs will be closed during the day or only opened at the weekend. However, the number of times I went in for a quick pint or a BBW stamp to find after about 20mins being offered a bed, a meal or a place to camp was amazing.
The people of the BBW
This brings me to my next point, the truly wonderful people you meet along this trail. If I take one thing out of my experience walking the BBW it would be the incredible encounters I had with the locals. You can meet the most random people in the most random locations having the most random
conversations, it’s brilliant. Many times when my spirits were low I would meet someone and they could offer me food, tea, a place to sleep, information and it would rejuvenate me. Just be open to conversation and the warm Irish hospitality will find you.
Stamps! Gotta catch em all!
A lovely part of the BBW was collecting stamps at every town and village along the trail. Each stamp is unique and depicts something interesting about the area either historical or iconic. It’s also a great way to get to talk to the locals as asking about the stamps will give you the chance to find out more about the area in general and there’s no knowing what nugget of gold you may find.
You can get your official passport from the Beara-Brefine Way website where you can also get the stamp locations by scrolling to the bottom of the page and clicking the red icons of each stage. When I walked this trail it was the first year of the stamps and I was unable to get all of them. Sometimes
this was due to a shop worker not knowing about the stamps or the village pub only being opened in the evening. I hope that by the time you walk the BBW these teething problems will be solved but it’s something to be aware of.
The signs on roads to improvement
One of the issues of this trail is the road walking, this normally consists of country lanes with you being pulled onto busier roads from time to time. I didn’t realise how many times I would be pulled onto roads and I only brought my hiking boots, as my blisters clocked up I really wish I also had
brought a pair of hiking or trail shoes. The North West Cork Way (stage 3) for example was 90% road when I hiked it. I also found the signage to be a bit of an issue, for the most part, it was fine but sometimes the signs just disappeared and I didn’t know if I was going in the right direction at all.
However, I must point out that the people of the BBW are working very hard on the improvement of the trail and take as much as possible off-road. I know that a lot of the Lung Lough Garra Way (stage 9) which was nearly all road has been vastly improved pulling it off-road. There have also been
improvements to signage and trail maintenance.
Excited cows and scary bulls
The BBW pulls you through a lot of farmland and so you need to be prepared to encounter cows… lots of cows. I come from a farming background so this didn’t bother me too much but if you are not
they can be very intimidating. Once they see you they will normally get excited and start running towards you, try your best not to panic and be as boring as possible, you should also try and keep to the edge of the field. I also encountered some bulls along the way, be extremely careful if you do
spot a bull and try to find an alternative route. Bull’s are much more muscular and have a ring in their nose and can be very dangerous.
My experience on the BBW is something I will treasure for the rest of my life. There are areas where it needs to improve but for me, it didn’t take away from the magical experience. Completing the journey that those poor souls undertook 400years before was very humbling and reaching O’Roukes
castle in Leitrim gave me goosebumps. I walked the BBW way at the end of summer I could only imagine what it must have been like doing it in winter. I also got to see wonderful places in Ireland I didn’t know about and met great people. If you want to get a real taste of Ireland, adventure or
immerse yourself in the history of O’Sullivan Beare then this trail is a must.
If you are looking for something well established with all the bells and whistles like the Camino it might not be the one for you. I filmed my journey and you can check it out on my YouTube channel.