Artist's impression of a Clonakilty to Inchydoney boardwalk-style walkway and cycle path.

Active Travel – a phrase thrown around a lot in government policy in recent years – is essentially a catchy rebranding of the more colloquial phrase “getting up off your arse”. Walking and cycling are often promoted for being environmentally responsible, low-carbon modes of transport, and we are occasionally reminded of the health benefits that can be derived from these activities too. Both of these aspects of active travel are undeniable, but there are also further, less obvious benefits to promoting these kinds of travel.

Whether in town or country settings, people that move through their communities at a slower pace, exposed to the sounds, sights and smells of their surroundings, rather than flying from A to B encased in the metal and glass, air-conditioned bubbles of our cars, jeeps and vans, have more opportunity to interact with and appreciate what they have on their doorstep. I have no statistics to back up this assumption, but I would be willing to bet that the likelihood of a pedestrian firing a used coffee cup into a ditch as they walk past is significantly lower than the chance that a car driver might do the same thing. Although we still live in a country where it is not entirely uncommon for two cars to stop in the middle of the road for the drivers to have a chat, a person on foot is far more likely to share a few words with a passing neighbour. Getting out and physically engaging with our environment – with our community – teaches us to appreciate it and respect it. It teaches us to value what we have right in front of us.

Artist's impression of a Clonakilty to Inchydoney boardwalk-style walkway and cycle path.
Linking Clonakilty to Inchydoney via a safe, accessible walk and cycle route would benefit not just the town’s tourism industry, but also the lives of local residents.

With these lofty notions in mind, I am all for the development of Greenways, cycle lanes, and better pedestrian infrastructure. I am not, however, entirely convinced that our current approach to this is the best approach. Plans for a West Cork Greenway are nothing but positive, and I have no objection to this idea, but I do get the feeling that we are putting the cart before the horse so to speak. A Greenway or Active Travel Corridor from the city to West Cork will certainly get some local use, but the main thrust of this project seems to be largely predicated on its tourism-appeal. If we are serious about promoting active travel, and deriving a real civic benefit from this, we need to start thinking on a local scale, not just a national or regional strategy. By all means, let the state link up one end of the county to the other, but along with this, lets link our towns and villages to their hinterlands.

Artist's impression of a walkway from Leap village to Dromillihy Woods.
With beautiful woodland almost on its doorstep, the village of Leap could greatly benefit from a safe pedestrian route to Dromillihy Wood.

Safe, accessible walkways from Clonakilty to Ring, Inchydoney, Ardfield, Lisavaird and Shannonvale (which is already 90% there thanks to the Joe Walsh Walk) would make active travel to and from these areas more appealing not only to our summer guests, but also to the locals who would be delighted to get some fresh air and exercise while running an errand in town, or the families who would gladly spend a day cycling with their kids to the beach, the playground and the shops. Likewise, it’s easy to imagine the benefits of getting from Skibbereen to Lough Hyne, Tragumna, Rineen and Baltimore without taking your life in your hands on the blind corners of the roads in between. Let’s get a safe route from Leap to nearby Dromillihy Wood, so we can get out in nature in both Dromillihy and Myross Woods, stopping for a drink or a bite at any one of the fine businesses in the village.

In this article, I have only mentioned a handful of suggestions for linking up our towns, villages, coast and forestry, but West Cork abounds with such opportunities. These are the kinds of links that are likely to get regular use from local residents, not just tourists, and this is the kind of development we need if we are really serious about changing people’s mindsets, and normalising active travel as a means of day to day movement, rather than an athletic endeavour or an occasional weekend trip.