Kerry, on the glorious west coast of Ireland, has a lot to offer, including some of the loveliest landscapes you could wish to see, great mountains to roam in and the Atlantic Ocean, where you can see seabirds, seals, dolphins and whales only a couple of miles from the coast. On our week-long holiday, the people we encountered were delightful and full of Irish charm, and our accommodation and meals were all great. The icing on the cake was that we saw it all in great weather which, I’m told isn’t necessarily always the case in these parts.
Lindsey and I with our friends Patrick and Mary flew from ghastly Luton Airport to tiny Killarney Airport where we hired a car and drove to the Rossbeigh Beach House with its spectacular view across Dingle Bay. We stayed in two of these up-market B&B’s, which are really small hotels without a restaurant and offering quite a lot more than a room in a suburban house with breakfast. They take a real pride in offering comfort and good facilities with a twist of local character. Our host, Brenda, was a delight to know and couldn’t have been kinder, even offering to ferry us into the local village (Glenbeigh) for dinner so we didn’t have to bother with driving. We took her up on this on the first night, and after a good dinner and a few drinks at the Old Glenbeigh Hotel, we enjoyed the moonlit 2-mile walk back.
After a hearty home-cooked breakfast, we drove to Killarney for a nosey around, and also to buy some walking maps of the area because I had left the ones I already owned at home, sitting on my desk (dughh!). We bought a picnic and drove home by the scenic route, putting the new maps to good use for navigation. What a gorgeous countryside, especially in the May sunshine! I tend to describe Kerry as a warmer version of the Scottish Highlands without the midges, but it is more populated, so is dotted with farms and small settlements, with mountains rising to well over 3,000 feet from the green valleys and lakes. We chose Lough Curragh for our picnic, sitting on a wall listening to the lapping water and surrounded by golden gorse blossom.
That afternoon we went for a walk, making further good use of the new maps. I am known for leading Lindsey and others into bogs, brambles, floods and other obstacles on walks, so took care to check with our hosts about my proposed route along the coast. It sounded fine, although there was a little uncertainty, so we set off in the warm bright sunshine along the little road that heads up the hill to join the Kerry Way a little inland. After a couple of delightful miles through the flowery farmland, we arrived back at the coast, where we wanted to take the coastal path that I had seen on my map but which was unmarked in reality. We crossed a fence where others had and followed quite a good footpath tracking a wall along the sea cliffs enjoying spectacular views across the sea to the Dingle mountains. We were followed by a pair of stonechats that posed nicely for my camera: these little birds are not common, so I was lucky to get some good photo’s. There were a couple of tricky bits where the land had slipped away, but we got to one field away from the road and came to a halt, blocked by gorse, brambles, and bush with no obvious way through: my dubious reputation was assured. Eventually, we bashed our way down, through the garden of a (fortunately) empty cottage and reached the road, and back to the Beach House.
That evening we drove to the Bianconi Inn in Killorglin, which was heaving with customers, but we found a table and had an excellent dinner. It is obviously very popular with locals and tourists and has a lively ambiance. All the food was good, but for me, their seafood chowder was the best!
Saturday was the day of The Big Walk. Patrick and I wanted to walk the McGilllicuddy’s Reeks ridge and Mount Carauntoohill and needed good weather. Our luck held, and it was a beautiful morning as we were dropped on a lane at the eastern end of the Reeks. We climbed steeply up to the ridge through farmland and heather, then met the path that rose from The Gap of Dunloe and climbed to the first cairn. The ridge rises to nearly 900 metres, with 5 peaks over 750m, including a scramble along a rocky knife-edge over the highest section. However, once once you get past the rocks, the ridge is much easier, covered in lovely springy grass. There are fantastic views both north and south from the ridge down huge cliffs to small loughs, and over mountains and valleys to Dingle and Cork. It truly is one of the great walks.
As we approached Carauntoohill, we suddenly encountered crowds of walkers, intent on yomping up and down the highest mountain in Ireland even though the mist had closed in. At the 1004 metre summit, instead of a breezy peace, there was a terrible racket, like a loud swarm of angry bees: some idiot was flying a drone to photograph the peak below through the mist. I was rather rude to him, but he did bring the horrid thing down. We then had a steep descent, down Carauntoohill and the precipitative Devil’s Ladder to Hag’s Glen and the car park.
On Sunday, we bade farewell to Brenda and the Kerry Peninsula, and drove to Dingle, again by the scenic route along the north side of the peninsula and over the Connor Pass with its spectacular views over mountain and sea in all directions. We stayed in the Greenmount House B&B, which is even posher than the Beach House: very comfortable with lovely rooms. Garry was our host here, and he really knows how to turn on the charm, making everyone feel like his friend. Our first stop in Dingle town was Dick Mack’s pub, where my friend Dave Clarke and I had entertained the drinkers for a few hours in 2005. It’s still a unique place, full of character and local life, and often full of live music. A bit later, we were all impressed with our dinner at Fenton’s Restaurant, which offers delicious food at reasonable prices, as it has done for many years.
On Monday, we were booked on whole-day boat trip with Blaskett Island Marine Tours out to the Islands and beyond. I’d been nervous about this as it could involve a long time rocking about on choppy seas. We started under heavy clouds, but the sea was flat calm and there was no wind at all! We saw shags, razorbills, gulls, gannets and guillemots on the 45-minute voyage to Great Blaskett, and as arrived, the sun started shining, and stayed shining all day until we landed! We were blessed with truly perfect conditions. Great Blaskett was inhabited for many centuries until the 1950s, when people finally gave up, so a partially ruined village remains with spectacular views back to the mainland. After another picnic, high up on the island’s ridge, we rejoined the boat and headed northwards with seals playing in the water around us. On a clear, calm day like this, the views of the islands and the Dingle coast are truly inspiring, and then, as we passed the most northerly island we were joined by dolphins – lots of dolphins, who swam with the boat and leaped through the waves in all directions. To sit on the prow of a small boat only a couple of feet above these happy, speeding creatures is an amazing experience and not one I expected to encounter so close to home.
Then our guide spotted a humpbacked whale, which would spout, then leap out of the water or splash with its tail. It did this three times in different places, and although it never came very close to the boat, it was just amazing (see pic above). The whole day was amazing and perfect – we really were blessed.
The next morning, Patrick and I drove a few miles to Kinard to walk from the strand to the sea stack off Bull’s Head. I didn’t want to leave the lichen-covered rocks that looked out to the stack and the ocean beyond as it was such an extraordinarily lovely place. But we couldn’t dally, so walked back down for a cup of coffee in Dingle, then on to Lough Leanne and the Killarney Lake Hotel. This is a traditional family-run hotel with the most amazing views over the lake and mountains. It is very well run and they make guests as comfortable as possible, so it was a great way to end a great week. Before leaving the area, we did a walk from the hotel around Muckross Lake and saw Muckross House and Abbey en route: about 10.5 level miles of woods, lakes and scenery on good footpaths and roads.
Arriving back at Luton was a bit of a shock, but we have plenty of great memories.