Ireland Recap Day 7: The Ring of Kerry

The rain had finally ended when we woke up on Tuesday morning. There was still a light fog and mist around Killarney, but the pounding drizzle had subsided. Anne & Roger were intent on climbing Carrauntuhil, Ireland's highest mountain located in county Kerry (very close to Killarney actually). The rest of us decided to take a day trip and drive the Ring of Kerry. Most tourist books and maps will show the driving loop as counter-clockwise, and most of the tour buses will take that route also. Acting on a tip from a Rick Steves guide, we drove the loop clockwise to avoid the traffic and crowds.

The drive starts out going south from Killarney to Kenmare. There is a national park/forest situated in this area, so the scenery is incredible. The roads are also very narrow and winding as they cut through the rugged terrain separating these two towns. We stopped by Upper Lake for a few pictures of the clouds rolling over the higher elevations. There are also a few great stops along this route. The first of which is Ladies View, a scenic lookout on N71. The name apparently stems from the admiration of the view given by Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting during their 1861 visit. The next stop is Moll's Gap. The Kenmare valley to the south is linked to the mountains of the Iveragh Peninsula only by this relatively low ridge at the western end. There is a great little restaurant here that I will describe in my day 9 recap.

The Ring of Kerry starts up just before Kenmare and most of the interesting sites are after the town of Sneem. Our first site on the Ring was just outside of Castlecove: Staigue Fort. A stone ring fort built during the Celtic period, probably around the first century BC. The fort sits in a valley, surrounded on three sides by rugged mountain terrain and a clear view to the Kenmare River. The fort is also surrounded by grazing sheep, so watch your step! The road leading to the fort is quite narrow, usually only wide enough for one vehicle in most areas, so I don't think tour buses make this a frequent stop.

We stopped along many of the scenic lookouts around Derrynane Bay, a very rocky harbor that is sparsely populated. At one stop, we could hear sheep, but could not see them. We looked around the bend in the road and saw a few of them by a fence. Since they were so noticeably audible, we decided to mimic their bleating which made them even more chatty. The funny thing is that when we started doing this, a few dozen more joined them at the fence. Our guess is that they wanted something to eat.

We continued on to Waterville. A small town located on Ballinskelligs Bay and an excellent place to stop for a Scones and Tea break. We stopped by The Chedean Cafe were the service was as wonderful as the food. Still feeling a little punchy from the drive, a sample conversation from the Cafe:

Dave: What is the proper way to eat a Scone in Ireland?
Craig: You chew it with your back teeth

That little snippet of conversation followed us everywhere we went after that...Finishing our light lunch, we strolled around the beach and took some pictures with Charlie Chaplin (a monument by the beach). Waterville is a charming little village, but we had more of the Ring to explore, so it was back to the road.

Near Waterville is a point where you can split off the Ring of Kerry (rejoining it later) on to the Skellings Ring. This is a short driving loop which many tour buses avoid due to narrow and steep roads. The weather was starting to show vast improvements (blue sky peaking through the clouds) so we decided to take the driving loop. The bigger decision was the Skelligs Chocolate Factory, but I we'll discuss that in a moment. The Skellig Ring takes you through a few small villages with a large number of ruins and abandoned homes (from the famine and subsequent emigration) while it twists along the rugged coastline of St. Finan's Bay. Along this route you will find the Skelligs Chocolate Factory. I highly recommend this stop. There are free samples of some amazing combinations and flavors. We dropped quite a few Euro, but it was well worth it.

Shortly after the factory, there is a nice, albeit rocky, beach to stop and enjoy your purchases. This is a good place to relax before the R-566 pass that takes you to Portmagee. I think this mountain pass is one of the main reasons tour buses avoid this route. I thought we were going to burn out the transmission at several points going uphill. Once at the top there is a nice parking area where you can take in the valley below (Portmagee) on one side, and the Atlantic Ocean on the other (and let your cars transmission cool off). We had a few moments of nice scenery before a large cloud rolled in and blocked everything out. We put the van in neutral and coasted down the other side towards Portmagee, riding the brakes and still hitting 100K/m.

Portmagee is a brightly colored harbor town where most Skellig Island boat tours originate from. There is no guarantee when they will run, as the conditions on the Atlantic Ocean dictate that. On this side of the R-566 pass, the sun had finally come out and it was becoming a very pleasant afternoon. We stopped for lunch at the Morrings Pub before crossing over the bridge to Valencia Island. The island has a nice driving loop that takes you along the highest points before ending in Knights Town where you can catch a ferry back the main land (only 5 Euro for a car) and cut 20 minutes off your drive be not backtracking to Portmagee.

Very close to the ferry port is the town of Cahersiveen. A bridge in town will take you to the Cahergall ring fort. While the Staigue Fort was interesting, this ring fort is massive. The walls are very high and thick and you can walk along the entire perimeter. There is also a second ring fort very near by (the entrance is hidden around the east side of the fort. This one is significantly smaller, but worth checking out. We walked around the perimeter but could not find the entrance (Anne and Roger went there the next day and told us where to find it). We did get some great pictures of sheep though! One more very close attraction is ruins of Ballycarberry Castle. The terrain is fairly flat and the castle stands out from a distance.

It was back on the road for us and back to Killarney. We had a great day and wrapped of the evening at a small Thai restaurant along High Street and drinks at the hotel pub that evening. Anne and Roger recounted their adventures in mountain climbing and we turned in for the evening so to be rested for the next days adventure!

Pictures of the days events can be found here

Day 8 Preview: Waterford Crystal, the elusive Kilkenny Castle, and the Rock of Cashel.