The primary reason for our 2-week trip to Ireland was to ride motorcycles with Celtic Rider to discover the winding back roads of the countryside. After 5 days sitting pillion on a BMW, I was ready for a different means of transportation - walking. We thoroughly enjoyed a 4-day walking trip with Wonderful Ireland on the Dingle Peninsula in southwestern Ireland.
Our walking trip was just what we love - miles of gorgeous paths through stunning countryside carrying only a daypack; accommodations pre-arranged in small inns or B&B's complete with the Irish breakfast we've come to depend on to jumpstart our day; bag lunches packed by the inn owners; and the day stretching out in front of us. We chose to walk part of the Dingle Way, one of over 30 long-distance walking paths in Ireland.
Day 1: travel from Dublin to Dingle
We took the efficient Irish Rail, or Iarnrod Eireann from Dublin to Tralee and were picked up by taxi for a 1-hour drive over Conor Pass, at 1496' the highest paved mountain pass in Ireland, to Dingle and Emlagh House, our first inn.
We walked around Dingle, a small, lively tourist town on the Atlantic Ocean in the afternoon and enjoyed a seafood dinner to complete our first day.
Day 2: Dingle to Dunquin, about 15 miles
We knew starting off today would be a long day, so we started off early, walking through the empty streets of Dingle that the day before had been crowded with tourists. Our route today took us on 2-lane main roads, smaller paved minor roads lined with brilliantly colored flowers and bushes, even narrower boreens (grassy paths that are often boggy and muddy, especially when also used by local cattle), and sometimes on single-track through hedgerows so tall I couldn't see over them.
This is a mountainous, rocky peninsula with views of the Atlantic Ocean and the many harbors and bays that dot the jagged coast that made it difficult to choose between watching my footing so I didn't slip in the mud and cow dung, or exclaiming over the ancient stone walls that cover some of the hills, the ever-present sheep, and the views.
A highlight was a 1.5 mile walk along the sandy Ventry Harbor where we watched a few people swimming in the Atlantic while we sat on a rock with our bare feet in the water.
Our route took us on steep climbs over ridges on the shoulder of Mount Eagle where there are seemingly hundreds of clochans, or beehive stone huts, scattered around the brilliantly green fields defined by ancient stone walls, some as tall as I am. We watched the tour busses navigate the narrow 2-lane highway that hugged the coast and were very glad that we were walking high above the road.
We arrived at the B&B in Dunquin after 8 hours of walking, tired and muddy yet excited about everything we experienced. Our host prepared dinner for us since there are no restaurants in Dunquin, and the only pub, operated by an elderly woman, is open only at her whim.
Day 3: Dunquin to Ballydavid, about 12 miles
The wind was so loud during the night that we could hear it thundering against the B&B, and we watched rain coming down hard sideways while we ate breakfast. Luckily, we encountered very little true rain, and mostly sea mist that swirled around us as we set off down a very boggy, muddy and wet path through flowering hedgerows before we joined a narrow paved road.
Our route today took us along a 3-mile stretch of hard-packed sand at Smerwick Harbor, where we could clearly see Ballydavid, our destination for the evening, on the far side of the bay. Even though it was very windy with dark, cloudy skies and rain threatening at any moment, we watched several people happily wade into the ocean and splash around in shoulder-deep water.
Our route today was much flatter so we finished walking earlier than we expected, which of course meant we had time to enjoy local cider at Tigh TP, one of two pubs in this small town that hugs the coast. The building that housed our lovely B&B is also home to the local post office, and at breakfast the next morning we watched the horse next door and the ocean out the front the window.
Day 4: Ballydavid to An Bothar guesthouse, about 6 miles
Our last day walking is a shorter day so that we can catch the 3pm train back to Dublin. We walked along a grassy path high above the cliffs that border Smerwick Harbor, watching the waves crash against the rocks far below us.
The mud wasn't finished with us, and in fact seemed to be deeper than ever as we slipped and sloshed our way through fields, climbed stiles from one field to the next, and waded through armpit high grass.
The entire 4-day walking trip we rarely saw other people on the path, and waved to local people walking, riding bikes, or running along the paved roads. Today we watched a farmer feed his sheep, guarded by the watchful sheepdog who seemed to dare them to try and get out the open fence gate.
We made it to An Bothar guesthouse with a couple of hours to spare, so Mike and I continued walking down the paved road to the creek where St. Brendan the Navigator supposedly set off on a trans-Atlantic voyage around AD 512-530 with 14 pilgrims to discover the Garden of Eden, which ended up probably being Canada.
We walked into a stiff headwind back to the guesthouse where we enjoyed yet another bowl of Irish vegetable soup and brown bread for lunch before the taxi picked us up for the ride back to the train station in Tralee.
This was our final full day in Ireland, taking us from a quiet narrow path along the coast to loud and boisterous Dublin. We fit quite a lot into our two weeks here and are already planning a return trip in a few years to explore northeastern Ireland and possibly Scotland. There are miles of road in front of us, just waiting to be explored.