Emerald Isle Exploration

Adapted from Nick’s diary of our road trip along Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way.

Day 1 

Arrived into Rosslare at 4am and drove to Cork as the sun rose behind us. Arrived into empty streets in Cork where we grabbed breakfast and walked around the cathedral. Drove to a park to take part in a ParkRun and soon discovered it no longer took place… Instead we rushed to the Ballincollig park run which had a beautiful, fast course. Nick ran a PB of 19.09 (5k) and took 3rd place and I took 2nd lady…Not bad going for 14hrs of travelling and 2hrs of sleep! We then drove to Blarney Castle and kissed the Blarney stone, the legendary stone of Eloquence! We then explored the wonderful gardens before making our way to Kinsale for an early dinner and good night’s sleep.

Total Guinness drank: 1

Day 2

Awoke to sun and blue skies in Kinsale and walked around the coast to James’ Fort. Photography was the aim of the day and we got some cracking snaps of the pretty scenery and landscapes. Drove to Old Head where our aim to make it to the lighthouse was thwarted by old men in Pringle losing golf balls into the sea…Still, their was a stunning coastline to admire and I saw my first ever wild seal! Drove along the coast and it’s many inlets and bays, to Clonakilty for tea and cake (a much needed sugar boost!). After tea we made our way to our overnight stop in Tragumna, a tiny town off the beaten track, with only a small beach and pub to it’s name. Despite this, the pub was rammed with locals playing Irish music and sinking pints. We joined for a Guinness, sticking out like the true tourists that we were, and made a swift exit for dinner in Baltimore. We found a magical Loch on our way, Lough Hyne, and took more photos. Baltimore was thriving and we ate in Jake’s bar, where locals were jamming together just for the love of their music. After dinner we made our way up to the beacon where the wind was howling and the waves were crashing. On our journey back to Tragumna we stumbled across this amazingly steep road leading up into the rolling hills. If only we had brought our bikes…we would have been up it first thing tomorrow.

Total Guinness drank: 5

 

Day 3:

The day started with a drenched walk along the coast from Tragumna. The wind was strong and bringing waves crashing into the rocky coastline. After drying off and a change of shoes, we left Tragumna for Glengarriff Woods. The woods were magical with a prehistoric feel. Moss smothered the trees and rocks, carpeting the woods in a rich green. We photographed the waterfall and trekked up to the Blantry lookout. The rain persisted and we were wet through, but spirits remained high and the laughter didn’t stop. Then began the journey to Valentia Island…and what an unforgettable journey it was! Giant, bold mountains ran into the stormy seas. Vistas every direction we looked. The Ring of Kerry is truly stunning. After crossing the bridge from Portmagee onto Valentia Island we arrived at our AirBnb, Atlantic Villa. The host was lovely and told us of the rich history this small island held. After dinner we rushed back for the camera as we were blessed with one of the best sunsets we’ve ever seen. Another wonderful day despite experiencing all four seasons!

Total Guinness drank: 7

 

Day 4: 

The day started with the disappointment of our boat tour to the Skellig’s being cancelled. However Jackie (Our host) brightened our day with a unique breakfast garnished with homegrown flowers and fruit. We decided to explore more of Valentia Island and it turned out to be a gem in our trip. So much history  in an island only 7miles long and 3 miles wide. We visited the lighthouse and had to dive for cover as a storm rolled in, stepping inside the shoes of the keeper who would have lived there only 70 years earlier. We then saw the world’s oldest in situ tetrapod tracks (385 million years old!!!!) which blew our minds. After staring into the abyss of the working slate mine, we drove around the island and got a beautiful view of the Skelligs. We will be back one day to get a closer look – the Irish weather will not defeat us! We carried on round the Ring of Kerry and stopped at Kell’s for lunch. When we made it onto the Dingle peninsula we took a stroll down a predictably windy, Inch beach.

As we arrived in Dingle, Nick was getting itchy feet for a run so we did a couple of laps of the town (Still the best way to explore a new place, in my opinion!). Pizza and Jazz provided us with some well-earned grub and a pint of Gneas. We then headed to Dick Macks afterwards which had the most incredible whiskey selection. Dingle Single Malt for Nick and another Guiness for myself. The pub had a typically Irish decor with small booths to drink and chat in. We’ve labelled it our favourite pub so far, despite a drunk American insisting on singing ‘Leaving on a jet plane.’

Total Guinness drank: 10

Day 5:

Another day, another cancelled boat trip due to windy weather. This time to the Blasket Islands. After coffee and scones we dropped into Carol Cronin’s art gallery. She paints large, emotive ocean scenes which she was more than happy to talk us through. A really nice, genuine person. We decided to head back to the Ring of Kerry and visit Killarney National Park. The derelict Muckross Abbey provided the perfect photography experience. After walking around the Abbey we took a stroll through some adjacent woods, I proclaimed the walk would be made perfect, should we see a deer and merely moments later, one appeared! We stared each other down and then the deer bolted across the river. As we exclaimed with joy and carried on with our walk, a deer calf then appeared and even started walking towards us. It fled but moments later reappeared and crossed the river in front of us…A truly wild and magical experience.

Ladies View at the top of Killarney National Park graced us with magnificent views across the mountains and lakes and a bagpiper provided the music. After dinner we went to Murphy’s bar for a Guinness and live music. The very talented Shenanigans, played a mixture of Irish and American country music (crowd-pleasers) and looked very happy to be doing so!

Total Guinness drank: 14

Day 6:

We started the day with the sole goal to explore all that the Dingle peninsula had to offer. We drove along the south coast towards Slea Head. The road was perched on the cliff edge with views of steep cliffs diving into the Atlantic Ocean. We found a small sandy core with big waves, perfect for a little stop-off and some photography. As we looked across the ocean towards North America we could see Arctic Terns diving into the frigid water. The closest we made it to the Blaskets was the educational visitor centre that overlooked them. We learnt about their rich history, mostly via an 80’s documentary which interestingly interviewed former residents of the islands.

Due to the low clouds, we couldn’t summit Mount Brandon but made it as high as we could (about 1300ft). Breathtaking views only made us wonder what the view would be like from the top on a clear, sunny day. On our descent I slipped on the wet grass a couple of times making for much amusement and a swift costume change in the car park. Before we left the Dingle we drove over the Connor Pass through the clouds and had a quick Geography lesson on glaciers. Limerick, our overnight stop has certainly seen better days…but we had a nice hotel and Da Vincenza, the Italian restaurant owner, was like a duracell bunny, trying his best to please everyone, if anything he was a little too much!

Total Guinness drank: 15

Day 7:

We made a swift exit from Limerick and headed for Loop Head and the Bridges of Ross. Beautiful drive through less mountainous terrain than the proceeding days. The Bridges of Ross (really just the Bridge of Ross and 2 have collapsed) was a marvel of nature and shows the true power of the oceans. Being able to walk over a natural arch with the Atlantic waves below, was truly amazing. We sat and took pictures of a few of the small sea birds which added to the tranquility and peacefulness of the area, something we would look back fondly on, later in the day.

The surf town of Lahinch provided a great spot to people watch whilst enjoying an ice cream, however we didn’t stay for long because the Cliffs of Moher awaited. As we arrived, we were shocked by the vast numbers of tourists, something we hadn’t experienced all trip. The cliffs, though, were spectacular, rising like giants out of the ocean below. What awed us even more was the bird life. Fulmars, Guillemots, Puffins, Herring Gulls, Razorbills; the cliffs were alive. Our favourite had to be the Puffins, who would all dive off the cliff edge in unison and dart away into the distance. Looking over the edge was quite scary, with a 500m drop below, and made us both feel a little queasy. They really were a natural wonder and a place where photos can do no justice to their scale. Dinner was eaten in a small pub in Doolin. Filled to the rafters with Americans, we were squeezed onto a small table which later turned out to be front row seats for the Irish music. Many pints later, we stumbled back to our Bnb.

Total Guinness drank: 24

Day 8:

Feeling a little weary after the night before, we made the short trip to Doolin Cave. Descending down under the Burren, nothing could prepare us for the spectacle that awaited. A giant stalactite hung like a chandelier from the ceiling above. The third largest in the world, and only discovered 50 years previously. After tens of thousands of years the structure that had formed was bright white with a curtain like appearance and stood out against the pitch black cave behind. We even touched a centipede fossil thought to be from the equator, 356mya! Rising out of the cool, dank cave we were blessed with a beautiful, sunny day for the end of our trip. If only the sunny weather had of arrived sooner! The luck of the Irish wasn’t with us this time.

We started the long drive back to Dublin and on our way navigated some tiny country roads in pursuit of the Burren National Park. And as if out of nowhere, it appeared with vast limestone pavements. I have never seen such a landscape and it looked as if we had landed on another planet. Large limestone mountains surrounded us, devoid of any large vegetation, a limestone desert. I spotted a small frog that must have lived within the crevices of the pavement.

After driving across the span of Ireland, we arrived in Dublin to see Connor, the man who provided us with many of the locations we visited. His knowledge of this fine country helped form the many amazing memories we will forever cherish from this exploration of the west coast of Ireland. It was a great way to end such a wonderful trip. We will complete the second half of the Emerald Isle in the not too distant future. Great craic!

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