This week, our Hillwalk Stories series features Liba Cunnings’ memorable hike on the Kerry Way where she discovered the diverse features of Ireland’s longest hiking trail.
My starting point is Killarney. Getting there from Clifden in Connemara, where I spent the previous week, takes the better part of my day but I arrive safely. My starting point is in the village of Glenbeigh, about 40 km from Killarney, but already I am faced with a logistical problem. Tomorrow, being Sunday, there is no public transportation running from Killarney. Well, there is always hitchhiking. The luck of the Irish comes true and I catch a ride with a friendly chap in Killarney AND it turns out he lives about 400 yards from my B&B in Glenbeigh!
On my first day, my route follows a “boreen”, Irish for a country road. The countryside is so pretty! Pleasant vistas, flowers in full bloom, babbling brooks, sheep grazing peacefully, all of it is a heart-warming experience. By choice, I take two nights in Cahersiveen. I’ve booked a separate boat trip to Skellig Michael, a UNESCO protected site. Luck is with me again. Due to the stormy weather, they hadn’t run any boats all week. But today is a good day. We sail!
The monastic site is amazing in all aspects. One could hardly find a more dramatic rock, rising sharply out of the ocean. Nearly 700 stone steps take us to the complex of monk’s beehive huts, a tiny cemetery and what’s left of the church. To get here in the 11th century, the monks rowed tiny currachs across the sea, a feat by itself. Sadly, eventually, even this poorly accessible place got plundered by the Vikings.
Back to Portmagee at 2 pm, I have plenty of time before I have to return to my B&B in Caherciveen. I explore the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle and the two well- preserved Iron Age forts of Cahergeal and Leacanabuile, plus a holy well nearby.
All the people I encounter are friendly and helpful beyond belief. I feel a genuine warm welcome everywhere. Waterville surprises me with a statue of Charlie Chaplin. Apparently he liked spending his holidays here. Waterville is aptly named, located on a narrow strip of land between the sea and a large lake.
From there, the Kerry Way takes me past Lohar Fort, across the main road and up to Coomakista Pass. The pass is crowned by a Neolithic wedge tomb, used until the Bronze Age. The views from the pass are splendid. My day finishes in Caherdaniel. The descending path to the village is abundant with ripe blackberries, hindering my progress. The blackberries are irresistible. So ripe and sweet, I barely touch them and they freely fall into my palm. How can I resist?
The following morning I alter my route slightly, to see Staigue Fort. It requires an out of the way detour. Walking to it would make my day too long. My drop-off driver is only happy to take me there, at least one way. Being there alone, this remote location lends the fort an eerie feel. It must have been strange living there in hostile and dangerous times.
My route then follows an old stagecoach road. One must feel sorry for the horses and travellers alike. The rough road ignores the topographical features and mostly cuts right across the ridges and valleys. On wooden wheels and with hardly any suspension, it wasn’t for the faint of hearts. The hills slowly transform into rough mountains on my left-hand side, providing dramatic views. Encountering a bull in the pasture was no less dramatic and made for a few tense moments. At least we avoided a Spanish style “running-of- the bulls” scenario.
It is a longer day from Sneem to Kenmare but not as long as for some. It happens to be the day they run a 200 km race from Killarney to Killarney via the Ring of Kerry. At this point, they still have about 30 kms to go. I witness various degrees of suffering. Some jog, some jog-walk, some barely walk. No thanks! Marathons were long enough for me. Today, just the sight of Kenmare is most welcome. I need food!
Before returning to Dublin I take a pleasant rest day here. Stone circle with a dolmen, holy well, an ancient stone bridge, several churches, arboretum, pubs and restaurants, and a well-supplied music shop….LIFE IS GOOD!
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