Our Hillwalk Stories series is back and this week we share the story of Roger Hebbert’s family and their trip to Ireland to hike The Dingle Way in May 2018.
Springtime! A wonderful season to get out and wander, but this spring (2020) has the world in quarantine, sitting in our homes, waiting/hoping for our current pandemic to finally end before we run out of toilet paper or things to watch on cable TV. So, it is with fond memories we look back to May of 2018 when we spent six days hiking the Dingle Peninsula. From Colorado, the four of us (Elaine and Bill, Deanna and Roger) had done lots of mountain hiking (Bill had even hiked the 450-mile Colorado Trail), and some climbing of Colorado’s 14k foot peaks. When we started planning our Irish adventure we were looking for something else: beautiful coastal walking through pastoral Irish villages where we could rub shoulders with the locals at the end of the day and share a laugh and a pint. Or two. The Dingle Way did not disappoint.
Day 1: Dingle Town
We arrived in the village of Dingle at 3 pm, after an hour-long bus ride from Tralee, after a four-hour train ride from Dublin. We found Brosnan’s B&B, about a block from the bus stop, and we were greeted by Melanie, the host. After settling in the comfortable rooms, we wandered the streets and the many shops of the village before settling on the Anchor Down for some fresh seafood, another wonderful reason to spend time in Dingle. After dinner, we window-shopped some more before ending up in the Dingle Pub for a beer and some traditional Irish music (a third reason to go to Dingle) by a lovely quartet, Save the Badgers.
Day 2: Dingle Town to Ballyferriter
The first of many big Irish breakfasts to fortify us for our long walks: ham, bacon, blood sausage, eggs, and tomatoes. The room filled with other Hillwalk trekkers – Germans, Swiss and Canadians – with whom we would cross paths numerous times. Being older (upper 60’s, lower 70’s) than the other hikers, we usually left in the morning before the others, but eventually we would get passed; it wasn’t a race! Younger people, but pleasant. To get out of town the Dingle Way follows the major highway that circumnavigates the peninsula. We were told that later in the summer the highway is busy with tour buses, but in mid-May, nada. At the edge of town, just past the harbor, the trail veered off onto a smaller blacktop, and then it took us through a gate, and onto a cowpath. Sometimes a muddy, boggy cowpath that climbed to the top of a ridge before we were back on a quiet road, through a neighborhood.
In Ventry, we sat outside a pub that was closed, ate a snack, and then we hiked down to the beach. Our first beach walk, but it quickly took us up through farmland, dairy cows, friendly dogs, and curious lambs and back to the highway. Elaine, who was nursing a bad foot the entire trip, opted to stop at a pub on the highway and call the taxi that she had arranged to meet her at various points during the trek. We bid her farewell, hoped we would see her again, and then the three of us crossed the highway and started climbing up through sheep and brambles, following the path along the stone fences that crisscrossed the hillside. Gradually we were high enough above the steep cliffs so that we had great views of the Blasket Islands in the distance.
The sunny day had turned cloudy, threatening rain (parts of the Dingle Peninsula get 100 inches of rain a year), but it was an idle threat. The Swiss women who had passed us on the beach were 15-20 minutes in front of us. Soon we were hiking back down towards the highway. In 15 minutes of walking along the highway, Elaine and the taxi were pulling up behind us. Serendipity! It wasn’t planned but it was appreciated. We were a few kilometers short of our destination; Tristam the friendly driver was happy to take us to Ceann Sibeal, our next B&B, a few kilometers outside Ballyferriter. We cleaned up and then Joe the host drove us into Ballyferriter where we ate at Murphy’s Pub (more fish and chips! More Guinness!). A long but delightful day.
Day 3: Ballyferriter to Ballydavid
Another HUGE breakfast. One could gain weight on this trek. The big Irish breakfast was always available at the B&Bs, but Deanna and Elaine already knew they didn’t need three types of sausage every morning; they opted for salmon and scrambled eggs. Bill and I, however, saw nothing wrong with three types of sausage. Joe offered to take us back to where we had stopped the day before, but the Dingle Way went right by the house, so it made sense to just go from there, and so we did. We hiked some quiet rural roads that took us down to the beach where we walked for 5k, before meeting up and walking with Marcus, a German who had left for a six-month adventure, two years earlier. Europeans know how to live! We reached Ballydavid where we had lunch at the Tigh TP pub. After eating, Elaine walked the two blocks to our next B&B, but the day’s walk actually continued for several miles, so the rest of us picked up our packs and poles and kept walking along a grassy, muddy trail with cliffs and pounding surf below. Spectacular. In the villages, people working in their yards and gardens would greet us, asking us where we were from, and telling us where in the States their relatives had ended up. Finally, after a trek through a long bog (on a boardwalk), we arrived at An Bóthar Pub where we called to get picked up and taken back to Imeal Na Mara B&B. This translates into Cow’s Walkway. Irish, or Gaelic, is very common on the Dingle Peninsula. Road signs are in both English and Irish. In fact, Gaelic is taught in the schools in Ireland, and the locals are very proud of their native tongue. After checking in at the B&B, we returned to the Tigh TP pub where Deanna had her second bowl of seafood chowder that day, this time not sharing it with me. From our upstairs room in the very modern B&B, we had a lovely view of both the mountains and the bay.
Day 4: Ballydavid to Cloghane
However, the next morning our view was the fog. Everything was socked in. As we ate breakfast, the fog turned to rain. Now we were beginning to understand why Ireland is so green,
and why we had brought rain gear. We had a choice here. Take the standard Dingle Way trail (22k) up and over, passing near Mt. Brandon, the highest peak in Ireland outside of Killarney National Park, or a shorter route that wouldn’t be as far or as high. You guessed it; we chose the latter. Elaine’s foot helped her choose a third option: Tristam’s taxi. Philomena, our host, drove us to Glin North where we started our walk. We donned our rain gear and then followed a black top that turned into gravel near the top of the ridge. The light rain kept up, running down the track, but the temperature was very pleasant as was the walk through the woods. On our descent, the rain diminished, and the mountains appeared in the mist. We scrambled over stiles and through gates, meeting many sheep before we came to the farms at the end of the blacktop. It was here that we passed the Swiss women, waving and smiling as they took a break, out of the wind. Another three miles and we were in Cloghane, our next stop. Elaine met us there with wine, paté, cheese and bread in hand at O’Connors, the restaurant, guesthouse and pub where we were staying the night. She had been there several hours, had even taken a turn behind the bar when the bartender needed to run an errand. A very friendly place! Elaine told us the fascinating story she had heard from the owner of O’Connors of the plane crashes that occurred in this vicinity near Mt. Brandon during World War II. Some of the German POWs, rather than being locked up, were on an honor system, allowed to be free in the village, and eventually married into the community. Some even attended Trinity College! The funky pub was decorated with scavenged airplane parts. As we sat in the pub, warming up and laughing about our wonderful adventures for the day, the Canadian brother and sister arrived. Famished and exhausted. They had gone the longer way: rain, mud and cold all day. No views of Mt. Brandon. Deanna helped the woman open the door to her room; she was shivering too much to put the key in the lock. We decided that we had made the right choice.
Day 5: Cloghane to Castlegregory
The sun was shining this morning. After strolling a bit through Cloghane, we set off on a quiet country road with views of Mt. Brandon, an impressive mountain, even to us Coloradoans. We walked for 4k before returning to the beach along Brandon Bay, the longest beach in Ireland, we were told. Most of the day was spent walking along the nearly deserted beach before we left the water at Scraggane Pier. We found Spillane’s Pub where Mary’s taxi was just ready to leave with the three Swiss women. She would be back in a jiffy to take us to CastleHouse B&B in Castlegregory. Another delightful B&B with charming and spacious rooms. Probably the most elegant B&B we stayed in on the trip. We explored Castlegregory, finding Ned Natterjack’s Pub for fish and chips (surprise!) and some tasty chicken curry.
Day 6: Castlegregory to Camp
The last day of walking! Mixed feelings. Glad to be completing the hike, but sad to be finishing up and leaving the Dingle Peninsula and its friendly inhabitants. After breakfast at the CastleHouse, Mary’s taxi took us back to Scrange Pier where we had finished the day before. Because the walk was going to go right by the CastleHouse, Elaine opted to stay there and wait for us. It was a very pleasant morning: partially cloudy, but warm and no wind. We walked through the village before following a track back down to the beach where Bill chatted with a windsurfer; windsurfing is another of Bill’s many passions. We followed the path, taking us along the water, up through pastures before coming out at a campground where a friendly Irish camper extolled the virtues of our president, telling us one day we would get a knock on the head and agree with him. We smiled, sort of, and kept walking. At noon we arrived back at CastleHouse where Elaine joined us. After lunch in Castlegregory, we followed a straight country lane to Aughacasla, and then the last few hours of walking on the beach before arriving at Camp and the very aptly named Sea View B&B. Joanne showed us to our rooms and suggested we walk up the hill to Ashes Pub for dinner. There we celebrated our last day of walking and Deanna’s birthday with a candle-lit orange caramel tartlet and the entire pub singing happy birthday to her. A great end to a great trip.
Now as we are getting used to the new normal (stay home; wear masks when out and about; practice social distancing; never shake hands!), we think about the lessons we learned in Ireland:
- Ireland truly is beautiful. The Dingle Peninsula is well worth a ramble.
- The Irish people are among the most friendly we have met.
- Guinness on tap is definitely better than the Guinness that we get in cans and bottles in the States.
- A bog can be experienced with all five senses.
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