Saturday, 29 March 2008

Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula

While yesterday was sunny with bits of rain, today was rainy with bits of sun... probably not the best of days to blast round the 'Ring of Kerry' on a motorbike. The only upside is that out of season, there are few other vehicles on the road; in particular, no coaches, and few cyclists.

The road surface is completely mangled by the tourist coaches; many of the more extreme bends had massive ripples in the tarmac, incredibly dangerous for a bike. Fortunately there seems to be fairly heavy investment in road mantainence - there were several lovely new smooth sections.

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I started from the youth hostel at Killarney and did most of the Ring of Kerry anticlockwise in the morning. I wasn't overwhelmed by the first half; it was only when I got up in the mountains that the scenery became as spectacular as promised. I'm not sure what the carpark marked as (B) on the map is called, but it's marked as Coomatloukane on Google Maps. It was extremely windy and was hailing when I got there... hard.

I was heading east along the southern side of the peninsula looking for somewhere to eat lunch (I say lunch, I mean a healthy packed meal of Doritos, Bounty and Diet Coke) and quite by chance found an incredible little peaceful deserted harbour. It wasn't signposted so I'm guessing it's not on the tourist route. It really is beautiful, although again I had the out of season advantage of being the only tourist around, so maybe it is used more in the summer. (The only person I saw was a stereotypical old local man with a white beard tending to his boat, who rambled about mackerel)

I'm not entirely sure where it was, so I've marked it as (C), but I'm sure the locals wouldn't want hoards of tourists finding it, anyway.

Rather than doing the full ring back to Killarney, I cut across the peninsula on some of the smaller roads, as they were marked as picturesque on my touristy map. A good choice too - although they're properly minor roads, the scenery is great.

There's something hugely fun about riding along mountain tracks in the rain - although an off-roader might be a little more suitable than the VFR! I did pass a group of properly kitted-up BMW adventure bikers who looked like they'd rolled off a BMW branded tour-the-world magazine spread, who looked on in astonishment as I revved my sports bike up a muddy mountain track in the pouring rain.

Passing a beach I had to grab a photo of this nutter. Granted, the wind conditions were perfect for windsurfing, but it was reassuring to know that there was someone probably colder than me.

Next up: the Dingle peninsula. It was really tipping down with rain at this point. I did stop to look at some Celtic fort around (D) somewhere but it was too wet to get good photos. I retired to a cafe instead to dry off.

There were some fun mountain roads around the end of the peninsula - some really hair-raising bends cut into the mountainside. Obviously I couldn't stop and take pictures at the dangerous bits, but I stopped at a passing space afterwards. I think it was around (E) somewhere, but looking at the map I'm not so sure - maybe I've confused the location.

As it was getting dark I headed back towards Killarney, and tried something new on my sat nav - getting it to tell me where restaurants were. After a few misses (the first was the pub next to the youth hostel, which I ate at last night and didn't think was up to much; the second turned out to be long closed; the third looked too posh) I headed for Kate Kearney's Cottage (F) at the head of the Gap of Dunloe. The pub itself looked like a major tourist hit in the summer, but at this time of year wasn't too busy except one coachload of Americans.

Food was fine, Guinness was fine, dessert was... well, interesting. I asked for the cheesecake, and it turned out to be Turkish Delight cheesecake. A new one for me... it wasn't so bad, but I got the impression they were running out of new flavours to try and turned to pot luck.

Oh and there were these guys - Irish folk musicians. They even had a couple of girls doing the Irish folk wiggly leg dancing thing. Not really my cup of tea but it was entertaining in its own way (I think the Guinness helped). The Americans loved it.

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