Dingle and beyond

Dingle and beyond
Kerry, Ireland

Kerry, Ireland

Another day, another bike ride due to end in me picking up an American to give them a lift. I may have to head back and I’ve myself more time to cycle these spots, but the ride out to Slea head was filled with views, the sea nicely counterpointed by a cloudy sky, whilst inland the mist was in places almost close enough to touch. Coming back I indulged a little smuggery as I passed tour bus after tour bus heading the other way, keeping to time and battling the narrow roads while I freely peddled along.

Free except that Linda had started her day with the 7.15 bus to Tralee while I had started my ride after 8.30 and was then due to pick her up from the bus station with no means of getting in touch. My answer to her 3am “what time should I give up hope?” was a simple “I’ll be there” but I had to hope she was as keen as me to meet and would wait.

As I remember, adding to this in August, I was pleased with myself to be back at the hostel while the time had an 11 in it. An Irish lady was staying there with her son and was as keen today as she had been yesterday that I’d be around later to kick a ball around with him. Maybe I just looked like a football expert, or she’d seen Patrick and I having a kickabout the day before (which would have scotched the first idea, by the way) but my ego allows me to think otherwise. Odd. And sort of heartbreaking, in a ‘are you looking for male company for him?’ way. I had other things to do, though, and in the absence of staff snuck into the hostel to shower. I figured it would be worth the extra time.

That and the drive meant I wasn’t at Tralee till around 1. I’d stopped in a village, always pleased that every little place has a shop. The first shop was an odd one, a funny mix of things, but I found some fruit and then, joy, home made scones. Not much else in there, at all, very odd. The other end of the village had another shop, and I stopped there too, to make sure I could deliver on the promise I had just made, to render a scone to Linda on arrival. We’d not made a plan, so whether she’d feel able to leave the bus station and get lunch, I really didn’t know. Second shop much more conventional, for the record, bread and fillings got and eaten. I nearly ate the second scone anyway, mind.

Rocks pointing out into the sea
Rocks pointing out into the sea.

So, to Tralee. The phone knew where the bus stop was and I pulled in. Could I see a familiar face? I could not. Did I dare leave the car and wander? It was a pay car park, but ought to be alright. I circled, realising the bus station was off to one side, so people waiting outside were doing something train-related. Eventually I parked the other side of the road and there, as I stood checking the traffic for space to cross, came the shout of “John”, part attention grabbing, part statement. Perhaps small part relief that I had actually arrived, too. Crossing made no sense, she waved me off and came to me.

And so I had company. No plan, other than the ring of Kerry, but company. Shortly into the ring I spotted a beach and pulled off. Brilliant beach-golden sands backed by dunes, with a stunt -real? – abandoned boat carcass to play on. And over the dunes, as we were warmed by the sun, another beach, stretching off. We found a route to walk through the long grass, discussing the kidnappers we were chasing and deciding they could not have for far, not with the terrain this difficult. Further along we saw a sign to Valentia island. I had read reviews of a hostel there and was intrigued; if this was the best they had to say, this might be interesting. It was Linda who made he decision, though, answering my ‘want to go?’ with a definitive yes, then pulling a map out of her bag. Glorious gardens, apparently, recommended by a local, no less. We had a goal, to go with the easy understanding we had already hit without effort.

'Tunnel' of trees through forest
The Safe Forest.

The island isn’t big, though using a tourist map to navigate, with its oversize representations of sights and undersize visions of roads, wasn’t ideal. As soon as you cross the bridge there is a museum and tourist info, and I pulled in through the no entry side-a show-off does what?-and we wandered in.

We wandered out, too, wondering why we had wandered in when we knew we were heading for Glanleam gardens. Setting off, I got confused by the towns, or rather settlements. They’re only tiny, so expecting clear delineation so I could orient myself by them on the map was foolish. It gave us a chance to come back on ourselves via a pretty coastal road, though, and for Linda to point out, again definitively and with total accuracy, “Bench”. The statement both deserves, for its definitiveness, and doesn’t, for its lack of drama, an exclamation mark.

Rocky cliffs at Valentia Island
Valentia Island.

Glanleam house and gardens are reached down a single track road, which seems strange for a recommended tourist attraction until you realise this is a private house with beautiful tropical gardens that fell into disrepair until taken over by a German lady. She redid the gardens only to see them destroyed by a storm, so this is attempt two. She lives there now; driving in you pick a place to park on her drive and she could not have been more welcoming even though we arrived after 5 and opening hours are supposed to be 10-6. As she happily talked us through a route that would take in everything it was obvious we’d be a lot longer, but equally obvious she either didn’t mind or just liked us. There are reviews for this place on trip advisor that bear no relation to our experience, I’m not even convinced they are of the same place, the bad ones, though one or two sound like they might just have annoyed her. At any rate, the place is beautiful, stunning plant life, dramatic drops down onto the sea and a walk that takes you up to the lighthouse. Closed when we got there but we still got to have our own special scramble on the rocks and then ignore the signs saying ‘private’ because we were allowed to be there. Simply stunning in the sun.

Cycling the Gap of Dunloe

Cycling the Gap of Dunloe
Dingle, Ireland

Dingle, Ireland

No pictures. Probably a good thing, forgetting my camera for the ride meant I concentrated on the cycling and the experience, but as I set off to see if I could cycle through the Gap of Dunloe, as both the hostel and Lonely Planet had recommended, I didn’t really think what I might need. In fact, I was thinking more that promising to meet someone around midday to give them a lift, giving me two hours to complete a 50k loop was probably a bit optimistic.

Patrick had come in to the dorm room late last night, so we only met in the morning, but he seized on the idea that I was heading to Dingle and had a spare seat-I’m not even really sure how it happened, but I accrued another hiker without trying. Trip-wise, he had come over as flight-crew-girlfriend’s flight buddy, which is just the cost of airport taxes. A bargain from the States, but lends itself to little planning, that’s what they’d done, so money was tight.

In the meantime I had a mountain pass to conquer, a bit daunting for someone who’s not much of a cyclist. The route started where I’d left the car, near the Cathedral, heading along the main N71 before turning off. Very soon came a ‘Gap 10km’ sign, which was encouraging, though it then seemed a long way to the 9km sign. A jaunting cab (pony and trap, not rhyming slang) hire spot announced where the road became narrower, and walkers spreading out to cover the whole road showed that little traffic was expected. I’d started fairly early, before 10, so was ahead of most groups early on and climbed. Frankly, this is a challenge for more or less anyone. It had me out of the saddle a few times, but only to crest a mini hill, never because I’d been going up for so long I needed a break. Reach one crest and the beauty of the Gap stretches before you, copper-coloured water streaming by on one side, hills left and right, purple flowers dotting the hedgerows. A mini waterfall drifted lazily off a bump in the landscape, the sun shone-defying yesterday’s forecast-and ahead a car showed me the road was winding left and right through the peaks.

This, then, was the challenge proper of the gap, but it still wasn’t anything too bad. I climbed more in the glens early in my trip, after a fast cycle down to Cushendall. Here, I made the top and revelled in a lovely Irish lady calling me a hero and letting me know it was all downhill from here, whilst secretly wanting a little more up so as to have earned a really long down. Doing the route anticlockwise, though, seems to give you more down than you’ve earned, which is definitely the right way round. I think it’s because you then have to climb back up to Killarney, but that part of the route I’d covered the day before and it was nothing to worry me. I rolled down the hill, soon catching the car that had passed me on the up, and whose passenger, out of the car, had only been alert to potential cars passing after a photo stop, nearly giving me a bonus point on my climb before her boyfriend warned her I was coming. Back into the National Park and onto a smooth tarmacced road I was flying, though there is then a couple of miles on the Kerry way, which is a pebbly walkers’ trail. The route to the N71 is well marked, though there may be a longer but quicker route. Nonetheless I was soon back on the road, and downhill yet again to boot, waving happily to a couple of cyclists slogging up the other way, laden with panniers. I got down into the drops for a while once the terrain levelled out and with a sign announcing Killarney was 11km, this was going to be nearer 40k than 50 so it was worth putting in some effort to get a workout. Traffic slowing up ahead, behind a digger, got me back into the drops on the last climb into town, trying to hang on to the digger, powering past an elderly cyclist out for a ride (i admit that trying to whizz past him was my main motivation) and keeping me working on the last section. Just under 41k, comfortably under 2 hours and back to the hostel at 11.57.

I must have taken a shortcut, the owner reckoned on more like 2.5 hrs, he looks fairly fit and I really didn’t hit great speeds. Still, a fantastic start to the day. Picking up my passenger we headed to Dingle and with sunshine overhead that was another great journey. Inch beach is beautiful, deserving more than the brief photo stop we gave it, and the road gives plenty of views of the North Atlantic as you travel West.

The hostel is a little out of town, but that allowed us to explore a little whilst looking for it, kick a ball about on the lawn whilst waiting for staff and then to walk into town when I remembered I was out of money and so couldn’t pay anyway. Dingle is charming, a perfect tourist spot and with shops to tempt me-food and sporting goods, bliss. I eked out my last euros for a lunch picnic in the harbour, found a bank and then on the way back bumped into Linda, who Patrick and I had met when we first arrived at the hostel. I already knew she was a runner, and now discovered she is quicker than me. Damn! Ego firmly tucked away, then, for now. It seemed natural to share chocolate with her. Johnny doesn’t share food. Interesting.

Summary: cycle, great, dingle, dangly, beach, *****ing, Guinness, later.

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