While planning this trip, the Ring of Kerry kept coming up as one of the must-see attractions of Ireland. It certainly looked quite nice, but the size of the peninsula was a bit daunting. We are not an early-rising group, and all signs pointed at getting an early start to beat the tour buses in a race around the ring.
I spent time comparing the Ring of Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula and, for our needs, Dingle seemed a much more doable and enjoyable experience. As we would not be seeing the sunrise, and as I didn't want to spend all day in a car, I felt Dingle would meet our family's needs better than Kerry.
Our host at Gortbrack Farm gave us suggestions of how to spend our mornings. After a stop in Tralee for coffee and pastries, we took N86 to R560. Instead of continuing on the road when it turned north towards Castlegregory, we continued west. We were on the lookout for a long drive down to the beach, and I'm proud to say I only missed it once. The drive was narrow, but the small parking lot (really just a widening near the end of the road) was rather empty, and we found out why…
The beach was beautiful, a long, curving stretch of sand that faced north into the Atlantic. As we approached the beach, we were rocked backwards by the wind and faced with stinging stand. Hmm, perhaps that wasn't going to be a beach day after all. So it was disappointing not to swim, but if you get the chance (i.e. no wind), then be on the lookout for the beaches along the peninsula - they had a very gradual entry and outstanding views.
We continued west, then north, to Brandon, a little town practically at the end of the road. As we left Brandon, the road narrowed as we approached the tip of the peninsula. We eventually arrived at a small parking lot that overlooked the water. The wind was literally rocking the car, and my daughter chose to stay in the car and keep her phone company while my wife and I trudged up the well-worn hill path to get better views.
Farther up, we stopped at the remains of what I think was a sheep station, where those lonely shepherds could get a break from the wind. I could be completely wrong - it could have been a secret Irish missile site - so feel free to correct me.
Our morning windburn complete, it was time for lunch. We returned to Brandon and decided on Murphy's Bar, which overlooked the pier. There wasn't any parking down by the pub, so we parked at the head of the street that led to the pier. Murphy's had seating both inside the pub (dim) and in a glass dining room adjacent to the pub (bright). We followed the light and listened to the wind rattle the glass and watched kids jumping from the cement pier into the water while enjoying our sandwiches. The selection was quite smaller - four items if I remember correctly - but the open-faced salmon sandwich and chips I had were quite tasty.
Time was wasting, and we had to be in Dingle by 2:00 to catch our kayak tour. This meant one thing - the Connor Pass.
The pass runs over the mountain spine that separates the northern and southern halves of the peninsula. Most of the road is a normal two-lane road, but near the top of the pass, the road narrows drastically, one edge against the mountains, the other against a low wall that protects you from certain death. There are a few lookout points, but we were in a hurry, and those parking areas were all full anyways, so we continued straight through. If you are afraid of heights are narrow winding roads through mountains, this will be nerve-racking. I didn't find it bad at all, and it is much faster than taking the long way.
We reached the bustling town of Dingle, and my bustling I mean crushing amounts of people. Parking was a problem, and we ended up on a side street six blocks from the water. (I always feel like a champ when I parallel park without hitting anything.) We arrived at Irish Adventures, the company that would take us kayaking, and found one of the employees of waiting for us. The afternoon tour had been canceled due to the wind, but we had the option to reschedule for later in the day (a sunset tour), so we signed up for that tour.
Once again, the Irish weather forced my plans to change. Instead of an after-dinner Slea Head drive, we would be doing a before-dinner drive. The downside of this is that an army of tourists (myself included) would be making the trip at the same time. But, it couldn't be helped
If you do make the trip, go clockwise - all the cool people do. Because when you don't, and you encounter people on the western edge of the drive, the buses (which are also going clockwise) will meet you on the very narrow point in the road and completely stop traffic. On the plus side, I was able to get out of the car and take in the scenery.
Some of my ideas were good, and some of them bad. Stopping at Coumeenoole Beach was a little of both. As we reached the halfway point, a parking lot magically appeared, with paths that led to the water below. So I made the executive decision to turn into this parking lot, which was filled with cars in various states of parking, parked and leaving. Fortunately, one car was in the "leaving" state, and we got a spot, where my daughter and I (this time, it was my wife's turn to not battle the wind) for a walk down to the beach.
Large waves rolled into the beach (I did mention the wind), but there were still people on the beach and in the water. I would put them in the category "Wack Job", though I try not to judge too much. It was a beautiful spot, and the beach itself wasn't crowded. Because most people don't enjoy basking in non-existent sunshine in a hurricane. And fortunately, leaving the parking lot was far easier than getting into it - the majority of the traffic had already called it a day.
The rest of the Slea Head drive was scenic, but the road turned away from the coast, and we were once again in rolling fields. We drove into town for dinner at Anchor Down, a family-run seafood restaurant with big-tasting food, and I liked the intimate setting and the hake, and that fact we were out of the wind. If you're a hake-hater, then there are plenty of other options.
I must admit, when we arrived at Irish Adventures, we were hoping that the tour would be canceled. The sky was still a solid gray, rain had begun to fall, and though the wind had weakened, it was still blowing. But the tour was not canceled, and the ten or so of us followed our guide into the office to get changed into our wetsuits. We dutifully marched down to the boat launch where we helped unload the kayaks into the water, went through the required kayak safety lesson, and out into Dingle Bay we went.
Though I had initially not wanted to go, I'm glad we did. The paddling was the most difficult I have done since my daughter was small and I had to do all the paddling on a Lake Superior trip. The water was choppy, but we had great views of the peninsula. I wouldn't call it a sunset paddle, though - that would require being able to see the sun.
The guides led us out of Dingle Harbor and into the wilder water of the ocean. That is when things really "chopped up", a new phrase I plan on trademarking. We only paddled about ten minutes in the bigger waves, but it was enough. We took care to stay well away from the rocky coast, and my picture taking when on a brief hiatus because I couldn't stay steady enough to get a good one.