The Dingle Peninsula:
We headed out along the north coast of the Dingle Peninsula, which everyone we have encountered has said is a must-see. We headed off the main road west and took small (read narrow) roads towards the water. The land near the windswept coastal areas was more desolate than the green fields we had been used to seeing. Hardy, tufted grasses covered sand dunes and the few trees growing had definite leans to the east. There were in these - to us - most unattractive spots, several large agglomerations of mobile homes in so-called 'Holiday Parks'. Shipping containers on the sides of the road promised surfing lessons or windsurfing - the latter would be well catered for, given the strength of the current wind blowing, but the surf on the sandy beaches was pretty dismal. At the end of the road, a quay used by the local fishermen jutted out into aqua, crystal-clear water and a dive boat was taking a group of hardy souls out to the small and rocky islands just offshore for some scuba diving.
But it was a nice place to stop for some morning tea. One of the benefits of travelling as we are is the ability to travel where we please and stop when we please.
Another side road to the coast brought us to Brandon Head, high up on a cliff top facing the Atlantic. The wind was ferocious, cold and biting. We ventured to the edge to see the sheer drop and the crashing waves below - but not for long. We retreated to the camper in pretty quick time and watched as a couple (younger and sillier than us I think) kitted themselves out for a long walk along the cliff tops.
We wanted to go over the Connor Pass which would bring us out at Dingle on the south coast of the peninsula but huge and insistent signs warned against any vehicles longer than 20 feet or wider than 6 feet or heavier than 2 tonnes (yes, they mix up their units). Our length at about 15 feet was OK, but we are just under 7 feet wide and our weight is almost 3.5 tonnes. So reluctantly we had to retrace our path and take the easier road to Dingle.
We had had some sunshine up till then - a rare thing indeed so far - but as we headed down the road to Dingle the heavens opened and it bucketed down! The only campsite in the whole area was further towards the west and bills itself as the westernmost campsite in Europe. Down more narrow roads again of course with spiky hedgerows on each side, mostly of wild raspberry canes, giving the vehicle some more 'pinstriping'.
The woman who checked us in exclaimed about the downpour we had just experienced - the moment she opened her mouth, I could have sworn it was Mrs Doyle from the old TV program 'Father Ted'!
Right next door to us was the Gallarus Oratory so we wandered up the long drive to check it out. We had seen it marked on a map but had no clue what it was. Large coaches in the car park hinted that it was something on the must-see list for the tour groups. It turned out to be a small, dry-stone built early Christian church in perfect condition. With not one ounce of restoration ever done, it is the most perfectly preserved building of its type anywhere. With smooth curved side walls of amazing stonework, it was certainly worth checking out! It is hard to believe it had survived in its current condition for over 1000 years.
Next day we found more early Christian ruins in the close vicinity - a 12th century Hiberno-Roman church with Ogham pillars and an ancient sundial in the grounds. Ogham pillars have old Celtic script on them, though this looks simply like horizontal lines or notches. Also were beehive shaped huts dating from about 5-600 AD, ring forts, coastal fortifications and other early Christian sites of the early monks. It took a day to 'do' the western end of the peninsula. We looped around just about all the roads and found a deserted spot in a bay to have lunch.
The trip called the Slea Drive is the most spectacular drive of all. The bleak Blasket Isands lie just off the coast, the cliffs are high and jagged of angled layers of slate and phyllite, the mountains rise to one side and the water churns on the other. Once you know that the landscape was shaped by enormous glaciers in the Ice Ages, you can see the wide shape of the valleys. Glacial lakes are scattered through the mountains and in the valleys; some are more bogs than lakes but have the same origin. Around Slea Head itself the road narrows to almost a single lane, with a cliff on one side and a sheer drop on the other and coaches roar along it - in the opposite direction to you of course and are not happy to have to slow down and squeeze past.
We drove further along the south coast of the Dingle Peninsula heading east. At a little place called Inch there was a huge sandy beach on a promontory sticking out into the bay which is a nature reserve. Wet-suited boys carried surfboards into a reasonably respectable surf - I got out of the car to take a picture ... it was windy and cold despite the sun. No way would we be on the beach let alone surfing!
Then on to Castlemaine (uninspiring) and then through Killorglin (much prettier) around to the start of what is known as the Ring of Kerry.