Killarney to Slea Head (Blasket Islands): 103 miles / 3 hours 19 minutes at 30mph return
Your base: Killarney
Killarney is the kind of town that’s hard to leave. There are luxury resorts such as Aghadoe Heights Hotel and Spa, great craft shops and lively pubs. That’s not to mention the thriving restaurant scene, with fun and tasty spots such as Miss Courtney’s Tea Rooms and The Smoke House. But there is so much around and about that it’s essential to take at least a day to experience the wild, invigorating surrounds of this special part of the world.
Push out from Killarney, and you’ll soon be part of the Wild Atlantic Way, and what an incredible section this is. The town of Killorglin will give you the first hint of some of the eccentricities along the way. Whether you choose to stop off here or not, one of the first things you will notice is the large statue of a goat.
This is King Puck, and every year a brilliant three-day festival called Puck Fair (August) culminates in a goat being crowned. It’s thought to be the oldest fair in Ireland, so make sure to salute King Puck as you pass by.
The town of Castlemaine is the gateway to the Dingle Peninsula, a jut of land defined by sweeping sandy beaches, ancient monuments and craggy mountains. Take time for a quick stretch of the legs at Inch Beach, where your panoramic view is broken only by sweeping sand dunes.
Heading towards Dingle, you’ll pass by the tiny village of Annascaul and the South Pole Inn, once owned by the intrepid Antarctic explorer Tom Crean. Wonderful photography of Crean’s adventures with Sir Ernest Shackleton lines the walls, while you can flick through books about the great man as you enjoy a cracking seafood chowder.
Dingle’s unique atmosphere is something to be savoured. This town blends its laid-back and bohemian sides with a heart that is traditionally Irish. The result? A soulful, honest and thoroughly enjoyable place to be.
From traditional grocery pubs (where you can buy everything from a pair of Wellington boots to a pint) to artisan cheese shops, Dingle buzzes right throughout the year with excellent film, culture and arts festivals.
Traditional music is celebrated with a passion, too, while the Other Voices (December) music festival draws top artists from around the world to play in small, boutique venues. As Philip King, the man behind the festival, says: “Artists sense a musicality here…it’s a very powerful place.”
While in town, make sure to get acquainted with the most famous resident of all: Fungie the Dolphin. Now an impressive 30 years old, Fungie has made his home in the waters around Dingle and seems to find it a hard place to leave… he’s not the only one.
The Blasket Islands
The Blasket Islands speak of Ireland’s rich linguistic, literary and cultural heritage, and you can learn all about them at the Great Blasket Centre in Dunquin (Dún Chaoin). Or why not visit the Great Blasket itself for an incredible adventure.
One of Ireland’s most famous potters, Louis Mulcahy, has a pottery workshop, café and shop in an incredibly scenic location at Clogher Beach. There’s even a chance to try throwing your own pot with an open pottery room.
Before you leave Dingle, make sure to drop into Murphy’s for one of the best ice creams around: Dingle sea salt and caramel honeycomb. It’ll set you up nicely for the next section of the trip: the Slea Head Drive. Dotted with incredible historic monuments, such as ancient beehive huts, and blessed with dramatic Atlantic coastal scenes, the drive will take you through small Gaeltacht (Irish-speaking communities) and along some winding cliff-edge roads.
One of the most incredible points along the way is the small village of Dunquin (Dún Chaoin), with its scenic pier and friendly local community. The beach of Coumeenole here is well worth a stop-off for a gusty stroll along its white sands.
There are wonderful views of the Blasket Islands from here, deserted islands that were once home to a thriving Irish-speaking island community. Continue on along by Clogher Head and the views keep on coming, as you round the village of Ballyferriter.
Before looping back to Dingle, take a detour if you have time, to the incredible Gallarus Oratory – believed to be an early Christian church. Overlooking the harbor at Ard na Caithne, it has an almost mystical location; while the upturned boat-shape of the hut echoes the area’s deep connection with the sea.
From here, sit back, relax before you head back to Killarney for a Wild Atlantic Way-inspired supper at Quinlan’s Seafood bar.