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Published: October 2nd 2006
This post is about Dingle, but I'm going to write about Killarney a little bit since I did spend a night there.
I'd heard good things about Killarney, and bad things as well. Most of the bad centered around how over touristed Killarney was, and unfortunately it's totally true.
I got to the Railway Hostel, which, unsurprisingly, was located across the street from the rail/bus station. The hostel turned out to be really nice, and I almost had a 6 bed room to myself, but a couple people arrived around 9. The town, however, sucked. It was total tourist hell, and I hated it. This is the first place I've come across where I just wanted to leave. The town was absolutely filled with older American tourists browsing the souvenier shops that were in almost every storefront. It rained most of the afternoon as well, so I didn't even try to get out into the national park to do some hiking. I did end up walking away from the town when the sun came out around 6, and there was some beautiful scenery, but I just wanted to move on to the Dingle peninsula, which I hoped would be
A view of the countryside looking back the way I came
a lot better.
In the morning, I caught the early bus to Dingle and got there around noon. I had to change buses in Tralee, which is a town about halfway between Killarney and Dingle. Soon after we left Tralee, the coast came into view and it was a gorgeous sight. On the left were the hills that run up the middle of the peninsula, and on the right was the ocean. I was glued to the window the entire ride. After passing a few small villages, we turned south and made our way up into the hills. The ocean stretched out behind us as the bus climbed up the narrow road. On both sides were sheep pastures reaching about halfway up the hillsides. I read somewhere that the Dingle peninsula is home to 400,000 sheep, and I believe it.
Eventually, we made it to the top of the pass, and started descending onto the south side of the peninsula. The ocean wasn't in view until just before Dingle, where its large, protected harbor appeared. I hadn't really thought about where I was going to stay, so I hopped on the Rainbow hostel van which was waiting at
Sheep, the sea, and hills.
the bus stop. It took me to the hostel, which was only about half a mile outside of the village, but definitely in the country. It's situated in a very tranquil area with only the sounds of the cows and sheep on neighboring farms. I got myself situated in the hostel and quickly decided that I wanted to try to cycle around the end of the peninsula. The hostel had rental bikes, so I picked out one that appeared reasonably functional and I was on my way.
I had only planned to stay in Dingle for one night before moving on to Doolin, so I was gambling that the weather would be good when I arrived. As it turns out, it couldn't have been better. The sky was blue, there wasn't a lot of wind, and it was about 70 degrees. In other words, perfect cycling weather. The woman at the hostel had assured me I didn't need a map, since this is a designated scenic route (Slea Head Drive) and is well-signed. However, this meant that I didn't have any idea how long it was. I had guessed about 20 miles, but it turns out it was just
This is where the road turned north. The view is to the NW. Those islands in the background are the westernmost point in Europe.
under 50K (32 miles or so).
After getting my bearings I found the correct road (and the correct side to ride on!) and set off. The road headed quickly towards the coast and pretty soon the road had climbed about 100 feet above the sea and it ran along the hillside with steep dropoffs and a low stone wall for a guard rail. The view of the ocean below, and another peninsula to the south got more and more impressive the further I went. After about 1.5 hours, I reached the western end of the peninsula. Wow. This is essentially the westernmost point in Europe, and I spent about 20 minutes sitting here staring west and thinking about home.
Since the road had reached the western end of the peninsula, it turned northward and began a gradual descent. I stopped at a small elliptically-shaped sandy beach surrounded by 50 foot cliffs. The water here was some of the clearest I'd ever seen. I waded out up to my knees and it was crystal clear and ice-cold too! It really was a beatiful beach, and I can't imagine how crowded it must be when the weather and water are
Clinging to the hillside
I got back on my way and the road quickly dropped back to around sea level, and it also veered away from the coast a bit as it came into the largest village along its course. On the descent into the village I got passed by a guy on a road bike, which made me curse the mountain bike I had picked, but oh well. At this point I was starting to get a bit tired and I hadn't really brought much food with me since I didn't think I'd be out all that long. I'd been out for probably 3 hours at this point, and there were some clouds building around the hill tops that were making me worry about rain. I kept plugging along, and soon came across an old man who was standing alongside the road picking some sort of berries. On a whim, I decided to stop. It turns out it was one of those cool experiences that I could never predict would happen. I think his primary language was actually Irish, as we had a really hard time communicating, but it was still fun. He asked if I was going back to Dingle,
The view was spectacular for most of the ride
and I said I was. I asked him what he thought of the clouds that were building and he said they were nothing to worry about (he was right too). He also asked what I thought of his country, and I honestly replied that I think it is a beatiful place that I've enjoyed immensely. I spent about 10 minutes chatting and eating mysterious berries that were growing all over the walls along the road. They looked a lot like blackberries, but they weren't as sweet. I'm pretty sure that's what they were, but I don't know for sure. Either way it was a great experience.
The rest of the ride had me wondering when it was going to end, but I finally came across a sign for Dingle that said 12km, which was a relief. The first half of that 12km was hell, though as I had to cross the hills to get back to Dingle, and even though it was a fairly low pass, it was no fun. The descent, however, was awesome. Three miles of coasting, and had I been on I road bike I would have easily topped 40mph.
I got back around dusk,
Most of the peninsula speaks Irish
and after a much needed shower, went looking for pizza. I finally found a place, and although it had a thin crunchy crust and wasn't particularly greasy it still tasted great. It did, however, leaving me wanting more so I went to the grocery store and bought a huge muffin and some beer. The muffin did the trick and filled me up. I ended up walking over to the dock, which was nearby, and out onto a concrete jetty. I sat for about half an hour drinking the beer and watching the last of the light fading and enjoying the sounds of the harbor. I walked back to the hostel and luck was in my favor -- no one else had arrived in the 6 bed dorm so I had it to myself.
Dingle was an awesome place, and I could have easily spent a few days there exploring the hills, but alas I had a ticket for Berlin in 3 days and I wanted to see Doolin, so I had to move on.
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