The Kingdom’s hotels have really pushed the boat out to attract walkers – come rain, hail or shine, writes FRANCIS BRADLEY of the Irish Times
Who wrote: “Every cloud has a silver lining”? John Milton stands accused but whoever did wasn’t standing beside me on a rain-soaked hill outside Kenmare with a cloud above – which covered the sky – threatening to empty its contents on us.
Our guide was doing his best to regale us with snippets of history and information about the local flora and fauna but he was having a hard time dragging my mind away from what would be coming up – or should I say coming down next.
A six-day break in Ireland in the off season may not seem like the best of ideas. However, hope springs eternal and it was under this premise that we headed to the Iveragh Peninsula, Co Kerry and our first stop Kenmare. We had been there many times before and had even stayed in the town on a couple of occasions. Kenmare is at the head of that beautiful stretch of water, the Kenmare River. It is strategically positioned on the Kerry Way and provides easy access to the Caha Mountains and the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. Also, Kenmare is an important and welcome oasis on the Ring of Kerry.
However, this was to be a relaxing, laid-back break with a few gentle walks thrown in. Our first port of call was the Brook Lane Hotel – a modern, boutique hotel in this busy market town, which offered us the type of accommodation and fare we were looking for. Additionally, the hotel is developing the concept of walking holidays and has produced an information leaflet with suggestions for self-guided walks in the area. Also, if you need additional local information – heritage etc – the hotel has a list of guides you can call on.
And that is how we ended up sinking into a hill above Kenmare in the knowledgeable company of our guide, Mike Murphy, a retired schoolteacher. Hillwalking in the rain is not high on everybody’s to-do list but things weren’t quite as bleak as I am painting them.
This walk – Gortamullen Hill – is featured in the hotel’s leaflet and includes a section of the Kerry Way. To save us a 5km road walk the hotel dropped us out to the start near Assroe Quay. The route follows the line of the Kerry Way and is easily navigated. It is 7-8km and should take about two-and-a-half hours but is not suitable for buggies. Once you reach Gortamullen, you will understand the title An Néidín – the little nest, Kenmare’s name in Irish, which perfectly describes the town’s position, surrounded as it is by hills. An added benefit of this walk is that you finish back in the town.
Notwithstanding the weather, any time I have been to this area I have been drawn to the Healy Pass. And so it was, mainly because of the extreme mixed weather that we went on a long, slow drive through Lauragh and on over the Healy Pass, stopping at a viewing point near the top where, due to a break in the weather, the western Caha Mountains were fleetingly lit up by flashes of sunlight through the threatening clouds – one of the best views in the country. We continued on to Adrigole on Bantry Bay followed by Glengarriff for a short break and then through Turners Tunnels on the N71 to Kenmare. The distance for this drive is 78.5km and should take two-and-a-half hours minimum.
Following Kenmare we were off to Carrig Country House which is in a jaw-dropping location on the northern shore of Lough Caragh, west of Killorglin. Set in beautiful gardens, Carrig House – a genteel country pile – offers elegant accommodation with excellent food and an extensive wine list. The house is adjacent to the Kerry Way and 20 minutes from the Reeks and, as before, it has a list of guides for you to call on if required.
Our next walk found us on another section of the Kerry Way, this time on the northern coast of the Iveragh Peninsula overlooking Dingle Bay. We started near Kells on the N70 beside an old railway viaduct. Joining up with the old coach road (circa 1790) on the Kerry Way, we headed northeast towards Glenbeigh and our guide, Seán, entertained us with stories recounted from his many years guiding and with Kerry Mountain Rescue.
The walk continued around the shoulders of Beenmore and Drung Hill with magnificent views across Dingle Bay, Ross Strand and Inch Strand. We finished at Mountain Stage, so named because this was where, in times past, the coaches changed horses. At this point the Kerry Way crosses the N70. This walk is around 10km and should take a leisurely three hours. Again, it’s not suitable for buggies.
While this was to have been a laid-back break, I had hoped to include one demanding walk in the Reeks. However, the mountains had been shrouded in dense cloud for our entire stay. I went so far as reconnoitering the start of a walk in Glencar but the cloud was sitting tight on the mountains with no prospect of shifting, so with my hopes dashed I crossed it off for another day.
However, life back in Carrig House was such that you could sit back all day and bury your nose in a book and not feel guilty about it.
All-in-all a very enjoyable break in Kerry – a place with enviable scenery – in two types of accommodation. A cloud with a silver lining? I think so.
Brook Lane Hotel, Kenmare. See brooklanehotel.com or tel 064-6642077. From January to April its walking package includes three nights BB with dinner on two evenings, packed lunch each day, maps, tea and cake each afternoon and free use of hotel bicycles for €249pps. BB rates vary from €55 to €80pp per night. The hotel will drop customers to local walks, provide in-depth knowledge or arrange a private guide to help you tour the area.
Carrig Country House, Caragh Lake, Co Kerry. Tel: 066-9769100 or carrighouse.com is offering two nights BB, four-course dinner on two evenings, tea/coffee on arrival and a round of golf at a local golf club, or a one-hour massage or a one-hour horse ride on Glenbeigh beach for €199pps. Optional third night BB free.