I couldn’t change my personality quirks even though I changed my location. In fact, a few peculiarities rooted in my mild compulsion to count and collect seemed to be enhanced in this kind of situation. I searched earnestly for attractions aligning with those interests and pursued a means to incorporate them into the larger itinerary. They didn’t dominate the trip, however they always lurked below the surface.
Several lists grew.
Valentia Island Ferry
The Valentia Island Ferry (map) represented a couple of new achievements for me. It was my first international car ferry ride and the first time I’ve entered a ferry while driving on the left side of the road.
I love ferries and I enjoyed the brief 800 metre ride from Knightstown on Valentia Island to Renard Point, Cahersiveen on the mainland. I wondered about its true purpose, though. A bridge at the other end of Valentia Island connected it to the mainland at Portmagee. My rough calculation demonstrated that this seaborne route saved maybe 24 kilometres at the most optimistic end of the spectrum, only for the two hundred residents of Knightstown. Everyone else saved less. That didn’t seem cost effective.
The explanation dawned on me as I reviewed the ferry’s Facebook page. It ceased operations during the colder months, roughly October through March. Thus, the ferry didn’t exist solely for Island residents although it certainly added a level of convenience. Rather, it served more as a means of bleeding tourists away from the Ring of Kerry and onto Valentia Island where they would hopefully stay at a local Bed and Breakfast, stop at a pub, or stroll along the strand of shops in Knightstown, leaving a stream of Euros behind in their wake. Well done, Valentia Island.
I added another ferry to my Personal Ferry Travelogues.
I’d consider my waterfall list to be somewhat less compulsive than other things I track. I won’t seek them out exclusively, although I’ll gladly stop if one happens to be nearby and doesn’t involve a hassle. Torc Waterfall met those parameters perfectly. I could access it from a car park set directly along the Ring of Kerry in Killarney National Park, then take an easy walk lightly uphill for about 300 metres (map). We snagged the only available parking spot in the small lot during the height of Summer tourist season. It felt like it must have been preordained.
A healthy stream cascaded 20 metres down several ledges to the base of Torc Mountain. We paused for awhile to ponder its majesty and then took a path to the top of the waterfall for a little extra perspective. Then we returned to the car park and walked across the road to the jaunting car stand. We hired a driver to guide us through the grounds of Muckross House in a horse-drawn carriage. That was a great way to finish the afternoon.
The Waterfall Collection increased by one.
Longtime 12MC readers already guessed that I’d focus some love and attention on breweries and brewpubs, however there weren’t as many of those available in Ireland as one might expect. The microbrewery concept seemed to be getting a decent foothold, although it remained years behind what I’ve experienced elsewhere. Dingle Brewing fell directly on our path and we stopped for a self-guided tour of their small facility in a former creamery building (map). Dingle Brewing produced only a single beer as of our visit, Tom Crean’s lager, and we enjoyed a pint at their outdoor biergarten.
The Smithwick’s brand originated at the St. Francis Abbey Brewery in Kilkenny (map), although it’s part of a brewery conglomerate today and is made elsewhere too. Brewery tours were suspended during our visit because of renovations — as I’d learned ahead of time when conducting my research — so we hadn’t gone out of our way and nobody felt disappointed. The brewery walk-by happened coincidentally while we strolled between Kilkenny Castle and St. Canice’s Cathedral. It didn’t "count" as a brewery visit although I can never resist taking a photograph of anything breweriana.
I also sampled several beers in traditional pub settings, such as these pints of cask ale from West Kerry Brewing.
Someone will probably ask so I’ll go ahead and answer preemptively: No, I didn’t visit the Guinness brewery. First, actually foremost, I don’t like crowds and we drove away from Dublin as soon as the plane landed. That made it impossible to visit Guinness. Second, I’m not a fan of doing what everyone else does just because everyone else does it. I didn’t visit Guinness, I never got near the Blarney Stone and I approached the Ring of Kerry on my own terms. That’s how I do things. I keep away from crowds and I count stuff.
My brewery visits increased by one, plus a near miss and some nice tries.
Maybe only my lighthouse list didn’t grow. I had some candidates in mind and the scheduling never seemed to work out. Overall I think I scored well on my various lists, though.
I enjoy boat rides. Ireland is surrounded by water. Is it surprising that I found myself cruising over the waves? No of course not, although I didn’t expect it to happen four times during my trip even if a couple of those were fleeting encounters.
12MC’s brief video from the Skellig Islands
Skellig Michael ranked high on my list of priorities as I planned the trip. A skellig is rock, in this instance the Rock of Michael, mirroring the Irish language Sceilig Mhichíl. Skellig Michael and its sister Little Skellig jutted sharply from the Atlantic Ocean a dozen kilometres from the Iveragh Peninsula (map). While just a stone’s throw from the famous Ring of Kerry and its tourist busloads, Skellig Michael stood a world apart in approachability and was equally difficult to conquer.
Irish authorities severely limited access to this fragile UNESCO World Heritage Site. Only small boats could dock at Skellig Michael and only a handful of licenses were awarded each year to charter operators working primarily from Portmagee. This limited visitors to about 150 people per day give-or-take, and only in the summer months when ocean swells calmed sufficiently. Even that could be a crapshoot. We had to reschedule our original reservation after all five sailing days leading up to it were canceled due to high waves. The island caretakers wouldn’t let boats land there in perceptively dangerous conditions.
So why would anyone want to go to Skellig Michael? Lousy weather, seasickness, expense and inconvenience were all possibilities. These were all offset by the actual experience. The difficulty of the journey only enhanced the rewards.
The two Skelligs, out by themselves and surrounded by water, attracted huge colonies of birds. These included about ten thousand Atlantic Puffins on Skellig Michael, and I think many people would agree that puffins are about the cutest birds that exist. They’re like the pandas of the avian world. They also seemed to lack all fear of human visitors. We got as close to puffins on Skellig Michael as we would to pigeons in a park, and they were everywhere. Our kids loved them. I wouldn’t have ridden an hour on a cabin cruiser through an intermittent drizzle to a rocky shard simply for a few birds, though. They were a bonus.
The main attraction was the ancient monastery built high atop Skellig Michael around the 6th Century. The monks who settled here were sometimes called "white martyrs" because of their lives of suffering, deprivation and absolute devotion to their Christian faith, albeit without bloodshed. This must have felt like the most isolated place on earth 1,500 years ago.
We climbed the steep unprotected steps carved into the mountainside centuries ago, several hundred feet up to the monastery, as the horizon disappeared into clouds. It seemed otherworldly as we explored in a thick fog through beehive huts constructed by those early monks as crude shelter. I thought to myself as we walked along, that it seemed like a setting out of Dungeons and Dragons or Lord of the Rings. I’ve since learned that this will likely be a filming location for Star Wars: Episode VII. It’s a good thing we visited Skellig Michael when we did. Reservations will become a lot more difficult once the secret gets out and Star Wars fans put it on the pilgrimage list.
The Seafari cruise out of Kenmare became our consolation prize on the day we planned to visit Skellig Michael originally and had to postpone it due to the weather. The waves were much calmer in protected Kenmare Bay (map) than the open Atlantic so we diverted to Kenmare that morning to see the Harbor Seals instead of Portmagee to see the puffins. It’s good to be flexible.
The ship’s captain explained that a gloomy day actually worked to our advantage. Sudden movements spooked seals, and sunny days created shadows they detected as motions. More seals should be sitting out on the rocks when cloudy. I wasn’t sure if that was something like rain supposedly being "good luck" on a wedding day — designed to make someone feel better — or whether there was truth behind his statement. Either way, we saw plenty of seals including a few tiny pups that resided with their parents only for a brief period each Summer before striking out on their own.
We kept returning to a recurring theme during our journey: how to separate ourselves from larger crowds in popular tourist destinations. Case in point, several sites in Killarney National Park just outside of the town of Killarney all drew healthy gatherings. However, Innisfallen Island (map) in the middle of the park’s Lough Leane, did not. That required a boat and most people did not want to go through the effort.
I think large excursion boats went to Innisfallen at certain times of the day although none were there when we visited. Instead, we hired a boatsman to ferry us from the concession stand at nearby Ross Castle to the middle of the lake. There we climbed through the ruins of Innisfallen Abbey, founded originally in 640 and lasting through 1594. There were only two other people on the island during our brief layover, and then we got a guided tour around the lake afterwards to boot.
Valentia Island Ferry
Our fourth journey across water involved the Valentia Island Ferry (map). I’ll talk more about that in an upcoming article so I’ll just mention it for now.
Comment spam seems to have returned to the Twelve Mile Circle. It took a nosedive a few months ago after Google started penalizing link-back schemes in its page-rank algorithms. The spammers have responded by linking back to YouTube and Yahoo Answers pages instead, and I’ve noticed a steady upswing in those tactics. Of course, I moderate every comment on 12MC and I delete spam before readers ever see it. It’s interesting to watch the cat-and-mouse games from my little corner of the world.
Ireland set a tourist route along its western edge between Donegal and Cork the "Wild Atlantic Way." Distinctive signs including a logo of what appeared to be something like ww — although stretched out farther like waves — marking the path. We didn’t follow the route purposely although we encountered its roadsigns often as we explored peninsulas and islands where water met land with spectacular results.
We came upon Achill Island (map) by happenstance. The runner of the family wanted to race in Ireland and discovered through some Internet sleuthing that the Achill Half Marathon would take place during our visit. Otherwise I’m sure we wouldn’t have learned about Achill. We would have missed an opportunity to experience a pretty awesome place.
It almost seems like I’m giving away a secret, and I’m feeling a little guilty simply for revealing the existence of Achill Island even to the trusty members of Twelve Mile Circle audience. The views were spectacular, as dramatic as any seacoast we saw anywhere in Ireland including those famous places featured prominently in the tourist guides. However we never felt crowded on Achill. There were a handful of B&B’s and small hotels along with summer cottages spread amongst a sparse permanent population. We drove to scenic overlooks, hiking along ridges and through historic sites, hardly ever encountering another person.
We stayed in Keel, with direct access to Keel Beach (map) literally a walk across the back yard. Just look at this Blue Flag beach! There would be high-rise condos and a hundred times more people just about anywhere else in the world with that beach and that backdrop. I hated leaving Achill Island, although grateful for encountering it by blind luck.
Don’t tell anybody. We’ll make it our little secret.
Farther south, we drove along the full extent of the southern edge of the Dingle Peninsula. I’m saving other stories from the peninsula for different installments so I won’t go into a lot of detail. The scenery was also impressive. We began to experience the tour buses, though. Getting stuck behind those buses as they slowed to a crawl on serpentine roads became frustrating and tiresome after awhile. It wasn’t a lot of fun staring at the back of a bus instead of mountains and ocean. We stopped frequently at overlooks to let the buses pull off into the distance, savored the terrain and returned to the route.
Ring of Kerry
Ladies View, Killarney National Park
Of course we made the obligatory pilgrimage to the next peninsula farther south, to the renowned Ring of Kerry. It’s famous and for well-deserved reasons, for picturesque seacoasts, hillsides and inland lakes. It also attracted an order of magnitude more tourists than Dingle, again with the buses that lumbered around the ring in a constant anticlockwise procession. We understood that situation in advance and planned around it.
We drove the northern segment from Killarney to Portmagee (map) early in the morning before any buses began their daily circuit of passengers who preferred to leave the driving to the professionals. I could sympathize with that. The roads were narrow, winding and a little scary at times when trucks passed in the opposite direction on hairpin curves. That never deterred me though. We had to catch a boat heading to the island of Skellig Michael so the plan worked out perfectly for us. We also experienced the incredible scenery of Killarney National Park on those same scary roads on a different day, going between Kenmare and Killarney (map).
I didn’t complete the loop, however, having to forgo the southern segment because of our over-packed itinerary. We saw a lot of it from the sea and figured that was good enough.
Beara was the next peninsula in line to the south. People told us the Ring of Beara rivaled the Ring of Kerry, without the crowds. That one will have to wait until the next trip though. We saw it only from the sea and only from a distance.
That gave me another good reason to return someday.