This was supposed to be our day to visit Skellig Michael but the landing trip was , as we say here in Scotland, ‘aff.’ Big seas and no guides out on the island.In fact, there had been no landings since the season had begun a week ago.What to do with a spare day? It had to be Dingle.
DAY 6: Along with Connemara and St Finan’s Bay, Dingle was a favourite area of the trip.
I’d spent two weeks in Dingle (near Ventry) about 25 years ago, when my two boys were very young.I’d liked it a lot – a big attraction was seeing some of the locations used in the filming of ‘Ryan’s Daughter’, one of my top 5 films of all time.The roads back then were pretty poor, nothing like the good quality we experienced throughout all of our driving trip this time.Good to know where some of that EU money has gone! I’d loved the area around Slea Head and Chris enjoys a nice drive, so off we set at 9.15 am from our St Finan’s Bay base with a winding 65 miles and 2 hours + drive ahead of us to reach Dingle Town. Distances aren’t huge but , as in Scotland, these coastal roads take much longer to drive than mileage might suggest.
The Ring of Kerry to Caherciveen/Killorglin
It wasn’t the best weather to see this stretch of the Ring, though we did drive it again 2 days later under blue skies but it didn’t strike me as anything special, landscape wise.There were nice views out to Dingle and around Glenbeigh looked very pretty but otherwise, I would prefer more time around Caherdaniel/Derrynane, as well as the Skellig Ring area (Valentia Island, St Finan’s Bay, Portmagee.)
Inch Beach was our first stop , described by the Lonely Planet Guide as ‘stupendous’ but I wasn’t hugely drawn to it, despite loving a good beach walk. It’s certainly a huge strand, big rollers coming in which is always lovely but they allow cars on the beach which detracts from its ambience a lot.Several surfing outlets had a small mass of people around them and the cafe I’d thought of stopping at here (I’m always on the look out for one) was just ok for reviews and looked a bit tired.The sand is grey-beige, hard and flat.Nope, we’ve seen a lot better here in Ireland (Gorteen Bay, Renvyle) as well as at home and further afield, so on we headed.
It was dry by the time we reached Dingle town, set within a lovely bay of emerald green fields and headlands and a mountain backdrop.
It’s a fine wee place, sprucer than I remember, lots of cafes and restaurants and a working harbour.Very busy but we got parked ok and on the spur of the moment I convinced Chris that we should go out to see Fungi the Dolphin.I did this trip 25 years ago and always remember how close he came to the small boat we were on; in fact he came so close, for so long, that I actually touched him in the water with my hand.My two boys, very young, had sat wide eyed and silenced by the wonder of it all.Gregor, my youngest, had also been worried, given the big dorsal fin and the sheer size of a bottlenose dolphin up close, that it was actually a Great White Shark that was cruising beside us (he admitted afterwards).
There are many more boats going out now but we got booked onto a 12 noon sailing, so had time for a quick coffee.It was really nice to just BE here again though it was already turning into a very special trip down memory lane too.
Well, it was a very pleasant hour’s sail, puttering below some fine cliff scenery but Fungi was proving hard to find. Maybe as an elderly cetacean now – dolphins can live till they’re 40 years old and Fungi has been here since the mid-1980s so he’s no spring chicken – he is fed up with the boats demanding his presence. Oh God, here they come again; I better make an appearance but it’s going to be brief, losers. What’s it take for a guy to get a bit of peace round here?
Then Chris, to my horror, whispered to me ‘ maybe Fungi’s deid.‘ I glared at him for daring to suggest that this beautiful dolphin might have passed away since yesterday, but I did begin to wonder myself. It’s a one hour trip and you don’t pay if Fungi doesn’t show , but we’d now been cruising about in the bay for nearly 90 minutes.Then suddenly a dark fin cut through the water, followed by the large round head of a dolphin, heading straight for us before dipping down into the depths again. Fungi was alive and well! Three boats all began to manoeuvre to let everyone see him.Great excitement. He re-appeared about half a dozen times though for nano seconds only and he kept his distance.As with humans, I imagine age has made him more risk averse and wary (he looked much smaller than I remember too.)
Not quite as spectacular an encounter as before but I was very glad to see him. He’s an indelible part of my memory of Dingle and long may he entertain his fans in that pretty bay.
Slea Head/Fahan Beehive Huts
Out we drove towards Ventry and I was amazed at how many more houses there were now lining the road.Very smart ones too. We stopped often to admire the coastal views, it was all very striking. The heavy cloud was thinning too, creating some lovely light. We made a quick stop (3 euro charge) to admire the 12th century Fahan Beehive Huts, a fine and very interesting sight, sitting in croft land overlooking the ocean.
The scenery really took off as we approached Slea Head itself with views opening up to beautiful Dunquin beach. It looked as good as I remember, a truly breathtaking spot.Emerald green fields, a few houses, the narrow winding road lined with stone walls, Slea Head itself with its savage cliffs leading the eye out to the ethereal Blasket Islands – superb coastal landscape. One of my favourite wildflowers, pink sea thrift , dotted the roadside walls.
Got parked above the beach and made our way down a much- photographed , spectacular tarmac road that leads onto the golden sands.The Irish rebels drove a lorry down here in ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ and it was in the storm scene when the guns get washed up on shore. It’s not a large beach but it is such a stunning one ; in fact, the whole location is glorious.I remembered the boys playing here all those years ago on a hot sunny day and was almost overcome with emotion at the thought.Oh how sometimes I wish the boys were wee again and I could pick them up and hug them! Happy days. Of course, I conveniently forget all the hard work, the exhaustion of small children; our brains filter that out and remember only the joyous moments. We’d gone over to Great Blasket island for a couple of hours, before the beach, somewhere that seemed to me very Hebridean.
We strolled the beach, walking out to the far end, me taking countless photos.So lucky again to enjoy it all bathed in sunshine.Chris too, not a man easily impressed, gave it all the thumbs up.
There were multiple stops from now on to admire the coastal scene as the landscape flattened out before rising again into the cliff girt headlands of the Three Sisters.There must be some great walks to be had out on those headlands. Beyond Great Blasket island, sat the striking shark’s tooth outline of the island of Tearacht.
Our next stop was this beautiful ancient church and burial site, dating possibly from the 11/12th century. It looks like an upturned boat and the stonework is superb.Small entry fee.Well signposted.
Brandon Mountain (952m)
There is a short cut road from the church over to Dingle town, a drive which gave us fine views of Brandon Mountain. Memories of ‘Ryan’s Daughter’ flooded my mind – ‘ it’s nice up Brandon’ said poor Robert Mitchum having had a nightmare vision of his young wife being unfaithful; to which she replies nervously, close to being found out – ‘aye it’s grand.’ Being coastal it attracts any cloud going, but now, it was clear as a bell, etched against the deep azure of the sky.The views from it must be wonderful, rising as it does straight out of the sea to over 3,000 feet. Grand indeed! It’s a sacred mountain, named after St Brendan and the easiest ascent route is marked with white crosses, representing the 14 Stations of the Cross.
A final stop to view this 12th century church ruin, Irish Romanesque in style and with an Ogham stone and carved stone sundial.Beautiful location and certainly the loveliest and most interesting church we saw during our week’s touring.
Portmagee (Skellig Ring)
It was 7pm before we finally got back to our home ground at St Finan’s Bay so we decided to eat out instead of preparing dinner. Got a table in the busy Bridge Bar, a very nice looking wee pub, going like a fair and overlooking the pretty harbour of this lovely village. We both had tasty lemon sole, chips and mushy peas (I love these).
Portmagee to St Finan’s Bay
It was a beautiful drive back to our house from Portmagee.
The road winds up to the top of a mountain pass and now we had our first views of the Skelligs and saw the bay itself in all its glory.
It really was stunning, especially in the evening light.
Once back at the house, we popped open some sparkling wine (for me) and a Sauvignon for Chris and just stood outside, watching the sun go down over this beautiful place.
We hadn’t made it out to Skellig Michael which reared spectacularly out of the ocean only 4 miles distant.Forbidding and raw.It was impossible not to simply stand and stare at its incredible outline, a child’s idea of a mountain, all jagged and black, set amongst wild seas. All the planning to get out there, the trip booked six months ago, had come to nothing. But as Chris always reminds me, ‘it’s not going anywhere.’ We’ll just have to come back and I really had no regrets given the wonderful day we’d had.It’s grand out there, in Dingle.It really is.
Day 7/final day: A St Finan’s Bay hill walk and beautiful Valentia Island.Saving the best till last?
Previous Days: IRELAND’S WILD ATLANTIC WAY(Cliffs of Moher/The Burren)
IRELAND’S WILD ATLANTIC WAY(Connemara) IRELAND’S WILD ATLANTIC WAY (The Burren/Killarney IRELAND’S WILD ATLANTIC WAY (A Killarney Hike and The Ring of Kerry) IRELAND’S WILD ATLANTIC WAY ( St Finan’s Bay, Derrynane Beach and Staigue /Loher Fort)