The Ring of Kerry, Dingle, and the Ballaghbeama Gap

The Wild Atlantic Way, Part II: A continuation of my time spent in County Kerry, September, 2018. You can read Part 1 here.

The road leading to the beginning of the Ring of Kerry was virtually deserted that time of morning, bewitching me into believing that the day’s drive would be equally as unchallenging. But once on the Ring, buses sped towards me at regular intervals, passing dizzyingly close. I could not help reacting every time, flinching and often pulling over, to the chagrin of the drivers behind me. Even after five full days, every time any car came near, my eyes told me there was just not enough room on the road for the both of us.

I arrived in Waterville – the halfway point – at about three o’clock in the afternoon. There I stopped for a cup of tea in a café serving only ‘staying’ customers, as evidenced by the large “no takeout” sign hanging beneath the register. The proprietor’s passive-aggressive insistence that his patrons sit to partake of his little slice of Irish heaven brought a smile to my face. For me the break from the stress of driving was a welcomed one, and I enjoyed it at my leisure.

Waterville gained renown as the favorite vacation spot of Charley Chaplin, who often enjoyed its charms when on holiday with his family. There were several photos of him on the cafe walls. I took a short walk along the beach after tea, and even went so far as to participate in a local legend. It is believed that picking up a handful of sand from a beach in Ireland and dividing it in half – reserving some in a bottle and throwing the rest into the sea – will ensure the traveler’s return. Fingers crossed for 2021…

Seashells, sand, stones, and a feather I brought back from the beaches of Ireland, rest in an abalone shell.

In the planning stages of my trip, I learned that the Beara Peninsula (specifically the Healy Pass) was a much more desirable sight than the commercialized Dingle, but at around five o’clock in the afternoon I reached the end of the Ring of Kerry, and on a whim, turned left onto the Dingle Peninsula.

As I drove west, the sky grew progressively darker. A steady rain greeted me in Dingle Town, but I pressed on for a few more miles before realizing my mistake. Having already experienced the difficulty of navigating the narrow streets of Ireland in the dark, I knew that to attempt it with rain too would be madness.

The downpour let up a bit as I headed east, away from the eye of the storm. Relieved, I continued to follow my GPS, pleading with Siri to avoid any gaps. Before I knew what was happening, I had entered the first hairpin turn of the Ballaghbeama Gap. Frantically, I shouted at my phone, “I said no gaps!” But the little wisps of fog trailing into my windshield were the only reply I would get.

Photo courtesy of beckeb00 as posted on Trip Advisor.
Used by permission.

The higher I climbed, the thicker the fog became. The problem of reversing direction seemed insurmountable. Not only was the road narrow and one-lane with nothing but air on either side of each switchback, but the fog made it impossible to see more than a few feet in front of my bumper. As if mimicking life itself, moving forward was my only choice.

The darkness grew. I considered contacting my hosts while cursing my lack of a flare. A wry smile crept across my face as I recalled the story they had told me not twenty-four hours earlier about their own search and rescue mission to save a Belgian guest who had lost her way hiking the hills of a similar gap. When it finally it dawned on me that I must be the only one who would dare to brave a gap in weather like that, I relaxed my grip on the steering wheel, at least sure that I would not find myself in a head-on collision.

I have no recollection of how long my slow crawl through the fog-enshrouded Ballaghbeama lasted, but it would be several hours later and a long shot of whiskey before I could calm down enough to sleep. The stress of the ordeal dogged the rest of my trip, and for the first time since boarding the plane to Ireland, I longed for home.

When I finally got around to putting together a photo book and writing down my adventures, it occurred to me the extreme bravery it had taken to make the trip at all. A 50-something woman, driving alone for 11 days through a strange country, willing to blindly follow a map, though it take her through the inky blackness of the Ballaghbeama Gap.

If there is one takeaway from my trip that really meant something to me, it was the realization that I can overcome any challenge thrown my way! Whiskey notwithstanding, I have what it takes to persevere. And at that moment in time, owning a belief in myself meant more to me than a thousand trips to Ireland. I can honestly say today that there was no more defining moment out of that week and a half than the harrowing hours I spent driving through what felt like the valley of the shadow of death. And I couldn’t be more thankful for the experience.

What life experiences have defined you? Or what experiences have shown you an aspect of yourself you had not before appreciated? Share them in the comments, if you like.

Many thanks for reading.

Namaste,

~C

The Wild Atlantic Way, Part I

Early in the morning on day five I left my AirBnB to drive north through the Gap of Dunloe. “You’ll see the view if you go that way,” my host had advised. She was right. Winding roads led up and down through the hills in what seemed a haphazard fashion. The way the road rose to a peak in the center had me guessing that a ‘gap’ in Ireland is equivalent to a ‘pass’ in America. The beauty found in every direction was well worth the hairpin turns I endured, and the occasional hiker or horse-drawn carriage made the drive even more interesting.

I arrived at Killarney National Park sometime around ten o’clock then spent the next five or so hours walking down long wooded pathways. On either side of me, a forest of trees surrounded by rolling knolls covered in alternating carpets of springy moss and bright green ferns spread out as far as my eye could see.

As I crossed a sturdy stone bridge, I came upon a small café. The usual hot tea and coffee were served along with baked goods, ice cream, and a few sandwich choices. It had not begun to rain in earnest yet, and the outdoor seating was full, so I opted to eat my granola bar while strolling along the banks of a nearby stream. Early on, the paths through the park were pretty well deserted, but as I neared Torc Falls, I found myself hard-pressed to get a shot of the landscape without a tourist blocking the way. The Falls themselves were less than spectacular, but I was glad I had gone the extra mile to see them.

(Clicking on individual photos will enlarge them.)

Late in the day, I wandered into an adjacent nature preserve. There I came upon a large buck, grazing. I was not game to get too close and had to settle for this blurry shot. Later I learned that these animals are practically tame.

I passed by Muckross house on my way out but was too weary to spend much time in the spectacular gardens surrounding it. I was sorry I had missed my chance to walk amongst the colorful roses, in particular, but the garden was very crowded, and I no longer had the energy to photograph anything of consequence.

Moll’s Gap took me back to Kenmare where I shared a high-top table with a pair of newlyweds from Philadelphia. Funnily enough, the young American groom’s name was Hamish. Over drinks and potato & leek soup, we listened to a lone Irish singer in the crowded Wander Inn. Turns out that one family owns all of the eating establishments in Kenmare (or so I was told). I never found tastier food anywhere.

Day six dawned sunny and cool, perfect weather for my trip around the Ring of Kerry. Richie, my AirBnB host, urged me not to backtrack into town, but I was determined to see the Kenmare Stone Circle. Unable to fully explain my desire to visit the ancient site (even to myself), I simply nodded, leaving him none-the-wiser to my silent rebellion against the sound advice.

As I had hoped, the circle and its surrounds were deserted and a palpable hush hung over the sacred grounds. I avoided crossing into the middle of the ring and instead stepped slowly, even softly, around the perimeter. I felt an odd affinity for the place, as if I had been there before. Could it be possible that an earlier version of me lay buried beneath one of the stones? A chill went up my spine as I stood there in the stillness. My first week in Ireland had taught me that anything was possible.

Two wishing trees stood at one end of the circle, their limbs filled with pieces of paper tied on with colorful string. Many of the prayers, wishes, and even confessions were illegible due to inclement weather and time. I took a moment to breathe in the stillness before finally heading back to my car. The stop made for a peaceful beginning to what would become the most harrowing day of my journey.

Next up, Part II, coming soon:

The Ring of Kerry, Dingle, and Ballaghbeama Gap