In Which a Flexible Itinerary Saves the Day

The apartment we were renting overlooked the stunning scenery of Derrynane Harbor with a view out to Deenish and Scariff Islands and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. On this March morning that straight shot out to the Atlantic also meant buffeting winds and driving rain that had us trapped at the kitchen table discussing our plans for the day. Weather is very changeable in Ireland, and the rugged geography in County Kerry also contributes to different weather in areas that are not too far distant. We decided that we would drive inland and see if the weather was better for outdoor explorations once we got to the Killarney National Park, and if not maybe we would explore Killarney town.

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We made a mad dash for the car and set off on our travels. Over the Coomkista Pass to Waterville the road was exposed and the rain continued to lash at the car, but soon we turned inland following the road up to the Ballaghisheen Pass. This was a new road for us, and since today was a day of exploration it seemed like a good day to try a new route. This road follows the Inny River up a fertile valley between encroaching mountain ridges. The road wound between fields filled with sheep and we remarked on the plight of these very wet animals. Soon the Inny River was showing its wild side as it overflowed the banks and spread out over the surrounding fields. The sheep in these fields now faced more than just drenching rain as the river waters rose around them, and we passed by wondering how these sheep would fare if the rain did not let up.

The road was beautiful, passing through a wooded glen and then crossing the river via an arched stone bridge. Soon after the bridge a small stream had leaped its bed and was instead surging down the middle of the road and bubbling off to the other side some thirty feet downstream. We pulled over and contemplated our next actions. While we wondered about the safety of crossing this gushing water, a farm truck approached from the opposite direction, paused, and then plowed through. Clearly, the right vehicle could make it through without trouble, but was our rental vehicle the right vehicle? We decided that on a sparsely traveled road we didn’t know, heading up into the mountains, perhaps was not the time to see how much water the little car could drive through. Our plans aborted, we turned around, and decided instead to explore a side ride leading off past Knockroe Bog and on to Cahersiveen. We’d stop in for a meal at Fertha’s Bar, and then decide whether to take another route to Killarney or strike out in a different direction.

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Many of my favorite discoveries have not been planned excursions but just slow wanderings that allow us to take in whatever we pass by. Today was one such day; as we made our way down towards town, we passed the remains of a church and a small burial ground. We pulled over and despite the rain we got out to explore. This being the land of the O’Connells, we found many headstones bearing our name, as well as rows and rows of small stone markers with no engraving at all. It was a beautiful place and exploring the burial ground and then the medieval church ruins was all the more atmospheric for the rain that soaked us.

Now thoroughly wet through, we were grateful for the warmth of the snug at Fertha’s Bar, and soon were happily sipping Irish coffees and hot cocoas. We watched the world go by our window as we packed away a hearty meal, and as we were finishing our food, the skies cleared! Off we went to take advantage to the break in weather, first driving over to Valentia and stopping at the car park for the path to Bray Head. The wind was brisk, and as we considered whether to walk up to the tower the weather grew more severe, with gusts of wind and rain that kept us from traipsing off across the pastures.

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Our next stop was at the Kerry Cliffs, where luck was with us as the rain held off. We walked the short walk up to peer over the fence at the steep, stunning cliffs and the sea birds wheeling along the air currents. For the rest of the day we dodged the rain as we traveled along the Skellig Ring, a small road that leads over the mountain from Portmagee to St. Finian’s Bay then along to Ballinskelligs. We enjoyed the beautiful scenery, visited with locals out walking their dogs, stopped to view the Coom Wedge Tomb which is situated in a boggy field looking out to Ballinskelligs Bay. Our last stop of the day was at Ballinskelligs Beach, where we walked out to the ruins of the McCarthy Castle and up to the abbey beyond.

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Our wanderings took us nowhere near where we had planned that day, but the day was filled with surprises and delightful discoveries. I find that our best times in Ireland come when we have done the research to know about many places we might like to visit, but carry the flexibility to switch plans as needed to accommodate the weather, the interests of the group, and the surprises we pass along the way.