The trip was now about to take a different turn, literally. From Killarney I would be taking the R536 northwest across an undulating pastoral landscape until I met the N70 again and, in less than two miles at Castlemaine, would turn west along the Dingle Peninsular until its end. Today I would see the end of fields full of cows, although I could now expect to see sheep on the slopes.
The peninsular consists of a string of mountains along its spine with three crossings to the road following the north coast. The Visitors’ Guide to the Dingle Peninsular says that there is no other landscape in Western Europe with the density and variety of archaeological monuments as the peninsula which has supported tribes and populations for almost 6,000 years. Moreover, because of its remote location and the lack of specialised agriculture, there is a remarkable preservation of over 2,000 monuments.
Heading out of town I saw the magnificent Cathedral on one side and on the other was the National Park and a stream running parallel with the road. Saw a notice by the stream about otters; the stream was crystal clear. The slightly peculiar goalposts in a sports field were for Gaelic football and schools I passed often had a set.
Turned off the main road to follow the country road to the N70 and, after a few miles, saw a sign down a road to the Kerry Woollen Mills: kerrywoollenmills.ie These mills were much larger than those I had visited in Wales as in the weaving shed two sets of cloth were being woven one on a very long loom. There was a large shop which had an extensive display ranging from very expensive Kerry Merino Wool blankets at over £100 to some attractive small presents for the less well-heeled tourists.
Soon I was at Castlemaine, by the side of the road, and approaching the turn there was a very large notice warning coaches, caravans and other large vehicles that they must follow the road around the peninsular in a clockwise direction only as there was not room to pass similar vehicles coming the other way on the narrow road. This sounded interesting so headed down the road with increasing anticipation. With the Slieve Mish Mountains mostly covered with threatening clouds on my right, and a wide view over the water on my left, the nature of the ride had suddenly changed.
I had noticed in the travel agents in Killarney that a lot of trips to Dingle and the peninsular were advertised, and, indeed, increasing numbers of coaches started coming up behind me. At first they were mainly from Killarney but, as the day advanced, they were coming from places further away. They were an irritation but not as much an irritation as I was to them when I struggled slowly up a hill and they could not find a clear stretch to overtake me.
As the road climbed, it narrowed but occasionally a lay-by had been created where there was a particularly scenic view so that vehicles, including coaches, could stop and the passengers could get out to take photos. “We have five minutes,”one observed grumpily as they were being hustled back into the coach and, though it seemed to me it had been a generous five minutes, I could understand the reluctance to return to the coach as the views over Dingle Bay to the mountains beyond were now becoming breathtaking.
As I was about to move away from a lay-by, a car drew up and I was hailed by a familiar
Canadian voice: it was the Canadians from Murphy’s Bar that were driving the Wild Atlantic Way. This route starts from Cork and follows the west coast. I had been told a number of times how spectacular it was when planning my trip, including by Ita’s brother who had been in a group following much of it. The Canadians had been unlucky the previous day as they had been going around the Iveragh Peninsula, perhaps the most spectacular section of the Way and route of the Ring of Kerry, but the rain and mist meant they had seen little of it. I took their photographs on their cameras and we took our cheery leave not expecting to see each other again but when I arrived at the next viewpoint they were just leaving so we said a more cautious goodbye this time!
Now all the hedgerow flowers I had been seeing crossing Ireland had gone and were replaced on the roadside banks by heathland. The coast had been rocky for some miles but eventually I reached a lane leading down to the bay at Inch. It has a renowned sandy beach along a headland and a centre for surfing and there were some surfers with old VW vans just packing up and, as it was now starting to rain and it seemed a long time since breakfast, I went inside the Tourist Centre for a ham and cheese panini. There was a large cafe with an even larger bar and games room. It was designed to have enough room for coach parties. There had been no places to stop except at the view points since Castlemaine so its toilets must have also been very welcome. When I left I took a photograph of the, now wet and deserted, beach with the mountains of the Iveragh Peninsular in the distance.
From here it was a wet and hilly ride to Anascaul where I was staying at the Teac Seain B & B. It had been a hard few miles. On my way into the village I had passed the South Pole Inn with an intriguing notice outside. Tom Crean, the Antarctic Explorer who had been with Shackleton on his Discovery Expedition in 1901 and the Endurance Expedition which set off in 1914, had bought the Inn on his retirement. I went there, as recommended, for a meal, walking down a cold, dark, windy street into the warm packed Inn buzzing with conversation and laughter where I managed to find a corner to have a hearty meal over which I took my time before returning to the B & B to go straight to bed.
All the walls of the Inn had been covered with old photographs, notices and memorabilia which, as the nearby tables were occupied, were impossible to look at so I was determined to return next day to discover more.