Friday, August 26, 2011

Ring of Kerry

We were traveling with a Rick Steves' guidebook, as we often do. His guidebooks have great walking and site tours in them, which are generally spot on. Everything we'd read from all sorts of sources talked about the challenges of driving the Ring of Kerry with all the tour buses. I can't emphasize enough how narrow a lot of the roads are (in fact, I think I'll do a separate blog post on it), and with the Ring of Kerry being a top item on every tour coach itinerary, and with just enough driving under our belt to be terrified (me only, Nathan actually seemed pretty calm), I wanted to follow Rick's advice and leave Kenmare by 8:30am. The idea is to drive the ring in the opposite direction as all the tour buses (which drive it counter-clockwise), get to the halfway point by 10:30am and turn off the main road onto a smaller ring road going to the tip of the peninsula. By spending a few hours in this area, on roads too small for the large buses, all those buses pass by the midpoint and get to the section you've already driven, leaving the upper part of the ring free and clear. You may wonder why all the tour buses drive in the same direction? Because the roads are too narrow for two buses to pass one another, so they all have to drive in the same direction, one behind the other, just like Mary's little lambs. I am here to tell you that yet again, "Ricky," as we like to call him, was dead right. We left our B&B late by 20 minutes (remember, we stayed at the pub until 1am listening to totally awesome music) and made a couple of extra stops. Sure enough, we ran into tour buses coming from the opposite direction when we were still 30 minutes from our turn off. Darn that Ricky. Why is he always right? We had a harrowing half hour, and I have a vague recollection of the final five minutes spent in out loud prayer. But I've blocked out as much as possible of that part of our trip.

The Ring of Kerry is wild and sharp, and the day we drove it, the weather mirrored the landscape. Clouds rolled in and out, water frothed at the base of jagged cliffs, hills really are the color of emeralds, and we clambered around large, ring forts built approximately 2000 years ago (actual time of construction estimates have an 800 year swing). The ring forts are impressive, and in a marked break from our general appreciation of Ricky, we much preferred Staigue Ring Fort, the closest one to Kenmare. First of all, we were the first visitors of the day and had the entire place to ourselves. Second, it was the least reconstructed of the three we visited, and I enjoy seeing how these places weather time and nature. Third, it was early enough in the day that we weren't jaded yet on impressive views. I'm adding the photos of the Ring Forts as a separate post rather than in this one because I wanted to share several pics.

Off the tip of the Ring of Kerry, or the edge of the world, as it was known up until just a few centuries ago,  is the steep, jagged island of Skellig Michael. Here, sometime in the 600s (AD), and for the next 500 or so years, a very small community of monks lived in relative isolation in order to grow closer to God. They ate sea birds and fish, lived in stone beehive huts they built (look like teepees, only built of stacked stone), chiseled steps into the steep, cliff face reaching 600 feet from sea to tip (where their huts were), and managed to fend off Viking invaders for a couple of centuries. While there was much about Ireland that captured my attention and gave me a desire to return, none more so than the chance to visit Skellig Michael one day. The trip depends heavily on the weather and requires at least one overnight in a tiny town with little to offer, so we skipped it this time, but, as has become my constant refrain, we'll have to return to visit.

St. Finan's Bay, with Skellig Michael in the distance
Ring of Kerry views - easy to see why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle
You may have to enlarge photo to see what's so cool about it - castle ruins in the backyard and Coke machine in the front.
Right in center of photo, you can make out a Ring Fort (don't know the name of it)
On the advice of our B&B proprietor, we took the turn off for the beautiful, Derrynane Beach...came across this fantastic house.

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