Roadtrippin’ around Ireland – cool coastline, mad roads and a heatwave

I was in love with Ireland from the first day and I am sure that I will return. Ireland had the best weather on record while I was there, hitting over 30 degrees and not a cloud in the sky for days on end. I was so lucky. It will not always be this way and I am still keen to see Ireland as it usually is one day.

The low down: 1 hire car, 8 days, 1300 kilometres, my first pint of Guinness..

Day One – Wednesday 27 June

My Ryanair flight was late due to some fault with the plane (the poor woman waiting next to me was on the gin at 7am to calm herself down). By the time I reached the hire car carpark using the simple shuttle it was already about 11am but hey, I hadn’t a plan so I wasn’t in a rush!

I drove to a vaguely reasonably priced carpark (found using http://www.parkopedia.ie) and parked the car so that I could grab some lunch.

The weather was absolutely stunning so I wandered along the River Liffey for a bit and found a pub called The Brazen Head where I ordered Bangers and Mash with traditional Irish sausages, mashed potatoes, mashed carrot, broccoli and gravy – it was delicious!! I tried Smithwicks Red Ale and overheard the bartender telling some Canadians that it was too hot for Guinness, which suited me perfectly as I wanted to drink more of the Smithwicks Red.

After lunch I walked along the river and went into some beautiful areas. I saw Christ Church Cathedral (didn’t go in as it had a separate €6 entry fee) and then walked down to Dublinia, the Viking and Medieval museum of Dublin – definitely worth a visit! The staff were lovely, everyone I have met is super friendly. I enjoyed looking at all the exhibits and was thinking about Kirsty and Sian, my housemates that would both have absolutely loved this place.

I did some more walking around the town and spent far too much money on souvenirs and gifts but it was totally worth it.

Then I walked to my hostel through a cool part of town that even had wing graffiti just like in Valparaiso towards the start of my trip, over six months ago.

I stayed in the Generator Hostel, located in a great part of town and easily a place where you can party or chill out.

In the evening I wandered along the river again and back through a nice area of town, having a pint or two while watching the football in the legendary Temple Bar. I started on the Smithwicks Red Ale and I loved it so much that I didn’t want to try anything else.

I then had a late dinner in an Indonesian restaurant called The Chameleon and managed to order a total feast for one for $35. It was spot on, incredibly good food and located right in the Temple Bar area for a fairly reasonable price.

I walked back along the river and into some other pretty areas, capturing the Liffey as still as it could ever be after such a hot day in the city. The temperature reached record levels in Ireland since 1974!

My stay in the Generator was good but my room was roasting!

Day Two – Thursday 28 June

I had breakfast at a hip brunch/cafe place in Smithfield where fitness freaks go for their protein fixes then I hit the road and stopped off at Kilkenny on the recommendation/insistence of the receptionist.

What a good shout! Kilkenny was lovely and there is loads to see along a medieval mile. I nipped in for a pint at the Smithwicks brewery then headed on along the mile to St Canice’s Cathedral and Round Tower up on the hill where I paid €6.50 for a visit. I opted to look around the cathedral first to get out of the heat for a moment and it was beautiful. Then I took to the 96 steps up to the top of the tower. It was a good view and worth a look but not exactly photogenic.

I then went to visit Kytelers Inn, which was home to the first witch in Ireland. She was to be burnt at the stake but she vanished. So the mob burnt her maid instead…

I had lunch at an awesome cafe called Cakeface. A couscous salad with a side of naughty apple cake and a coffee. Fabulous. Worth a diversion to get there.

I could have stayed in Kilkenny much longer but I wanted/needed to hit the road to get my roadtrip underway. I was headed next for Waterford, the oldest city in Ireland.

So Irish roads are quite something! I’ve never experienced bends quite like them and it’s made all the more fun/exciting/terrifying by the fact that the hairpin bends are almost never signposted. Yet they decided to put signs up for some of the most benign curves on the planet!

Couple this with some of the most stunning scenery I have ever seen and it makes driving a challenge!

That was my drive to Waterford and every other drive after it as I worked my way around the country.

Waterford was cool, the medieval area was great and the museums are a major feature down by the waterfront in an area called the Viking Triangle. I didn’t get to go to many of the tourist sites as all the attractions in Ireland close quite early and the days are so lopsided with it getting dark after 10pm! I went into the medieval museum and it certainly wasn’t as impressive as Dublinia in Dublin … But… I had missed a short video on the first floor and when I went back to watch that, suddenly one of the rooms became far more interesting. This museum is home to the only complete set of cloth-of-gold ceremonial robes from the medieval period in northern Europe. The video brings the story to life and you learn about how they kept being stashed away from various invaders or crushers of faith and how the priests kept bringing them back out until they were finally buried and lost for a couple of hundred years. So they are about 500 years old and are rather impressive!

I decided to work my way along the coast to chance a wild camping spot overlooking the sea. I found a picturesque village called Ardmore and drove up above the village to a tall tower on the hill with great views over the water, set in a graveyard. It was so photogenic.

It was getting late and I still didn’t have any ideal places to camp so I headed to the local pub, grabbed a drink and asked the landlord if he knew of any areas where I could camp out. He offered me to stay in one of his fields and gave me directions. I sat watching the football and chatting to a lovely Irish couple from Cork for a while at the bar and then headed off to pitch my tent.

Day Three – Friday 29 June

Shamus had invited me to come down to the farmhouse for breakfast so I made my way in at 8 and met Mary-Jo, his wife, and their children, Eoin and Nessa, who were all lovely. I hit the road pretty sharpish as I wanted to get to Cork in the morning and then keep heading North.

I spotted that Blackrock Castle was on the way to Cork so I stopped off. It was a great decision! Blackrock Castle is a Science exhibition and space observatory. Entry cost €6.50 and there is an excellent set of interactive exhibits as you walk in on the ground floor. Each screen has four coloured pillars and you select which topic is played by touching a pillar. Then after each video options are presented for further information. There were five or six screens covering topics such as Humans and Evolution, The Solar System, the Universe and Space Travel. The videos range from talking about the industrial revolution through to the big bang and dark energy. Fascinating. Then there are set times for the Planetarium showing, which is excellent and relevant. It shows you tonight’s sky from the tower and the presenter talks you through the sky tonight and he also skipped forward a couple of nights to show us what new features we could see in the next few days. We would see Mars after 11pm, Saturn and Venus from about 10:30pm, when it got dark enough.

After the Planetarium show, we were taken to see the castle tower. This place looks, from the outside, like a fairytale castle and it’s interesting to think that it was only ever really a fort, then a banqueting hall and then a place for scientists, artists and others to work until it became derelict. This place is well worth a trip and I recommend showing up early so you see the place while it is quiet. The first planetarium showing is at 11 but the lovely outdoor cafe was busy before 10:30am.

Cork was lovely too. Very pretty. I looked around another beautiful churche and a fort with nice views of the city.

After Cork I followed the coast road via Skibbereen and Ballydehob. In Ballydehob I stopped to get some fish and chips from a popular van and walked around to look at the nice 12-arch bridge over the estuary and sat and enjoyed my dinner. The roads were lovely but very tiring to drive as the hire car just doesn’t handle like my lovely car.

I had quite a long drive to reach Kenmare, my destination for the night, but the scenery was spectacular. I drove through Bantry and around the rugged bay overlooking Whiddy Island then on northward through the mountains and over the pass and then down towards another bay at Kenmare. Wow. The views were gorgeous and the weather was perfect. I’m glad I arrived when the sun was getting a bit lower.

I was meeting Gerry and Jane, brother and sister-in-law to my mum’s neighbour Freda – they had invited me to stay! I headed to a pub in town called the Tom Crean to wait for them there. I was excited to find out that this pub is still run by the family of Tom Crean, a legendary Antarctic explorer, whose footsteps I had followed earlier this year when my Antarctic trip took me along a similar path to that of The Endurance.

In fact, as I sat at the bar to enjoy a pint of Expedition Ale I got talking to the barman who happened to be Cian, Tom’s great grandson who had gone on an expedition in 2016 to South Georgia, 100 years on from his ancestor’s original voyage. I also met Eileen, his mother, Tom’s granddaughter. It was sad that the family no longer owned the South Pole Inn at Annascaul, Tom’s hometown, but nonetheless I plan to go there tomorrow!

I got to meet Jane and Gerry’s lovely dogs and chickens, had a tour of their beautiful house and garden and then we stayed up talking, drinking wine and eating delicious cheese. After another fabulous day I got to sleep in a lovely fancy antique bed, dreaming about exploring Antarctica.

Day Four – Saturday 30 June

Today, after a delicious homemade breakfast of poached eggs (from the beautiful hens Gladys and Sable) and avocado on toast, I set out with Jane on a beautiful hike from the Killarney National Park over the Windy Pass and then down into Kenmare.

It was a great walk in the glorious sunshine. I quizzed Jane on history and folklore too which was fun. We went back to the house for a delicious salad lunch and then, following Jane and Gerry’s recommendation, to drive the Ring of Beara.

The Ring of Beara is a route that takes you right around the Beara Peninsula and is perhaps more beautiful and certainly less visited than the Ring of Kerry, with rugged countryside.

The radio has been quite funny so far; the presenters are constantly talking about the amazing weather (which is too hot) and Ireland is already going to have a hosepipe ban because it hasn’t rained in a few weeks! Best weather on record since 1974 apparently.

I stopped to walk and look at the view a few times around the loop and I definitely stopped for at least one ice cream and coffee.

I made it back to Kenmare in time to say goodnight to the chickens and play around with the dogs some more before we had ribs and salad for dinner sat out on the patio in the sun.

Day Five – Sunday 1 July

Today I headed for the beach! Inch beach is 45 minutes drive from Kenmare and I stopped for a coffee on the way at the STUNNING Moll’s Gap where you can see down into both sides of the valley. I could not have been luckier with the weather; it was still super windy but it was lovely and sunny too.

When I reached Inch, I was able to drive my car right onto the beach. It was windy there as well so I didn’t stay out too long but long enough to watch some starfish waddle/walk down towards the water from their stranded locations.

After Inch, I continued down the coast on a lovely windy road along the cliffs with some spectacular viewpoints.

I reached Annascaul in time for lunch at the South Pole Inn. It felt like a momentous occasion to be honest. I had been hearing and reading all about Tom’s expeditions back in January down in Antarctica and Annascaul was his hometown and this Inn was the place where Tom returned to live out his days.

The walls are lined with photographs and fascinating memorabilia. What’s more, the food was excellent. Not cheap, but the lamb shank I chose was good value at around €18. It went very well with a glass of the Expedition Ale.

I visited the Tom Crean memorial garden opposite the pub and then I jumped back in the car to visit a seaside town called Dingle, home to a dolphin called Fungy.

Fungy was nowhere to be seen when I went on a stroll around the harbour, probably because he was out showing off to tourist boats in the bay. Undeterred I enjoyed the afternoon in Dingle including a trip to Murphy’s ice-cream parlour, where I tried two bizarre flavours – Irish Bread and Irish Sea Salt! The lads working there let me try them first though and they were excellent. They also very helpfully gave me tips for this evening’s wild camping location.

As I was leaving Dingle, on my way around the peninsula to enjoy the evening, I saw two girls hitchhiking to Slea Head, which is where I was going, so I picked them up. Charlotte and Eva are friends from Germany and Eva is working in Northern Ireland for a year so they are doing a little bit of travelling together for a week off.

 

There was a handy carpark at a gorgeous viewing point of Dunmore Head and the Blasket Islands so I stopped there and we went for a walk as far West on this peninsula as we could go.

The weather was calm, though down at the edge of the peninsula there were some epic waves smashing into some islets and the wind whipped up the sea into a froth that would get blown into the air and looked like washing up bubbles. It kept gusting them into the air and it was a funny feat trying to duck and dive to avoid being coated in foam. As I walked back to the car I spotted a seal swimming in the water below the cliff! No puffins though as it’s the wrong time of year. Note to self: come back and see the puffins!

The road does a loop around the peninsula and then heads back down to Dingle so I drove us around the headland and then took the opportunity to visit an historic site called the Gallarus Oratory. It was discovered in 1756 and thought to be an early stone church. Whatever it was built for, it is small but rather spectacular in its construction and it has a gorgeous view over the harbour. It cost €4 to go and visit the building. If you are short on time or funds, or if the weather isn’t great, then I probably wouldn’t recommend a visit as it’s very brief and the site is exposed on the hillside.

After this visit I dropped the girls back in Dingle and I had a walk around the harbour looking for Fungy (again no luck) and then I bought some nice salad from the deli counter at SuperValu (one of the two most prevalent supermarket chains in Ireland) and headed back along the coast road (on the recommendation of locals) to go camp on Inch beach.

So the weather was gorgeous, as I already said, but it was also MEGA WINDY! Ever the optimist I trekked out into the dunes to pitch my lovely low profile tent in the shelter of a dune. Or so I thought…

What ended up happening was that I trekked around for ages, stumbling in the sand as dune grass over huge mounds finding each spot to be as windy as the last and attempting to pitch my tent twice, all the while getting sand blown in to my eyes and gradually filling my backpack and tent with fine sand. Once I had managed to peg out the end of the tent as a test to see if it would hold against the wind (I had resigned to a noisy night of howling wind by this point). I suppose luckily enough the tent pegs pulled out so I was able to simply repack my tent and trudge back to the car. The wind was so strong that the car felt like it would blow away! So when a spot opened up between two camper vans I immediately put my little car in the shelter of them and curled up in the back seat for a pretty decent night’s sleep.

Day Six – Monday 2 July

I just had a wonderful drive day.

First I drove back to Dingle (only 18km) so that I could drive the Connor Pass north on my towards Tralee.

This area was absolutely stunning and on my way down from the pass I could see a gorgeous white sandy beach so I followed signs to it and found that I could drive onto it. I parked up and had the place almost to myself. I sat and read my book in the sunshine for ages!

I stopped for lunch in Tralee only because I was hankering after some Italian food and I drove past three Italian restaurants within 70 metres of each other as I went through the town and I thought it was a sign… Turns out it was a trick and a mistake! They were all closed so I ended up having to trek into the centre (following bad directions) but I found a pub that was playing the football and I bought a toastie for lunch.

To continue on to my next destination of Lahinch from Tralee I had two options: head East to Limerick or take a more direct route to Tarbert and take the ferry across to the next peninsula. The latter sounded more fun and was slightly quicker so I did that. It was simple enough and while I was briefly queuing to board the ferry, a local came over and said I could save money by buying the ticket online. It was really straightforward and I paid €17.10 rather than €19. Winning.

Lahinch seemed nice. It’s a surfing town, though when I arrived the waves were small. I grabbed a cider and sat on a pub terrace overlooking the water. I think it would be a nice place to stay and there were a range of hostels and hotels but I wanted to make it further up the coast tonight so I could camp. My phone was on charge inside the pub so I didn’t get any photos but it was nice.

I set my phone to navigate to the southern end of the famous Cliffs of Moher and parked in a private carpark for €2 out near the end of the cliffs. I think it probably wasn’t the best viewpoint and the carpark was a little walk from the main path. I would definitely recommend making use of the shuttle bus that runs along the route from all the local towns and villages because then you can walk a section of the path without having to go out and back. I was at the Cliffs until about 2030 and I felt like I needed to carry on to Doolin before it got much later as I still hadn’t arranged a place to stay for the night.

I arrived at Doolin Riverside Camping at about 9pm and within 10 minutes I had paid €16 for the night and pitched my tent. This place is expensive to be honest, and you have to pay €1 extra for a 5-minute shower and €8 for laundry. I’ll look at one of the other camping places I passed in the morning as I’ve already decided that I want to stay another night.

I had to get a wriggle on to get some dinner and Fitzpatrick’s Pub was recommended as a good place for food and live music. I can confirm it as that! I ordered mussels and decided on a pint of the local red ale, Dooliner. It came to less than €20 and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The music was great too with a nice atmosphere and a mixture of locals and tourists. I’ve still not tried Guinness though.

It’s light until after 11pm here, we are so far West from GMT that the sun sets about 40 minutes later than London!

Day Seven – Tuesday 3 July

Today has been another great day. I packed up my tent and went down the road to check out another campsite that I saw on the way in. It was much cheaper for a tent (€9 including showers, laundry and WiFi) so I pitched up there and hit the road to Galway at 10.

The drive was great, with lovely views. At one point the road got a bit twisty and then I passed a sign that said Corkscrew Hill. I thought it was a bit odd to put the sign after the twisty bit and THEN I hit all the steep, first-gear hairpin bends! The views were amazing and I stopped off at the viewpoint on the way back up in the afternoon.

I had an appointment at the TMB travel clinic at 1pm so I enjoyed a walk around the city and the harbour first on another perfect day.

I had lunch at Martine’s Restaurant in the Latin Quarter and it was one of the best salads I have ever had!! A goats cheese salad with pomegranate, beetroot and hazelnut for €8.95. Perfection.

On the way back to Doolin I decided to stop off at Alliwee cave which I passed on the way this morning.

Alliwee caves was a hilarious experience that genuinely had me giggling to myself for the rest of the afternoon. It cost €12 (making it the most expensive tourist visit I did) and it has got to be the most boring cave I have ever been in. The tour lasts 35 minutes (which you know when you go in) and only the first 500m is natural, the rest is a man-made tunnel to make the trip a circuit. And to top it off, there’s almost nothing of interest there, if you have ever been into a cave before. It’s up to 120m underground, 10,000 years old, has one partial bear skeleton (pile of bones) and a little shell-scrape where a bear once hibernated. There are sFromtiny pencil stalactites, a few larger stalagmites and a column. The guide was nice but he was genuinely reciting a script. The best bit was when the guide turned all of the lights off, making it absolutely pitch black, something I have only ever experienced once before in the dark restaurant in London (Dans le Noir). The views from the top of the hill (the carpark) are gorgeous on a day with weather like I had. All in all, it’s probably the only thing that I definitely wouldn’t recommend you do. I’ve done it for you. Google the photos because I didn’t take any.

Even the carpark made me laugh – it’s optimistically enormous, got to be more than 200 spaces in 7 sections.

I decided to swing by Doolin Cave on the way back to my tent and thankfully it was closing because I was not going to pay €15 to get in!!

Back at the campsite I did a little reading in the sunshine before walking down to one of the local pubs to watch the football, England vs Colombia. I picked Gus O’Connor’s Pub and was very glad I did! The atmosphere was great despite there being only one TV. I had plenty and Smithwicks Red and I tried my first Guinness and liked it! Plus I had bangers and mash with veg for dinner and it was excellent again and one of the cheaper things on the menu. The barman, Sean, was lovely and kept asking me for an update on the footy and recommending me to try different local drinks. It was one hell of a tense match and I was glad it was over so I could walk home to my tent in the dusk.

Sean has offered to show me a less touristy part of the Cliffs and tomorrow on his day off.

Wednesday 4 July

I had a leisurely morning after packing up my tent so I just read in the sunshine while I waited for Sean to collect me for our trip to the Cliffs of Moher.

At 11 we left Doolin and headed through the country lanes and parked up near the cliffs that were already lined with tourists. The fog at the cliffs was unbelievable and quite a shame as we couldn’t see anything at all out to sea. We didn’t join the tourists on the cliff though, we headed right past some fields full of cows to a place where the cliff falls away one side and there is a steep slope down to the left. We took a thin trail known as the goat trail down the hill to the foot of the cliffs and as soon as we started descending we dropped beneath the fog.

We stayed for a couple of hours hoping that the whole view would clear so I could see the islands off the coast but I wanted to hit the road and get back to see more of Dublin before it got too late, so I hit the road at about 3pm.  stayed

The drive took more than 3 hours and most of it was on fairly boring motorway but it was fine. I stayed at the Generator Hostel again as I liked the location. I walked back into the city to have a drink and find somewhere for dinner. The Indonesian restaurant was calling to me again but I spotted a dude with a sign pointing to an all-you-can-eat Mongolian BBQ for €17 so I went straight there to book a table!

I had a nice last evening in Dublin rounded off with a feast at the Mongolian BBQ. I managed to add way too much Thai curry paste to one of the dishes and ended up with the hottest dish I have ever eaten but it was still delicious.

Day Eight – Thursday 5 July

And that was that. My flight wasn’t early so I wandered over to get some breakfast from a nearby health food store and took it back to the hostel then I drove to a park and went for a walk until it was time to head to the airport.

I ended today in Bristol, packing for my next trip to Estonia on Sunday…

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