A blowy, blustery West Kerry day, a dozen miles of the Dingle Way to cover – and who better to tackle them with than John Ahern of South West Walks Ireland? I couldn’t have wished for a more vigorous or conversational companion on a day when the north wind seemed determined to drive blacker and blacker clouds of wetter and wetter content in over the Dingle Peninsula’s mountains and out again across Dingle Bay.
Mind you, the drenchings we got would have been laughed to scorn – if he had even registered them – by the man whose name was lettered along the front of the South Pole Inn in Anascaul. Thomas Crean was a hard, hard man. As a teenager in the 1890s he ran away from Anascaul to join the Navy. He accompanied Captain Scott on two of his famous Antarctic expeditions, including the doomed journey of 1910-12. He voyaged 800 miles with Ernest Shackleton in an open boat through the Southern Ocean in a bid to fetch help for colleagues trapped by pack ice. Then he came home to Anascaul and ran the pub, spinning tales across the counter until his death in 1938, having reached the age of 61 against all the odds.
Dark blocks of rain dragging fragments of rainbow in their skirts melted into brief windows of intense sunshine, making the gorse hedges glow sulphurously and the bushes of may shine blindingly white. Down on the southern shore we passed the grim tower of Minard Castle – a Fitzgerald stronghold blown to ruins in the 1650s by Oliver Cromwell’s men, said John. Gannets were planing over Dingle Bay on black-tipped wings, toppling over to plunge into the rain-pocked sea after fish. On the far shore of the bay rose the mountain ridges of the Iveragh peninsula, far higher and more sharply cut than Dingle’s smoothly undulating backbone.
Beyond the castle, hidden in a leafy dingle, we found a beautiful horseshoe of grass enclosing Tobar Eoin. Offerings of coins and bright white quartz chips lay at the bottom of the holy well. The gently dimpling water was cool on my wind-roughened lips, sweet on the palate. Good for the eyes, too, John told me. Above the well a seamed old tree had been festooned with strips of rag, each tied there for a wish or a prayer.
Narrow country lanes led us on westward, climbing into the foothills of the mountains past abandoned farms where trees flourished in the derelict rooms. John beguiled the showers and the miles with a rich outpouring of talk. For a short while we followed the line of the old Tralee & Dingle Light Railway. This rickety-rackety branch line, closed with much mourning in 1953, was a wonder and a wild amusement to legions of enthusiasts. The fireman’s duties including pelting coal lumps at sheep straying on the line. You could run from Tralee to Dingle more swiftly than the trains would trundle. ‘It was a nice question,’ said John, ‘as to who took on more liquid refreshment at Camp Junction – the engine or the guard! Oh, a great institution, and a great source of crack.’
Now the Dingle Way left the lanes and climbed up to cross the slopes of Cruach Sceirde, the Scattered Mountain. The stones of ancient huts and field walls patterned the brown turf. We climbed above small mountain farms to a high pass in the teeth of wind and rain. Below in a hollow of the coast the circle of Dingle Harbour lay cradled. A beautiful pale sunset layered the sea beyond with pure silver. A long gleaming ribbon of laneway led us down out of the rainy hills, into the town where strangers and friends seem two sides of the same coin.
Irish Independent – WALK OF THE WEEK – Christopher Somerville
21 March 2009
WAY TO GO
MAP: OS of Ireland 1:50,000 Discovery 70.
N22 to Tralee; N86 to Dingle; Bus Service 275 to Anascaul.
WALK DIRECTIONS: (NB Dingle Way / DW is waymarked with yellow ‘walking man’ symbols and arrows)
From South Pole Inn, Anascaul (OS ref 593019), cross river. 200 m up Dingle road, left (DW) along Castlemaine road. Left along R561 (589013); in 150 m, right up lane for 3 miles to Minard Castle (555992). Ahead up lane; in 50 m fork right (DW) up grassy track (Tobar Eoin in front of you here). Continue through Minard East (549997); in ¼ mile, left (545999 – DW) for ½ mile to T-junction. Right (539995 – DW) for ¾ mile, passing Tobar Beannaithe graveyard (537003). Right at top of hill (536006 – DW). At T-junction (DW), left into Bheag.
On right bend, left (538012 – DW) for 1⅓ miles to join N86 in Lispole (519010). Forward across bridge; immediately right up lane. At fork (517018 – DW), left on lane; right into fields after 1 mile (502024 – DW) – NB!! Not where OS map shows it at 510022!!
Up three fields; then left (503028 – DW) to road. Forward through Lisdargan to junction (501031 – DW). Right; in 50 m, left (DW) along green lane. In 300 m, left (DW), over fields (DW; stiles) to road (488032). In 200 m right (DW) across fields to road (482032). Continue to pass a house; in 50 m, right (479031 – yellow arrow) up track, following DW up mountainside for ⅔ mile to cross Garfinny River and reach road (474038). Left for 2 miles into Dingle.
LENGTH: 12 miles: allow 6–7 hours
CONDITIONS: Don’t forget your raingear and good boots!
DON’T MISS … !
• Minard Castle
• Tobar Eoin
• a session in the Small Bridge pub, Dingle
REFRESHMENTS: None en route – take picnic.
ACCOMMODATION: Heaton’s Guesthouse, The Wood, Dingle, Co. Kerry (066-91-52288; www.heatonsdingle.com) – €130 dble B&B. Very friendly and comfortable: brilliant breakfasts.
DINGLE WAY GUIDE BOOKS/LEAFLETS: From Dingle Tourist Office (see below)
SOUTHWESTWALKS IRELAND: (066-71-28733;
INFORMATION: Details of local walking tour operators, plus dozens of local walks including Discover Ireland’s ‘National Loop Walks’ and walking festivals throughout the country: www.discoverireland.ie/walking
Tourist Office: Dingle Tourist Office, Strand Street, Dingle (066-915-1188)