Travel Jottings

Celebrating the best bits and bobs to be found while exploring Britain, Ireland and beyond. Much is inspired by real outings, whether they were walking, cycling or photographic in nature, while virtual blundering in the name of planning them has turned up some gems too. Regardless of how they were found, I hope that they keep coming so I can continue to share new things with you.

Kerry: a Place of Many Delights

Standing Stone, Camp, Co. Kerry, Éire

There are some who may encounter this piece with the world of sport in mind after seeing the question that heads it. While I am writing after yet another All Ireland (Gaelic) Football final where Kerry emerged triumphant (is it me or does the thing feel like a souped up Munster final these days?), that is not the subject that I have in mind.

What I have in mind is the amount of scenic hill country and coastline that you find in the county and there's no shortage of the picturesque stuff. When you mention Kerry coastline, there are many who will think of fleshpots like Ballybunion or Ballyheige. While they float boats for some people, they don't really do it for me. Being a more active sort of person, I'd call anywhere where being stationery for too long "Ballyboring". Saying that, if you are after somewhere for a quick stroll, quieter spots like Banna or Beale might have something to offer on days when the better known spots are thronged. Of course, picking a more bracing day will next to guarantee the absence of madding (or is that maddening?) crowds.

From the discussion so far, it may not come as a surprise that it might be Kerry's wilder parts that take my fancy. Of these, Killarney might be one of the first that comes to mind. For one thing, it certainly has the hallmarks of a honeypot with many a coach party following the "Ring of Kerry" about the Iveragh peninsula with Killarney itself offering up a few stopping points. Ross Castle, Muckross House, Torc Waterfall and the lower lakes of Lough Leane and Muckross Lake itself should offer something to keep you entertained on a day when the weather is well behaved. For those wanting to disappear into the landscape, there are Macgillycuddy's Reeks and surrounding hills and mountains awaiting exploration with the Kerry Way offering a long distance trot for those not bothered with reaching heights like Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest mountain. All in all, you are in the midst of hill country extending from The Paps in the east almost to the end of the Iveragh peninsula.

There is more to the famed Ring of Kerry than Killarney and looking at the route now makes me realise that there is so much more of Kerry that I could do with exploring. Places like Kenmare, Sneem, Caherdaniel, Derrynane (home to a certain Daniel O' Connell once upon a time), Waterville (home to one time Kerry football supremo Mick O' Dwyer), Caherciveen ("Cahersiberia" to a formerly city-loving banker until she settled in and got to love the place), Glenbeigh and Kilorglin (home to a festival revolving around a newly captured and crowned wild goat, all high jinks really). With Valentia Island, Ballinskelligs and the Skelligs nearby, this is not a part of the world for a quick run around in order to "do" it. It deserves better than that and I could see myself spending a week around there.

Looking north from the likes of Glenbeigh only can land your eyes on another area of Kerry hill country: the Dingle peninsula. While I have poked around here to a point, there is always scope for further exploration. It might be a bit quieter than Iveragh but there's plenty to savour here too though it has a reputation for attracting rain-bearing cloud and Brandon, the highest hill at 952 metres in height, only helps towards that with its sharp shock to many an incoming mass of damp air from the Atlantic. Along with the hilly terrain, there's the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area) around Dunquin and Ventry with other nearby items of interest being Gallarus Oratory, Slea Head and the Blasket Islands. Elsewhere, Castlegregory, Blennerville and the Magharees make a narrow prong of land a place to which it is best to devote more than a day.

So far, I may have name-dropped most of what is wonderful about Kerry but that is not all. For the sake of adding "one more thing" in the spirit of Steve Jobs at an Apple computer launch event, I have to mention the Beara Peninsula. It may be shared between Cork and Kerry but the micro-climate supplied by the Gulf Stream can make the weather here very different to anywhere else in Ireland. Perhaps, that's why Derreen Gardens can grow such exotica and why Fuchsia can thrive in hedges the height of a double decker bus. For those seeking scenery of a more native aspect, there's Glen Inchaquin with its waterfall.

There may be a saying in Ireland that you cannot eat scenery but that doesn't seem to put paid to a canny Kerryman or Kerrywoman. Their picturesque spots are festooned by house and homesteads like many other parts of Ireland. There may be a chilly economic wind ahead in the world of farming but, despite the jokes, my suspicion is that they'll continue to make the most of what they have. Tourism may be a tricky business right now with the home market stalled by the downturn and overseas visitors being cautious with their cash but the scenery will remain. We cannot remain in a downturn forever so the draw of what Kerry has in spades can only help them out. After all, they have been written off in Gaelic Football championships only to thrive at the end and, if you can withstand a history littered with potato famines and attempted evictions, then nothing should stand in your way.

Other parts of Ireland prove that Kerry hasn't a monopoly over enticing coastline and hill country but everywhere has its own appeal as I keep telling people. With that in mind, it might be an idea to share the appeal of other destinations. Any attempt to list these would have you including nearly every county in Ireland so I have desisted. It might be an idea to do what I have done for Kerry for others but that reminds me how concentrated my explorations of my home country have been on a small number of areas; I suppose that I have some catching up to be doing.