En route to the Dingle peninsula from Galway we had a couple of planned stops. Alas, our lovely late summer weather had turned more stereotypically Irish for our journey. Nonetheless, we set out for the Cliffs of Moher on a rainy, windy and foggy Thursday morning. Turns out a foggy day, in particular, does not a productive Cliffs of Moher viewing visit make. I’ve been here before when I last visited Galway but for Melissa it would have to be imagination and pictures in the Visitor’s Center for this time. At least I can no longer say that I’ve never paid €24 to park to have a quick pee anymore.
On to Adare Manor, which I had tried to reserve for afternoon tea but was all booked up on the day we’d be passing through. Their website appeared as though you could go for lunch at the hotel bar without reservation. Alas, not to be.
These misfires brought us to Newcastle West for lunch where we landed at Brown Morel one of Ireland’s top 100 restaurants (from 2011, but still very good 11 years on). Oddly, the owner sat us right next to an overweight family of middle aged mother, grown son and grandma. Mama spent the whole time on speaker phone talking about having “cried a pitcher” when the police showed up at the bar last night to take away some drunken friend, son or lover. And this is Ireland after all, unidentified acquaintance must have been really, really drunken. An entertaining eavesdrop, made more so by trying the decipher the half English-half Irish discussion. An eavesdrop which never would have taken place had the skies been clear and my planning better. Lemonade from lemons, people. On to Dingle…
We started our peninsular explorations with a visit to the long stretch of beach at Castlegregory for a quick stroll and then rose up over the winding single-lane two-way road over Connor Pass. On the pass, it’s hard to decide which way is more beautiful, north towards Brandon or south towards Dingle. Fortunately, you don’t have to decide. You can just take it all in instead. That, of course, if the weather is clear which it was on our first day and not again (on the pass anyway) until our day of departure. The pass drive is not for the meek with narrow pullouts on the north side where bikers, hikers and vehicles all politely jockey for position and await their turns to climb or descend depending on their direction.
On our first full day here, we spent much of the day driving the Slea Head loop. The loop starts and ends in Dingle. Head out clockwise with the flow of traffic. On the early part of the loop, you’ll have plenty of opportunity to check out ancient B.C. beehive dwellings, pet a sheep or hold a lamb. Many of the local farmers, on whose property the ancient formations sit, sell admission to see those sights and mingle with their livestock. We kept going. Not having children we thought it might be a bit odd to be pushing the little ones out of the way for a chance to pet an ewe.
The drive takes you past a dramatic coastline, several stops to hike up the cliff for a better view and small beaches with huge waves crashing on the rocks and sand. You’ll be in good company. The road twists and turns and bends and is shouldered by brilliant orange, red, yellow and occasionally purple wildflowers which almost look as though a talented landscape architect had his way with the color brush along the side of the road. Stop off at Tig Aine in the small village of Graigue for lunch. Its a three-generation restaurant and art gallery with great sandwiches and desserts.
On our second day, we drove to and strolled the length of Inch Beach, which is long and flat, despite the name. We arrived at low tide as the waves and wind whipped up on the flat stretch of sand with the sun poking through the clouds periodically backlighting the brilliant green fields above. Some of the most vibrant color contrasts we’ve seen yet. We are working on a top 10 beaches for walking list, and this one will definitely be on it when it’s published.
Melissa’s sister had raved about Dingle. She was right, turns out. The only thing we feel we left on the table for a return visit was a Blasket Island wildlife viewing boat cruise to see the puffins. The peninsula is gorgeous. Coastlines and beaches surrounding mountains. Miles of green fields, pastures and meadows separated by rows of walls or hedges laid out like a big green patchwork quilt laid over a lumpy mattress of rolling hills. Inlets, bays and harbors revealing small towns. Dingle itself sits in a small harbor with colorful village buildings standing side by side in formation aligning the harbor road and up the hillside behind. Lots of good restaurants, ice cream shops and galleries. Plenty of places to grab some fish and chips or a pint of Guinness and listen to some live music. If you follow the rainbow to the pot of gold you might just land in Dingle. It’s a magical little place in the world.