When we awoke early on our last morning in Dingle, the skies had cleared, the wind had blown east and taken the rain with it. The harbor was smooth as glass and only a few wispy clouds interrupted a bright, early morning, blue sky. It was as though someone was looking down and smiling upon us and clearing our path to tackle the famous Ring of Kerry drive.
We took on most of the ring, save for the Killarney and Killarney National Park bit, on our way from Dingle to Cork. We went counter clockwise from north to south, as did most of the other traffic.
On the north side of the peninsula the rounded green mountains, punctuated with purple wildflower highlights, rise before you and then plummet down to the sea. Beaches and small Irish fishing and resort villages guide you westward and you think: “this cannot get better”, but it does.
We veered off on to the Ring of Skellig, which is a road less traveled, and it opened into an inlet that eventually led to a harbor and the fishing village of Portmagee. Small, colorful and quaint. It’s full of fishermen and their families and tour boat operators for the Skellig islands.
From Portmagee, we headed for the Kerry Cliffs. We paid the entry fee of €5 each and took in the dramatic cliffs falling down to the sea with the rocks of Skellig beyond. Unlike the Cliffs of Moher, the tour busses don’t come here and, for us, we got to see the cliffs which at Moher were fogged out for our visit. Figuring we’d save some time and pick up a couple of sandwiches at the concession run by the family on whose property the cliff views sit, we ordered a couple of ham sandwiches with mustard, tomatoes, lettuce, pickles and cucumbers (all options listed on the little placard advertising the choices). The gentleman behind the counter (not the young lass making the sandwiches) commented that the cucumbers would be too much and that they were out of lettuce, so we settled for mustard, tomatoes, pickles and ham. What we discovered, several kilometers down the road when we stopped to eat them was that we got one piece of the most thinly sliced ham, mustard and some odd fig jam. They were disgusting and a total rip off for €6 each. So, if you go, skip the grub. Yuck. Every village we passed through promised a much better meal, but we forged ahead hungry anyway, in the interest of time.
Lunch notwithstanding, it was a fabulous ride. Back on the Ring, the road between cute little Waterville and quaint (both with tons of good looking lunch options) Sneem (yes, Sneem) may be some of the most beautiful roadway we’ve ever ridden anywhere. And as I was riding it I kept thinking, boy I hope the best part ends at Sneem, just so I could reference Sneem in this post. And so, there you have it, I’ve made four Sneem references (now five). Cuz who doesn’t love the name of that town?!.
The mountains on the south side turn rocky and craggy as you climb and pass through them with rocky capes and islands to your right off the coast as you wind around and down. Then it turns more alpine as you climb away from the sea, past remote farmhouses off in the distance or dive into dark tunnels formed by tree branches on either side of the road.
I’d been worried that the Ring would be overhyped and too touristy. Sure, there are plenty of tour busses and you won’t be alone at hardly any lookout, but none of that can ruin it. It’s spectacular.
We cut off at Kenmare for Cork leaving further exploration of the Killarney National Park and more time in the villages on the Ring for a return visit, but the scenic route from Dingle to Cork around the Ring was just that, and worth it.