The beauty of the Dingle peninsula is best experienced on foot or by bicycle; it’s largely missed by those coach loads of tourists and hire cars that now snake around the winding roads of West Kerry.
The branding of the Wild Atlantic Way has been so successful the roads have become much busier and the road network is not designed for the volumes of traffic. Maybe vehicular access should be curtailed!
And as that is hardly likely I’d recommend cyclists travelling counter clockwise when travelling these roads as the majority of vehicles travel out through Ventry and clockwise back to Dingle. Far better to see what is ahead of you than worry about what is behind! There is little difference in the views going in either direction as the landscapes are panoramic and breathtaking with every turn of the wheels.The Loop I completed is only 45kms approx; it can easily be extended back the other side of Dingle but my purpose wasn’t the physical challenge, it was to see and enjoy as much as possible and not have the head down bursting a gut!
West Kerry is full of reminders of our long and ancient history and there are many examples from pagan and early Christian civilisations, and by taking the R559 be sure to stop at the old burial ground of Kilfountain on your right after about 1km, and marvel at the impressive standing stone. The ogham stone consists of the inscription St Finian and a Chi-Rho cross.
Resuming on the road there is a gentle up hill pull and you reach the top in 3kms. That’s the highest point of the cycle over and done with and in truth only a gentle hill.
It’s now the views begin to open up and before you is Smerwick Harbour. The downhill is welcome; Cosán na Naomh, the pilgrimage walking route to Mount Brandon, crosses over the road, and our first stop is at the Gallarus Oratory.
No one is too sure when it was built but it is certainly over 1200 years old. No mortar was used in it’s construction, yet it it bone dry. It looks like an upturned boat.
We back tracked slightly to take the road to Baile an Fheirtéaraigh and made a mad dash for it as the clouds swept in off the Atlantic dumping rain for the only time during the week on top of us. The museum in Ballyferrietr is worth a visit as it has many examples of ogham stones and other interesting artefacts.
This is the heart of the Gaeltacht Corca Dhuibne with magnificent panoramic views of The Three Sisters and Ceann Sibéal. Well worth a visit on another day to climb to the top of these imposing cliffs.
The shower passed and we weren’t long drying out in the breeze before this impressively framed view of ‘An Fear Mairbh’ came into view, beyond Cloichear Strand. This is a magical place to watch a winter storm as the massive swell fills the small bay.
It’s hard not to be giddy so stunning are the views and the hills had no impact as we pushed on to see the next exciting coastal view.
It isn’t long until the views of Inis Tuaisceart, Beiginis and An Blascaod Mór come into view.
The Blaskets have given us so many great writers Peig Sayers, Tomás Ó Criomthain and Muiris Ó Súilleabháin, not to forget the Englishman Robin Flower. It’s worth taking a boat trip out and walking the island; it is appreciated all the more if you have read some of the books. And who hasn’t read Peig!
The coastal drive along here is probably the most scenic route in Ireland. Every turn brings an even more breath taking view and it’s no surprise that cars are constantly stopping and creating traffic jams!
The area shot to international fame with the filming of Ryan’s Daughter in 1969. I was 8 at the time and remember it well as it was our first holiday in Ballyferriter. So a visit to the schoolhouse with the greatest view in Ireland was a must, and we took our bikes along the walking path to pay it a visit.
The colours on the headlands of pinks and purples showed up brilliantly against the turquoise ocean colour below.
The road drops down into the ancient village of Dún Chaoin and and the Pier is probably one of the most photographed in the country, often featuring in calendars.
Just when you think it can’t be any prettier a turn in the road has you cycling above Coomenoule Strand with the view of the Blaskets beyond. Truly magical country. The beach here is quite dangerous but very popular with surfers and paddlers and a good place for a picnic and a refreshing paddle!
There are a lot of beehive huts and old stone buildings scattered along here and later on too at Fahan
The road clings to the cliff side all the way around Slea Head and Fahan with the views across the bay to the Iveragh Peninsula and the Skelligs – a danger to drivers who can be so easily distracted!
A mountain stream crosses the road at one point just before Fahan where there are numerous beehive huts which can be visited on the road to Ventry.
No visit to Ventry is complete without dropping into Páidí Ó Sé’s pub at Árd a Bhothair. The late Páidi was one of a kind and I had the good fortune to know him quite well and for many years I had a photograph I took on the Blaskets on display in his massive collection that adorns the walls of the pub, now run by his children.
It’s short run into Dingle from Ventry and the completion of one of the most enjoyable cycling routes I’ve been on, home or abroad.
Highly recommend it!