Round the Ring of Kerry

We left Dingle to explore the Ring of Kerry with the Muxnaw Lodge bed and breakfast in Kenmare as our home base. We were greeted with true Irish hospitality by the proprietor who sat us down to a pot of tea and freshly baked scones. What more can you ask for? A bathtub with a view over the river and bridge, you ask? Why yes, there was one of those too! It’s one of the unspoken pain points for us homeless folk – lack of regular access to tubs ;). Well, we got our fill of bathing at this spot.

We stopped on our drive in to town at the Kissane sheep farm for a demonstration of the sheep herding. Those border collies are by far the most well trained animals I’ve ever seen. I’ll need to learn how to train our dogs (we don’t actually have any, but Alan knows the time draws nigh) like that one day. It’s quite impressive how organized the whole affair is.

We also got to see a demonstration of the sheep shearing. I hadn’t realized they get the whole fleece coat off in one large blanket. Also, it’s adorable how the sheep stop flailing and just resign to their shaving once placed on their backs.

But the highlight was of course getting to play with the pups!

We also paid a visit to the Muckross House and surrounding gardens. This estate on the lake is massively impressive. Made us want to make billions and create our own family estate. Working on it. Not really.

We spent the better part of a day driving around much of the rest of the ring, though our streak of luck with sunny days had ended by this point, and much of the views were shrouded in clouds and rain. We did, however, get some lovely sneak peaks at a few spots…

Ladies View was quite a nice spot overlooking these lakes and valleys.

And O’Carroll’s Cove had more of that beautiful turquoise water. There were even a few brave Irish souls swimming in there, but Alan could only manage to stick his feet in, and I nothing at all.

The view along Skellig Ring was nice, but better yet was the free chocolate tasting at the Skellig Chocolate Factory.

Perhaps the best views we had were up through the mountains off the main ring road. We adored this idyllic spot by the bridge in Lickeen Wood.

Then Ballagh Beama Gap blew us away with its gray stone studded green mountains and Scotch blackface sheep. It’s hard to comprehend the scale from these photos, but it really was a superb experience driving through here. Made all the more exciting by the insanely narrow and winding roads.

The sun came back on our last day in town and we set out for a walk to enjoy it. We’d considered hiking Carrauntoohil to see what the views are like from the top of Ireland, but having heard that it was still cloudy and drizzly up there we instead went out the Beara peninsula to Gleninchaquin Park. We did the Upper Valley “walk” which is a remote loop hike with beautiful landscape and views. You can really see why Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. We couldn’t believe how lucky we were to have the place all to ourselves. We shared the hike with only the company of a few other sheep.

After our long walk we headed back into town for more pints and a well-deserved Guinness and beef pie. The town centre of Kenmare is great, with lots of pubs and shops. And when the early evening light hits the church at the end of the main road it’s almost too idyllic to take.

Practical Info

The Ring of Kerry is a scenic drive circling the Iveragh Peninsula and is extremely popular with tourists. Killarney is the most popular base. We chose to stay in Kenmare. There are several charming towns along the ring, and also some places to stay up in the mountains. The ring road is narrow in parts and sees many tour buses. Investigate strategies for avoiding the brunt of these, i.e. different starting points and times and direction of travel.

Transportation: We drove from Dingle via Route 561 towards Killarney and then down N71. I strongly recommend having a car in this area because it allows you to move at your own pace and get off the main ring road. For example, we left the ring at Glenbeigh and went through the mountains back to Kenmare. This was some of our favorite scenery, including the river by Lickeen Wood and then through the Ballagh Beama Gap.

If you don’t have a car, there are lots of tour options. Many cycle these parts (seems scary to us on these roads), and you can also walk the Kerry Way.

Accommodation: We stayed at Muxnaw Lodge, just across the bridge from Kenmare. It is a lovely place with solid breakfast included (no credit cards). Our room was spacious (we even had a bathtub!) and had a view of Kenmare Bay. Hannah is so friendly. She prepared tea and fresh scones on our arrival and offered good advice on local activities. It is a 10-15 minute walk into town, and if that is unappealing then you should look at one of the many options right in town.

There are some high-end properties in the vicinity, including Sheen Falls Lodge and Parknasilla. We dropped by the latter when we drove the Ring of Kerry. It looked quite nice, and we were most envious of the hot tubs overlooking the water. There are also places to stay up in the mountains. Blackstones House B&B had a rather idyllic location, if not the easiest to reach.

Food and Drinks: My beef and Guinness pie at Foley’s was very good. The Irish Cheese Board pizza at O’Donnabhain’s was pretty good. Our BLT at Jam Deli was OK, it is popular for breakfast and lunch, closed at dinner. Packie’s and Lime Tree are well reviewed. There are multiple supermarkets in town if you want picnic food.

Activities: Driving the Ring of Kerry is the most popular thing to do. There are viewpoints, historical places of interest (such as Derrynane House, the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell), etc. It was rainy and foggy the day we drove so we couldn’t see everything. The area around Coomakesta Pass was very pretty and there is a nice beach at O’Carroll’s Cove. Skelligs Chocolate Factory (off the main ring) offers generous free tastings.

We visited Muckross House and Gardens. Parking and the gardens and grounds are free (and the onsite cafeteria more than passable), but you can only enter the house on the hour-long tour that costs €7.50. A visit to the Farms also costs €7.50, or a combo ticket is €12.50. There are walking paths around the lake and jaunting cars available. Torc Waterfall is nearby.

A visit to Kissane Sheep Farm was quite enjoyable. This includes a demonstration of the dogs herding the sheep, plus a farmer sheering them. It costs €7 each. Call to check the schedule as it is a working farm and you can only visit at certain times and the website may not be accurate.

Gleninchaquin Park is a private reserve on the Ring of Beara. We did the Upper Valley walk, which is about a 9km loop through beautiful, rugged green valleys filled with peat bogs, lakes and sheep. It took us just under three hours, and we saw not one other human. There is no trail on the upper part but the way is marked. The waterfall is visible from the parking area. Entry costs €6 each. We considered hiking Carrauntoohil in the McGillicuddy’s Reeks but passed upon hearing it was cloudy and drizzly up that high. If you want to do this, look up Cronin’s Yard as a potential car park and trailhead. And make sure you know what you’re doing as weather/visibility can be dangerous.

July 31 – August 3, 2014 (Thursday-Sunday)

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