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Home Travel StoriesSouthern Ireland 2015

The Dingle Peninsula

By Ren Withnell

Despite the pleasant surroundings of the Adare campsite my rib has interrupted my sleep somewhat. Still, I've had a good few hours and that's enough to keep me going. Today should see me to the Atlantic coastline. Ever since I first googled Ireland I've been followed by adverts for "The Wild Atlantic Way". Each one promises me spectacular coastal views, adventures in rugged coves, beautiful people surfing and of course warm and hearty welcomes into pubs serving endless Guinness and the sound of "Trad Music". Lets see if it can live up to the hype.

So with the tent loaded up and the bike running I set off into the wilderness that is Western Ireland. So far though all I find is what I would call an "A" road, the maps app tells me in Ireland it's an "N" road. The headwind is still strong and the bike is struggling and the traffic is a little too close behind. I have to my left a broken yellow line and a rather large verge. I wonder if I can use the verge to let this impatient Audi driver pass? I'm ashamed to admit I do not know the Irish highway code and as such I don't know if this area is classed as a footpath, parking space, cycle lane or bit of space to let people pass. I stay in my lane a while longer then find a safe place to pull in, this guy seems desperate. 

A broad road and the large verge on many of Ireland's main roads
Is this a footpath, cyclepath, driving lane or just some spare road? 

In a small deli-come-grocers in Newcastle West I enquire as to the rules regarding the large verges. While we all speak the same language with differing accents I can't seem to get my point across. I give up and purchase a hot sausage roll instead which goes down a treat. Rather than continue on the ordinary N road I shall take myself across country to Listowel. I really must find the Irish version of the highway code when I next get internet access.

Editor's Note - the "verge" is clearly explained on this page from Ireland's equivalent of the Highway Code, "The Rules Of The Road"

The country road proves to be a good idea. Soon I am gently rolling and writhing through the lush green lanes when another thing strikes me about Ireland that is different, the houses in the countryside. The Australian family mentioned last night that wherever they've travelled it has been beautiful but never remote, you're never far from or out of sight of the next house. They're quite correct. While the houses are not crammed in they are dotted alongside the roads and you're certainly never far from the next one. I duly note that while they vary greatly in size and style they are all in excellent repair and the gardens though uniquely varied are also well tended. I'm happy to ride these quiet lanes although there's nothing "wild" here yet.

A large smart bungalow in it's own ground on an Irish countryside lane
Not all the houses are this grand, but nearly all of them are as smart and well maintained.

Listowel shows me the lifestyle of the less well financed yet even here the houses are smart and the streets are clean. I stop to take a few snaps and observe my surroundings. The shop opposite me seems to be a military museum come army surplus supplier come camping shop come engineers and welders. I wonder if I should go in but fear I may be kidnapped at gunpoint then welded into an iron casket and placed as a military relic. I need to control my vivid imagination. Come on Ren, lets see what all the fuss about the Dingle peninsula is.

Lostowel town centre, a long row of terraced shops and houses but if good order
Listowel may not be as spacious as the countryside but it is still smart.

Tralee looks fine too but there's no reason for me to stop. As I get to the edge of town I pull off the main road, past an old style windmill and down a dirt track. Poking around the back of a town is always much more interesting than the central bits. I park up on the estuary and take 10 minutes to soak in the views and ponder this place. A burly farmer type approaches with his dog and I'm worried I might be trespassing but he just smiles, waves his crook and disappears into what I thought was a dilapidated outbuilding.

Looking over an estuary and across to hills in the distance at tralee bay
Tralee Bay in the heavy skies, better than a town centre.

The road to Dingle is a good one. Even on a 125 into a headwind and carrying half a ton of gear I manage to curve a few bends and gain some angle of dangle. Pah! Say what you like about my crusty old CBF but it's still a cracker and makes me laugh. The scenery is good too but then my thoughts are ruined. It is indeed very pretty and green but it lacks the solitude and emptiness of Scotland or the breathtaking majesty of The Alps. I slow down to give this some this some consideration.

Looking across a large vast bay to hills in the distance from the Dingle Peninsula
The sun is out and everything looks better already.

When a climber has climbed Everest what does he do to surpass that? Once an astronaut has walked on the moon does everything else he or she achieve become secondary? If I were to see the most beautiful, the most magnificent, the most impressive place in the whole wide world then what is the point of going anywhere else? Is it wrong to measure Ireland against Scotland? It is, and yet it is not. It is unfair because Ireland is a place in it's own right, I'm just starting to unearth it's unique character. What I find frustrating is the dream the marketeers sell me. "The Wild Atlantic Way" is so far quite well populated, not remote and not as rugged as the advertisements suggest. I haven't put my finger on what Ireland is yet but it's not so wild, not backwards and it's not filled with leprechauns.

Dingle is proof of this. It's a small coastal town complete with a harbour, a supermarket, a car park and some industry. I avail myself of the toilets in the supermarket, I take a breather by the harbour and I head back out of town. It's a nice place Dingle but nothing to write home about.

Dingle harbour with sailing boats and hills in the background
Dingle Harbour. Dingle's alright and all that but well, you know...

I'm heading for Killarney tonight and the R561 is the obvious route to take. I spot a strange, straight beach on the horizon that looks almost man made, maybe it is? As I get closer I can see a little activity and a sign that directs me to "Inch Beach". Just off the main road there's a car park so I park up. There's also a cafe and activity on the beach, this seems to be the place to learn to surf. Surf? Of course, the whole Atlantic Ocean lies out there with the prevailing wind blowing inshore. Cornwall is famous for surf so why not Ireland? While I've been battling headwinds these last few days the surf itself is not that impressive although I'm sure it gets big at times. 

Inch beach with mobile surfing school vans and some surfers in the sea
Inch Beach and the surf school. You can't see it but it's as windy as hell out there.

Inside the cafe is actually part pub, part cafe and part restaurant. I position myself with a view outside onto the windswept beach and settle in with a hot tea. The beach is not busy today but there's a handful of surfers, presumably novices, trying to ride the waves and mostly succumbing to them. A toddler approaches my helmet on the seat opposite me, I give him the hard stare and he runs away to mummy. What is it with kids and helmets in Ireland? It is dry outside but hellishly windy, I do think on a warm dry day it would be fantastic here, probably quite busy too. I could sit here for much longer but time is marching on and I've got to find a campsite.

As I approach Killarney I spot something I didn't expect to see. At the side of the road is a factory with a very large "Liebherr" sign. Leibherr make cranes, in case you don't know. Big cranes. I later learn that the Killarney plant makes the sort of massive cranes that unload massive container ships. I'm sure this is a source of employment and pride for the people of Killarney and being a fan of such things I'd love to tour the factory. However much I like cranes it is hard to fit this into the image of Ireland that "The Wild Atlantic Way" wishes to portray. 

The Liebherr Factory at Killarney.
Fantastic, but not exactly wild.

Killarney introduces itself with the impressive St Mary's Cathedral. It is a sharp, crisp and tidy monument to Christianity surrounded by neatly cut grass to separate it from the rest of the town. Killarney itself though is a town like most others yet offers a degree of charm with horse drawn "Jaunting Cars" as they are known. They're obviously a tourist attraction and there's quite a few of them around. My campsite lies outside of town on a wide road filled with restaurants and hotels. I figure the famous "Ring Of Kerry" brings in the punters such as myself. Damn. I'm a tourist.

St Mary's Church Killarney. Big, sharp, clean and smart
St Mary's gives testiment to the faith of the community in Killarney.

This campsite is fine but unlike Adare's site the chap behind the counter is polite rather than friendly and welcoming. He is at work, doing his job as opposed to in a vocation. The whole campsite has the same feel too. Everything is as it ought to be and there's nothing to complain about but compared to last night's pitch it lacks that sense of care or passion. 

I manage to hook up to the site's wireless, as long as I sit close to reception. After I've played catch-up with the emails and social media I have a look around to see if there is a "session" close by. A session is the colloquial term for a bunch of Irish folks playing "trad music" in a pub somewhere. A session indicates that regular folks may join in too, if they wish. Sing along, play a guitar and so on. And there is a session tonight just a few minutes walk from here. Hooraah!

I approach a very very smart hotel in its own grounds. I am wearing my bike jacket to protect me from the potential rain these heavy skies indicate, baggy combats, canvas shoes and a scruffy t-shirt. I doubt they'll even let me in. As I approach I listen intently for the sound of fiddles and guitars but nothing comes. I wonder where I should go. The only option is to ask at reception, I fear I may not even be allowed in to such a smart place, I fear I've got the wrong place.

The young lady behind the counter does not even bat an eyelid at my appearance, she merely asks if she can help. I explain I'm looking for the session to which she ponders quizzically for a moment then the penny drops "Ahh, the session, aye that'll be tomorrow night you're looking for." Damn! I thank her and beat an embarrassed retreat. Yes, it is Monday tonight not Tuesday. Damn. What an idiot. Damn. Should I stay another night? I feel stupid but the young lady never made me feel stupid, I have brought this upon myself. How did she do that? How did she say that without sounding patronising or dismissive. I think too much sometimes. 

I make another cup of tea and take it to bed. I start thinking about the Irish, are the really as friendly as people tell me? The farmer smiled and waved. The girl never looked down on me. One campsite owner was as welcoming as hot tea on a cold night. Of course not everyone is friendly but perhaps overall they are? Is that Ireland's character, is that what makes this place special?

Prologue Ren's getting a plan together for a trip to Ireland. What can he expect and is he too tight to prepare his bike properly?
Cruising To Holyhead It's a slow ride into the headwinds as Ren heads off to the port of Holyhead on his overloaded CBF 125.
A Ferry And A Friend - Dublin The ferry to Ireland is fine but Dublin brings confusion. The rest of the day is spent catching up with an old friend filled with philosophy.
Across Ireland To Adare After a great breakfast Ren starts out across Ireland in search of what makes this place unique
The Dingle Peninsula Is the Wild Atlantic Way as wild as it's name suggests? As Ren reaches the West of Ireland will he find what makes this place special and unique?
Kerry's Ring And Skibbereen Will the famous Ring Of Kerry live up to the hype? Has Ren spotted the real Father Jack? Will the Germans ever get their Motorrad fixed? Oooooh the excitement is killing me.
The Southern Coastline Ireland's southern coastline provides a mix of beauty and disadvantage along with sunshine and rain. There's also a small ferry as long as he doesn't get lost again.
East Coast Session With time to spare Ren is meandering around the South Eastern coast of Ireland and thinking too much. He also finds a Session...sort of.
Dublin And Chillin' On his last day in Ireland Ren has time to spare and yet there's never enough time. Time is the most precious thing we have.
Holy Men To Holyhead Upon his return to Holyhead Ren is joined by a group of fellow bikers on a mission from God. This gets Ren thinking about life, the universe and everything. 42.
Epilogue - Southern Ireland 2015 Ren sums up his thoughts on Ireland. He's also coming to terms with the fact that the way he travels may no longer be right for him. Is this the end of Bikes And Travels?!

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