Find hidden gems on the stunning Ring of Kerry
To find hidden gems on the Ring of Kerry it’s best to have a car. It is possible to take tours and day trips around it but sometimes you just need to get off the beaten path a little bit to really find those gems. There are plenty on the Ring of Kerry and no matter what the weather, it truly feels like a magical, mysterious piece of paradise with views beyond imagination. Of course, we’re biased because we love Kerry!
Road trip on the Wild Atlantic Way
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We took a chance to go on a road trip to County Kerry when the weather was suddenly, unexpectedly sunny and warm. You have to be ready in Ireland to take advantage of nice weather, there’s no predicting it at all. We packed our tent (just in case) and half the house (well, I packed half the house) into the car and hit the road late on a Friday afternoon. On the way down we found a hostel by searching for the Ring of Kerry on Booking.com and thought it best to spend the first night in a hostel rather than trying to put up a tent in the dark. It’s a fair distance from Dublin so we were about four and a half hours driving when we suddenly needed to eat. We stopped in Glenbeigh and found a local chipper, stuffed our faces in the car, looking out over the wild sweep of Rossbeigh beach and hit the road again (another hidden gem for our bucket list). After about an hour of dramatic scenery on the Wild Atlantic Way, the road brought us to the Skellig Lodge & Hostel and a lovely welcome from Frida, who settled us into a lovely private en-suite room and told us she would be baking fresh scones in the morning. Ah, we’d found heaven! It didn’t take us long to conclude that we’d end up spending more than one night here. It’s a great hostel - well-equipped kitchen, comfy warm beds, spotlessly clean and located mere minutes walk from one of Ireland’s most beautiful beaches on the Ring of Kerry, Ballinskelligs Beach.
Update 2018: There’s also a fantastic café right on the beach for delicious home made food and lovely coffee. Perfect for the family, especially for the ice-creams on a hot summer’s day.
Nice night for a walk
Once we got the necessities done we headed for Ballinskelligs beach where it was pitch black out but our eyes adjusted and the stroll was lovely. Smelling the sea and seeking out the stars, it was just the beginning of another magic Kerry escape. We happened to come across a local pub (Cable O’Leary’s Pub) purely by accident so we had to stop in just for a look! We had a chat with some local girls who advised what was best on tap but we didn't linger too long. We knew we wanted to make the most of the next day.
After an incredibly peaceful sleep we woke next morning to blue skies and knew we'd get the rare opportunity for clear views of the Skelligs just off the coast. We tucked into some scones, packed a fine lunch of sambos and crisps and headed for Bolus Head. Freda had told us about it when we checked in and the weather was perfect for a hike. We took a quick detour first to Skelligs Chocolate Factory for a sugar boost. We'd been before but the free tastings are worth it! Seriously chocolate lovers, your taste buds won't know what hit them and your eyes will literally be drinking the liquid chocolate, pouring and swirling in front of them in Ireland's only open-plan chocolate factory.
Top of the world
The drive itself offered up pure instagrammable shots of the coast and the Skelligs and then we found the trailhead just around midday (we’re not early risers!). Boots on, bags and gear on our backs and loaded with sunscreen we were ready for whatever this new hike would throw at us. If you like the outdoors even a little bit, you can't ask for a better experience. It feels wild and remote but you know you're safe with the trail well marked and a few sheep for company! Although I felt like giving up just before the highest point, the views made it all worthwhile. At the very top is an old British Army outpost where you can take a break from the Atlantic winds as you stare out to the islands beyond. We certainly took our time as well, plenty of photo stops and a leisurely lunch and before we knew it we were descending again down the other side, legs only a little bit shaky! Neil was dead-set on coming back for the sunset where the trail begins so we got back to the hostel to quickly cook dinner in time to make it for the golden hour.
Rain, rain go….no stay!
Check out time the next morning and the weather had changed completely. We headed for an ancient Christian site on the other side of the Bolus Head trail and the atmosphere was perfect. The mist truly makes the mystic in Ireland. We really weren't sure what we were looking at half the time but we definitely felt the sense of history here. A few old houses have been converted into an artists’ retreat and the remote location is clearly perfect for quiet inspiration.
Picnic by the beach
We continued along the Skelligs Ring and found the perfect picnic spot. St. Finian’s Bay has crashing waves no matter what time of year and you have a perfect line of sight to the Skelligs. We put up our beach umbrella at the picnic table (it was raining!) and turned on our portable gas cooker to heat up our soup. Lots of strange looks from the other tourists but we’re dab hands at this weather, nothing stops us!
Airbnb in Portmagee
We concluded with the change in weather we'd be better off not camping at all. Although I love it, I hate damp cold sleeps, I'm a horrible person after a night spent like that! (she sure is :p) We booked an Airbnb in Portmagee (Final Dimensions) and the lady of the house managed to secure us a place on a boat to visit the Skelligs. We couldn't believe it! On the way down we'd been ringing every fisherman with a phone number and a license to take us out but no luck. I really didn't believe we were going to actually finally get to visit the islands. The year before we spent a week camping in Cahersiveen with a booking that never came true because the wind just didn't allow it. I had butterflies! But first and foremost we met our lovely hosts Paula and Sioga and their beautiful house looking out over Valentia habour. Warm, tastefully decorated and with a cozy double bed, our ensuite room was the perfect retreat from the wind and rain that day. We had lovely hot showers and then went out to the town and got a huge fish’n’chips dinner in The Moorings & Bridge Bar (I took away half of it, seriously huge portions). We had a little stroll around the harbour to walk off the food and retired for the evening back at our room.
Next day we sought out Ballycarbery Castle and couldn't avoid the now legendary man with a lamb. Photos couldn't be avoided of course, how could we refuse?!
Epic fail when we asked him to take a photo of us with the lamb though!
We picnicked in the castle (fried up leftovers from last night's dinner) sheltered from the rain in the upper floors as if we owned the place!!
Update 2019: Sadly it’s not possible to enter the castle grounds or the castle itself anymore. There’s a fence all the way round and the man with the lamb has moved on to Cahergal Fort. We bumped into him again on our next trip.
Swimming in the rain
We decided to drive over to Valentia Island. Even though the weather was against us, Ireland's sights can still hold their charm. Little did we know we'd end up getting in for a swim in the rain at Glanleam Beach. It's so hidden away we felt like we came across a secret cove. We didn't even think to take phones or a camera with us, it was very spur of the moment. Maybe subconsciously we wanted to keep it a secret too! We spent a long time around Valentia lighthouse though (we were too late for visiting times) trying to find the best composition for a stormy scene. We ended up sliding and clambering over the rocks for the best view and Neil got excellent photos.
A holy pizza
We felt we deserved a treat for dinner after all our adventures and found The Oratory. Wow! If you're in Kerry GO HERE! Wood-fired pizza with mouthwatering toppings, a full wine list and epic desserts all inside a beautifully lit converted church. It was the perfect end to a perfect day and all so unexpected.