1. Kerry and
Killarney-Kenmare-Bantry-Schull-Killarney. Km.: 400 -days: 6- Month: July
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The majority of those that are going to read these pages in English, will, of course, already know Ireland a lot better than I do. For the very few who don't, there are many sites in English on the Web that contain all the information that one may want to get about the Emerald Island and then some. This page is not a guide, but rather a description of our itinerary. I am sure that all the names that will be mentioned in the process will ring a lot of bells.
We start our tour in Killarney, from where we take the direction of the Beara peninsula, the southernmost of three finger-like bits of land that stretch westward into the Ocean, endowing the coast of Kerry with a lot more shoreline than its size would normally allow. We decide to skip Iveragh, with its famed Ring of Kerry road, as we hope we'll find less traffic, and equally beautiful scenery, heading south. The cycling surely is not boring around here. We are determined to get to the sea as quickly as we can, but we discover that in order to do that there's some climbing to do first. As we enter Muckross National Park, we start to ascend toward Moll's Gap, a mountain pass from where the road descends. toward the coast.
Actually the altitude here is never more than four or five hundred meters but, to us southerners at least, the landscape looks undeniably mountainous, of the kind that you may see in the Alps when you go much higher, above 1500 meters or so. The road to Moll's Gap is a long steady climb, never too steep, feeling a lot more familiar to my legs than the landscape looks to my eyes. From the gap it's all downhill until Kenmare, from where only those who haven't forgotten to bring along their scuba equipment will be able to go still lower.
Having left my wetsuit at home, the next day I decide to wait for the usual morning shower to stop before starting off. When I catch up with the others, there are some remarks on the cycling habits of Italians (like: how can you stay fit if you ride only when the sun shines... Well, not only do I stay fit, I stay healthy!...). The road today follows the coast of Beara, separated from Iveragh by the inlet known (don't ask me why) as Kenmare River. Anyway, since the effect from the scenic point of view is quite stunning, there's really no reason for me to bother about the accuracy of geographic terminology. Approaching the tip of the peninsula we find the road that will take us across the Caha Mountains to the other side of Beara.
Not a long way to go and neither a high climb, but quite steep at times, with bits around 15 per cent gradient. This explains why I have so many pictures of that particular bit of road (it's OK to put your feet down if you have to take a photograph; there are other acceptable reasons for doing that but they don't come along as often...). There are only a couple of hamlets along the road before coming to Castletownbere, but you can't fail noticing them because their houses are painted in colours so bright that you can spot them several kilometres away. Castletownbere itself is a very charming town. After a day of riding we enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the pub, the music and the beer. I've put it among the places I would like to retire to.
The next day we follow the coast of Bantry Bay, which to my eyes (admittedly very untrained on this field), doesn't look that much different from the Kenmare River to deserve a different name. Following my eradicated belief that one should stick to what he knows best, however, I apply myself to pedaling, until we arrive in Bantry, where we take a boat to cross the Bay or whatever it is that they call so. The boat would't be strictly necessary, as the road would serve the purpose equally well, but it's the best option to watch the seals that live in these waters in relatively big numbers. There is no way, in fact, that the seals will get out and ride with you: the seals here have very strong opinions, and would regard this sort of circus as a slightly demeaning occupation. Again we leave the sea and head inland to cross another peninsula (in fact, there are still some peninsulas south of Beara that I failed to take into account, and besides, I don't even know exactly if we are still in Co. Kerry or in Cork at this point). In any case, having crossed this other one too we call it a day in Schull.
Question: if you are looking for a rather difficult to find book on Greek Tragedy (nothing less...), author one Professor H.D.F. Kitto, where do you go to find it (or rather, where did you go before the WWW, Amazon .com, Barnes and Noble and the Internet Bookshops of various denominations came along?) Answer: in Schull, of course, home of some great second hand bookstores. Never mind if Schull looks to you like the kind of place where one would have a hard time to find anything beside fishing tackle. This only serves to make me more awestruck by the evidence of the value that people around here put on culture, and to measure the gap between them and us, apparently much closer to civilization in our heart-of-Europe cosmopolitan cities linked by super-fast trains.
In Schull we enjoy other distractions too, like a trip to the islands in the bay, where the people still speak some Irish (at least that what I said in the Italian version of this page). From Schull we return to Killarney in two days, crossing the main Irish-speaking area of this region (see above). We find again some alpine-like landscapes of streams, lakes, meadows and pastures, and, in keeping with that, some climbing serious enough to get your attention, like for example the road that takes us to the Top of Coom, where the Creedon Pub qualifies itself as the highest pub in Ireland. What we've found out for sure is that's all uphill until here, and all downhill from here.
Click here to go to Part II: Galway and Connemara.