The Kerry Way: ~220 km around the Iveragh Peninsula

Day 0 Killarney:

We arrive at the small airport of Kerry. Very small. It’s surrounded by green fields and I wonder for a second how they keep the sheep away from the arriving planes. Well, the two planes a day that touchdown here in the south west of Ireland. A ray of light welcomes us while we wait for our bus to Killarney where we’ll stay the first night and start our walk tomorrow. After a couple of minutes the clouds close in and it starts to rain. Bridget and I make a joke that this has been our sun for the whole trip. Never make fun of the weather gods.

Here’s our wrap up of the 9 days in a short video. What the frames show, what else happened and why there are only so few frames and photos you find in the written lines below.

Day 1 Killarney to Black Valley: Everything hurts. ~ 6 hours [of walking]

Our first day is summarized in „A lot of wardrobe adjustments“ when we tried to get used to the Irish weather. We started with feeling way too hot and closed the first day of hiking with being way too wet. In between was a lot of layer off, layer on, rain jacket on, shorts off, rain pants on.  

Arriving at our first stop, the cute Shamrock Farmhouse B&B, was therefore a grand accomplishment for our first day. I can’t recall being so completely wet on any hike before while wearing good gear all over. Sheila, our between 80-90 years old Irish host, welcomes us warmly with clear orders to …

  1. take off our wet clothes, 
  2. pass all of them to her – even the socks, 
  3. take a hot shower immediately and then 
  4. return to the hot fire place with 
  5. a hot tea to heat us and some scones to fill us up til dinner time.

It’s nice to be taken care of like this. 

It took me almost the whole 6 hours of walking today until my body had adjusted to this activity again. Every other hour something new started to hurt. The shoulders, the back, the hips, the knees, the ankles. The constant movement stirred up their regular workday routine and both Bridget and I mentioned a little too often a new pain at a new spot. Luckily, my experience says, most of these will be gone tomorrow.

I suddenly remember with one buttered scone in my mouth and the tea cup ready to pour it down that we have to confirm our dinner for tomorrow at the bed and breakfast. Bridget did it the night before with calling Sheila. Well, she tried to. She could hardly understand Sheila on the phone and I couldn’t help but giggle the whole time. Dialects are priceless. Even today our conversations with Sheila are sadly one sided as I understand a maximum of 20% of her words. I just hope that Mary’s accent, our place for the next day, won’t be as thick. „Can we use your landline?“ I ask Sheila, who is always buzzing around us. „Oh, I have wifi,“ she replies turns around and hands me over a card with the wifi password.

The world turns pitch-black when the blackout hit the Black Valley. For a second I wonder if that’s where it got its name from. The Black Valley was one of the last spots in Ireland to get electricity. Now we get a feeling for it. It’s 9 pm my phone says as I walk to the window to check on the flashlights walking around the house. I guess Sheila’s son tries to get the generator running. „Funny, the wifi is still on“ I hear Bridget say. I look outside and then into the sky. The sky has cleared up, no clouds above us. But thousands of stars. I haven’t seen so many starts since my trip to the pacific. „So many stars“ I think and feel very small.

Day 2 Black Valley to Lough Acoose: Wrapped in plastics. ~ 6 hours

„They’re all wrapped in plastics.“ These words might have been the only ones I understood loud and clear when Sheila talked to Mary on the phone right before our departure. Mary, our upcoming host, wanted to make sure we’re prepared for the storm and the rain outside. We have tried to get everything important into our dry bags. Everything. These are maybe the best items we brought as the Irish rain needs about 90 minutes to soak through the rain covers and then the backpacks themselves. „These rain covers that come with the backpacks are only for light and short showers,“ a ranger back in New Zealand had told some fellow hikers and me when we prepped for one of the longer walks. „You need a real sturdy plastic bag if you want to have some dry stuff when you reach the hut.“ And she had been so true. What helped me in New Zealand’s rains worked in Ireland’s as well.

„You’re a fu#*%& moron!“ I look into Bridget’s eyes while the rain is dripping from our cold faces. Wind, rain and a slight drop in temperature have made the second day a real challenge so far. The last 2 hours we have basically fought our way uphill against streams of water running done the slightly walked path and fields and tried to climb done the other side while the wind whipped rain drops into our faces so hard we couldn’t lift our heads. I try to form fists with my hands to keep my fingers from becoming too stiff as I look between Bridget and the little creek that has become a roaring stream. We need to cross it to reach the warm Cooky Monster Café at half of today’s leg. „You can’t be serious to keep on walking after the Café? Mary has offered to get us a taxi!“ She adds to her previous statement. That’s true. This morning when Sheila and Mary had talked about us being wrapped in plastic she also offered us to arrange a transfer if we are not able to continue at the Cooky Monster. I look into the sky and then the way ahead of us. „Let’s get to the Café first and then we’ll see“, I hear myself say although I know inside that nothing will hold me back from doing the second part today except a thunderstorm or some other real danger. We are already way out of our comfort zone and it doesn’t feel too bad.

„Okay, fine. We’re walking. I won’t let you alone.“ I don’t know if it’s the very warm welcome we’ve got, the delicious hot chocolate or the hearty tomato soup but we feel refreshed. A shy beam of sunlight reaches into the window covered side of the Cooky Monster. „Always when you need it the most“ our host for the last 45 minutes says and smiles. We step outside, get our wet and cold clothes back on and off we go over the second gap.

Day 3 Lough Acoose to Glenbeigh: Snow and a companion. ~ 8 hours

The bathtub is filled with hot water and two bodies trying to get underneath the surface, way too tall for the small tub. „More hot water!“ The tap does its best to follow our request as we slowly warm up again.

„It will be a washout today“ Mary had said about the weather during breakfast. „And it did snow in the higher areas.“ 

For almost an hour a dog followed us along the road, over the fields with the signs „No dogs allowed“ and along the river into a small forest and made especially the wet and boring road parts more interesting. It seemed he knew very well how to deal with cars coming from both directions, always taking cover at the side of the road and waiting for them to pass by. „What shall we do if Bailey follows us until the hotel?“ Yes, we have named our companion. „I think he will turn around at some point. Like the dog that followed me in Spain.“ We went deeper and deeper inland, the rain had started again and the trees gave us some cover. And while making our pee stop in the woods he was suddenly gone. We walked on, Turing our heads now and then still to see if he wasn’t following us still. But Bailey was gone. Two days later we heard from another hiker that Bailey had picked and guided him along as well. Isn’t that a wonderful idea that this dog just sits and waits for his „hiker of the day“ to walk with, every day? 

I adjust myself in the bathtub and try to get some more of my chest underwater as I remember the first part of today’s walk. „I want to have a Japanese soaking tub if we ever live in a house“, I tell Bridget.

We were walking towards a mountain, its top still covered in snow from last night when a sign popped up and showed us our choice to make: Over the Windy Gap or along the walking route. All the peaks around had the soft white powder cover. The wind worked against us when we slowly went uphill avoiding the slippery slush. We looked to the ridge, the wind still blowing strongly. „I don’t want to have the same experience like in the Black Valley. And we are not prepped for snow.“ We chose the walking route, well knowing, that it might take us a bit longer to reach Glenbeigh today. The path turned into a road then into a path again, winding itself around the ridge. My hands searched for cover in my sleeves. They’re wet and very cold. Even my feet are soaked in ice-cold water in my boots. 2 more hours maybe?

„Isn’t it great how great a hot bath and then a hot tea in a warm room can feel?“ We dry ourselves, wrap us in warm dry clothes and do a little evening walk with the last sun before resting the rest of the evening in the hotel’s pub downstairs with Smithwick’s and good food. „The live music starts at 9pm“ the sign reads. But we both know we won’t make it that long down here. Being most of the day outside walking gives you a good and deep 9 hour sleep before starting again the next morning. 

Sidenote: We lost our scarf loop somewhere in the hotel or pub. As it was a gift of my Canadian friends the hotel manager did a whole day search for it and sent it to me in Berlin. Thanks a lot to the Glenbeigh Hotel!

Day 4 Glenbeigh to Caherciveen: Sun? ~ 8 hours

We arrive tired but dry at the hostel which hosts us as their only guests. We arrive dry. What a weird feeling. But since the hostel room doesn’t provide any heating it seems the weather had the right timing for us and we got here on time. Just one hour later it started raining again.

Today’s walk took us along a beautiful coastal path high up in the hills with a fantastic view over the rough coast and the blue ocean. It definitely helped that sometimes even the sun made a short visit. „I have never seen rain coming towards me so clearly and precisely and here you see it coming 2 minutes before and can prepare for impact.“ No, of course we did not have a completely dry and sunny day. We had rain and hail. Hard ‚it hurts in your face‘ hail. But we don’t mention the rain anymore. It starts and we just get our hoods up and continue walking and talking. We stopped for a longer chat with a farmer about sheep, cows and why even the good jackets don’t really help against the Irish weather. The Irish weather was also the one which made the goodbye after a while so he could continue his work and we our walk before we took cover in an old stone farmhouse without roof for the next wave of hail which poured down on us. 

„Fish and Chips please.“ We sit down in a pub, our Smithwick’s already at and and order from the typical menu. It rains again outside, the pub is rather chilly and I wonder how we will keep warm tonight without a radiator or fireplace in the room. And with separated small bunk beds. The fireplaces in almost every house made us so happy. Nothing like sitting in front, watching the fire, playing cards and heat up. Well, tonight just the hot food and a Hot Toddy have to recharge us. 

We finish our beers and wait for the bill when another couple of people enter the pub. „Where would you like to sit?“ the very kind barkeeper asks. „Maybe next to the fireplace?“ Bridget looks at me and I stare back. „A fireplace???“ „How did we miss that?“

„Yeah we always have a good time
Whether it’s hail rain or in sunshine
Yeah we’re all living the good life
Whether it’s hail rain or in sunshine“

~The Script, Hail Rain or Sunshine

Day 5 Caherciveen to Waterville: Flooded in Waterville. ~ 10 hours

„The mountain tops are basically huge sponges“ Bridget summarizes our observations so far while we still keep trying to avoid the big puddles of water while hopping from patch of grass to hopefully sturdy mud and stones. We follow along a ridge that goes up and down and up and down for most of the day, grey clouds hanging deep above us. The only company so far has been a beautiful horse, we named Dingle, who neighed when he spotted us, ran straight at us and kept following us along the fence that separated our plane from his. Even when he couldn’t follow any longer he called for us two more times and I wish to know if he wanted us to take him with us or warn us from the upcoming hours.

We keep our even trot going and I wonder how the views must be from up here without grey clouds, wind, the mist and more brown and yellow than green fields. We hardly talk and just make our way step by step forward. „Maybe we have done half of today?“ I feel my thoughts wander. 

Another marsh opens up in front of us with the typical yellow tufts of grass, water and mud in between. We walk behind each other, the one in front trying out possible drier ways – and the one in the back trying to avoid the same wet mistakes. I stop in front of a larger muddy patch. One step won’t bring me on the dry green grass in front. „I guess I have to do one big step into the mud as close as I can get and make it quick so I’m with the next one on the dry grass again.“ Plan set I make a huge step forward… and the ground disappears. I stepped into nothing. 

I can’t describe the feeling properly. You expect some support underneath your foot but in the next second find yourself hip deep in a mud hole. My left leg floats behind me on the surface and gives me some support while my right leg is straight down into the pit and still doesn’t touch ground. „Oh shit“ I hear from behind and I guess Bridget decides for a different way. I hold the green grass tight in front of me and pull myself out of the hole. I have been so happy during the last hours to be dry. I stand up and look at the mess. My rain pants and jacket are covered in wet mud from the outside. But apparently because it happened so quickly nothing got underneath it. The hip belt of the backpack protected my upper body and tight wet pants plus hiking boots sealed enough to keep most of my legs mud free.

„I didn’t know if I needed to help you or to take the camera out.“ We both laugh. Although I’m still a bit weird out by that moment.

The sun starts to set and we are not sure if the low clouds and the heavy rain trick us. We can see Waterville ahead, surrounded by a lake on one side and the ocean on the other side. The afternoon rain has started 

We definitely get the full range of Irish accommodations on our 9 days trip. B&B’s, hotels, inns, hostels – and today’s really fancy B&B which we can tell by the sheer horror in the eyes of our tonight’s host when we arrive soaked and still a little muddy in the dusk of our 5th day. Waterville has earned its name not only by being surrounded by Atlantic and lakes. Its rain has definitely been the wettest so far. It’s a good thing former architects took the unpredictable weather into account when building all these small houses with a completely enclosed entrance hall right after the street door and in front of the front door. 

We get to our room just in tights and a damp t-shirt. „What time is it?“ Bridget checks her phone. „6:30 pm…“ I turn around. „So… we have walked for over 10 hours today?“ No wonder it got dark and we sore and hangry. We take our wet jackets, an umbrella from our host and jog to the nearest pub. Going to bed without food and something to drink is a no go. Maybe a Hot Toddy has to warm us up and keep us fit and well tonight.

Day 6 Waterville to Caherdaniel: The Ocean. ~ 5 hours 

„We won’t have a shop or breakfast in our next town.“ So we say our goodbyes to the fancy b&b and make our way to the local supermarket in Waterville to prep for tonight and the next morning. We pass the local pub where we have spent the evening with good food and a short talk with another hiker, Austin, who set out to do the Kerry Way in 7 days. „I have a wife and two kids back in the States. My wife didn’t let me go longer.“ He tells us that he sleeps in a tent and tries to dry every afternoon and evening in a pub before setting up the tent in the darkness and leaving again with dawn. „Maybe… you’re not that crazy after all.“ Bridgets states and I am very happy we have met that fellow.

Caherdaniel is a mild 5 hours walk from here and in summer with enough daylight hours you can skip the town and add the next 6 hours to Sneem. In summer or if you are called Austin. That’s probably one of the reasons why there are just few places to stay in Caherdaniel and basically all of them closed during winter. When I asked one place if they’re open yet they answered quickly with a no but offered us a private apartment to stay for a night.

Today feels perfect for resting and taking it slow. The weather is kind and so we get our first hours of sunshine. We see the Skellig Islands almost disappearing in the clouds over the sea while letting Waterville behind. The path winds down to the ocean and we keep walking along a beautiful and sometimes enchanting way along the ocean, between large boulders and through mystic forests. „It is not hard to understand why there are still people who believe in ferries.“ 

We arrive suddenly and in mid-sentence. „I think this is it?“ A 5 hours walk feels like a short day. I check my phone. I didn’t take many photos, none at all during the last days because not just us also my phone basically drowned. Me literally when disappearing in the mud hole. My phone while being with me in a plastic bag in my pocket. „I hope it dries.“ Spoiler: It did.

The private appartement turns out to be a small vacation cabin and we’re more than happy to move in for a day. Only the electric heating takes away the chance for the best accomodation on our trip. With a fire place this might have ended up to be my favorite place. So we sit in the small living area in the evening, the heater gives its best to warm up the stone walls and us, and munch on our hydrated dehydrated hiking food for tonight. The cheese we brought from Waterville disappeared as our afternoon snack. We open the bottle of wine that I also carried for 5 hours today. 

Compared, it has been a short and easy day. „And we will enjoy the wine a lot once we’re there.“ And we do. Every drop while sitting and talking intensely in the small house which was ours for one day and one night.

Day 7 Caherdaniel to Sneem: Black sheep and rainbows. ~ 6 hours

We had a lot of rain, yes. But so far there hasn’t been a rainbow in the sky. And day 7 seems to have chosen the task to change it. So many rainbows mark our way to the small and colorful town of Sneem. After the short day before we feel refreshed and joyful to do the next part, getting closer and closer to the end of our trip. „In the beginning when we still had over a week of walking ahead of us I couldn’t believe how I should ever get in this routine. But today my thoughts are ‚wow, the 7 days passed so fast‘. So I guess it takes 7 days to adjust to every day hiking.“

The way is lined with sheep after sheep and so it is no wonder that after all the white sheep we finally get our black sheep. And not just one but 4 in total. „Black sheep and rainbows. Hey, that sounds like our today’s headline!“

We settle in our nice room above the Sneem Stone House Inn. The sun shines through the window. „I guess I’m having fish and chips again.“ I don’t know how I can still have it yet the fish is fresh and not comparable to the simple and cheap fish & chips I had in pubs before. At the end of our trip it will be in total 6 times of fish & chips on 10 days. „So what shall we do until dinner time?“ „Go for a walk?“ 

Because that’s what you do when you had the second relatively short day in a row. You go out and walk.

Day 8 Sneem to Kenmare: The sheep’s day off. ~ 6 hours 

This is the third year in a row that I am not home or even in Germany for my birthday. It started in 2017 when I traveled alone to Iceland for my birthday when I needed a reset of my life. In 2018 I spent the day in Los Angeles. And this year it’s a hike in Ireland. Being most of the day outside, more wet than dry but with all the excuses ready to spend the evenings in pubs with heavy food and beers and sharing all with a partner in crime – what could I wish for more? A late start with a full and relaxed breakfast, yes, that is something we treat ourselves this morning with. We want to arrive in good shape in Kenmare for some celebrations and not bed at 9 pm.

Today’s hike is a typical mix of rain and sun like the last 2 days and rather uneventful. We walk on over hills and through forests, share rice cake – because I don’t like real cake – enjoy the bits of sun and the anticipation for the coming evening in Kenmare. Until we realize that we haven’t seen any sheep at all so far. None. Hour and hour pass by and we walk over empty fields, cross fences over the ladders put there for all the hikers and no sheep. Only sheep poop on the ground tells us they must have been around. „Do sheep have a day off? When they don’t have to represent Ireland and just hang out in the barn?“ We come up with a lot of hypotheses and I wonder for a second if we have switched into an alternate universe with no sheep over night. Maybe watching Star Trek Discovery right before bed has messed up my mind a little.

It’s passed midnight when we say our goodbyes to our barkeepers after a couple of beers and whiskeys and a lot of unplanned talks with the people who sat with us at the counter. After our check in in Kenmare we chose the little pub for our first beer, set out afterwards for dinner – guess what? -, made a stop in another pub with live music but then returned to the same pub from the beginning. Same as an English-Irish elderly couple who sat next to us during the afternoon session and who returned in the evening as well. „Have you saved many sheep on your walk?“ he asked at some point and yes, we had at least two. Two who got stuck in the broad-meshed fences with their heads and horns. Only for one sheep every help was too late and I was in thoughts for a while afterwards. We chatted until they left and then turned our attention to a guy who had just announced he was a feminist but he thought women took that topic too serious. So I left him to Bridget’s mercy and ordered another pint of Guiness.

It was a perfect evening in a small pub with a good selection of drinks and barkeepers who knew their stuff. The recommended Green Spot Irish whiskey was definitely worth every euro of its high price. „You’re invited!“ Lucky that my birthday is today. Outside the pub a group enjoys their beers and cigarettes during the last opening hour of the pub. The group consists of all the waiters and waitresses from the restaurants and pubs around which have closed by now. „That’s the best part of it,“ our barkeeper has told me before and I wave her a last bye before we cross the street towards The Wanderer Inn. What a pleasant unplanned birthday night in Kenmare.

Day 9 Kenmare to Killarney: Ice cream and hostel life. ~ 7 hours

Only 6 hours of sleep and a tiny hangover made the last day feel a little longer. It ended to be the only day we had no rain at all while walking. For our lunch break we chose a broad stone which was warmed up by the sun to enjoy our scones and cheese. Many people are on the trail between Kenmare and Killarney and the closer we get into the National Park and back to civilization. It feels weird to be back between all the day tourists who walk around the Muckross house or the old Abbey we see for the second time. On day one we had passed both already. The last 3 hours of walking are basically a ‚we’ve been here before‘ and it feels like the day will never end. Maybe also because we don’t want it to end. It’s crazy how fast 9 days of walking can fly by.

We sleep at Paddy’s Palace because the awesome Black Sheep Hostel was booked out for this weekend. „The Mountain Festival is in town. That’s why have no free bed for you.“ While the Black Sheep Hostel is in the class of luxury hostels, Paddy’s Palace is your standard a bit worn out place. And it offers you all the stereotypes of hostel people you can ask for. The one who never leaves the dorm. The couple in the tv room watching old dvds. The hostel guy who is clearly not from here. The one who video chats loud in the dorm. The guy who walks around and sleeps shirtless. Mr. Plastic Bags. We go to bed early after a delicious ice cream with sea salt and a beer at our pub from day 0 accompanied by our first game of hurley on tv. It’s 9 pm when we sit down on the top bunkbed to watch an episode of Star Trek. It doesn’t feel like we need a forced night out.

Summary

The trip was perfect. Although we got soaked on 5 of 9 days, arriving in a welcoming roofed and mostly warm place at the end of the day made it.

We made a reservation before hand at all of our accommodations as in early March only a few places were already open. If you hike during season, starting with late April / May, you don’t need this at all and just stop at a b&b, hostel or hotel of your liking.

Places we really liked:

  • Black Sheep Hostel in Killarney
  • Shamrock Farmhouse B&B with Sheila in Black Valley
  • The Cooky Monster Café to warm up with hot chocolate in Black Valley
  • Lough Acoose House with Mary
  • The Glenbeigh Hotel for their great customer service
  • Dooley’s Pub in Waterville
  • The small vacation house in Caherdaniel (just ask via the Travellers’ Rest Hostel)
  • Stone House for staying and food in Sneem
  • Riney’s Bar for a G&T in Sneem
  • The Horseshoe Pub in Kenmare
  • The John M Reidy Pub in Killarney

And I am very grateful I can share it with someone in more than just words. Thank you, Bridget, for following my crazy idea to do a hike in Ireland in March. 

P.S.: Pluto

On the first kilometers from Caherdaniel to Sneem we followed the “Our Solar System” path: Starting with the sun all the planets were put in order every 300-500 meters, their size in scale to the sun and an explanation sign with a little celtic folklore to the side. The whole way we wondered if Pluto was still there. Bridget and I argued hard wether Pluto was degraded correctly – I learnt the term “to pluto someone / something” later in the dictionary – or not. “You know the only reason earth is a planet is because we live on it. But we’re so tiny compared to Jupiter, Saturn or Uranus and Neptune. And Pluto is even smaller than our moon.”

I have never thought about it, I guess. And when we finally reached Pluto I had to admit that the decision was probably correct. I couldn’t even see Pluto on the post in the middle where the planets had been propped up.

You’re plutoed, Pluto. Also, amazing photo bomb, sheep.

2 thoughts on “The Kerry Way: ~220 km around the Iveragh Peninsula

  1. What a wonderful wet (hiking) and warm(hostel / B and B etc hospitality) trip you had! Glee you got your buff back!! Dan and I think you and Bridget are ready for a real Algonquin adventure! Can’t promise a soft bed, but can promise fires, great food and good company with spectacular landscape!

    Looking forward to hearing about your next adventure! BTW we’ll be hiking in the Yorkshire Dales in month! So close, and yet so far!!!

    Like

    1. Can’t wait to go back to Algonquin and let Bridget earn to be scotch’ed in!

      Oh, you are so close! When are you exactly there? Maybe we’ll make it happen for a weekend!

      Like

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