Is this the most beautiful walk in Ireland?

One of the joys of an Irish summer is the 17 hours of light every day and how easy it is to get around this relatively small island. One taxi and two trains later I went from an office worker in Dublin city to following the Kerry Camino in the footsteps of Saint Brendan the Navigator.

Over two days we took on the challenge of walking from Tralee to Dingle (39 km / 22.4 miles) taking in some of the most wonderful countryside and sights.

The Kerry Camino route, from Tralee to Dingle, is believed to have been taken by pilgrims and monks on their way to St. James Church, in Dingle, and onward further afield to Santiago, Spain.

It’s also the route followed by St. Brendan, one of Ireland’s most famous saints, in 512AD. According to the text “The Voyage of St. Brendan” it was this traveling preacher who first reached the shores of America.

Not only is this area steeped in history it’s also one of “the most beautiful places on earth,” officially, according to National Geographic. For a personal added bonus the sun shone upon us for our whole trip. Absolutely magic.

Day 1

Our first port of call was Tralee, the county town of Kerry, and a lively spot with bars, cafes, shops, and restaurants lining the streets. We stayed at the Grand Hotel and enjoyed a really delicious meal in the bar (mussels served with brown bread and plaice served with a seafood bisque).

What’s great about walking 39 kilometers (22.4 miles) in two days is that you have free rein to eat whatever you desire and sleep like the dead. What could be better?

Day 2

The next morning we were driven to the small village of Camp to start our walk. We were instructed by our driver to stick to our walking notes and keep our eyes peeled for the clear signs along the trail. Of course, we managed to get lost almost immediately, but after getting ourselves back on track the walk went without a hitch.

The walk from Camp to Annascaul is 17 km (10.2 miles) and takes you through the wonderfully lush and empty valleys below the Caherconree Mountain.

What was breathtaking was that during our four-hour walk (we were very pleased with that time, by the way) we saw only two other people. We were surrounded by the rolling hills, exposed rocks, with quick glimpses of the sea in the distance, and thankfully the blissful sun.

We had lunch at Inch Beach, the longest beach in Ireland and a favorite among water sports fanatics. Even in though the winds are almost too strong to stand on the beach there were kite surfers and brave swimmers heading out into the break.

Far more sensibly we took refuge in Sam’s Cafe for coffee and cake.

We arrived in Annascaul, the birthplace and home of the much admired Antarctic survivor and hero Tom Crean. Our first stop, almost the centerpiece of the town, was the South Pole Inn, the bar that Crean opened after he retired from the British Navy in 1920.

The walls of the pub are filled with the most amazing photos of hardy Polar heroes that really put your last 17-kilometer walk into perspective. The heroes’ bar is a lively spot with great food (we tried the fish and chips and braised lamb and mash), their own lager named after the man himself, and live music.

That evening we also ventured to Hannafin’s bar to sip wine, play board games and listen to the chat around the bar. The bar run by John (a retired teacher, turned farmer, and bar owner) played Bowie and the atmosphere was perfect for folks bewildered by too much fresh air and walking.

By the end our one-day stay in Annascaul we were already calling Noel and Moira, our hosts who run the Annascaul Bed & Breakfast, our Fear and Bean an Tí (Man and Woman of the House). They made us feel instantly at home and most importantly provided a hearty Irish breakfast the next day.

Day 3

Feeling like pros after one day of walking we set out from Annascaul and headed towards Dingle, a 22 kilometer (14 miles) walk.

Our first stop was definitely the most memorable stop of our trip. The natural storm beach next to Minard Castle is such a beautiful spot it borders on being surreal. Sitting on the black boulders of the storm beach next to the remains of a 16th-century castle we looked out at the Dingle Bay and the Iveragh Peninsula stretching into the distance.

Did I mention it was still sunny? Truly, there’s nowhere in the world better than being in Ireland in the sun.

Onward we headed to Conor’s Pass and this is where the walk got a little more difficult. However, the payoff was the amazing views. The route took us up through farmland, over streams and on through gorgeous sparsely inhabited roads dotted with beautiful houses.

The road into Dingle did seem to go on for an eternity and when the village eventually appeared it was like an oasis. Dingle is just like a postcard. Having seen so many photos of the beautifully colored houses and shopfronts and the harbor and the fishing boats going out to sea, the town felt almost familiar.

After checking in at the Lantern B & B we headed to the wonderful Dick Macks, a beautiful, family-owned traditional pub built around the remnants of the old family shoe shop.

For dinner, we went to the Out of the Blue for what was definitely one of the best meals I’ve had in some time. We tried the gambas al aglio, monkfish with gambas, followed by a hot dark chocolate brownie. Truly delicious.

Day 4

A little achy we checked out and wandered the beautiful boutiques that have becomes synonymous with villages like Dingle, selling Irish-made products like pottery, jewelry, and clothes. We then popped into the neatly designed and strangely urban Bean in Dingle for a serious cuppa Joe and on to the now famous Murphy’s Ice Cream where I tried their sea-salt ice cream before we jumped on the bus to get the train back to Dublin.

Regrettably, I come from the Ryanair generation and while growing up at every opportunity I was on a plane to Europe instead of enjoying our own gorgeous island. This trip has given me a stern lesson…get out and see what’s in store in Ireland.

Only one word describes it…Magic.

For more information on the various tours and vacations available like this visit Camino Ways here.

 

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14 Breathtaking Scottish Walks To Add To Your Travel Bucket List

Fancy watching dolphins leap in the water while you hike across an unspoilt bay? Come to Scotland.

1. The Fife Coastal Path

This beautiful footpath is part of the larger North Sea Trail and runs from the Forth Estuary near Edinburgh to the Tay Estuary in the north, passing beautiful towns and villages like St Andrews and Crail on the way. You don’t have to walk the entire 115-mile stretch: There are plenty of short walks you can do, including this scenic 12-mile jaunt from Lower Largo to Pittenweem.

2. The Great Glen Way

This iconic 115-mile walking route links Inverness with Fort William via the Great Glen: a sweeping, 62-mile-long valley that cuts through the Highlands and contains several lochs, including Loch Ness and Loch Linnhe. If you don’t have time to walk 115 miles, then you should try the 12-mile Gairlochy to Laggan section. It runs alongside Loch Lochy, so it’s a particularly scenic option.

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3. The Moray Coast Trail

This 50-mile hike along Moray’s rugged cliffs is ideal for wildlife fans, as the Moray Firth is home to the only pod of resident bottlenose dolphins in the UK, as well as innumerable seabirds and friendly seals. If you don’t want to walk the whole trail, the seven-mile Portknockie to Cullen section is a fantastic option as it passes the rock arch Bow Fiddle Rock (above).

4. The West Highland Way

The West Highland Way is one of the most popular long-distance trails in Scotland, as it passes almost all of Scotland’s most iconic sights, including Loch Lomond, Buachaille Etive Mor, and Glen Coe. It takes a week to walk the 96-mile route, but there are plenty of places to stop along the way, including Clachaig Inn, where scenes featuring Hagrid’s Hut were filmed for the Harry Potter movies.

 

5. Mull of Galloway Trail

This volunteer-run coastal trail runs the length of the Mull of Galloway, which is the southernmost tip of Scotland and famous for its breathtaking views. The route is 35 miles long, so you could theoretically walk it all in one (epic) day, but if you want something a bit less challenging try the 11-mile Glenapp to Stranraer section, which runs around pretty Finnart Bay.

6. The Speyside Way

If you like whisky then you should definitely hike the beautiful Speyside Way, as it runs through one of the most famous whisky-producing areas of the Highlands. It starts on the Moray Coast and follows the River Spey valley, passing several distilleries in the process, including Aberlour. If you want a shorter stroll, the final, 6-mile Boat of Garten to Aviemore section is a real treat.

7. The Three Lochs Way

The “three lochs” in the name of this trail are Loch Lomond, The Gareloch, and Loch Long, which all form a scenic backdrop as you walk the 34-mile route. Along the way you’ll pass the Cobbler, one of the largest hills in the area. If you only have time for a short walk, try the Tarbet to Inveruglas section: You can get a ferry from Inveruglas back to Tarbet at the end of the day.

8. The West Island Way

This 24-mile walk around the Isle of Bute is sometimes confused with the West Highland Way, but it’s a lot easier, flatter, and almost as scenic. The route runs around the entire island, and forms two handy circular sections that are ideal if you want a shorter hike. The 5-mile Kilchattan Bay circular is a particularly gorgeous way to spend an afternoon, especially on a sunny day.

9. The Rob Roy Way

This seven-day hike is named after famous 17th-century outlaw and folk hero Rob Roy MacGregor, and follows some of the paths that he was known to use. It runs from the picturesque village of Drymen to the equally pretty town of Pitlochry, past Loch Venachar, Loch Lubnaig, and Loch Tay. For a shorter walk, try the Ardtalnaig to Aberfeldy section: It passes the majestic Falls of Acharn.

10. The John Muir Way

This 134-mile-long trail links the west and east coasts of Scotland. It starts in Helensburgh near Glasgow, and ends in Dunbar, East Lothian, the birthplace of renowned Scottish naturalist John Muir. There are lots of shorter walks you can try along the route, but the final 5-mile North Berwick to Dunbar section (pictured) is arguably the most scenic.

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11. The Kintyre Way

The unspoilt Kintyre Peninsula is best explored on foot, so it’s great that there’s a 100-mile trail running from Tarbert in the north to Machrihanish Bay in the south, passing beaches and hidden coves along the way. If you haven’t got a week to walk the full route, then the Clachan to Tayinloan stretch is a good option: It runs beside the sea and offers views of the Isle of Gigha.

12. The Arran Coastal Way

Like the West Island Way, this route runs all the way around an island, making it ideal for people who want a circular walk. As Arran is a bit bigger than Bute this path runs for a more challenging 65 miles, passing beautiful sights like Lochranza Bay, where Queen Elizabeth II spent her honeymoon. Try the scenic Sannox to Lochranza stretch (9 miles) if you want to see it for yourself.

13. The Southern Upland Way

The Southern Upland Way is an epic, 212-mile coast-to-coast trail, which links the pretty harbour town of Portpatrick in the southwest of Scotland to Cockburnspath in the Scottish Borders. For a particularly satisfying short walk, try St Mary’s Loch (pictured) to Traquair: You can end your day sampling the home-brewed Bear Ale at Traquair House, a listed building that was built in the 1770s.

14. The Cape Wrath Trail

This 200-mile beast of a walk is also known as “Britain’s Toughest Trail”. It ends at Cape Wrath, the most northwesterly point on the mainland, passing stunning glens and steep mountains along the way. It takes around three weeks to walk the whole route, but you can do shorter sections. The Rhiconich to Sandwood Bay stretch is particularly beautiful: In fact, it’s like nowhere else on Earth.
H/t Jade Riley Photography and Visit Scotland.

 

 

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By Public Transit From Dublin…

Hikes, Vistas and Seafood, All for a Song

For its vertical limestone cliffs and unspoiled sea views, Ireland’s dramatic western coastline may get top billing. But visitors to Dublin hoping to catch a glimpse of the rugged beauty of the Emerald Isle needn’t spend extra hours and expense traveling west. For little more than the cost of a pint, they can hop on Dublin Area Rapid Transit, or DART, the city’s electric rail network that winds roughly 30 miles along the eastern coastline, for convenient under-an-hour escapes. The following day trips — whose draws include staggeringly scenic sea cliffs that are destinations in their own right, a James Joyce museum and, no surprise, excellent seafood and beer — promise memorable, and frugal, additions to any Dublin vacation. (Factor in maximum prices for “the Dort,” the Dublin Bus, and the Luas light rail tram system — at 10 euros a day, $12.20 at $1.22 to the euro, or 40 euros a week — and travel costs become even cheaper.) And while wintertime daily highs average in the mid-40s, confining swimming to only the hardiest souls, with views like these, who needs a dip in the ocean?

Sandycove

About 30 minutes by DART from central Dublin (6 euros for a round-trip ticket, or 4.82 euros when purchased with a prepaid Leap card), the village of Sandycove has one pub, one bistro and little more than a handful of other storefronts. Its main lure is the sea, most notably at the Forty Foot, a (free) bathing spot set among a promontory of rocky outcroppings, with its “Gentlemens Bathing Place” metal sign still intact, though no longer enforced. It is popular year-round — especially on Christmas Day, when hundreds of swimmers line up along its stone steps to plunge into the icy waters in what has become an annual tradition.

On the chilly autumn afternoon I visited, I watched a steady stream of seasoned bathers peel off their jackets and sweaters to bathe in the frigid sea, among them Caineach Brady, a 67-year-old Dublin priest who said he swims two to three times a week at the Forty Foot through winter. “It’s absolutely wonderful, the sea against skin,” Father Brady said. I got my feet wet, but demurred at the thought of a full dip, and instead soaked in views of the sea and the sprightly swimmers.

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Sandycove’s other main attraction, just beyond the Forty Foot, is the stone Martello tower where James Joyce had stayed for six fateful nights when he was 22, and provided the setting for the opening scene of “Ulysses.” After a six-month renovation, the James Joyce Tower and Museum (free admission) reopened in April. I pored over a small, captivating collection on the first floor that contained various first editions and other rare books that included a 1935 printing of “Ulysses” with illustrations by Henri Matisse, and a hodgepodge assortment of Joyce’s possessions: a guitar, a leather cabin trunk, a checkered tie he gave to Samuel Beckett, and his last cane.

James Joyce Tower

But it was when I left the first floor that things got more intimate. I climbed my way up an extremely narrow, winding set of very short stone steps — each was about half the length of my foot — and found myself in a re-creation of the “gloomy domed livingroom” Joyce had described in “Ulysses,” with an iron-framed single bed covered with a tattered blanket pushed up against one wall, and a hammock slung across a corner nearby. Up another set of tightly wound steps, and I was on the circular rooftop of the 40-foot tower, with superb views of the endless expanse of Dublin Bay.

“The snotgreen sea” was how the “Ulysses” character Buck Mulligan described it, but as I stood where he made his pronouncement, I couldn’t help but think that description was ungenerous. With waves crashing onto the sharp-edged gray rocks below, sea gulls squawking plaintively above and the heady smell of salt in the air, the turquoise-gray water before me felt meditative, mystical and potent.

Bray

Five stops south of Sandycove on the DART, and about 40 minutes from central Dublin (6.65 euros for a round-trip ticket, or 5.74 euros prepaid) lies the town of Bray, which in the mid-19th century had been one of the country’s largest seaside resorts. During a visit in late October, I found its beachfront — whose sandy stretch gives way to a wide swathe of gorgeously smooth, oval stone — calming and restorative, dotted with just the occasional kite flyer and dog walker, as well as another brave swimmer.

But I found real tranquillity when I ambled along the roughly four-mile Cliff Walk, a stunning coastline path hugging the side of the nearly 800-foot-high Bray Head that squashed my long-held belief that the more challenging a hike, the greater the payoff. The Cliff Walk has a gentle incline (less than 400 feet from bottom to top), picnic tables and benches generously scattered about for frequent rest breaks, and beautiful low stone walls and wire cliff railings in place for much of the path. In return, it affords views of strikingly scenic slate cliffs and Dublin Bay’s thousand shades of blue while winding past stretches of shoulder-height fern and patches of flowering yellow gorse. Out there, I found colors so sharp and vivid, it was as if they had been passed through a saturation filter.

The walk ends in the quaint town of Greystones, whose DART station marks the southern extent of the train line. I popped on a waiting train back to Bray (3.15 euros for a one-way ticket, or 2.41 euros prepaid) where I rested my legs and ordered a crisp flatbread loaded with shrimp, sweet red peppers and caramelized onion (9 euros) at the year-and-a-half-old Platform Pizza Bar, easily the most stylish — and eye-catching — restaurant in town, housed in what resembles a slate-gray shipping container across from Bray’s mile-long beachfront promenade.

Revitalized, I went off to explore the town’s beer scene, starting first at the Porterhouse Bray, the original brewpub that belongs to one of Ireland’s earliest and largest microbreweries, which now has pubs in Dublin, London and New York. I parked myself in front of a roaring fireplace and sampled its super smooth Plain Porter (4.50 euros) followed by its Oyster Stout (4.50 euros), a spicy, bitter beer that takes its name from the fresh oysters used during preparation. Both came dark, cold and with luxuriously creamy heads.

Harbour Bar

I whiled away the rest of the evening at the nearly 150-year-old Harbour Bar, voted the “best bar in the world” in 2010 by Lonely Planet. It was also a haunt of Peter O’Toole, who gave it a giant moosehead decades before taxidermy-lined drinking dens came into (and went out of) vogue. It’s now a warren of cozy rooms brimming with bric-a-brac large and small — framed nautical knots, an Underwood typewriter, a rowboat — serving an excellent selection of beers like the beautifully nuanced amber ale from Wicklow Wolf (5.30 euros), a brewery just a five-minute walk away.

Howth

About 30 minutes on the DART from central Dublin (6 euros for a round-trip ticket, or 4.82 euros prepaid), Howth has a distinctly different mood from Bray: there’s a sandy beach, but it’s not visible from the center of town, unlike the working harbor. And compared with Bray’s Cliff Walk, the Howth Head walk, whose shortest loop runs 3.7 miles around the Howth Peninsula that juts into the Irish Sea, feels less cosseted and more raw.

In late October, when I attempted the walk, I wavered between feeling exhilarated and nerve-racked when the path wound dizzyingly close to the edge of the steep sea cliffs with their precipitous drops and noticeable absence of safety railings. (The misting rain didn’t help either, nor did the abundant “Dangerous Cliffs” signs.)

But I continued on, and I’m glad I did. I passed fields of purple heather and brushed up against bright-green moss-covered stones. And when I approached the summit, I had to agree with H.G. Wells’s description in his 1918 novel “Joan and Peter” of the view from Howth Head as “one of the most beautiful views in the world.” Cliffs now seemed to drop gently into the sea, enveloped in cascading blankets of tawny-colored heathland before the white Baily Lighthouse, which stood at the peninsula’s tip. Shafts of light cut through the clouds, and across Dublin Bay, I made out the looming shapes of the Dublin and Wicklow Mountains.

Elated by the view, I headed back to town, where I angled for a seat at Crabby Jo’s, a popular restaurant attached to the Wrights of Howth fish market, more than a century old. As I warmed myself with a bowl of seafood chowder (5.95 euros), I became convinced all chowders would benefit from the addition of smoked haddock, whose rich, salty flavor permeated the creamy version at Crabby Jo’s. I also ordered the open crab sandwich, two lumps of fresh-tasting Kilmore Quay crab tossed with diced apple and celery on a bed of arugula and shallots on dense, crumbly brown bread (9.95 euros).

On a warmer trip, picnic options along the edge of the water abound, including piping-hot fried hake with chips from Beshoff Bros. (8.95 euros), and a messier alternative in whole smoked mackerel with a loaf of bread from Nicky’s Plaice (5 euros, fish priced by weight), a no-frills fish market near the end of the Western Pier. But I was just as happy to be enjoying a nourishing meal in a spot perfect for a wintry Dublin getaway.

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