Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Around Killarney - To Dingle

[Wednesday 31st] Since Bondi and I were both totally rooted after yesterday's expedition, we had a gentle morning. I checked out of the B&B (Farmstead Lodge: heartily recommended) and went into Killarney for email & coffee, then into Killarney National Park at Ross Castle.

Ross Castle is a 15th century tower house on the edge of Lough Leane. I didn't really want to look inside, but the surrounds were very pleasant, and we found some lakeside steps under a tree to pass some time.

Then it was a short drive to Muckross House & Gardens, the main centre of the Killarney National Park. The grounds are very lovely to stroll around in, and you have the option of visiting the working farm, their arboretum or riding one of the horse-pulled jaunting cars that ply the area. There's no entrance fee, and although it's quite busy, you never feel like the place is crowded. The cafe/restaurant at the main building centre puts every other big house or garden centre (including Kew) I have visited anywhere in the British Isles completely in the shade: a good selection of pre-prepared sandwiches, and hot food, or you can go a-la-carte. Everything is fresh, hearty portions and cheap! Certainly a contrast to queuing for ages at Kew Gardens in an atmosphere of stale chip-fat to talk to completely indifferent stadd. If I'd known about Muckross several days ago, I would have come for lunch more often. As it is, I've skipped dinner tonight as lunch filled me up so well.

After Muckross, we returned to our lakeside steps at Ross Castle for an hour or so. Bondi kipping under a tree, and me idling over my volume of Fiendish Su Doku, having misplaced my novel.

At 4.30 we left for Dingle, passing through Milltown and then Castlemaine, which bills itself as "Home of the Wild Colonial Boy". After this you turn west onto the Dingle Peninsula, the last of the five peninsular fingers we had to explore. About 20km along the road we stopped at Inch, which had a long beach strand, sheltering Castlemaine Harbour from the rest of Dingle Bay. On the beach I could see a sail-cart making several laps of the water's edge, and Bondi invaded a 4 on 4 soccer game being played on a small field marked out in the hard flat sand. At Sammy's Store & Cafe, I bought a copy of Ryan's Daughter on DVD, so I can quickly check my memories against the upcoming landscape.

I talked at some length with a lady at the store about walking dogs in the area. She backed up all my earlier contacts by warning strongly against it, as local farmers will take matters into their own hands if walkers on the waymarked paths have dogs with them.

The outside wall of Sammy's has a painted, unattributed inscription:

Dear Inch must I leave you
I have promises to keep
Perhaps miles to go to my last sleep

With that thought, it was definitely time to look for our B&B tonight, the Old Pier at Ballydavid Head. We passed quickly through Dingle town and after a frustrating search via roads and crossroads without any useful signposts, I got to the Old Pier about 8pm. The location is extraordinary, looking over Smerwick Harbour one way, and across a valley to the Blasket Islands off the end of the peninsula. After unpacking, we sat on the front lawn watching the sun

The headland facing the Blaskets is the most westerly point of mainland Ireland, and Dingle is the most westerly town in Europe. I saw a reference to it being "the next parish over from America." The west-coast of Ireland sticks out a bit further than Portugal, but if Iceland joins the EU, I guess that will give Reykjavik the crown. I guess Denmark's stake in Greenland doesn't count.
I've got accommodation booked in Dublin for the week of the 11th, so I'll be providing light relief for my friends Vance & Meme, over from Australia, and may get some time in some Records Office to work on my family history.

My map software says there are ferries from Belfast back to the UK. I might consider the one making the shortest crossing, which is to Stranraer in Scotland. That puts it close to Ballantrae, another of my ancestral haunts, and it's also a short-ish drive over to Newcastle-upon-Tyne area where Chris hails from.

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