My Drive From Baltimore to a Great Night in Dingle
If day one of my three days in Ireland was a castle-lovers dream, then day two was going to be a feast for the road tripper's senses.
I started out from Baltimore on a very tight little two-lane road and headed for the town of Skibbereen. I thought my GPS was leading me down back roads, but this was the main drag. As I made my way through the town, I clicked off a mental note that this might be a really good jumping off point for the northern trek up the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland
If you're ready to see some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, then head to Ireland and take this drive. The Wild Atlantic Way (official website) is 2,500 km of cliffs, mountain ranges, charming towns, tunnels, switchbacks, castles - let's just say more eye candy than I could take in, in 2 days! But I did my best and experienced about 1/3rd of it. I'll do my best to share my highlights, but know I passed a lot of intriguing spots as I picked some of the more dominant places on the path, including the Ring of Kerry drive, the town of Dingle, and the Cliffs of Moher (to be featured soon).
Glengarriff Woods Natural Reserve
North of Baldry on N71, as I mention in my podcast, I had a lot of fun driving the twisting, turning road as I climbed into the mountains. The quality of the road was great. The roads were a little narrow though, so excessive speed was not warranted. The road got a little more bumpy as I road to the top of the mountains.
What I found was something totally unexpected. There was an impressive mountain range between the road and the sea. No picture could ever capture the 360 sweeping views of this area. Even with the clouds hanging over the ridges, the views were captivating. And even after stopping a couple of times, I rarely saw a car go by. I'm sure that changes as the Summer season approaches.
County Cork / County Kerry Line
After a ride through what looked like a hand sculpted Turner's Rock Tunnel (another narrow affair that might be best navigated by one vehicle at a time) the colors dramatically changed! Now everything was a beautiful lush green. As the sun attempted to break the clouds, I stopped to soak it all in.
I was not alone! This greeted me at the parking area across from Molly Gallivan's Visitor Centre.
The 3 hour ride from Skibbereen to the Kerry Cliffs was every bit as scenic as advertised.
The Ring of Kerry
I entered the road called the Ring of Kerry at Kenmare. The Ring of Kerry is a 179-km circular drive that includes the towns of Killarney, Kenmare, Portmagee, Sneem and features the Kerry Cliffs and Puffin Island. It's also a jumping off point for the Great Skellig island which you might remember from the Star Wars movie The Last Jedi is the hiding place for Luke Skywalker.
It was a feature filled drive that really deserves it's own page. Check out more specific details on my Ring of Kerry Travel Guide page.
For all the tall mountain ranges on the Ring of Kerry route, the Dingle Peninsula felt more like the Ireland I'd always heard about. Yes there were still mountains, but they were lush and green and full of farmlands and sheep. A mixture of sun, blue skies, and clouds played out a dramatic scene as I headed towards my destination of Dingle. I took the R561 route.
As I rolled onto N86, there weren't a lot of pull-offs (as with all of Ireland) but I took the opportunities when I could.
Welcome from Fungie the Dingle Dolphin
I didn't get a chance to see him because of my short one night stay, but apparently there is a dolphin that has been protecting the boats and the people of the harbor for decades. He was named Fungie by the local fisherman and he can be seen helping boats navigate through the harbor or even riding out some distance into the sea. Planning a little sea voyage here may just afford you a chance to see this friend of Dingle up close! But if, like me, you don't plan enough time, you can check out his statue near the parking lot.
And speaking of the parking lot. It costs 1€ per hour to park here, via a meter. I was happy to see that when I dropped my coins in, even though I ran past the last hour of the day, my ticket gave me credit into the next morning. With my mid-to-late afternoon arrival, it would only cost me 2€ to park and have until 8:30 AM to head out (instead of 8 AM when parking charges renewed for the new day).
My first trek was to walk down to the Dingle Distillery, as I had a 3 PM tour (part of the reason I hotfooted it around to Dingle after Killarney). If you want to take the tour, make sure you get reservations. They do fill up fast, especially since their award-winning gin is becoming very popular. The two hour tour was exceptional. It was the first tour where we were actually given our dram of whiskey before the tour started. Afterwards, we got to taste their gin as well. It was there that I asked the most pressing question of my trip - where was the best place in town to get a Guinness? I'm in Ireland after all!
Enjoying a Guinness at My First Irish Pub
Dingle is a charming town with an array of multi-colored buildings up and down the main drag, Green Street. It was this walk that would yield one of two options for my Guinness tasting needs.
Dick Macks Pub and Brewery
Option #1 was Dick Macks. I actually had pinpointed this on my Google Map because it got such wonderful reviews. Kevin at Dingle Distillery gave this as one of my best options for a Guinness. Did I go? Well - no. Let me tell you why...
I always want to know where the locals hang out. I love those little hole in the wall gems that make you feel like you've really experienced the true version of the place you're visiting. So when I heard that you wouldn't be shocked to hear someone singing Irish tunes in the corner and that the people there were "regulars," it made my mind up for me.
And I loved the place. That first Guinness went down so smoothly. Yes, there was a man singing Irish tunes in the corner. There were a couple of American females at the bar being flirted with by one of the regulars, telling stories about working on the movie Ryan's Daughter staring Robert Mitchum, that was filmed in Dingle. I got to hear a little pub-wide review on the quality of that movie's story vs scenery. And I got to hear a little politics, some discussion of European football versus the Irish national sport of hurling, talks of travel and life in town - all in all, it was just the experience I was looking for.
Afterwards, I asked for a recommendation on a place for dinner and was told Paul Geaney's Bar & Restaurant down the street was the place to go. Again, spot on. I enjoyed some amazing comfort food there. The roast lamb came with stuffing, gravy, potatoes, vegetables and of course I had to try another Guinness, just to make sure I had a wide spectrum of experiences so I could dispel the rumor that only the best Guinness comes from Dublin.
Green Street, Dingle
The next morning, I took one last walk around town and again up Green Street. Even with the clouds threatening, shop owners were prepping their buildings with fresh coats of paint. I walked past St. Mary's Catholic Church and the An Diseart Chapel which is known for it's beautiful stained glass windows. I wished I had more time in this fun and picturesque little town, but I had to be on my way.
Dingle Walk of Fame
But before I left, I noticed there was a Dingle "Walk-of-Fame" and that not only was Robert Mitchum featured, but so was Timothy Dalton, who was remember with a "007" on his marker. Apparently they along with Dolly Parton, Bono, and Julia Roberts had all been to Dick Macks and so they've been immortalized.
But the true delight seemed to be that latte I had on the way out of Dingle at Bean in Dingle. They aren't paying me to say this, it is just my opinion that this was one of the most tasty latte's I've ever had.
Maybe it was the atmosphere of Dingle and my longing to linger there a little longer. Maybe it was that my eating habits on this trip had been a little suspect (usually 2 meals a day, sometimes 1). It wasn't the sausage roll I ate, because that really wasn't enough to carry me as long as I was going to make it last. But that was quite a coffee. I savored it all the way back to my car, which I reached at 8:24 AM, just in time before the meter ran dry.
Day 2 in the books, it was time to go back through the Dingle Peninsula and back to a town on the Ring of Kerry before heading to the Cliffs of Moher.
What a trip!
Extra: Where I Stayed
I think I literally stayed in the smallest hotel room in the history of hotel rooms. The Waterfront is well located and a great place for a short stay. I appreciated the 6 chocolate truffles and bottles of water. But it was amazing how they turned closets into bathrooms and showers. They are genius with optimization of space. If you're claustrophobic though, or need breakfast included, you might look elsewhere. There are lots of places available to stay.