Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Ireland - June 2016 - Part 6

June 10th - DAY 6. The guide books all talk of the Ring of Kerry or the Dingle Peninsula and must-see places to drive, but so far we've had happy success off the most-beaten paths. Thus, today's adventure was an outing to another lesser-known spot: Sheep Head Peninsula. It had rained gently all night and we saw scattered showers here and there along our way, but the weather was not bad at all. 

Once we turned off the N71 we found ourselves following a quiet country road with only random traffic. A fork in the road pointed a route to our right named The Goat's Path: we judged that might not be in our best interests and continued on.

We could only guess that locals did their shopping in Bantry as we saw little in the way of amenities. We did find one tiny shop that, judging by its signage, acted as a grocery store, restaurant, wine bar and post office all in one - and they also had a single petrol pump out front. Getting into that took some doing simply because the woman at the pump and the woman minding the shop were deep in conversation. Their chat shifted position several times, going from both of them standing outside the shop to the one woman opening her car door, to the one sitting in the car with the door open, and THEN closing the car door to chat through the open window a little more. In each event, they glanced at us, knowing full well that we waited to use the pump. But shortly before Celebsul and I blew a brain gasket, the ladies bid each other a cheery farewell and cleared the pump for our use. The lady in the shop was perfectly lovely when I went in to pay for our fuel, so I can only say that Ireland time strikes again. ;)

From there we followed a tiny road that notably featured a spot for passenger coaches to turn around. On it wandered along some prehistoric sheep path down an ever-narrowing spit of land, until about the time we wondered if we should just turn back, we found a tiny visitor center/tea house road's end. Inside we learned that the Sheep's Head way was a popular walking destination, with trails leading all over the peninsula and over its mountainous spine. We saw a trail out to the lighthouse, but we reckoned that a little more suited for mountain goats than us. We had a piece of their famous pie and some tea, then headed back - and not a moment too soon, as other tourists appeared seeking a place to park.

The drive back towards civilization proved even more adventurous then the drive in, the road becoming nothing more than barely-paved twin tire tracks with grass growing in the center that clambered along the peninsula's northern coastline. 

We met no one: evidently more savvy vacationers returned the same way we'd come in. Far across the bay I could just see the Beara Peninsula beneath a crown of puffy clouds, but Celebsul kept her eyes on the ever-twisting road. It was beautiful out there, wild and empty, with walking trails marked pointing up into steep hills marked only by a few patches of gorse. We finally began to see the occasional house or cottage and guessed that these were folks who didn't much care for neighbors.

Finally, at last, we regained proper pavement and once back on the N71, we headed for the Glengarrif Nature Reserve, where Celebsul had read they had some nice (read, non-mountain goat) walking paths.  We found the sign to the reserve easily enough, but then it seemed rather vague as to where the actual spot might be. Once again we found ourselves driving on tiny, twisting roads - this time amidst deep woods - looking for some kind of visitor center. Eventually we came full circle and realized there was no formal headquarters or interpretive center, there was just a tiny office-like cottage and a couple parking areas.

So, we parked the car and set out to enjoy some nature. It really was nice out there, forested, hushed and green and we found ourselves on their Big Meadow loop trail.  There were a very few folks also out there but for the most part, we had the trail to ourselves. The woods varied from deep conifers to evergreens to thickets of birch or stands of enormous pink rhododendrons. Birds sang and bees buzzed and I found it so very peaceful. At some point it dawned on me that we really had no idea where we were in those woods, with few signs and no visible landmarks, or how far the trail might go, but eventually we saw the big meadow the trail was named for. We were closer to the road by then and began to see more people walking. Some enormous old oaks framed one edge of the meadow and I wondered what stories they could tell of people who had passed there in ages past. At one point the trail passed down a long tunnel of green and I could feel the trees' cool breath on my face. Ultimately we did a 3.5 km walk (about 2.17 miles) and I felt comfortably tired and much restored when we finally got back to the car and headed back to our little cottage by the sea.

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