After our arrival in Killarney was heralded by incessant rain, things rapidly improved for our first morning. The mountains that had been invisible the previous night provided beautiful views from our B&B, and being without transport for the day, we resolved to walk from the town along the Kerry Way and into the National Park. Our route took us along the shores of Lough Leane, and after a lunch break at Muckross House, we decided to climb Torc Mountain for its stunning views across the lakes and the National Park.The previous night’s rain had certainly made Torc Waterfall an impressive sight.
Above the waterfall, the Kerry Way rapidly heads into much wilder country, with the slopes of Mangerton looming large to the east. Near the head of the Old Kenmare Road, a well-made footpath heads up to the summit of Torc Mountain (1755ft), a stunning viewpoint.
Having a hire car from our second day, we were keen to explore more of Kerry, and so decided to make a trip to Valentia Island for a walk around Bray Head (the end of the Irish Coast to Coast Walk), and a possible trip out to the World Heritage Site of Skellig Michael. Unfortunately, we were later to discover that the boats out to Skellig Michael hadn’t started running, and in any case, it was probably too windy. Nevertheless, we did have some magnificent views of the Skelligs.
A National Looped Walk has recently been created around Bray Head, and this certainly made navigation easy. In fact, it made navigation a little too easy, as we ended up returning to the start somewhat earlier than intended, missing out some of the coastline that we had originally intended to traverse. Nevertheless, it is a magnificent walk, with stunning views throughout.
The following day saw us return to the mountains, for an ascent of Mangerton (2753ft), the western slopes of which form the eastern edge of Killarney National Park. The initial ascent was a little dull perhaps, but quick and easy, and the surroundings rapidly become more interesting as height is gained.
Just as things were becoming exciting, the mist and rain descended, and our traverse around the rim of the corrie was largely without a view. For this reason, we decided not to visit the actual summit of the mountain, as it stands in a Kinder-esque world of peat hags and groughs, around half a mile from the path on the corrie edge.
Fortunately, these conditions didn’t last long, and cleared in time to give the anticipated spectacular views down into the Horses Glen with its string of paternoster lakes.
The final summit of the horseshoe is Stoompa (2313ft). Our descent route took us across heathery ground to the outflow of Lough Garagarry, where guidebooks had assured us a footbridge crossed the Owgariff River. However, it appears that floods have washed this away, and we found the river too wide and swift to cross in safety, especially after Georgina slipped and hurt her back during one abortive attempt. We were therefore forced to follow it down to a farm track marked on the map, which then necessitated a four mile road walk back to the start of the walk.
Of course, we couldn’t have visited Kerry without making a trip out to the stunning Dingle Peninsula. As Georgina’s back injury ruled out an ascent of Mount Brandon, our initial choice, we decided on the more modest plan of a trip out to The Great Blasket. In this too, we were to be thwarted, the weather being foul until into the afternoon, and there being no sign of any boats making the voyage. After a visit to the fascinating heritage centre, we followed the Siuloid na Cille National Looped Walk, which though only short, gives superb views of the Blaskets and of Dingle’s northern coastline.
Our final day in Killarney saw us making the trip up the Gap of Dunloe (on foot of course!) Although the road through the Gap is surfaced, motor vehicles are actively discouraged, and you are likely to meet far more walkers and jaunting cars (horse-drawn carts). The scenery is wild and rugged throughout, and very reminiscent of a Highland glen.
A superb continuation from the top of the pass would take in Purple Mountain, which would allow a full circuit to be made. However, we returned via the outward route, allowing us time to explore the oak and yew woodlands of the National Park, which are thought to be the most extensive in western Europe.
All photographs by Georgina Collins.