Gap of Dunloe Adventure
corey says…I absolutely can’t wait to tell you about my day. Things started with a trip to Shannon to drop Tony off at the airport. The ride out was perfect…no problems with traffic and the day was bright. In fact, it was more the type of weather you’d like to see when you land than when you take off.
Once he went through security, I headed for Killarney. I was lucky, the traffic around Limerick was very good, and with the smooth driving, I was on the road to Killarney in no time. It was a pretty easy trip once I was out of Limerick.
I had a bit of a mission in Killarney, our Treasures of Ireland Tour will stay two nights here in April…and I haven’t spent much time in Killarney in recent years. If I was going to give people suggestion, I was going to need to make sure my information on the town was current.
I was completely out of my element this trip. I usually spend several hours collecting information, reading guidebooks, jotting down notes. In fact, I tend to go overboard on the research side of things.
This time was a completely different story. I did absolutely NOTHING. No homework whatsoever. No guidebooks. No notes. Just me and my map from the car rental agency.
The Gap of Dunloe
After I did a little exploring and picked up the walking tour of the town, I had a decision to make. I only had a few hours of daylight left. Since I didn’t want to waste precious daylight hours trying to read the walking tour and do the walk at the same time, I thought I’d give the Gap of Dunloe a try. I found a B&B before heading out…I didn’t want to be searching for a place to stay in the dark.
The Gap of Dunloe was one trip in the area I just never had the chance to do. Liam had done it and so had several other people I know. Off I was to try something new. It felt a little weird to not be referring to my guidebooks…I had no idea how long the trip would take, if there were any details to “watch out for” or even what the “must sees” were along the way.
The route to the Gap are well-signposted, and I the first thing I spotted was Kate Kearney’s cottage. That was a familiar name; the pub and restaurant is much-loved by tourists. With my sunlight dwindling, I didn’t stop.
Kate Kearney’s really marks the beginning (or end) of the Gap of Dunloe, and as soon as I passed it, the roads changed. Suddenly, I was on a very narrow, winding road. It was almost unreal how the route zigzagged and little humped bridges crossed little streams and gorges. It was like driving on a rocky mini-golf course. My photos from the trip really don’t do it justice.
It was as I maneuvered up, over and around this obstacle course that I realized, “This is the first time I’ve really traveled alone in Ireland. I’ve always had Liam or Tony or someone I was touring around with me. I had spent a few nights in Dublin before, but this time I was completely on my own. It was in one part freeing and another part disappointing, because this was definitely something worth sharing with other people…I guess that’s why I’m so excited to share the adventure with you.
There weren’t too many cars out at this hour during this time of the year. One Mercedes station wagon and I nearly scraped sides as we edged by one another, but all in all, there always seemed to be a pull off in just the right spots. The other advantage was that I had been driving the narrow roads enough to always have one eye up the road to see if there was a car in the distance. When I saw one, I would just wait at a wider spot until they arrived.
At one point, I stopped the car as it pointed up a steep incline to get a few photos. There were a few walkers out and about…and I thought they had the right idea…this would be a great hike.
When I returned to the car I started it up and the fuel light was on. I had just under a half tank when I started the trek and that was only 40 minutes ago. The needle was well into the red. A gulp of panic snuck up on me, and I had to assess was it better for me to keep going forward or to turn around and go back? I didn’t feel worried about the situation; I just thought, “Well, this might be a very cold night in the car.”
I opted to keep going. In part, because I thought I might be over halfway and in part because turning around on this road could prove difficult.
As soon as the car started going down hill, the fuel light went off and the needle inched its way over the quarter tank mark. Ah-ha! It was the incline that caused the sudden drop on the petrol gauge.
When I found a level spot, I stopped the car and found the needle to be somewhere above the red zone. That was still too close for comfort. Driving up those hills sucked up more petrol than I expected.
At this point, the sun was getting lower, and I was a bit more focused on getting to a petrol station than the scenery. That still didn’t stop me from getting out a taking photos though.
Once over the Gap, the roads were a bit less curvy, but there was still a ways to go. As the sky was turning from orange to purple, the needle was dipping into the red and the fuel light was on for real now.
I tried to employ every gas-saving technique I ever heard about, but they were rather useless when I had to climb a mountain and take sharp turns.
Follow the Horses
At one point, I came to a sort of crossroads. The hiking route was clearly marked and another sign pointed to the Upper Lake. I had no idea which route would take me to the nearest petrol station.
As I looked at the route, I noticed one route had a lot more horse poop on it. My theory was that with so many people taking jaunting car rides around this area, the poop-lined path must be the more popular tourist route. In fact, the other route had barely any horse poop at all.
I pushed onward along to poop path. I came upon a big gate/bridge that boasted a tea room and boats back to Killarney. “No cars beyond this point,” the sign said. Another read, “Lake cruise – the shortcut to Killarney.” Sigh, no shortcut for me. Alas, the area had already closed for the day, so I continued on.
The road became more gravely and less paved as I entered a more wooded area. Then a farm gate blocked the road. It was a very casual gate with no lock. I’ve been places before where there were such gates to keep livestock in/out or away from train tracks.
I figured I’d open the gate and continue onward. I hopped out of the car and opened the gate. When I turned back to the car…it was slowly rolling toward me. Parking Brake! I forgot to engage the brake. Fortunately, I managed to hop back in the car before it ran me down. As I climbed out of the car to close the gate behind me, I decided this was another reason to want to share this experience with someone…they could at least be in charge of gates!
It wasn’t far from the gate when I realized this was not the road I wanted to be on. It was getting rougher and narrower and there was a sign in front of me that read “Private Property.” Okay, now to back up to a spot where I could turn around.
Killarney or Kenmare
It was back out the gate…this time ensuring the parking brake was engaged and then back to the cross where the horse poop lead me wrong. Apparently, the horses must take a boat back because the wasn’t really any more horse poop on the rest of this drive.
The needle kept dipping lower and lower, and now it really was getting to a point where I might actually run out of fuel. If I only knew how much further I’d have to go, I would have some idea of my chances.
I finally came upon a sign that said, “Killarney/Kenmare.” It didn’t say how far, but at least it told me I was on the right path. A few turns and hills later and I was at Moll’s gap. Now, this spot I recognized. Whew.
Now I had to make a decision…take a risk and try to make the 20km to Killarney or go 10km in the opposite direction to Kenmare. I decided to play it safe and headed to Kenmare. I knew exactly where the nearest petrol station going that way, and I could grab a bite to eat while I was there.
By the time I arrived in Kenmare, it was completely dark. I fueled up and headed into town. Parking was simple, and I walked the main streets in search of my dinner. There must be some animal fair going on in Kenmare tomorrow, as there were several trucks loaded with sheep in the main street. In another spot someone had a pen lined with with straw that took up two parking spots.
I enjoyed a nice walk around town and had a good meal. While I ate, I read the Killarney walking tour and then it was time to head back to Killarney.
Moll’s Gap and Ladies’ View in the Dark
I headed back up the mountain to Moll’s Gap and passed Ladies View. In the day time these are some of Ireland’s most beautiful sites, but after dark, it’s an entirely different story. In the spot where there is usually amazing scenery there is an enormous void. Just complete blackness. It really felt like on the other side of the railing there was nothing…and if I drove off the edge, I’d be falling into an endless pit.
A little further down the mountain into Killarney National Park, there were more trees, and I felt less like I was driving in space. It was a bit comforting to have the trees nearby, but with that came another threat…DEER! They were all over the side of the road.
The two cars I passed on the way, didn’t seem to mind the animals, but coming from the upper midwest in the US…I’ve seen too many deer-related accidents to take their presence lightly. Fortunately, the animals stayed off the road and it wasn’t long before I was back at the B&B recounting my adventure.