Coast To Coast in Ireland: A Day in the Mountains

It is hard to leave the restful isolation of Black Valley. It will be a long, tough day. 36 kilometres. Three mountain passes. A day that most guidebooks recommend be completed in two.

Yet the source we are basing our entire walk on, The Irish Coast to Coast Walk by Paddy Dillon, suggests it can be done in one go. Paddy, after all, is a veteran walker. He’s done this trail a number of times as well as many others in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland. His recommended itineraries for each of the past 21 days have been, at times, daunting but always doable. Today, we put Paddy to the test. Just as he’s, most assuredly, testing us.

Not far out of Black Valley, the ascent to our first pass begins. It’s a relatively low one, climbing only 200 metres. A saddle between the much higher MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and Broaghnabinnia. What the terrain lacks in elevation, it makes up for in ruggedness as we climb the final, near vertical approach across rocky terrain. Our pace drops to a near standstill. But the reward at the top is worthwhile. The scenery opens into a lush valley surrounded by mountain peaks.

The descent to Bridia Valley is no easier than the climb. A jumble of rocks looking for an ankle to twist. We were looking forward to another of those incongruous oases that dot the Kerry Way. Nestled in the valley lies the Cooky Monsters cafe, a necessary stop according to a guest last night. Be sure to try the home made ice-cream, she said. And it looked so promising as we approached, a nicely designed cottage nestled in a small grove of trees.  But…closed! Gone to town for the morning!

Disappointment is quickly followed by another, more serious climb to our second pass. The path is known as Lack Road but the roadbed is no no more than a rugged collection of rocks. Again, we are gently led up the slope before the path suddenly rises steeply and precariously across a rocky mess. And, once again, we are rewarded with splendid vistas over the valleys and mountain peaks we have just crossed and ones we have yet to encounter. It’s a fine place to sit back and enjoy our pack lunches.

The path turns near-flat for a long while. A good thing because we need to make up time if we hope to arrive at our destination tonight. By mid-afternoon, we make a pit stop at the Climber’s Inn in Glencar. This is where most people would call it quits for the day.

We still have 20 kilometres to our night’s rest at Glenbeigh.

As we approach the Climber’s Inn, I am envisioning a rustic lodge bustling with avid hikers clomping across wood plank floors in their boots and thick Aran sweaters. What we find instead is a dusty, quiet bar. A local sits motionless, perched on his stool at the bar, a half-quaffed Guinness permanently attached to his beefy hand. The other two patrons are at the pool table, cues in hand. The cracking of ricocheting balls is the only sound to be heard. I order a cider and beer from the barmaid. She asks where we are going. Glenbeigh? You’ll never make it!

We head on, motivated by the hope that Glenbeigh has more to offer the weary walker. Our progress is steady on the still-flat terrain. Forest roads replace mountain trails. But there is one final ascent on today’s stretch of the Kerry Way.

It is a modestly graded slope along roads and farm tracks to Windy Gap. As we pass through the saddle between two tall hills, our scenery changes once more. With heightened drama and anticipation, Glenbeigh spreads out below us. And, just beyond that, Dingle Bay shimmers in the late day sun. Its waters flow in and out of the North Atlantic Ocean, still hiding beyond nearby hills. Tomorrow we will cross those hills and slip alongside the ocean to our final destination on this cross-Ireland journey, Bray Head on Valentia Island. Just two more days.

Glenbeigh is worth the extra 20 kilometre effort. It is a small but busy seaside resort that rewards us with a comfortable ocean-view room at Liosderrig House and several restaurant options. Our host recommends Peppers, just across the street.

To be sure, it’s been a demanding day. But the scenery has been varied and spectacular, the terrain challenging yet still enjoyable. The time passed quickly, agreeably. And here we sit, savouring our beautifully presented dishes of local fish and seafood. The bounties of Dingle Bay and the North Atlantic. A taste of our journey’s end.


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