Since passing my motorcycle test last year I’ve always wanted to integrate riding bikes into my travelling, as it’s an amazing way to experience a new landscape. Your senses are so much more in tune with the environment on a bike and you feel more connected with the landscape compared to just passing through it in a car. Visiting the west coast of Ireland has always been on my list but I was not sure if it would be possible to do the region justice with just a 4 day schedule over a bank holiday weekend. But the only way you find out is by doing, so after giving the weather a final check I packed up Ludo (my bike), booked my ferry and headed west!
Day 1 Bourton to Ballydehob
The first challenge was to catch my ferry from Fishguard on the West coast of Wales to catch my 2:30am ferry over to island, yes 2:30am!! The first thing I learned was that the ferries from the ports in the south west of Wales (Fishguard and Pembroke) are heavily based around commercial traffic so their departure times are not particularly friendly for your everyday traveller at 2:30am and 3:30pm (there are more regular crossings from Holyhead). So setting off from Bourton on the Water at 5:00pm gave me plenty of time to enjoy the familiar route across the Brecon Beacons through Wales which went without a hitch and before I knew it I was strapping down the bike on the ferry and settling down for a few hours sleep before I touched down in Ireland at 6:00am.
I was a little apprehensive that the first full day in the saddle was going to be harder than I expected but after a couple of hours of settling into my new surroundings it was time for my first stop in the harbour towns like Dungarvan for a well earned full Irish breakfast.
After getting refueled it was time to start getting some serious miles under my belt, as I pushed on towards Ballydehob. After the long 120 miles on the N25 highway I eventually made it to Cork and turned onto the N71 which marked a noticeable change as the roads seem to narrow and become more technical with every mile. Then all of a sudden just past the village of Leap I got my first signs that I was approaching the Ireland I’d dreamt about during my preparation, with a view out to sea flanked with green laden cliffs was a stark contrast to the morning’s ride.
This was a great lift to my spirits as after close to 5 hours on the road and 28 hours without a proper sleep I knew my first over night stop was almost in sight.
At 2pm I finally arrived at my first stop over in Ballydehob just on the edge of the Crookhampton Peninsula where a few hours of welcome shut eye was just what the doctor ordered. After some welcome shut eye I wandering into town for one of the best steaks I’ve ever had at Antonio’s Italian and my first sip of Guinness in Barry O’Brien Irishish whip bar before an early night as tomorrow was going to be the longest day I’d ever tried on the bike at 270 miles.
Day 2 The Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula
Heading off from Ballydehob early rewarded me with the amazing experience of riding through sun drenched clouds as I rode up and down through valleys on my way up the N71 to the charming town of Glengarriff, which is the southern gateway to the Bere Peninsula. After a short drive along the coast it was time to hit my first proper riding road, the R574 or Healy Pass.
The Healy Pass is an 8 mile stretch of road over the hills that separate County Cork and County Kerry. Riding north up the valley the road opens out into a series of sweeping bends that get tighter and tighter as you ascend up the hillside, with the final stretch to the summit becoming biking nirvana. The view down back down the valley was a sure sign that today was going to be a good day and Ireland had plenty more to offer. The descent down the north side was a more relaxed experience with more open sweeping bends allowing me to taking in one of the finest views of the trip over Glanmore Lake.
After this impressive morning’s riding I knew breakfast was in order and stopping off in the next town of Kenmare which was a welcome opportunity to recharge some batteries and grab breakfast before taking on the main Ring of Kerry. Check out the small Café Mocha, which has a great menu and super friendly staff.
One of the first things to know about the Ring of Kerry is that coaches are restricted to travelling in an anti clockwise direction so to avoid getting stuck in too much traffic I, like most car drivers, chose to ride clock wise from Kenmare. The main Ring of Kerry takes you round the Kerry peninsula primarily on the N70 and just driving around the peninsula is impressive enough but there are plenty of small detours you can take to really add some extra value.
My first stop was the hidden away Gleesk Pier just a couple of miles south of the N70 down a single track road where you’ll find a beautiful spot to stop off for a picnic or to cool off your feet after a long day in the saddle. There are no services down at the pier so you’ll need to bring everything you need with you but it offers some great views over the bay towards the Bere Peninsula.
Back on the N70 I turning north in the small village of Castecove to Staigue Stone Fort, where you’ll find your way to one of the finest examples of the characteristic stone Forts that define this part of Ireland’s history. This simple Fort has impressive 3m high perimeter walls and tiny storage rooms that can give a welcome break from the long drive.
As you pass through Caherdaniel the N70 really starts to give you some of the best views you’ll see on your journey over the Atlantic Ocean with plenty of places to pull over to take in the scenery. On a clear day you’ll be able to see Island of Skellig Michael which is where Luke Skywalker was found hiding out at the end of the Force Awaken. Ferries go from Portmagee for day tours to the island but that would have taken too much time out of my itinerary so I would have to come back another day to visit.
I chose to cut inland after Waterville along the Ballaghishheen Pass which offers a contrast from the steep coastal cliffs with open moors below gently sloping mountain ranges. After a few wrong turns I found my way back onto the N70 heading north to the smaller but just as impressive Dingle Peninsula.
Taking the R561 coast road to Dingle via Inch Beach gave me some birds eye views back over the Kerry Peninsula. Dingle is small harbour town with a great buzz to it with bars and restaurants lining the main street, making it an ideal location for an overnight stay if you’re after a more lively experience.
But I had no time to stop as I needed to take in two of the most impressive roads of the trip, the Slea Head Drive coast road and the nerve racking Connor Pass. Both made the detour off the main Ring of Kerry well worth the effort before heading back to Killarney to settle down for my next overnight stop.
Day 3 Killarney to Wexford via Gap on Dunloe
Starting the day in Killarney gave me a great opportunity to take in the last few sights I had on my list before the long journey back east. Thanks to Killarney’s central location it has a concentration of major attractions that make it one of the major focal points of the area.
Heading south from Killarney on the N71 you soon reach Torc Waterfalls which is an impressive series of waterfalls in a tree lines valley to the south of Killarney National Park. You can get the traditional horse drawn carriage from Muckross House or there is free parking at the base of the falls which leads to a series of walks that are a welcome chance to stretch the legs.
Continuing south for 10 miles twisting and turning along the N71 with beautiful rhododendrons lining the road and tunnels carved in the sheer rock face. You’ll eventually come out of the trees to the Ladies View viewpoint, which is a rocky outcrop giving the best views back over the Upper Lake and Killarney National Park. If there was one place you should get up early to watch the sun rise on your visit, this would be it!
My final road before the journey back east was the Gap of Dunloe which was undoubtedly one of the highlights of my trip and one of my favourite travel locations ever! The winding road runs north to south from Dunloe to Blackvalley through an impressive valley and hidden lakes. At the northern section of the road you can stop off at Kate Kearneys Cottage for a bite to eat or to get the traditional horse drawn carriage up to the lakes. The further south on the road you go the less busy it becomes as once you pass the lake most cars seem to turn around and go back but make sure you do the whole length of the road, you won’t regret it.
The Gap of Dunloe was the perfect way to finish my time on the west coast but unfortunately all good things come to an end. So I started my return journey taking a more scenic route back to Wexford along the N72 via Lismore which was well worth the extra few miles as it was a great chance to see the more traditional Ireland away from the major tourist spots.
My final night’s stay was in the harbour town of Wexford just a few miles north of the ferry terminal. If you get the chance make sure you sample some of Ireland’s finest craft lagers in The Sky and The Ground pub which quickly became my favourite pub ever!
Day 4 Wexford to Bourton on the Water
The final day was off to an early start with a short half an hour blast down to Rosslare to catch the 8:00am ferry back to Fishguard. The trip back through Wales was a great opportunity to reflect on my first solo bike trip, as I’d started this journey apprehensive as to whether it would be possible to travel to the west coast of Ireland and back again over a long weekend whilst still appreciating such a vast area. I can safely say that it is entirely possible to experience all the Ring of Kerry has to offer but you need to be aware that it will be a pretty full on experience and not much time to just sit back and relax. Be warned through you will want to go back for a longer visit as there is so much more on offer than what I experienced which can only be done with a more relaxed itinerary.
But if you’re putting off visiting Ireland don’t wait any longer as with just two days holiday you could see to what is unquestionably one of the most beautiful areas in Europe!