Irish Hikes (part 2): Dingle, at last

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The village of Dingle at sunset

I wanted to go to Dingle in 1992. I spent two months in Ireland, and mentioned it in my journal at least four or five times. Dingle, in 1992, didn’t quite have the reputation as a tourist destination that it does now – but I wanted to see the end of the Dingle Peninsula and look out across the Atlantic. I had ridden to the southern side of the peninsula, to Inch Beach. But that was the extent of my travel. Every day that we hoped to go, it rained, or something else came up.

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Slea Head at the tip of the Dingle Peninsula

Twenty-six years. That’s how long I waited for my next chance to go to Dingle. Sure, a lot of other stuff happened in that time. I suppose I could have made the trek sooner. but, as they say, ‘better late than never.’

The Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, southwest Ireland is famous for it’s winding, narrow roads along spectacular rolling hills. Along the coastline, those hills drop off precipitously into moody waters that change color depending on the time of the day or day of the year. It’s known for its archeology, with something on the order of 2000 structures that date back thousands of years. The most famous are the cobble-stone dome structures, the beehive huts, that most people now associate with the Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi.

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In addition to the beehive huts, on the the Dingle Peninsula, you’ll find structures like these – large stone walls that wind around in circles, enclosing a network of passageways and alcoves.

The peninsula is populated by sheep, farm houses, and a smattering of very small villages (not counting the town of Dingle itself). While there are a fair number of tour buses winding their way around the tip of the peninsula throughout the day, it doesn’t attract as many visitors each year as the Ring of Kerry, the much larger peninsula immediately to the south.

As with every destination we visited on this summer trip, a hike was in order! The ongoing drought made it easy to plan. We had an uncharacteristically blue sky, dotted with fair weather cumulus, like much of the weather we experienced in Ireland this summer.

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Looking eastward, along the south side of the Dingle Peninsula.

Apparently, you can follow a trail all along the south side of the peninsula, from just west of Dingle, all the way to Slea Head, at the tip of the peninsula. But we never found the start of the trail. It doesn’t help that locals zip along the narrow winding road like it’s the autobahn and there are few pullouts (with little warning of them). We ended up driving to Slea Head at the end of the peninsula, and the end of the trail, then walking back east along the trail. Like most of the hikes we had been on, you see few other people on the trail before noon. That made it possible to park in the small pullout at Slea Head, because we got out there before most of the other tourists.

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The road (two-way) that winds around Slea Head.

We were excited to find the trail a bit more rugged and less well marked that other trails we had followed in Ireland. It wound up along the hills above rugged farmland bordered by a network of stone walls. From there, we could watch the excitement of arriving tour buses on the road below, letting people off for a glimpse of beehive huts. A lot of huts are on private property, and the locals have some good business collecting entrance fees for a look around.

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Tour buses stop along the main road to let visitors wander around beehive huts and other archeological structures.

The trail winds up over the hills of the peninsula along old stone walls that border farmland. In some places, the path is not entirely clear, but it’s not too hard to pick your way through the shrubs – just watch out for prickly gorse! We hiked eastward about 3 miles until we got a view of Dingle town in the distance. We encountered only a few intrepid hikers and some stray sheep along the way. At one point, we stopped to watch a sheepdog demonstration on a farm below us – the dogs were clearly performing for a busload of tourists, sending a herd of sheep round and round a pasture.

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Along the stone walls bordering farmland on the Dingle Peninsula.

By the time we got back to the car park at Slea Head, the tourist activity had ramped up considerably.

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At the pull-out at Slea Head – a good place to park your car while you go for a hike, as long as you arrive early enough to find an empty spot.

Back in Dingle, I couldn’t resist celebrating the day with a ’99’. Irish soft-serve ice cream leaves everyone else in the dust, and it’s even better with a Cadbury chocolate flake. On my first trip to Ireland, I could buy these for 99 pence (back in the days before the Euro). I was happy to see that a lot of places, in keeping with tradition, sell them for 1.99 Euros, a better deal than pretty much any ice cream shop in the States.

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A ’99’ with a Cadbury flake – the only soft-serve ice cream on this planet I will eat.

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