We had loose plans to drive part of the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland, but didn’t know where to start.
That changed as we walked down an alleyway in Cork with our friends Abby and Josh. Abby starting chatting with a fella who turned out to be a longtime motorhomer and travel guide. And he told me and Todd in no uncertain terms to head to Kinsale to start on our journey as it was the official beginning of the Wild Atlantic Way (WAW). So we did, heading there later that day.
The afternoon was glorious for the short drive. The sun basked down, the warmest it had been since we arrived in Ireland a week earlier. As we came over a hillside and saw the ocean framed behind Charles Fort with the town just off in the distance we knew we had made the right decision. And so began our seventeen day trek on the Wild Atlantic Way.
We loved Kinsale so much we stayed there for three nights, taking time to explore the fort, wander the colorful town and eat fish and chips at the marina.
Desmond Castle has an interesting international wine museum – who knew there was such an Irish connection to winemakers all over the world? We hit up several of the pubs where we experienced our first taste of live Irish music, particularly enjoying the vibe at The Silent Banjo. We also learned about the Tidy Towns contest after which we were constantly on the lookout for winning towns on our way up the coast.
From Kinsale we headed towards Mizen Head to see the southernmost point of Ireland.
After visiting the Timoleague Abbey ruins we stopped for lunch in Clonakilty, another Tidy Town winner. Clonakilty is home to Michael Collins, a famous Irishman who lead in the struggle for independence. It also has a breathtaking cathedral and a great Main St. full of butchers, curio shops and cafes.
Then we took a quick detour to the Drombeg Stone Circle which dates back to the Bronze Age. This was the most ancient landmark Todd and I have ever seen and a taste for others we would see along the way. Let’s say the drive from that circle to where we camped for the night was a challenge. It was our first experience with just how narrow the coastal roads in Ireland can be and involved some serious maneuvers to bypass other cars in the small town of Glandore.
Arriving in Schull that evening we were thrilled to learn it was their annual regatta weekend.
We enjoyed a live band by the pier and some boat races with the bonus of a fireworks show that night. We imbibed and made new friends with a hilarious group of ladies away for a women’s weekend. I laughed that so hard that night and was shocked when I stumbled out of the van late the next morning to find they had already made breakfast, showered and packed up. We were out of practice! Rain started that morning but we walked down to the farmer’s market anyway and caught a few more races then drove south to the Mizen Head Signal Station.
Parking at the point that night was spooky with rainy, foggy and windy conditions.
We couldn’t even see where the cliff dropped off into the ocean although we could hear the waves churning below. Luckily the rain stopped the next morning. The signal station is gorgeous with views of the Sheep’s Head peninsula to the West. You feel like you are at the end of the earth. The visitor’s center has some informative exhibits on lighthouse keepers, local flora and fauna and Marconi’s telegraph. We took our time taking in the views and watching some harbor seals frolic in the surf below.
The drive back up North was full of wild fuschia and montbretia everywhere. We got to our parking spot at a nature preserve near Glengariff with time for a short hike. To finish the day we walked up Lady Bantry’s viewpoint with views of Bantry Bay and the mountains behind. The scenery in Ireland is always surprising and breathtakingly beautiful.
The next day we headed south again, this time on the Beara Peninsula.
It is a bit off the beaten track from other spots further along the WAW. Although we ran into some local tourists, there was a general lack of large buses and tour groups. We enjoyed chatting with folks who stopped for tea at one of the many waysides. After taking hours to go fifty km. we came across our first real swimming beach! Though it was a bit brisk for us to jump in, the locals thought nothing of it. We watched in our fleece jackets and hats.
From the beach we started an amazing loop hike near the Allihies Copper mines. It took us along the coast and through herds of cows. Turning inland, we walked the rest of the way among sheep and babbling brooks. Sometimes we could hear the water but not spot the source. We could also hear and see local horse races taking place in the distance. It seems that every village in Ireland has a festival in the summer and we happened to catch the tail end of this village’s festivities.
After our hike we drove up the west side of the Beara peninsula.
At one point a woman in the road flagged us down and honestly it was perfect timing. Floored by the incredible beauty of the scene, Todd was happy to pull over to enjoy it more. She was a German expat and delighted to chat with some of her countrymen. Honest mistake – with the Deutschland plates on the campervan we get that a lot! We checked out the super tidy town of Eyries, commonly used as a movie set. Further along we stopped for a pint and some craic at The Village Inn in Ardgroom before heading to one of our sketchiest parking spots to date.
The ‘Windy Pier’ as we refer to it seemed a good choice – private, flat and off the main thoroughfare.
Unfortunately being parked at the water’s edge on a tiny cement pier for the night was not a great idea. We endured 30 mph winds and the tide creeping up to us. The van was a rockin’ all night long. I slept approximately three hours, spending the wee hours of the night googling how strong wind had to be to tip over a campervan. Not the most restful evening.
We finished our drive up the Beara peninsula the next morning. Our first segment of the WAW ended in the lovely town of Kenmare, gateway to the Ring of Kerry. Here we did a little souvenir shopping, purchasing a much needed wool sweater for Mairin. Oh the fickle Irish summer!
Completing our first week on the Wild Atlantic Way was incredible yet surreal. It felt like we had barely scratched the surface….we had oodles of ring forts, monastic ruins, coastal hikes and more incredible views to look forward to.
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