Walking the Dingle Way

My sister lives in Dingle so at the beginning of July, after the wettest English June anyone can remember, I decided to combine a visit with a walk around the 179 km Dingle Way.  I had a great time, loved the scenery, the pubs and the food - the weather for once was better in Ireland than England - but I have to say I was disappointed with the walk itself.  At least 40 per cent of it was on roads with a significant part of the balance along beaches and it’s quite clear that the local farmers and landowners don’t welcome walkers. 
Feck Off!
The Dingle Way is one 30 Irish national waymarked trails and along with the Kerry Way and the Wicklow Way has an international reputation.  Starting at Tralee, the county town of Kerry, the route takes you on a 179 km walk around Dingle Peninsula. It’s an easy walk to plan with lots of readily available high quality information.


I used the dingleway.com web site to develop my itinerary and downloaded a gps trail from GPSies.com.  The dingleway.com people recommend 8 days for the whole route but it’s easy walking (although a lot of hard surfaces) and I did it in six. I went further on my first day (Inch rather than Annascaul) and finished at Camp rather than Tralee which avoided walking the same stretch twice.  Apart from that my itinerary was as recommended.


Day 1 Tralee to Inch - 32 kms
Day 2 Inch to Dingle - 17 kms
Day 3 Dingle to Dunquin - 14 kms
Day 4 Dunquin to Feohanagh - 21 kms
Day 5 Feohanagh to Cloghane 21 kms
Day 6 Cloghane to Camp 27 kms


The plan meant I could go Monday to Monday flying out from Stansted on Ryanair. My sister Kathleen and her husband Peter met me at the airport but there is a bus into Tralee.  



Follow the yellow man

So what about the Dingle Way? Essentially it’s a coast path, sea on one side and the mountains of the Dingle Peninsula on the other. There are two “ranges” of mountains, Slieve Mish at the eastern end and a series of mountains including Mount Brandon running north/south at the western end. Mount Brandon (named after St Brendon) at 953 metres is the second highest in Ireland.  The walk takes you in an anticlockwise direction around the peninsula, crossing it on the first day.  The farmed land - between the coast and the mountain heathland - is the no-go area so you're either walking along a road, the beach or the edge of the heathland.  Ancient paths do exist through the farmland but generally speaking there is no right of way with “no trespass”, “beware of bull”, “beware of ram”, "beware of rabbit" even signs greeting the walker.  


Not much room on the Dingle Way
The scenery is fantastic, heavily glaciated central mountains with dramatic steep sided valleys providing a backcloth to an amazing coastline.  I loved the views across the Dingle Bay south to Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, the highest mountains in Ireland; west out to the Great Blasket Island and the “sleeping giant”; and then, on the homeward leg, across Smerwick Harbour up towards Mount Brandon itself.  Adding to the scenic quality is a constantly changing light, and even on the dullest of days a little bit of sun can break through illuminating, just for a moment, a scene that had previously been totally hidden.
Looking north near Ventry Bay

It’s a mild wet climate and the vegetation is lush.  Lining the roads are a smaller version of the Devon hedge bank and these are full of wildflowers with fuschia, honeysuckle, dog rose and bramble blossom giving colour and glorious scent. Birdlife was also abundant both along the coast and in the salt-marshes just behind the sandbanks. I saw cormorants, shags, guillemots, puffins, oystercatchers and many more I couldn’t put a name to.  

Sybil Point
Although you don’t see much of it, the peninsula has a particularly rich archaeological heritage with standing stones evidencing human presence thought to go back 4,000 years.  You pass through the scenes of a number of massacres - invariably the English massacring the Irish - and memorials to the Irish Potato Famine, the Irish War of Independence and the Civil War.  The film “Ryan’s Daughter” was filmed on the peninsula and various locations in the film can be found on the walk.
Clochan on the side of Mount Eagle

What struck me was how little there was in the way of old housing other than in the small towns.  Ireland’s population peaked just before Irish Potato Famine and continued to drop until the 1960s.  Rural depopulation was particularly marked in Kerry and the Dingle peninsula, and lack of development at least until recently is apparent in the tiny scale of the remains of rural cottages and the limited number of Victorian or early 20th century houses.  The area must have been incredibly poor with people leaving as soon as they could.



Building has picked dramatically since then and the cliche of the Irish bungalow, built from the 70s onwards, has been superseded by something altogether more luxurious. Many of these are built in fantastic locations, places where you would never get planning permission in England, and lots, with the property crash, are now standing empty, ghost houses as they are referred to locally.
Ghost houses above Inch Beach

The population is growing again now (still nowhere near its pre-famine peak) and I suspect it's a lot more diverse than it used to be.  Still very Irish, with lots of people speaking to each other in Irish, the population now has different nationalities and includes artists and other people who have deliberately moved to the western extreme of Europe.  Perhaps exaggerating a bit but the whole place, to me, had a slightly bohemian feel.


Staying with my sister every night I spent less time in pubs, bars and small hotels than I would normally do but the ones I visited were great.  People are friendly and keen to chat, the music scene is truly amazing, particularly in Dingle (a great place), and yes people do burst into song at the drop of a hat or at least following the consumption of several pints of Guinness. 

Dick Mack's in Dingle - Pub disguised as Haberdashers

Although I didn’t get to experience local accommodation it’s clearly plentiful, particularly bed and breakfast, and looks very cheap compared to rates in the UK.  The typical B & B rate is 25 euros.

So the Dingle Peninsula has lots going for it and deserves a better long distance trail than the Dingle Way.  I don’t know if access is a problem all across Ireland but if it is then Ireland is going to miss out on the opportunity recognised in Wales with the new coastal path which economists believe will deliver a multi-million pound boost to the Welsh economy.  It’s a shame because the number of vacancy signs at the B and Bs suggests that some people along the Dingle Way could do with a bit of a boost.

Day by Day along the Dingle Way

Day 1 Tralee to Inch

Technically the Dingle Way starts and finishes at the Kerry County Museum but I was dropped off at the canal at the edge of town so never got to see Tralee.  My sister didn’t think I would be missing much, the weather forecast was dreadful so I was pleased to start walking at about 8am.  

After walking along the side of a canal to Blennerville, which apparently has the largest working windmill in the British Isles, the route takes you up above enclosed fields along the edge of open moorland all the way to the outskirts of Camp. This is a nice bit of walking with great views north across the Tralee Bay. You then head south, eventually dropping down to the Fingass River which has to be crossed via some slightly treacherous stepping stones.  It’s then a long walk along a narrow and perfectly straight road up to the top of the moor (signs of peat cutting) and the pass.  The route then leaves the narrow road following one which is now disused and goes across the moor and through a plantation.  It was now raining heavily and the views were limited but just good enough to see, on the other side of the valley, a herd of Galloway cattle - my favourite. They are to cattle what Pandas are to bears.



Heading down from the pass, through the trees and over the Emlagh River Bridge, I was in the Sammy’s Restaurant above Inch Beach, an important Ryan’s Daughter location, by 3pm.  Was rewarded with a huge piece of chocolate cake and great views along the beach.


Inch Beach
Day 2 Inch to Dingle

Another damp day and because I missed a turn was spent almost entirely on the road.  Started well with more views across Dingle Bay to Macgillycuddy's Reeks shared with some ghost houses - marvelled at the view and the lax Irish planning regime. The route then takes you away from the coast and down a narrow straight road to Annascaul the birthplace of the Artic Explorer Tom Crean (Scott and Shackleton expeditions) - unfortunately I was too early for the museum/pub. 



Leaving Annascaul (still on a road) the route takes you back to the coast and Minard Castle overlooking a lovely little beach and the scene of a siege in the 1640s. Inland again, across the main road into Dingle and then north along another narrow road towards the mountains. I was so locked into road walking at this point that I missed the turn-off at Lisdargan and carried on along the narrow road for two or three miles into Dingle.  Was very annoyed, so treated myself to a coffee and a lemon and almond drizzle cake.  Was back at my sister's at about three oclock.


Minard Castle

Day 3 Dingle to Dunquin

Day 3 was the shortest but perhaps the best day’s walk - helped by excellent weather. Initially the route takes you along a quiet little back road from Dingle to Ventry and you get some great views back to Dingle Harbour and up the mountains towards Brandon Peak.  After Ventry you walk along the beach at Ventry Harbour (location of the legendary Battle of Ventry Harbour) and then through the little village of Raheen. After walking along a tight and fairly dangerous stretch of main road you pass up above enclosed land onto the side of open moorland with some great views of the coastline towards the east. You get close to lots of Clochans also known as “beehive huts”.  Eventually the Great Blasket Island comes into view and once around the headland the beautiful beach at Coumenoole Bay (another Ryan’s Daughter location).

Coumenoole Bay


Even the ugly road walk couldn’t spoil the enjoyment of the views as I made my way into Dunquin. Parked just off the main road on the old road was a film crew working on location for a film called Run and Jump - got to see them again later in the week in Dingle and saw the star, Maxine Peake in action. Got to Dunquin early and went to the museum celebrating the history of the community that used to live on Great Blasket - really interesting and well worth a visit.


Great Blasket
Day 4 Dunquin to Feohanagh

Weather stayed fine and had another day enjoying the scenery although the route the walk took really did try to spoil it. After some nice coastal walking near Clogher (only if you take the coastal walk option) you head inland away from Sybil Point, Sybil Head  and the Three Sisters and miss what looks like at lovely stretch of coast.  According to my fairly old map the original route has been diverted to make way for the a golf course which explicitly bans hikers and walkers.  Still, after some fairly grim road walking it’s a lovely march around the beach at Smerwick Harbour (massacre location) with great views up to Mount Brandon and then onto the pretty little village of Ballynagall.  I stopped for lunch at Ballynagall because the map called it Ballydavid and had to rush a little but to get my lift at Feohanagh - the walk along the top of the cliff was an excellent one.
Smerwick Harbour to Mount Brandon

Day 5 Feohanagh to Cloghane

An eventful days walking and the day I destroyed my iPhone. The weather was not good, very low cloud and a bit of drizzle, not the perfect day to climb the col at the side of the Mount Brandon. Going up was fine, a long steady climb, not at all steep until the pass at 650 metres.  Very poor visibility though but it was really well marked and I could always see the next post ahead.  Going down the other side was more treacherous and, for some reason, much harder to spot the trail.  Fell over several times and to be honest was for once pleased to hit the road on the other side on the way down to Brandon.



Went to the pub at Brandon, Mullory’s I think it was called, and ordered fish and chips and a pot of tea. Completely refreshed I went to the toilet, was adjusting my waterproofs when I heard a clunk and a splash.  My iPhone, in a kamikaze moment, had leapt out of my pocket and dived down a tiny and perfectly formed drain underneath the urinal. In a moment reminiscent of the film Trainspotting I stuck my hand down the drain pulled out the iPhone the camera flash on which was already firing away as it tried to find its own way out.  As they say in Ireland it was “fecked”.
Lazy Dog


After a lot of handwashing I left the pub too embarrassed to describe to anyone what had happened.  Of course I didn’t have my sister’s phone number (it was in the iPhone) but the very helpful lady at the pub in Cloghane ordered a taxi. While waiting for the taxi I talked to a couple of Americans who had just finished their trip on the Dingle Way.  It was their first walk in Europe, they were on a self guided walk but with baggage transfer, but they were disappointed. They had very sore feet and couldn't believe how much road walking they had had to do.  I told them that this was not typical of walking in Europe!


Day 6 Cloghane to Camp

Pretty miserable weatherwise, steady drizzle nearly all day with very poor views. After a mandatory piece of road walking, 3 or 4  kms, it was long long beach walk along a sandspit to Fahamore.  If the tide had been in it would have involved soft sand and would have been seriously knackering, as it was it was just long.  Came across an interesting bone type thing sticking out of the beach, absolutely stuck, like to think that it was a mammoth tusk but I guess it was something more parochial.

Mammoth Tusk?


I didn’t go into Kilshannig but piled down the other side of the sandspit to Castlegregory and another fish and chip lunch.  Met some horses wandering along the beach on the way and found the remains of tree roots in the beach, the remnants of an ancient forest and ideal place for a mammoth.


Horses on the Beach

The last bit of walk to Camp, along a road, down to the beach, and then back to the road followed the slightly frustrating course of the rest of the walk.  By the time I got to the pub my feet were humming and I was well ready even for a pint of Guinness.  While 15 million people in the UK were watching the Wimbledon men’s final, the first with a British player for 54 years, everyone in the pub was glued to the television watching Gaelic football.  What a strange game, savage, you could easily get hurt, particularly as it seems to be some sort of rule that you can’t pull your socks up.

24 comments:

  1. You didn't sell the Dingle Way to me, apart from the abundance of fish and chips!!!
    Your comment on Gaelic Football v Wimbledon puts me in mind of a night in Spain [Vistabella de Maestrazago]when there was an important televised Champions League football game on but all the locals in the bar were glued to Bullfighting. Had to retire to the tiny TV in my room.
    Hope the weather in France improves for your Vercors walk, it was pretty poor when I was there last week.

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  2. Nice post, recently I was planning to visit Dingle way with my friends. The Dingle Way is so much popular, and it is one of 30 Irish long-distance walking trails. It is situated in the south-west of the Ireland. Many people continuously go there, and enjoy amazing walking experience. Your advice are beneficial for everyone.

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  3. We plan to walk in Dingle Way during May-June this summer. I have several questions:
    1. Is this a good time?
    2. How well are the signs marked? We have a GPS. Will we need a Smart Phone.
    3. I have been told to use one of the tour agency to help plan the trip and move baggage. How important is this?
    4. Are there any places you would recommend we spend extra time?
    I would welcome reply at : mgtarun@buffalo.edu

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    Replies
    1. Hi Arun - thanks for your comment.

      1. May-June is probably the best time (although prepare for rain at all times on the west coast of Ireland) - the days are long.
      2. It's well marked, although there is a more road walking than I like. The only slightly tricky day is when you cross Mount Brandon which will be in cloud if the weather is bad.
      3. You should be able to use for GPS trail from the link on the web-site and if that works on your GPS that should do it. I don't have a separate GPS device and use a GPS app on my smartphone, but that's a personal preference.
      4. To be honest that's up to you. In Europe I plan my own trips and don't bother with a tour agency. I enjoy the planning and it saves lots of money. You need to decide how far you want to walk and then check to see if there is accommodation. There is a lot of bed and breakfast accommodation and in May/June you hardly need to book. I carry my stuff and apart from waterproofs you don't need much. It's a circular route so you could leave bags at your first stop and pick them up later.
      5. Dingle is a must in terms of a stop-over but it's a small town and unless there is a festival on, there is not that much to do. I didn't get a trip out to the Great Blasket islands which is definitely a regret, but did spend some time in the visitor centre at the headland which is very good.

      Hope that helps and feel free to come back to me. It would also be great if you could let me know how to get on.

      Best of luck

      John

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  4. Hi,

    First of all, thank you very much for sharing the experience!! Very useful. I'm planning on doing it early September (aybe not the best weather but don't really have a choice ...) and I'll carry my bag, but I don't want to bring my camping gear so I'm just a little bit worried about overnight accommodation and food : should I book ? And is it easy to pick up some food in the villages for the day ? or is it just too small ?

    Also, don't have a GPS at the moment, are the maps enough with the marks or is it really required ?

    Thank you very much again !!

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    Replies
    1. There is lots of accommodation and you won't need to book. The waymarking is generally good. Have a great trip

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  5. Hello John, I really enjoyed reading about your Dingle Way experience. I will be walking the same route during the last two weeks of September. I am planning to wear low cut hiking shoes (Keens) and was wondering what your thoughts were about this choice? Are there any sections where a rugged hiking boot is best worn?
    Any information you can provide would be much appreciated,
    Andrew

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    Replies
    1. Hi Andrew, thanks for the comment. The only slightly rugged day is Day 5 when the route crosses Mt Brandon but even then it's mainly rough tracks rather than anything serious. Because this can be a wet part of the world however you might have to cope with wet feet but otherwise I would always go as light as possible

      Best of luck
      John

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    2. Thanks so much for this useful information!

      Andrew

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  6. Hello John,
    thank you so much for providing the information and experience. I´m leaving to Ireland tomorrow to do the Dingle Way with some friends and we plan to camp along the way. Do you know about some campgrounds in the area? Are there shops for buying food and water in the towns?
    Thank you for your help.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Maren

      I'm didn't camp I'm afraid so I'm not sure about the campsites but I do know people who have successfully gone round that way.. I'm sure you'll be able to get water but not all the towns/villages have shops. The first one does and they will know if the next one does. Have a great trip and good luck with weather.

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  7. Hi john. My partner and I want to do a trek in mid may for 6-7 days... We were thinking about the dingle way but now we're wondering whether you can recommend something you loved more with less road walking. Could be in Ireland or in Wales, Scotland, northern England, etc. -- we're very flexible. Thank you!!

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    Replies
    1. I hope I wasn't too harsh on the Dingle Way, the scenery is very beautiful and although it rains a lot, the weather doesn't stay bad for long. I do hate road walking though, particularly in the countryside when, with just a bit of effort, they could take you through the fields.

      Back to your question - have a look at the http://www.nationaltrail.co.uk/ - they are all good, but the SW coastal path is a particular favorite. I like the stretch along the north Devon coast, around Ilfracombe with some huge dramatic cliffs. Not a National Trail but a lovely walk - the Dales Way - have a look at my trip report - http://www.johnhayeswalks.com/2014/06/the-dalesway.html.

      Thanks for the comment and good luck with your trip.

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  8. Hey John,

    Thank you for sharing. I am planning to do this walk in June. Is there a reason that you went clockwise around the peninsula? I was going to go the other way around.

    Thank you

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    Replies
    1. I was looking forward to getting to Dingle I guess, bit further if you go the other way round.

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  9. Wow.Very nice.I like this article.
    Thank you for sharing.

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  10. Hello John,
    and tnx a lot (:

    I understand usually there is no accomodation problem.
    Still, we're arriving in July, with a 5 yrs old boy (quite a good walker) -
    Do you think we should book in advance, as it is a high season?

    Michal

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    Replies
    1. Congratulations to the 5 year old. I don't think you'll have a problem, so many B and Bs, but better safe than sorry, I'd work out an itinerary and check the accommodation. Fingers crossed for the weather.

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    2. Congratulations to the 5 year old. I don't think you'll have a problem, so many B and Bs, but better safe than sorry, I'd work out an itinerary and check the accommodation. Fingers crossed for the weather.

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  11. Hi, John, we are doing this hike in early May. My only concern is crossing the hike from Boherboy to Cloghane, over the shoulder of Mount Brandon. I can't find reliable information on the Web as to how difficult this is--some say there are knife edges and you shouldn't hike it in a high wind; others say it's steep and you'll be on all fours at some point; others say it's not that bad, just somewhat rugged. Do you have more precise information? thanks.

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    1. Hi Laurie

      When I went over it the weather was grim, poor visibility and on the descent not that well marked. It wasn't however technically difficult. Don't go out in gale though, I have been blown off my feet before, into the air, and it's a sensation to be avoided!

      Hope that helps

      John

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  12. Hi John,

    I only have 3 full days to hike. Any recomendation as to the best segment to do?

    Like you, I would prefer less road walking, but the scenery sounds amazing.

    Best,
    Drew

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    Replies
    1. Hi Drew

      That's a surprisingly tough question to answer. Days 3, 4 and 5 were the best for me but it will depend on the weather. Dingle is a nice place to stay so you could make that a base and taxi out.

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