24/07/2020
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Motorhome travel: Kerry and the west coast of Ireland

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Words & Photos: Vicky Lacy & Nick Walker

 

Sweating and puffing, I staggered up the last few metres of the Devil’s Ladder and threw myself down on the grassy col. Several choice words followed, but I’d done it. No matter that I still had 300m (984ft) of ascent to get to the top of Ireland’s highest mountain, I’d beaten the young whippersnapper without a rucksack who’d been on my tail for the past 100m (328ft) up the gully.

This was the culmination of two magical weeks in Ireland for my partner, Nick, and I. We love hillwalking and Ireland had certainly delivered. We’d climbed big hills and not-so-big hills, with lasting memories of them all.

We’d picked up our motorhome only a few months previously. This trip was a test run as we want to travel full-time across Europe so needed to see how (and if) we would function in a tiny metal box for extended periods of time. Our plan was to use a mix of campsites and off-grid stopovers to test out our batteries and fresh water and waste management.

Originally, we’d planned to follow the Wild Atlantic Way along the west coast but, after researching, decided to leave ourselves with enough time to explore rather than constantly driving.

After much deliberation, we decided on County Kerry and the Iveragh and Dingle peninsulas in particular. Between them they offered lots of walking opportunities with mountains, lakes and coastline aplenty.

Our midnight arrival in Dublin off the Holyhead ferry meant a stay in a nearby petrol station and we only managed a few fitful hours before heading towards our first campsite in Killarney.

The town is ideally placed to explore the 26,000-acre Killarney National Park – home to Muckross House, Ross Castle, lakes, forests, waterfalls and MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range. The park entrance is just outside the town with parking nearby, a bus service from town and bike hire available.

To break our legs in gently, we opted for a level walk around the islands separating Muckross Lake and Lough Leane.

The well-signposted nine-mile trail has plenty of distractions along the way; you can spend some time exploring Muckross House or take a small detour from Dinis Cottage to the Meeting of the Waters where the Upper Lake joins the lower loughs.

Much of the walk is through woods and vegetation, so the water is hidden from sight a lot of the time.

The appearances of the surrounding mountains – when they come – are spectacular, though we didn’t see any of the red squirrels and deer. We found a super picnic spot by the water at the side of Bricin Bridge and ate in peace while, behind us, the trail was busy with walkers and cyclists.

The Gap of Dunloe – a scenic mountain pass not far from Killarney – was on our must-do list. We drove the short distance to Beaufort and hiked up to Tomies Mountain and along to Purple Mountain, so called as its rocks can look purple in a certain light.

The Gap of Dunloe in Ireland

The views going up and down were amazing. Unluckily, the cloud came in as we walked along the top and we were denied the outlook down to the pass that we’d hoped for.

The four-mile walk back along the Gap to Beaufort, however, was glorious and doable if you just want to walk the road and back. Alternatively, you could hire a jaunting car (a traditional horse and cart driven by a ‘jarvey’). There are several lakes along the route to stop and rest. We rewarded ourselves with Sunday lunch and a few well-deserved pints of Guinness in Kate Kearney’s Cottage, with a quiet overnight stop in the car park opposite.

Our next destination was Glenbeigh and, following an overnight stop at the Glenross campsite, we drove out to Rossbeigh Strand, a seven-mile-long beach peninsula. The low height barriers on the huge car park limit motorhome parking to only a few spaces along the road.

We hiked up on to Curragh, a modest hill at only 260m (853ft). Whilst it was fairly overcast on the summit, there were glorious coastal views. Back at sea level we strolled along Rossbeigh Strand. It was so enjoyable that we lost track of time exploring its dunes and shoreline.

We spent the night at Cahersiveen, having read that overnighting was possible at the marina. It was and the sky was clear, the sea calm and the sun sparkled off the water. It was just perfect.

The Oratory Pizza and Wine Bar in a converted church in town offered good food.

Nearby Cnoc na dTobar mountain (690m/2,264ft) has been a sacred pilgrimage site for centuries. Whilst a strenuous walk, it’s a good trail and easily navigable by the placement of several ‘stations of the cross’ depicting the Easter story.

These were erected in the 1800s by a local parish priest. Local communities have since painted the crosses white and added additional markers to help guide the way.

The scenes as you ascend are superlative, looking out towards Valentia Island and the North Atlantic. The summit plateau holds a large Celtic cross and was a welcome coffee break spot before our descent.

We left mainland Kerry at Reenard Point to take the short, but exhilarating, ferry crossing to Valentia Island. Valentia has earned its place in communications history by being the site of the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable 150 years ago. The cable was laid from Foilhommerum Bay on the island to Newfoundland (over 1,600 nautical miles), making it possible to convey messages between North America and Europe in minutes rather than weeks. 

Looking over Foilhommerum Bay across to the Skellig Islands was fabulous. We were overjoyed to find that overnight parking was permitted for €10 (£8.80); a warden makes an early evening round.

In the morning, we hiked the four-mile loop up to the signal tower on Bray Head and around the cliffs of the headland, with delightful views of the Skelligs on one side and the mountains of the Dingle Peninsula on the other.

It’s a straightforward walk, following an obvious trail to the tower and with marker posts on the return journey.

After crossing back to the mainland at Portmagee we had a relaxed day driving the Skellig Ring around the coast.

One of our favourite spots was St Finian’s Bay, a tiny cove with a small sandy beach and rocks to explore.

It was truly beautiful and endorsed our decision to take a bite-sized chunk of the Wild Atlantic Way. It seemed that every stopping vehicle only lingered for a few minutes for the obligatory photos before heading to the next viewpoint on the route, whilst we were able to spend a couple of hours there just soaking up the view.

We drove to the southern coastline of the Iveragh Peninsula and overnighted at the scenic Wave Crest campsite near Caherdaniel. This has several elevated pitches that overlook the rocky bay. It was a slightly nerve-wracking walk along the pathless main road back to Caherdaniel, but we took the site owner’s recommendation to visit the Blind Piper pub for a great meal.

As a storm hit the west coast we hunkered down in Tralee for a couple of days. With better weather promised, we set off along the north coast of Dingle to Mount Brandon, Ireland’s third highest.

It’s another pilgrimage site but, at 952m (3,123ft), a slightly more serious undertaking. Whilst there are painted trail markings along the route we took, it is rocky and exposed in places.

Back on the coast we found Murphy’s Bar, overlooking Brandon Harbour. The landlord had no issue with Murvi Morocco campervan being parked overnight outside his front door so we spent several happy hours in the cosy pub.

We headed south to Dingle to see what the town had to offer. Getting from north to south on the Dingle Peninsula isn’t easy as the dimensions of our campervan precluded us from taking the more direct route over Conor Pass. The roads are scenic whichever route you take.

Dingle is a quaint little town to wander around, full of brightly coloured buildings, with plenty of pubs and eateries to choose from. From Dingle, we drove to Lough Annascaul, in an impressive setting with mountains on three sides.

The lough was our start point for a hike up to Beenoskee Mountain. A good trail runs through the valley, accompanied by the sparkling stream that feeds the lake, gradually climbing before emerging onto a saddle with scenery that takes your breath away. A couple behind us went no further, choosing to enjoy their picnic and soak up the perspective back down the valley.

We continued to the summit of Beenoskee but, with no obvious trail, this proved tough going. At the summit, once again Kerry delivered the amazing sights that we’d started taking for granted: soaring mountain vistas, sensational coastline and verdant valleys lay all around.

It was rewarding, too, to look across Dingle Bay and pick out places on the Iveragh Peninsula that we’d visited the previous week.

Ready to rest our legs, we headed back to Dingle and the Slea Head Drive, a sensational 30-mile route that hugs the coastline for the most part. We passed the Blasket Centre, which tells the story of island life (it’s possible to take a ferry to the now uninhabited islands). Further along the route, we walked out to Clogherhead with its stunning tableau of the dramatic coastline across to the Three Sisters.

Heading back towards Killarney, we had an overnight stop at the Upper Torc Waterfall car park. It was ideally placed for an early start the next morning for our hike up Torc Mountain.

Walking Torc Mountain

The route is a mixture of trail, rocky steps and railway sleepers, which made for an easy climb. Torc Mountain is only 535m (1,755ft) and less than a 350m (1,148ft) ascent from the car park) but, once again, this was a little mountain with big views, suitable for most ages and abilities.

Our final mountain adventure brought us full circle and back to Ireland’s highest. At 1,038m (3,405ft), Carrauntoohil is part of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks. It’s a popular mountain but shouldn’t be underestimated, which is why Kerry Mountain Rescue describes it as ‘challenging’ compared to other Irish summits.

The traditional starting point is from Cronin’s Yard in Mealis and we overnighted in the car park. The trail meanders through the Hags Glen, crossing the river running through the valley a few times.

If a mountain walk doesn’t appeal, there is a looping route through this picturesque valley that turns around before any serious ascent begins.

We had decided on the ominously named Devil’s Ladder gully as our route up. Although badly eroded, it is the quickest ascent. It’s a demanding climb, though, and, once at the top, there’s a further 300m (984ft) ascent on a broad slope to reach Carrauntoohil’s summit, marked with a simple wooden cross. The summit vistas were magnificent and we finished our holiday on a high – literally!

So, 16 days, eight mountains, five campsites and eight overnight stops later, we are in love with Ireland and want to return for longer. We’ve learnt a lot about our motorhome and the 'campervan life' during this trip and it has cemented our plans to start full-timing as soon as we can. In the meantime, we’re off to find another mountain!

WE STAYED AT                                        

Fleming’s White Bridge Holiday Park
White Bridge, Ballycasheen Road, Killarney, Co Kerry
Telephone: 00353 646 631590
Website: killarneycamping.com 
Open: 13 March – 26 October
Cost: Two adults, pitch and electric: From €31 (£27.27)

Glenross Caravan & Camping Park, Glenbeigh, Co Kerry
Telephone: 00353 669 768451
Website: campingkerry.com
Open: 5 April – 1 October
Cost: Two adults, pitch and electric: From €31 (£27.27)

Wave Crest Caravan & Camping
Caherdaniel, Co Kerry 
Telephone: 00353 669 475188
Website: wavecrestcamping.com   
Open: All year
Cost: Two adults, pitch and electric: From €29 (£25.51)

Woodlands Park Touring Caravan & Camping Park
Dan Spring Road, Tralee, Co Kerry
Telephone: 00353 667 121235
Website: kingdomcamping.com
Open: 28 February – 31 October
Cost: Two adults, pitch and electric: From €30 (£26.39)

Teach an Aragail Campsite
Gallarus, Baile na Ngall, Co Kerry
Telephone: 00353 669 155143
Website: dingleactivities.com/camping/
Open: April – end of September
Cost: Two adults, pitch and electric: From €26 (£22.88)

Alternative site - Premier Park

Mannix Point Camping and Caravan Park
Cahirciveen, Ring of Kerry
Telephone: 00353 669 472806
Website: campinginkerry.com
Open: Easter – 15 September
Cost: Two adults, pitch and electric: From €30 (£26.39)

Overnight motorhome stops

Public car park (opposite Kate Kearney’s Cottage), Gap of Dunloe, Beaufort, Killarney, Co Kerry 
Cost: Free

Cahersiveen Marina car park, Quay Street, Cahersiveen, Co Kerry 
Cost: Free

Foilhommerum Bay viewpoint car park, Bray Head, Valentia Island, Co Kerry
Cost: €10 (£8.80)

Brandon Pier, Brandon, Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry 
Cost: Free

Dingle Harbour car park, Dingle, Co Kerry 
Cost: Hourly charges apply

Minard Castle public car park, Kilmurry, Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry  
Cost: Free

Upper Torc Mountain car park, Old Kenmare Road, Killarney, Co Kerry 
Cost: Free

Cronin’s Yard, Mealis, Beaufort, Killarney, Co Kerry
Telephone: 00353 646 624044
Website: croninsyard.com
Cost: €10 (£8.80), showers €1 (88p) per minute

Top Tips for a motorhome trip to Ireland

Summit temperatures can often be much lower than those in the valley.

Carrauntoohil was freezing at the top despite balmy temperatures in the valley – take plenty of layers.

Ireland has varying access rights. Do as much research into your intended routes as you can. If in doubt, check

The journey

From home in south Manchester we drove to County Kerry via the Holyhead-Dublin ferry. We toured the Iveragh Peninsula following the Kerry Way anti-clockwise and the Dingle Peninsula. We spent 15 nights touring at Easter. Total mileage: 1,064 miles

The costs

Fuel Average, 30mpg: £210
Ferries – Dublin-Holyhead and Valentia Island: £310
Tolls, both ways – Dublin Port Tunnel, M50 and M7/M8: £14
Site fees: £160
Parking – Cnoc na dTobar: £3
Total costs: £697

 

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