As we drove from Kenmare through Moll's Gap this time we didn't take the right towards Killarney National Park. Instead, we headed left toward Lord Brandon's Cottage to leave our car for the day while we made the trek through the Gap of Dunloe. The road became a single lane for multiple miles. Thankfully, there were very few cars on it but with thick brush on both sides of the road, it made passing each other difficult. We missed multiple turns and got a little lost along the way but that's all part of the fun. Missing one turn took us to a serene lake, we definitely didn't mind that detour. After driving down what looked like someone's driveway we had finally found Lord Brandon's Cottage.
Online I had seen conflicting reports about whether you can drive the Gap of Dunloe or not. Some said it was ok just not advised due to the amount of horse-drawn carriages and hikers on the single lane road. Others said it was not legal to drive on the road. Regardless, we felt we didn't want to take the chance and would rather hike it anyway.
This was 100% the right call. While I didn't see any signs prohibiting cars and would often see cars on the road, they were more of a nuisance to the hikers due to how narrow the road is and the lack of a shoulder in my areas. Plus, you don't get to appreciate the views due to them going by so much more quickly. There are also some views that you don't get inside the car. If you are able to walk the long road, I highly recommend it.
We strapped on our 3 liter water reservoir backpack filled with trail mix, fruit, an external battery for our phones, and of course, the one thing you need in Ireland no matter what the sky looks like, our rain jackets. We began following the path back we had driven in on before stopping to "baaaaa" at sheep we saw on the side of the road. Don't lie you would do it too.
If you look at the picture to the left to this paragraph, you'll see the path we took from Lord Brandon's. This led us through the small township you see. After you pass the township, you'll come to a fork in the road. The sign is a tad confusing because it shows a hiking symbol pointed to the left, that hiking symbol is for those hiking the Kerry Peninsula. You want to head right. I say this because I saw people go left and then have to come back. If not for some kind bicyclists fortuitously climbing the mountain at that moment we may have made that same mistake. Thankfully, they were able to direct us to the correct path, all while going up the steep incline on their bikes.
We had followed the road up, we had reached the highest point on our path. We could see the vast Black Valley we had just come from stretching out behind us and the incredible sights of the Gap of Dunloe ahead of us. Stopping for a snack and a brief rest we had a short conversation with a white haired couple that was also making the 13 mile trip from Lord Brandon's to Kate Kearney's and back. They told us about how they had done this hike before but it was when they were much younger. I must say I am still impressed that they were able to complete this hike at their age.
Continuing down into the Gap, we were struck by the beauty of the cragginess of the mountains rising up on both sides of us. The path wound down and leveled off and became a leisurely stroll compared to the steep incline we had just came from. Sheep grazed on the side of the road and up on the mountains. They hopped effortlessly from rock to rock looking for that perfect blade of grass to chow down on.
Speaking of chowing down, we had made it to our halfway point, Kate Kearney's Cottage. This little restaurant and shop was a welcome sight after a few hours of walking. I, having no issue with doing so, ordered the lamb and it was delicious.
Hiking back through the Gap was just as beautiful as it was the first time. The hike back was so much easier due to us being on the descent on that steep road. Before heading back to Kenmare we decided to see what was down the road right past the parking area we had left our car at outside of Lord Brandon's Cottage. This turned out to almost be a costly mistake. The road turned into a dirt and gravel path and offered no place turn around. We had to make a u-turn on a road no wider than our car with a lot of mud right off the path. Thankfully, we didn't get stuck. It was to be our last night in Kenmare, our home for the past few days. So, of course, we decided to reward ourselves for our big day of hiking with an ice cream from the local shoppe.
I enjoyed every minute of hiking the Gap of Dunloe and I hope that when you visit Ireland, you make it part of your trip as well. There are easier ways of seeing it if you're not one for hours of hiking in a day. I've seen people online talk about taking a boat from Ross Castle in Killarney National Park to Lord Brandon's Cottage then hiking to Kate Kearney's, followed by a short taxi ride back to Ross Castle. Though you could easily reverse this if you'd like to avoid going up the steep incline. The only thing you would need to do is make sure you make it to Lord Brandon's early enough to catch the last boat to Ross Castle. This seems like a unique experience and one I would like to experience when we go back to Ireland one day.
Strangely, I don't believe this is that well known of a hike for many people in Ireland unless they are from that area. I have a friend from the northern area of West Ireland living here in the States now. When he asked what we would doing on our trip to Ireland I listed off a few things including the Gap of Dunloe. He told me he was only familiar with it because his American wife had also hiked the Gap.
Remember, Adventure is Calling!
September 21st, 2016