The Gap of Dunloe

13 Miles of Pure Bliss

John McKinney

Our path from Kenmare took us on the now familiar N71, except this time we didn’t make the right towards Killarney National Park. Instead, we headed left towards Lord Brandon’s Cottage. Winding back and forth we made our way toward the cottage. At one point the road became a single lane with thick brush on either side, thankfully there were very few cars on this road. We missed multiple turns and got a little lost along the way but that’s all part of the fun, right? Missing one turn took us to a serene lake, we definitely didn’t mind that detour at all. After driving down what looked like someone’s driveway we had finally found Lord Brandon’s Cottage. We abandoned our car and set out on foot towards the Gap of Dunloe.

Driving The Gap?

Online I had read many conflicting reports about whether you can drive the Gap of Dunloe or not. Some said it was ok just not advised due to the number 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 did see a few cars on the road, they became a bit of a nuisance to the hikers due to how narrow the road is and the lack of a shoulder in many areas. The hikers far outnumber the horse-drawn carriages or the cars on this road. In my opinion, you should definitely hike it if you are able. You don’t get to appreciate the views in a car.

13 Miles of Pure Bliss(ters?)

Armed with our 3-liter water reservoir backpack filled with trail mix, fruit, and, of course, the one thing you need in Ireland no matter what the sky looks like, our rain jackets and we set out on our path. From Lord Brandon’s Cottage, we made our way into a small township. After that township, we came to a fork in the road. The sign was a tad confusing because it shows a hiking symbol pointed to the left, that hiking symbol is for those hiking the Kerry Peninsula apparently. If not for some kind bicyclists fortuitously climbing the mountain at the moment we arrived at the sign, we would have made the mistake of going left. Thankfully, they were able to direct us to the correct path.

Following the steep road up we eventually reached the highest point along our path. From there we could see the vast Black Valley that 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 grey-haired couple that was also making the 13-mile trek from Lord Brandon’s to Kate Kearney’s and back. They told us about how they had done this hike before many years prior and were looking forward to doing so again.

Down In The Gap

Continuing down into the Gap, we were struck by the sheer beauty of the craggy 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 come from. Sheep grazed on the side of the road and up on the mountainside. They hopped effortlessly from rock to rock looking for that perfect blade of grass to chow down on. This was about as slow a pace of life as there is.

We continued on our path constantly amazed at how exquisite the views were. Past lakes, over bridges, and around bends we trod. Finally, we had reached our halfway point, Kate Kearney’s Cottage. This little restaurant and shop was a welcome sight after a few hours of walking. Watching sheep hop to and fro must have made me hungry, I ordered the lamb and it was delicious.

Hiking back through the Gap was just as beautiful as it was the first time and the sights were different because we saw them from a new perspective. Our hike down to Lord Brandon’s Cottage was also far easier from the top of the Black Valley as now we were descending. We had made it back to the car and neither of us had blisters, all around a success.

Stuck in the Mud

Before heading back to Kenmare we decided to be a little adventurous and see what was down the road 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 bumpy dirt and gravel path and offered no place turn around. We had to make a U-turn on a road barely wider than our car with a lot of mud right off the path. Thankfully, we didn’t get stuck.

“In my opinion, you should definitely hike it if you are able. You don’t get to appreciate the views in a car.”

Alternate Routes

We thoroughly enjoyed every moment of hiking the Gap of Dunloe, painful as it was. I definitely would recommend making it a part of your trip. If you don’t want to hike all day there is another popular way to do the Gap of Dunloe and more. Some will take a boat from Ross Castle in Killarney National Park to Lord Brandon’s Cottage, then hike to Kate Kearney’s, then take a short taxi ride back to Ross Castle to grab their car. You could certainly reverse this if you’d like to avoid the steep hike up the Black Valley, however, I’m not sure I would recommend it. By reversing that you are then placing a time constraint on yourself to get to Lord Brandon’s before the last boat ride to Ross Castle. In addition, you would miss out on Kate Kearney’s delicious food.

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 northwest area of Ireland living here in the States now. When he asked what we would be 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 of Dunloe. This is especially surprising considering how small the Emerald Isle is.

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