Travel # 5 -- March 25, 2005
The Gap of Dunloe

Below this note from me is an e-mail I received from a reader on biking the Gap of Dunloe. My reply follows the inquiry.

By Bob Corbett

Our first full day in Ireland, and it will turn out to be one of the very best. If I were rating our days on a 1 - 10 scale there would be quite a few at 10, but very few below an 8, if that low.

But this one competes for best day of all, however, with stiff competition.

Waking up that first morning in Ireland we were so spoiled. Greeted with sunshine and warm weather, I went out on the balcony to write a bit before breakfast. However, we had to eat fairly early, people were coming to the B&B to pick us up for The Gap of Dunloe trip. We had no idea in the world what that was other than I'd read in many different places it was a fabulous experience. I knew it involved a walk into the woods.

At B&Bs in Ireland the breakfast is a feast or at least a feast is offered. The most famous breakfast and one every single B&B offers, is The Full Irish Breakfast. One in Dingle did offer the room at 5 E LESS if you ate a continental breakfast rather than the Full Irish, as they call it. This breakfast is enough cholesterol for a month, but dang, it tastes so good and lasts so long. The Full Irish is an egg either fried or scrambled, two large pieces of bacon (that's ham for us), three sausage links, two puddings (white and black). A pudding is a round sausage paddy, but with heavy spices it and some seeds. The black pudding seems to be liver based. Many foreigners visiting Ireland will get the Full Irish without the puddings. I just love them. It has a half cooked tomato and many have fried mushrooms to boot. Then there is lots of toast and juice, and usually yogurt and fresh fruit.

At our Killarney B&B the woman offered alternatives (most have some, at Least variations on the Full Irish). She offered porridge, (oatmeal) and it was just delicious. I put just a bit of maple syrup on mine, and some milk, but I never use sugar. Toast was served with it and some fruit. Each of our three days there we both had the porridge with tea. Just wonderful meal.

About 10 AM the tour company sent a car for us. We were taken to central Killarney to get the tour bus for The Gap of Dunloe, but this is off season and only 7 people came, so we went in two cars. We were with a German couple and the driver. We rode out to the starting point of the Gap. As we sped down the road, riding close behind the vehicles in front of us we had a lively conversation and the driver engaged me in a discussion of knee surgeries, but he kept turning fully around to look at me. He was doing this for shockingly long periods of time and I was just freaking out, wanting to scream at him to WATCH THE ROAD, you're about to get us killed. The road narrowed, and we were plummeting down this road at a high speed. I finally decided I just had to ask him to stop this and watch the road, he was terrifying me. All of a sudden it dawned on me, that man sitting in the LEFT FRONT SEAT was not the driver at all, but the German tourist. I just wasn't used to the left front seat person turning around. Oh my was I relieved, both that we weren't about to die and that I didn't make a complete fool out of myself.

We arrived at the end of the tiny rural road. We got out and they told us we had to be at Lord Brandon's Cottage at the other end of the gap by 2:15. It was close to 11 AM. They told us one could walk there, but most folks rode with a pony and trap. We got out and the German couple engaged a pony and trap (sort of a rickety chariot looking thing). But Sally and I decided to walk. The drivers of the pony traps were disgusted and said we would regret it. I asked our driver how long a walk it was and he said about 1 1/4 hours or so. We decided to walk. The drivers glared at us as we set off up this hill. We hadn't a clue what we were in for -- just that we had a full 3 1/4 hours to get to Lord Brandon's Cottage.

The first part of the walk was up a narrow paved road, winding a bit to a hill top. When we arrived at the top were we both just stunned. There laid out before us was a long long valley (the gap itself) between two sharply rising black stone mountains. Water ran down the sides in many places, and the bottom of the valley was a chain of narrow lakes which first looked like rivers. It was so stunningly and sparklingly beautiful it just took our breath away. So did the walking up that big hill. We took our first short rest, sitting on some path-side rocks.

It turns out we were in for a 9 mile walk. We had no idea and there was only ONE sign late in the walk. We BARELY made it, arriving at Lord Brandon's Cottage just 15 minutes before the ONLY transportation back to Killarney left there.

I can't muster the words to tell you how stunningly beautiful and awesome the gap is. Breathtaking comes to mind, but is woefully inadequate. One plods up and down, around curves, bends and over stone bridges passing occasional walkers coming the opposite way, being passed by some pony trap teams, meeting a few cyclists and even being forced off the pass by a rare car.

At times, in the narrows, the canyon becomes a wind tunnel and icy winds blew so hard we could barely walk. Then there would be moments when a twist on the path would put us in such a position that the mid-day sun could beam down on us, warm and inviting. I kept taking my sweater on and off, and never got my jacket out of my backpack on the whole walk. We passed many abandoned stone houses and there were thousands of free-range sheep grazing freely on the hillsides, not bound by fences, often getting on the road with us.

We wore out after a while, and still believing this 1 hour myth, took a couple of breaks sitting on rocks next to the small lakes. One time we even shared the narrow trail with a mother sheep walking along with two darling tiny lambs. It was so cute.

While coming to one stone bridge and facing what seemed like a rising twisting very steep road, and it being now nearly 1 PM a jogger came along. We were utterly astonished. He lived in the gap and jogged everyday. He told us we weren't far from the Lord's Cottage, but we first had to climb the next very long twisting road to the top, then just "a few more kilometers down." A few more kilometers AFTER the hill? We were already exhausted and our time was ticking away. We struggled up the hill. Got to the top, looked down on a very steep twisting road and a river below. The sign said 4.5 kilometers to Lord Brandon's. We'd have to hustle.

It seemed like forever getting down that road, but there was no cottage. At least there were a few signs pointing on and we hurried onward, so tired. We entered the Kerry National Forest and it said Lord Brandon's Cottage was THERE. Yep, there but WHERE THERE? Finally, just utterly exhausted we staggered into the yard at 2 PM, just 15 minutes before they would be leaving IN A BOAT. A boat?

Two of the folks who had come in the second car never showed up at Lord Branden's and the host said tough, let's go, and so we five survivors got into this 24 ft. long row boat, just like the one's in Forest Park, but this one was 24 ft. long and had an outboard motor. The sun was shinning and it was warm. Felt so good to sit down. The host advised us to put on our coats it would get cold on the river and lakes. We started out on this crystal clear river and followed it a long way until we came to one of the three large Lakes of Killarney. We motored across the lake, and out in this large lake it got windy and very cold and waves were licking the boat. We were only about 1 foot out of the water. And the driver was a would-be comedian making jokes about how in THIS BOAT it was the captain off first if anything went wrong, and he was full of facts such as this lake is 650 foot deep. Thanks Captain, just what I was wanting to hear as we tossed about on the surface.

After crossing the first lake we re-entered the river and repeated this process with the other lakes. He sitting in the back with his cocker-spaniel standing next to us, his paws on the side of the boat just soaking up the cold air. But, my oh my, it was so magnificent, so stunningly beautiful, so awesome. The three lakes made up 15,000 of the 25,000 square miles of this national forest. An incredible experience.

We arrived, a bit frozen, at Ross Castle and there we were met by the host with only a single car. Unfortunately the German man was experiencing some shoulder difficulties (he had these as we were on the way, so it wasn't something he suffered in the gap). He wanted this guy to take him to a doctor, so he took the other three of us to Killarney first and was going back for the German couple. The driver offered to delivered us to our door at the B&B, but we asked to be let off in town to eat. It was Good Friday early evening (the boat ride was over an hour long), and no pubs were open, but we found a little tea shop and they had some very hot and tasty vegetable soup, served with great bread. It warmed us up.

We took a cab home and arrived just exhausted, but exhilarated from this marvelous day. Fortunately we did have a bottle of wine to share and some nuts and pretzels and a few squares of a chocolate bar. The sun was barely down before we were sound asleep. The next morning, I cannot dodge the fact, I HURT all over, and my legs were especially tired. Yet I felt so good as I limped down to have my oatmeal.

It was just such a great day. Hard to beat.

Yet the next day rivaled it as we took another tour bus, this time on around the Ring of Kerry. But that's the next tale.

Steve Quinn

Bob, I just saw your travel log abou the Gap of Dunloe. I will be in Killarney in August with my family of 6 - the youngest is my 14 year old daughter. We want to bike and the route would be to travel from Killarney to Ross Castle. Then board a boat along with our bikes and then bike through the gap back to Killarney. Can you tell me if the bike ride through the gap would be strenuous, especially for my daughter? Is the trail through the gap primarily downhill or uphill? Any advice you could give me would be aprecciated!

Thanks much, Steve Quinn



There are two ways to go. From Killarney to the gap, and then through the gap to Lord Brandon's Cottage, then the boat to Ross Castle.

Or the reverse. From Killarney to Ross Castle, the boat to Brandon's Cottage (a small hotel/resort), and then through the gap, and then at that end, a car back to Killarney.

DEFINITELY that latter trip is the lesser hill. It's sort of like a big long levelled out M. In both cases you go:

But, if you go from Ross Castle the first hill up is a monster that would give Lance troubles (as I sit here watching him climb right now).

It is a bear. We were walking down it and a group of young folks -- late teens came along and nearly turned back when the say it.

BRUTAL and very very long.

However, at the other end the first hill to get into the gap is slightly steep but very short, certainly dramatically short in relation to the other side.

And, when you do climb out of the gap, again a decent hill, but not a killer, and go DOWN to Brandon's Castle, well, the only thing you need there are damn good brakes, but it must be a 2 mile descent. That would be fun.

So, the route they have given you is, on my view, absolutely backward of what would make a fun bike ride and turn it into near torture.


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Bob Corbett