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Road trip to South West Ireland - how many places called Miltown can there be?

IRELAND | Thursday, 23 April 2009 | Views [1714]

Renting a car and driving around Ireland is a lot easier than I thought it would be. That is, until you are trying to find the town that is 8 miles west of Miltown on the Dingle Peninsula, when in actual fact there are two towns in the area with the same name (very confusing). Then to confuse us even more, in the next county over we discovered another Miltown.

Despite this, we really didn’t get too lost. When there’s only one major motorway in the country it really helps. Oh and our decision to have a friendly chat with the nice man at the tourist centre in Killarney was the best decision we made.

It was a sunny Tuesday when my housemate and I picked up our midget Toyota Aygo rental and hit the road.  Dublin to Cork took us the better part of a day. We stopped at the Powerscourt Garden’s in the Wicklow Mountains, then drove on to Cork via Kilkenny. We soon discovered that what would take us so long with our journey was the ‘peak hour’ traffic we encountered going through all the little towns that you wind through.  It seems all daylight hours bring a traffic jam down the main streets of these little towns, but they do give you the chance to take the in what the town has to offer.

In Cork we found our one and only hotel for the trip (we lashed out on the first night), the Montenette.  The €59 deal for the night gave us the most comfortable night’s sleep and the best shower we had both had in a long time. The Victoria Market’s in Cork the next morning for breakfast was fantastic. The cafe at the top of the market did a great breakfast to get us started and then the rain started. I’m beginning to think it’s me and Cork; every time I’ve been there (a total of a week and a day now) it has rained non-stop.

In the rain we drove to Blarney to explore the grounds of Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney stone. Not only is it a really awkward thing to do, the whole situation was made even more hilarious by the fact that there’s two old men up the top of the Castle at the famous stone ready to assist. One holds onto your legs and waist so you don’t fall down that perfectly human sized gap as you are lying on your back, gripping the handlebars that have been installed and leaning you head down the wall, and the other guy stands over you snapping away pictures you can later purchase at the gift shop. All the while, both the old blokes were yelling, “Just kiss the old stone. Go one, give it a big kiss, get your lips down there.” All rather amusing really. Despite the fact that over the years the Castle itself has been left to fall into disrepair, the gardens have been kept looking really good, and not even the constant rain we encountered could make them any less than grand really.

From here we drove ourselves to Killarney where we encountered the previously mentioned nice man in the tourist centre. In actual fact, we got ourselves a little lost, so went there for directions. We came out with the rest of our trip planned and road maps under arms. Well worth it. So we took a hard turn south and drove around the Lakes of Killarney towards the start of the Ring of Kerry. Both are incredibly spectacular surroundings. The cold and rain meant that we did an awful lot of ‘sightseeing’ from the comfort of our little car, and the fact that the car had no guts about it at all meant that the windy mountain roads were taken rather slowly – also allowing for great viewing. We pulled into the quaint little town of Kenmare for the night and our choice of hostels was made easy by the fact that only one was open; and even this one was relatively quiet. It sits over the Photo shop in town, and had nice inviting warm rooms, and hot showers where the water pressure almost blew the hairs off our heads! But it was quiet and peaceful, and it was only at breaky the next morning we realised there was another 6 or so people staying there.

Day 3 saw much better weather – a lot clearer, but a bit hazy. This made the views around the Ring of Kerry even more spectacular, and eerie. As we drove the cliff-top roads around the place, it was odd to find religious monuments standing at various intervals on the roadside. We drove across the causeway to Valentia Island on the western side of the Ring of Kerry and then caught the car ferry back across to the mainland.  With a lot less driving time today, we arrived in Dingle about 3 in the afternoon, so decided to keep on the tourist road around the Dingle Peninsula. Again, some really spectacular cliffs and ocean views. I took loads of pictures, all the time thinking to myself that when I show them to people they are only going to think, “That’s fantastic Kate, more pictures of cliffs, mountains and ocean,” but it was all so spectacular. You drive over these crazily steep and winding mountain passes, come out at spectacular cliff-tops and there’ll be this cluster of little farm houses just sitting there. It was like being in a movie from the ‘50s or ‘60s – certainly very much the land that time forgot, complete with the older farmer walking alongside the blue stone fences in his hat, overalls and gumboots. And everywhere you look there are sheep, sheep and more sheep. We stopped at the Galarus oratory where the guy in the visitors centre wouldn’t let us use the loos unless we paid entry to his exhibition, so we drove up the road past the tourist geared car park, to a smaller car park and saw the Oratory for free (that’s what he gets for not letting us weary travellers use the loos).  Then booked ourselves into this hippy commune type hostel a little out of Dingle. The town of Dingle is really pretty but far more geared towards tourists than the other little towns in the area. None-the-less, still worth the visit, it’s a really pretty little coastal town. It was just that we seemed to come to the end of our run of luck with accommodation and had chosen the noisiest hostel in town. Not that there were loads of people there, just that the concrete flooring allowed the noise to echo right through the place. Was glad when the guitar and singing stopped at about midnight.

We were keen to get out of the hostel as early as possible, and after a quick coffee got back on the tourist road to head up the west coast of Ireland towards Galway. We headed for a town called Tarbet where there is a car ferry across the River Shannon. This cuts out about 100kms of the journey from Dingle to Galway, as we could avoid going inland to Limerick and then back out again. On the way we detoured around Brandon’s point, which we deemed the end of the earth. It was stuck right out there on the western point, and all you could see from the cliff top was the Atlantic Ocean, and more Atlantic ocean. Oh and the sheep that were baaing behind us. Really was in the middle of no-where, but there were plenty of houses dotted along the coast. The kind of place where you could through away your clocks and it would not matter at all.

Along the way to Galway we stopped at the Cliffs of Moher. Even in the misty haze that was following us, they were pretty spectacular. Not quite sure if their ‘7natural wonders of the world’ worthy as the Irish are pushy for at the moment, but really incredible. From here it was a short drive to see The Burran, the limestone plateau, or so we thought. After driving for a while we kind of gave up on seeing it, then we round yet another little pass over a mountain and are smacked in the face with these stark, grey mountains and fields. It made the whole area seem so grey and drab. When the wildflowers bloom it’s meant to be very colourful, but it was hard to imagine. Even the photo’s turned out pretty crappy – just grey mountains really. This whole area had a really eerie feel to it.

We managed to find our way around the maze of one way streets in Galway to our hostel. After a big day of driving we wandered down the road to a pub for a meal and a drink, and then literally fell into bed (only to be kept up by a screaming group of French school kids running up and down the halls – ah well, that’s hostel life). The car had to be back early the next morning in Dublin, so we were up at the crack of dawn, taking the only motorway back across to the east coast of Ireland.

I really should have kept a tab on how many kilometres we drove this week, but I was so busy looking at the spectacular and varied landscape scene that is the South West and West Coast of Ireland. For such a little country, Ireland certainly has some really pretty and interesting things to lose yourself in for a while.

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