The Wild Atlantic Way, Part VII: Off the Beaten Path
STS ROAD TRIP DAY VI
Day six on the road and we started for Clonakilty via Kenmare and Glengariff. Our idea here was to use remote roads along the way and to really get off of the beaten track. We had a couple of key points of interest that we wanted to visit, including travelling through Molls Gap and the Caha Pass into Glengarrif and to a place called Priest’s Leap, just outside of Bantry. It was an ambitious day as we would be using as many secondary roads as possible. We really didn’t know what to expect which was exciting. We did know that if we were in a bind at any time, that we could call our operations team in Cork and they could help us. They were our safety net this day and it was reassuring.
Our morning of course started with breakfast and coffee. There are some many great cafés all around Ireland and you are bound to find one in even the smallest villages around the country. We headed out early, found a little spot in Kenmare, plotted our course and off we went. It was another spectacular day weather wise and you could see for miles all around. We proceeded south on a road that was not even on the map but GPS assured us that we were on the right path. This would prove to be a true Irish adventure in more than a few ways. For one, the roads were so narrow that there was no way another car would be able to pass us if coming the other way, secondly, we could not see around any corners we approached, we were really in the middle of nowhere and it was just what we were looking for.
From time to time, we came upon clearings and rivers and stopped to take a look and listen to the wind blow as we shut the engine off. The roads and views were incredible, and we were amazed to come across little cottages that were miles off of the main road. As we travelled along, we followed signs pointing us in the direction towards Priest’s Leap. It was going to be a very long ride on these roads and at these speeds, but we were up for it. We continued to stop here and there and were enjoying the trip. We saw some people on horse back followed by a woman out for a walk and we continued on our way, it was a great day and people out and enjoying the country. A little while later, we saw some people on horseback, followed by a woman out for a stroll… I didn’t want to say it, but I knew it, we were lost. When we came to the last turn, we realized we were exactly where we started from and hour ago. This is what I imagine when I think of a true Irish experience. I recalled my grandparents talking about being lost here in the 70’s and my parents in the 80’s but here I am with GPS getting the “true Irish experience.” We had to laugh. It didn’t matter though as we had nowhere to be and this day was all about the journey. The thing about getting lost is that you end up in places you never intended and in the West Coast of Ireland, that can be an amazing experience, and it was.
Now that we had our bearings and a more direct route, we headed off in the right direction. It was an incredible drive, through mountain passes and small villages with rivers running through them, we couldn’t have done any better if we had planned it that way. One of the great things about Ireland is that you really can’t get too far off track. Our destination was Clonakilty, which wasn’t to far away, so whatever route we took, we would get there eventually. We continued on through Molls Gap and the Caha pass and were continually amazed by the views along the way. As we came down out of the Cork and Kerry Mountains, we arrived in Glengarrif. We had planned to stop here for lunch and take a break from the road and it was the perfect stop for that. We had packed some food for the ride, so we had a snack and decided to walk around town. We were pleased to see that there were clearly marked and descriptive signs for walking trails. We chose to walk along the water. It was a great stop and as we walked through the woods and to the top of the hill, we could see the water below. It was gorgeous. Another perfect day traveling along the Wild Atlantic Way. When we started planning this trip, we were concerned that we had already been along this route. We were concerned for no reason, this route has so much to offer and I think it could be traveled for years and still yield new and fantastic experiences each time.
After a nice walk along the water, we left Glengarrif, bound for Clonakilty via Bantry. I had stayed in Bantry for some time as a kid and wanted to return for a look since we were so close. We started off down the road and in between Glengarrif and Bantry we saw the sign and an arrow. PRIEST’S LEAP!
We had travelled this far in one day, so we decided to go for it. I had been told that it’s quite an experience to visit there and that was not an exaggeration. We followed the sign and turned off the main road. Then we headed down the twisting and turning lanes that lead to the place we were seeking. After a while we came across a sign that said “Narrow, steep, Mountain Pass Road, Not the Main Route,” we were on the right track, and yes, I do mean track. We proceeded with caution and after some time, we arrived at the top and were well rewarded. The views were incredible. You could see for miles, down into Bantry Bay and beyond. Legend has it that that a priest being chased by the British on horseback, leapt from the cliffs and miraculously escaped. Standing there, one could definitely understand that anyone leaping from those heights into the valley was not going to be pursued any further. We parked the car and walked to the top to get a better view. It was really worth the effort and definitive WOW moment of our trip. We took it in as long as we could and continued back to where we had come from. A great detour and welcome advantage to a self-driven tour was seeing that sign and saying, let’s go. Sometimes you just need to take that leap of faith and follow the signs.
We moved on to a brief stop in Bantry where there was a street fair happening. We found a parking spot and meandered about for a while until we decided it might be time to head to our destination for the evening. The day was unfolding nicely but one of the great things about it was that it was happening at our own pace. We could apply the brakes when we wanted and move on when we wanted, no clock ticking just an easy enjoyable pace. The important thing to us was to enjoy the experience of travel and we were.
At this point we left for Clonakilty, a place where I like to visit for the music scene. Unfortunately, due to current restriction, that scene is on hold. Nonetheless, it’s a nice town to stroll around, there are good restaurants, the Michael Collins House and Museum and my favorite host, Dana who welcomed us to O’Donovan’s Hotel with open arms… from a safe distance of course. One of the things I like about O’Donovan’s is that they have a nice sitting area with a fireplace. It’s nice and cozy in the evenings too. We were able to have a nice dinner, sit by the fire and chat with another couple who had come down from Cork City for the evening. It was a perfect way to end the day.
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