“I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free.”
And that’s exactly what a solo journey to Dingle and Killarney gave to me.
I recently began blogging for the Champlain Abroad Dublin website, and in my first post discuss the tying up of ends that brought me to southwestern Ireland.
Basically, an independent travel weekend is something that I have craved for over a year, in planning my time abroad. Everything that I read on the subject only blasted more stars into my eyes. There’s something inherently romantic about the idea of going off on uncharted territory (for you) alone. And truth be told, the stories and mishaps I hoped for lie in wait for me to find, and I was more than willing to run to them.
As you’ll read in the post linked, I was a stomach of nerves the day before I left. It was the middle of September, our first travel weekend, and a long one at that; of course worries were going to arise. It wasn’t worth a cent as soon as I arrived in Dingle, though. I had gotten here, hadn’t I? Step one was complete, and the rest of the weekend could be smooth sailing.
An hour later, I was lugging my duffel into the Rainbow Hostel in Dingle and sat in wait for someone from reception to return. I pulled out my current read, Testament of Youth by Vera Brittain, and read quietly with the lull of one man’s guitar being strummed behind me. In the corner was a fireplace, flames tamed and curling inside their compartment. The floors, thresholds and roof were all built from wood, and were reminiscent of summers spent in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was very easy to shake the chill and drops of rain away and to settle into my space for the next few nights.
And as I mentioned in the post above, the hostel community, I found, is magnificent. There is a level of comradery going into it, for everyone is staying there to travel and see. I was lucky to have a few different roommates each day, and to come home at night to new faces and new conversations was pretty special. We all shared travel tips in Dingle, as well as where we’d been and where we were going. I’m not a backpacker like the women I stayed with, but studying abroad could be considered its own breed of backpacking, non?
|Representing Sigma Pi Theta in Ireland!|
I carried my valuables with me during the day, but had no qualms about leaving my duffel bag in the open while gone. The atmosphere was one of homeliness and comfort, and left me not thinking twice about keeping it in view. However, not all hostels you come across will feel that way—it all depends on where you are and how many people are staying and how many are in your room precisely. I was in a six bed female dorm, in a small town; that won’t be the case everywhere.
My first full day there, I woke up early to find the day breaking over Dingle. Outside my window was the landscape of dreams: wide, open fields that swayed under late September’s breath; hilly terrain, touching the sky; and a stretch of road that filled the silence here and there with the rush of “traffic”—in other words, one or two cars for every ten minutes. I munched on the apple I brought with me, the last bit of food left in my fridge in Dublin that needed to be consumed, and set out with the intention of cycling Slea Head.
A twenty five mile loop around the Dingle Peninsula, Slea Head is one of Dingle’s largest attractions. It provides sweeping views of the ocean and the countryside alike, as well as the small towns it runs through. In the hostel, I was given a pamphlet for Paddy’s Bike Shop in town which illustrated the route. Noted below was the length of time needed to complete Slea Head, which was between five and six hours. I’ve never been aboard two wheels for so long, but I practiced some YOLO meditation for the soul and made my way into town.
Dingle is quaint. The twenty minute walk to town was colored with bright homes and bed and breakfasts on either side, followed by a view of Dingle Bay and, across the street, a string of restaurants and pubs. I stumbled upon a farmer’s market, open every Friday from nine in the morning until two in the afternoon, and purchased a slice of “savory pie”, or quiche, for lunch. Local vendors and craftsmen and women set up shop there, and offered a variety of foods and craft pieces. I sat at the single six person table set up between two tents, a flower centerpiece decking it out, and ate contentedly.
Turning the corner, I found the bike shop and began my journey for the day. And let me tell you, it was one of the most spectacular journeys I’ve ever been on. Of course, by the end I couldn’t sit on my bike and walked it along the side of the road, grumbling about being hungry and tired and sore and hungry; but after a downhill fly back into town, I was puffed up with exhilaration. I just did that. By myself. That’s pretty cool.
Sometimes, it was a hassle to pull out my camera which was stuffed in my backpack; and at one point, my adaptor to charge my phone fell out and tumbled into a fenced off area. Looking to make sure nobody was around (which shouldn’t have really been a worry because nobody, in fact, was) I jumped the fence to retrieve it. Then I had to be even more cautious about where I saw fit to open my bag, and what was loose where. But mostly I was able to soak up the world around me, the world that seemed too wonderful to be true, the world that I was whirring through and getting to be a part of. At one point, I was asked by a man on the side of the road if I wanted to buy one of his cows. Later, I zoomed past a dog sitting in a tractor. And above all, I felt the truth of my insignificance as this magnificent section of Ireland rose high around me.
|Some scenes from Slea Head feat. pre-cycling quiche|
I highly, highly recommend riding the Slea Head. Be warned that it is a paved driving road, and that drivers will pass you. Don’t mind them, though; go as fast or slow as you like.
Upon completion, I walked around (how, I can’t tell you), browsing the menus listed outside each pub or restaurant and trying to decide what I was hankering for. I decided on Danno’s, a restaurant just through a rounded archway and opening up to a few tightly knit buildings. It was set on the right, and I went in and grabbed a seat. They weren’t serving until six, but being fifteen minutes to, people were allowed to get settled and order a drink. Once six struck, menus were handed around and orders were being placed. I made a last minute decision on a cheeseburger and chips which, after a day of biking, couldn’t have felt more right. And I sat for over an hour journaling, a candle lit beside me, needing nothing more—except ice cream, which I made a trip for after—to content myself with.
The next day, I was up and ready for something. What, I didn’t know; but I set off before ten and took the jaunt into town. There were a few options, and I first went to An Diesart, a spiritual and cultural center featuring a fresco of the Last Supper, magnificent stained glass windows by artist Harry Clarke, and a room covered in paintings of Nano Nagle, who founded the Sisters of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ireland. Behind the building are three separate gardens, and while the flowers weren’t completely in bloom, the sun beamed in and out over the scene and made for a glorious walk.
|Dingle Town, Co. Kerry|
Before lunch, I traipsed along Main Street and poked into shops, also being asked twice for directions (and I can proudly say I was able to do so). I found the Tree House Café and stopped for carrot and coriander soup with a piece of brown soda bread to side. With a warm and full belly, I spent the afternoon along Dingle Bay. I was told by one of my roommates and the owner of the hostel about this trail that winds around the edge of the bay, and that opens out to small cliffs where one can catch a glimpse of the resident dolphin, Fungie. It was about a thirty minute walk over, and I was slowed down when a mix of rain and sea water began pelting us. But within ten minutes, it stopped; and the sun, which had been a little flaky throughout the morning, filled the sky with its buttery glow and completely opened up the panoramic beauty of Dingle. Near a tower at the end of the path, I sat on a thick rock and journaled for a while. The breeze worked with me, and the water below rippled gently.
I did see Fungie briefly, and got to stand on the edge of the world and watch the horizon shift with afternoon’s drooping light. I sat in a modern, child and teenager friendly diner for a Bailey’s coffee before grabbing some of the best fish and chips I’ve ever had at Harrington’s. At a seaside town, how could you not?! And I finished it off with a fried Snickers bar, drizzled in chocolate and strawberry sauce and sided with vanilla ice cream. Seriously one of the most delicious things. My taste buds have thanked my one hundredfold.
I left Dingle in the pouring rain—good timing, am I right?!—and set off for my second adventure of the weekend, Killarney.