The Dingle Way is an 80 mike trek on Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula, beginning in Dingle and ending in Tralee. In the spring of 2014, I walked the route over five days.
Dublin to Dingle
I arrived in Dublin with no complications and made my way to the train station to catch a 1:30 pm train to Tralee. I had my first Guinness while I waited. Lovely! After a beautiful train ride, I arrived in Tralee and caught a bus to Dingle. Arriving in Dingle around 6 p.m., I made my way to my hostel and then began to explore the town.
What a cute place! Narrow, colorful streets filled with shops and pubs. I went to three pubs that night to listen to Irish Music. It was fantastic!
Day 1: Dingle – Dunquin, 13 miles
I woke up and for the first time felt a little anxious about the walk. I went to The Dingle Elf (a shop at the edge of town) to meet my friend Maura Faulkner’s good family friend Maureen. We chatted for a while, and she told me that the bulls are the only thing I should worry about. Her advice was if see one, or a field that has a bull warning sign, I should definitely go the other way.
I set out on the road to Dunquin and came upon three French travellers. They were just in Dingle for the day and wanted to see a beach. We walked together for about 5 miles to Ventry Bay.
We had lunch (bread, cheese and apple- my standard lunch for the next 5 days) and they walked to the end of the Bay with me until I continued on the road to Dunquin.
The road became steep and I eventually turned up a dirt road (it really seemed like someone’s driveway!) and began my trek through the hills of Slea Head, the most westerly part of the peninsula.
This was one of the most beautiful parts of my trip. The stone, sheep, greenery and sights of the ocean and both Ventry and Dingle Bay in the background were stunning. I probably passed by 200 sheep along the hillside. Even though I know that sheep are harmless and scared of people, I carried a stick with me just in case they decided to form an attack. I also realized whistling helped them be much less startled.
Dusk began to arrive and the Blasken Islands started to come into view. It was a gorgeous evening, and I decided to stop off at a scenic view point commemorating the movie Ryan’s Daughter that was filmed in the area.
As I approached the viewpoint, I noticed a guy setting up camp. I walked up to him and he turned to me and said with a French accent “Hi! Dingle Way?” I said “Yes!” We started chatting and I learned that he did the walk from Tralee and camped up in the mountains for a couple of days. Dusk was really beginning to settle in so I told him that I should be on my way but that I bet that we would see each other again. Descending into Dunquin with beautiful views of the Blasken Islands on one side and the hillside on the other was really wonderful. With almost one day complete, any anxiety I had at the start of the day definitely had faded.
When I arrived at the Youth Hostel, the owner told me that there were actually two other German couples who were walking the Dingle Way as well. I had a room to myself since there were only 5 total people staying that night. I showered and then ventured down the road to the only pub in town. I walked into the pub and there were two locals and the bartender. The bartender was an old woman who would sit down on a bench at the side of the bar after pouring drinks. The locals were very nice to me, asking me about my trip. When they spoke to each other, they spoke in Irish. I learned that one of the gentlemen had actually moved to Dunquin from Dublin 15 years ago because his family was originally from Dunquin and it was really important to keep his traditional Irish roots. I pretty quickly realized that this peninsula was as about as traditional Irish as I could experience. The locals were very nice to me and told me that I should definitely take a detour from the Dingle Way into the town of Bally David, since it would be the last town that has a shop until I get past the Brandon Mountain.
Day 2: Dunquin – Ballyferrier, 17 miles
I woke up panicking at 7 am, realizing that Dingle was the only town in the Peninsula that had an ATM. I checked my wallet and counted 54 euros. I went downstairs and expressed my concern to the hostel owner, and asked if she knew if any shops or pubs take credit cards. She had no idea! I told her that my only other option was to take a bus back to Dingle, and then back to Dunquin, and be walking by 2 p.m. She laughed and said, “Just go! It will be an adventure. You can survive for 4 days on 50 Euro.” I laughed, told her that I agree and I would just make it work.
I set out on the road with very sore and tired legs. The fatigue faded quickly, as it did every day, after a mile. I walked for about 5 miles on roads passing fields and small towns.
The Three Sisters were in sight and I knew that when I passed them I would arrive at Smerwick Harbour. Three women who were out walking slowed down to chat with me, asking if I needed any help. I told them about the advice the townspeople gave me the night before about leaving the trail to stop in BallyDavid to get food. They agreed, and told me that I could leave the beach to get to the town. I eventually got to Smerwick Harbour. It was a gorgeous day, and I could see the town of Murreagh from afar.
I passed some fisherman and dog walkers and exited the beach where it looked from my map that I would be able to take a road straight into BallyDavid. The map was actually wrong, and BallyDavid was 3 km back the other way! Today would now be 17 miles, rather than 14. All I could do was laugh. Looking back, this mistake was actually the best thing that happened to me on the trip. When I got to the town, I immediately found the shop. Thank goodness it took credit cards! I stocked up on bread, cheese, nuts and fruit for that I would need for the next two days.
I eventually got back to the beach, and headed towards Murreagh. When I got to the town, I saw Ben sitting on a curb taking a break. I laughed and yelled, “I told you that we would see each other again!” We began to walk together and soon came to a pub at the edge of town. We ordered a Guinness and sat outside. It was so sunny and warm and it felt so good just to sit. The pub owner’s daughter came outside and joined us for a pint. She was waiting for her father to come pick her up so she could help him with the sheep in the field. After an hour, Ben and I decided to continue on.
This next stretch we would do was unbelievably stunning. The coastline was just so dramatic with the intense greenery and blue ocean. It was awesome to look back towards The Three Sisters that I had just passed hours before! We were just so lucky with the beautiful sunshine and clear skies.
Ben and I chatted about our mutual hope to do the summit of Mount Brandon. As we approached my B&B, I told Ben that it would be great if we ran into each other on the mountain tomorrow. He agreed and continued on to find a place to camp. I walked into the B&B and the owner, Jimmy, told me that I was the only guest that night. My room was so cute with great views of Mount Brandon. I was becoming very excited for the hike tomorrow.
After a shower and some tea and biscuits, Jimmy offered me a ride to the pub since he was heading that way to see his mother. I accepted and while we were driving, he explained to me a shortcut back. He told me to take a right out of the pub and then head on a tractor path through the field until I get to the backyard of the B&B.
When I entered the pub, the two German couples were eating dinner. The younger couple seemed to know English pretty well and was friendly towards me. The older couple kept more to themselves. They were all staying in the pub that night. I realized I probably should have stayed there- it is really close to the foot of the mountain and no walking anywhere for dinner! Around 8:30 I decided to leave, avoiding walking in the dark. I followed Jimmy’s directions and started walking on the tractor path. I came to a stile and instead of hopping it, I turned right, continuing on the path. I eventually got to a fence and realized I had definitely made a mistake. I walked back towards the road and it was getting pretty dark. I started walking down the road and after a couple minutes decided that I should probably just go back to the pub to get clear directions. I walked into the pub and the bartender looked at me and laughed. I said, “I know, I know, that f…ing stupid American!!” She replied laughing that she thought it was a 50/50 chance of me ending up lost, eventually back at the pub. The bartender grabbed her car keys and said “Come on, I’ll drive you! I’ll been looking for an excuse to have a break from the bar.”
Day 3: Ballyferrier – Cloghane, 17 miles
I woke up to very bright sunshine streaming into my room. I knew immediately that the summit would be a possibility. I came downstairs to a lovely Irish breakfast. Jimmy told me that I had unbelievable luck and that there was definitely a chance at doing the summit of Brandon. He told me that doing the summit is not feasible 9 out of every 10 days because of fog or weather. I finished breakfast, wrapped some homemade muffins into a napkin and headed on the road towards Mt. Brandon. I walked on roads by pastures, fields and houses towards the foot of the mountain.
I finally arrived at the foot of the mountain to find Ben waiting for me! He had camped there for the night. I offered him muffins from breakfast that morning and he gladly accepted.
The first part of the hike was fairly steep. We passed sheep and stopped every fifteen minutes or so to drink water. I was pretty surprised at the pace we were hiking, considering the 25 pound packs and already tired legs.
The views back down the mountain were stunning. It was also just so awesome to also see how far I had come in just two days. It was breathtaking to look west towards the ocean. Apparently, the Irish would call this “the edge of the world.” The closest land from this part of the peninsula is America.
We eventually got to 650 feet and had a choice- either continue the Dingle Way down the mountain or hike to the summit. We decided we should go for the summit, which was another 350 feet. The wind began to pick up and Ben told me that he was nervous and depending how wide the path on the ridge was, we should maybe turn back.
Fortunately, the wind died down once we were on the other side of the ridge. It was so steep and narrow that I definitely understand why you could only do this hike in perfect conditions. I also made sure to always stay behind Ben – my New Yorker assumption that he could possibly have ill intentions was definitely on my mind.
I have a definite slight fear of heights (a female Curtin thing) so it was a relief when we finally got to the summit!
It was pretty exhilarating to be at the summit, looking back down on where I had walked from the past three days. We were able to see the Blasken Islands and even the Dingle Harbor way in the distance.
Most people who hike the summit walk retrace their steps and take the Dingle Way into Cloghane. Ben had done research and knew of another way down the eastern side of the mountain. The trail he wanted to take looked incredibly steep. Ben told me that he asked a farmer that morning about the trail, and the farmer said that it is definitely safe, but to just be very careful at the top because of steepness.
The farmer was right- it was very steep and windy at first. We took our time and made sure to stay balanced, especially with the pack on our backs. I quickly realized that if Ben wanted to push me off the mountain, it would have already happened.
The descent began to level off and we began to pass by beautiful lakes. The valley we were in was so steep that it almost seemed like we were in a canyon.
While the descent was breathtaking, it was much more tiring and time consuming than climbing the summit. I had been walking for 8-9 hours at the point and my feet were really beginning to hurt. Ben and I decided that all we wanted for dinner was a burger and a Guinness. It was a relief to finally get to the town of Cloghane.
Cloghane is an adorable town that is located right on the water. As we walked into town, Ben began to analyze fields for where he could camp. I told him that for in exchange of helping me get down the mountain safely, he should definitely use my shower. We passed by two pubs and finally got to O’Connor’s Guesthouse and Pub. Outside, there was a sign that said camping in the back. How perfect! We entered the guesthouse and I got the key to my room. Again, I was the only guest staying that night! There were showers in the back for Ben so we decided to meet at 7:30 for dinner.
After having a drink outside we ordered the burgers we had been craving. The bartender came over to us and told us that we were in luck because Irish music would be played tonight because of Tom’s 50th birthday. We finished our dinner and I taught Ben how to play rummie. We sat for a while playing cards and chatting. Around 9:45, Ben and I both decided we were tired and probably should head to bed soon. I was thinking that there was no way the locals were coming- it was already 9:45 on a Tuesday night!
I was wrong. The locals (aged 50-95) began to shuffle into the pub. After everyone had about two pints (which did not take long) a woman took an accordion out from her bag and began to play. One by one, the locals started to break out into song. Their voices were so good! Every three or four songs, someone would say “Frank! Frank! A recitation!” Frank (aged 92 I would later learn) would then stand up and recite a poem or some length story.
The locals were very friendly to me and Ben, and demanded that we both sing a song. Ben, who has a great voice, sang a French song that everyone loved. When it was my turn, I asked them if they would mind if I did a recitation instead. They didn’t, so I recited Winkin, Blinkin,and Nod. They loved it! I was a little relieved.
I looked at the time and it was 1:30 a.m. These people were going nowhere! All of a sudden, people started to move into the room next to the pub. I asked the bartender why people were moving and he replied “After-hours”. No rules seemed to apply during after-hours. People started smoking and the bartender brought over free drinks. The singing continued. At 3 a.m., I snuck to my room. I couldn’t believe that the locals continued to party! Ben told me the next day that they stayed another hour until 4. What a night!
Day 4- Cloghane – Castlegregory 18 miles
I slept in until 10:30 and headed down to breakfast. I took an extra hardboiled egg and muffin for Ben. I went outside to make sure he was awake and he was! We were on the road by 11. Again, the day was gorgeous. Ben kept talking about how our luck must run out soon. After a couple miles on road, we got to Castlegregory Beach- the longest beach in Ireland- where we could proceed to walk 7 miles. The sand was hard and flat and actually great for walking.
We eventually got to Scraggane Point where we found an empty picnic table to eat lunch. In the summertime, this town is a hot spot for windsurfers.
We continued walking on the other side of the point, towards Castlegregory. The next 7 miles would be a mix of beach and fields.
We finally arrived in Castlegregory after 6 and half hours. Ben and I were very impressed with our pace, especially considering how late we were up the night before. I was happy it was such a flat day- much easier on the legs! After planning a place and time to meet for dinner, Ben continued on to find a field to camp in and I went to my B&B for a hot shower. The B&B was very cute and finally I was not the only guest! There was an older couple visiting from Boston. After my shower, I sat in the sitting room and had some tea, biscuits and a half of a Guinness. It was lovely!
I met Ben for dinner and we exchanged full names so we could find each other on FaceBook. I would be walking solo tomorrow because Ben was going to sleep in and just walk to Camp and take a bus to Tralee (he had already down the Tralee-Camp stretch). I told Ben that I felt lucky that I met him because I definitely wouldn’t have done the summit without him and that I just really enjoyed his company. He told me that he was happy too that he got to share this experience with me. After parting ways, I immediately went to bed. In order to complete 19 miles by 6 pm the next day, I figured I should be walking by 8:30.
Day 5: Castlegregory – Tralee, 19 miles
After coffee and breakfast, I was out the door by 8:30 as planned. Twenty minutes into my walk, I heard this man yelling from a field. It really startled me. I turned around and it was Ben! He said “I thought you would be coming by soon, I’ve been coming out to the road from the field looking for you!” He gave me and big hug and said goodbye. What a guy!
The first 8 miles were a lot of small road, fields and some beach.
I took a quick lunch break in Camp and continued on. The last 8 miles of the trip before hitting road were on a mucky hillside. I know understand why people only do this stretch once and take the bus from Camp. It isn’t very scenic and it is actually pretty difficult to follow the path. I had to follow other people’s footprints to stay on track! It was also very muddy- I couldn’t imagine doing this walk after a day of rain!
Towards the end of the 8 miles walking in the mud, my feet began to hurt and I was thankful when I got back on the road. I only had two miles to Tralee, but they were the longest two miles of the trip. I was very fatigued and at this point just wanted to be sitting! Whoever passed me on the street must have thought I was crazy- I would go between cursing out loud and singing Tender Shepard, a song my mom used to sing to us as kids. I finally did get to Tralee (at 5 p.m.- just in time for my bus to Limerick!) and immediately walked into a pub to sit down. I don’t think the Guinness I ordered could have tasted any better!