Beauty—natural or otherwise—was certainly the common theme to most of Heidi’s and my activities in Ireland. Our thirty mile bike trip around the Dingle Penninsula—known as the “Slea Head Drive”—was no exception. It was quite a big bike ride, so I’ll have to make quite a big post to talk about it.
The General Scenery
It was overcast and misty for most of our bike ride. Although this is apparently typical for Irish weather, it was one of the only non-sunny days of our vacation.
We biked around the peninsula in a big clockwise loop. The interior was on our right side and mostly consisted of fields and hills. Much of the land was occupied by farms and their associated livestock:
The ocean was on our left. Land met water in steep cliffs:
And off in the distance, we could see stunning seascapes:
The Slea Head Drive passes by quite a few interesting landmarks, and I’ll put some of my favorites up here. The first is Dún Beag Fort. It was built around 500 BCE and sits right at the edge of a cliff. It has two stone walls and a few earthen walls (read: mounds of dirt) that surround a sheltered interior. (It is protected from the rear by the cliff.) There are several cavities in the walls, and there is even an underground passageway called a “souterrain.” (You can go in the cavities/rooms but not in the souterrain.) The fort’s original purpose is unknown, but its small size and simplicity seem to preclude it being a permanent settlement. It was probably used to protect cattle from raiders.
Natural erosion has caused some of the fort to fall into the ocean, but other than this, it is very well preserved. This is pretty typical for prehistoric Irish structures. Ireland’s first inhabitants built many elaborate stone buildings and monuments, but they later left their lands. Newcomers arrived, and lacking any other explanation, assumed these structures were built by Faeries. Superstitious fear prevented these people from entering or defacing any ancient sites.
A few miles away from the fort, I was somewhat surprised to find a pristine beach with blue-green water and warm yellow sand. There’s not much to say about it, but it sure was beautiful:
Near the end of the trip, Heidi and I passed a microbrewery called Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne. I thought it might be a mirage at first, but it was real! After visiting an endless series of bars that only served Guinness and Smithwick’s, we had despaired about ever finding any unique Irish beer. This brewery restored our faith in Irish alcohol; their beer was delicious! I liked it so much that I bought four bottles (all that would fit in my bag) and carried them on my back for the remaining six or seven miles of our bike ride. I eventually brought them back to America as presents for my parents, who also loved them. If you’re ever in Dingle… please visit Beoir Chorca Dhuibhne! As an added bonus, the bar is located in a three-hundred-year-old farmhouse.
After having a beer at the brewery, we hit the last landmark of our trip: the Gallarus oratory. It’s a mysterious old stone church—both its age and the meaning of its name are not known with any great precision, although it was probably built between the sixth and twelfth centuries AD.
It’s a cool-looking building, but there is really only one good angle to take a picture of it. So:
According to a pamphlet I picked up at the Oratory,
The oratory was built by early Christians who loved their trade. Life was much simpler then, and men understood God and His ways much better than they do now. Successive invaders—Vikings and Normans—burned, robbed, and destroyed the settlements around Gallarus and a beautiful way of life was lost forever.
I like that description for some reason.
We finally got back to Dingle (after making a few wrong turns) just in time to return our bikes to the rental store and set up a reservation at the best restaurant in town—Out of the Blue. It’s a seafood restaurant that serves only fresh fish from the previous day’s catch. If there’s no good fish, they don’t open—it’s as simple as that. I got an awesome sea bass:
Which I promptly devoured:
The Best Part
I temporarily abandoned chronological order so I could save my favorite part of the trip for the end. It was a detour I took to walk down an unmarked gravel path.
After I passed the first hill, the landscape started getting a little strange. Sparse stones randomly jutted up, and the ground was covered by low stiff bushes.
Looking back, I could still see the warm beach and much of the peninsula:
But in front me there was an increasingly rocky passageway:
After I passed through the rocks, the path ended with a sheer cliff, and I found myself at the end of a long strip of land that stuck out into the Atlantic ocean. I was all alone. It was an amazing feeling. I had spent all day biking around—which tends to decrease the intensity of my thoughts, and to increase the sensation of being in the moment. Now I was sitting directly in the midst of the cliffs, hills, and water I had earlier seen from a distance. I felt like Wang Wei in his poem Deer Enclosure:
Empty mountain: no man.
But voices of men are heard.
Sun’s reflections reaches into the woods
And shines upon the green moss.
I felt like I had melted into my surroundings. Eventually I heard people behind me and the spell was broken. I turned to my side and took a picture of another far-off chunk of land jutting into the sea. I imagine mine must have looked similar from over there…
Overall, Dingle was pretty awesome. Where else can you get stuck in cow traffic while biking? (Seriously!)
- Overview and map of the Slea Head Drive
- Official website for the Dún Beag Fort
- Wikipedia article about Gallarus Oratory
- Official website for my favorite Irish microbrewery
- Website for Out of the Blue