My post-hike thoughts about the Kerry Way. Apologies if this is a slightly long, rambling post but it is my way of recording things before they are forgotten
The Kerry Way is usually done in nine stages. I split the long stage between Sneem and Kenmare into two. With a rest day in Caherdaniel, I was away for 11 days.
In total I hiked 176km (109 miles) plus a few more unrecorded on my ‘rest day’. There is a very long inland section between Waterville and Caherdaniel via Eagles Hill and Coad Mountain which I did not attempt, choosing the shorter coastal route. The junction for the two routes is at the start of the Termons ridge which can be reached from the road at Mastergeehy but otherwise one would need to retrace ones steps over the ridge after staying in Waterville. When I hiked the Termons ridge into Waterville it was one of the slowest sections of the whole trip.
The usual starting point is Killarney which has good transport connections, but I chose to start in Kenmare. If starting in Killarney there is a spur to Galways Bridge to be covered on both the outward and inward journeys that includes 3-4 km along the main road into the town. I ended my first day at the Galways Bridge junction, getting a lift back to Killarney and then setting off again the next day from Muckross House along the busy route to the Torc Waterfall honeypot. I met other hikers who avoided that section and went out of Killarney via the Gap of Dunloe to Black Valley.
The sections from Kenmare, Killarney, Black Valley, Bridia Valley and Lough Acoose are the best in my opinion, with the majestic McGillycuddy Reeks and Carrauntoohil providing a stunning backdrop. Into and out of Glenbeigh, the views across Dingle Bay and the golden strands on both sides of the water outside Castlemaine harbour are wonderful on a clear day. Derrynane strand just outside Caherdaniel is also a very special place but after Glenbeigh I found the frequent proximity of the Ring of Kerry tourist trail to be a little intrusive. The routes travelling eastwards along the south side of the Iveragh peninsular can’t escape the road and return to it frequently if only briefly, but the traffic noise from it is often there in the background.
Much of the route uses the ancient network of ‘butter roads’ which vary from metalled tracks in the Killarney National Park area to grassy greenways, rough stone tracks and especially out of the Bridia Valley on the ‘Lack Road’, a very steep, very uneven and very narrow path that would be hard going even for a donkey or packhorse. Once off these ‘roads’ there is a lot of bog to negotiate. Especially out of Cahersiveen, it was deep, unrelenting gloop with the treacherous bright green sphagnum-covered bog holes needing to be avoided at all costs. Frequent steps up and down the vertical faces of old turf cuttings sap one’s energy too. In these sections the path gets trodden by walkers leaving the wet, slippery peat exposed and slow to make progress over. In other places the bog is less deep and one can just walk through it (but you really do need waterproof boots!).
I was incredibly lucky with good weather nearly all of the way. The poncho only came out at the start of the second day’s hike, there were a few brief showers, including a hail storm above Glenbeigh but otherwise the rains came at night. Out of Lough Acoose, I had to take a road diversion because the fierce overnight rain had made the cross-country route impassable and dangerous: rivers were over their banks everywhere, dramatic but treacherous.
I only met eight fellow hikers who were doing all or most of the Kerry Way and we tended to see each other in the villages along the route. I walked a short distance with one young german guy who was taking a break from being a hospital doctor and two older guys from Cork City who were great craic and helped me with my Irish language practise. I was slightly disappointed not to find any other Irish speakers as I had thought that the Black Valley area was in the Gealtacht, I tried my Irish once there but it was mistaken for german!
I was relieved not to have developed any blisters at all. My feet were sore towards the end but nothing serious. I had one tumble where the ground came up to meet me and gave me a bruised knee, grazed elbow and a red patch where my specs hit my nose! I hit the same knee on a ladder stile and a metal farm gate but soon learnt to be more careful with them. My gear worked out well (I may do a post about it, mostly for my own record). I was especially pleased with my new ‘Osprey Kestrel 38’ pack that was comfortable all the way.
All things considered, I had a wonderful adventure and not a day when I didn’t hear a cuckoo! The occasional times when cold wind, boggy ground and steep climbs get one down are to be expected but that only happened once on the Termons Ridge into Waterville. The last section into Kenmare became tedious when it looped uphill off the direct route for little reason and the blocked route around Parknasilla was annoying too. I could have done more research to visit sites that were just off the route and maybe worth visiting: I missed a couple of castles, standing stones and other features along the way; all potentially good sketching material.