The Dingle Way Overview:
Official length: 179km
What we walked: unknown
Start/end points: Started in Tralee, and went south/clockwise around the peninsula.
Trail difficulty: 4/5
Trail Quality: 5/5
Camping/Accommodation: some of the most consistent camping/accomodation options on any of the trails we've walked so far!
- There's a really nice campsite in Tralee (Woodlands camping) that we used as our base while in Kerry
- It's possible to camp at a pub in Camp, otherwise you need to prebook a B&B
- There's a very cheap hostel in Annascaul (Paddy's Palace)
- A great campsite/hostel combination in Dingle (Rainbow Hostel). Definitely one of our favourite places to stay.
- Youth hostel in Dunquin (seems to be booked out a lot, we didn't stay there).
- We then got to Ballygar, and found another okay campsite.
- From there we made it to another great hostel in Cloghane (Mount Brandon Hostel).
- We then stayed in a campsite somewhere after Castlegregory, and I think that's everywhere!
Public transport: there's plenty of transport through nearly every town along the village, so very accessible to get to different points of the trail!
Day 6 - Rest because of really bad weather in Dingle
Day 7 - Dunquin - Ballygar
Day 8 - Ballygar - Cloghane
Day 9 - Cloghane - Aughacasla
Day 10 - Aughacasla - Camp
Day 1 - Tralee to Camp
Day 2 - Camp to Annascaul
Day 3 - Annascaul to Dingle
Day 4 - *Rest/Editing Day Dingle
Day 5 - Dingle - Dunquin
The beginning of this is the same walk as the Kerry Camino, so feel free to breeze through the first few paragraphs!
When I tell someone new about about this walking project, the trails they're most likely to know are either the Wicklow Way or the Dingle Way. I wasn't sure if this made me excited or apprehensive to walk one of these trails. Looking back at the 10 days we spent on the Dingle Way, it certainly stands out, and will probably be one of our favourites out of all the walks.
The first day of walking from Tralee to Camp could not have gone better. The sun was shining, and the trail wound it's way along the feet of the mountains, with a well defined (but still rustic) trail. At a little less than 20km, the first day of walking should have breezed past in a few hours. But with the nice weather and the benches (yes, benches!) along the trail it was too easy to sit back, relax, and just enjoy the day. And while the trail was easy walking, it hadn't been completely overdone, with fun stepping stones and small river crossings left untouched to let you feel like you were still in the hills.
Day 2 saw us walk from Camp to Annascaul, which meant we were crossing through the mountains and making our way down to the southern coast of the peninsula. I don't think we could have had more contrasting weather if it had been planned. Big, water-pregnant clouds rolled in and lay down on the pass, giving us a field of view of about 10 meters. Water clung to my clothes, my face, my eyelashes. You couldn't escape it. Most of the route that that is very old access roads, so we wandered in our own little bubble, the vague dark shapes or peaks looming above us. We tried to stop as little as possible, because it was only when you stopped moving that you'd really notice just how saturated your clothes were.
As the day wore on, and we got closer and closer to Annascaul, we decided to check what sort of indoor accommodation we could find. It would be really nice to see if we could dry off our everythings a bit. And up popped Paddy's Palace. We looked at the online listing of it for a while. It just seemed so ... odd. What brings a chain hostel to this tiny village in the middle of nowhere? And how could it only be €10 per person? We will never know how it ended up there, but I will always be glad for it. It reminded me of a Camino Albergue - the rooms were small, with as many bunkbeds as you can fit, but it was clean, and the living space downstairs was cosy and rustic feeling. There were no crazy party animals (where would they have gone?), so we got a pretty decent night's sleep, and moved on again the next morning.
One thing to mention about Annascaul, is that it is the hometown of Tom Crean, who was a member of three major expeditions to Antarctica during what is known as the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. When Crean retired from sea-faring and exploration, he returned to Annascaul and opened The South Pole Inn. The pub is still open, and holds an amazing collection of maps, photographs, and books on the outdoors.
Our walk from Annascaul to Dingle was the longest stretch of the walk so far - about 22km. Still a very enjoyable and completable stage. I think a big benefit of the Dingle Way are the defined stages. Each day of walking is laid out for you, with a sensible end point that has a variety of accommodation options. Compared to many of the other trails we have walked, where the focus was just on getting further and further, once we had arrived at our end point on the Dingle Way, we would stop. We got to enjoy our evenings, and leave our bags in one spot while we sourced food and/or coffee.
Annascaul, located at the base of a long valley, sent us up and out again to find the coast, where we came across some castle ruins on a beach made of pebbles. A lot of the trail wound it's way through wet farmland and vibrant fuschia. The weather was as unpredictable as ever, and we spent the day pulling on and off our rain gear.
With less road than day 2, we made decent progress through the zigzagging, grass-covered byroads, and somehow still felt like we were mostly walking uphill for the whole day. The end of that section does have a pretty great climb up to a small pass, that gives such a perfect view down at Dingle and it's bay. It was only as we reached the outskirts of the town that the rain really began to get intense, and we took shelter in the first pub we came across.
While munching on crisps and waiting, we ended up listening to the woman working behind the bar. I think I heard her talk in four accents in the time we were there. With american's she was loud and jokey, with Irish fast-spoken and short - and then with a Scottish guy an odd mix of english and something else. I wonder was it a game, to see how many people she could confuse. The rain past before I could decide.
The hostel that we camped at in Dingle was the Rainbow hostel, a 5-10 minute walk from the town itself (the first time we went there we walked along a rather large busy road. It was only after we checked in that they told us of the small lane out the back that lead straight into the village). The hostel had a huge kitchen, filled with long tables and wooden benches, cushions and stools strewn throughout. If you're camping, there's a building outside the house with toilets and showers. If you're hosteling it, there are showers and bathrooms in the main building. If you're booking a private room, you're upstairs in an airy warm attic with your own toilets. No matter where you're staying, you'll enjoy your time there. We met some wonderful people, and waited out two days of bad weather in that kitchen. It was hard to leave, you could see it on everyone's face when they packed up their stuff.
It was only after the 30+hours of torrential rain, when we decided to sleep inside the hostel and try dry our tent, that we found the maggots on the bottom of the footprint (a tough tarp-like sheet we put between the tent and the ground to protect the tent). Carl drew the short straw and had to scrape them off. I hung up everything else in the large outdoor roofed area that was meant to be a barbecue area, but also had strategic clothes lines attached to the ceiling.
This is where the Kerry Camino Ends. The walking only got more amazing as the trail went on.
It is true that the trail is less developed from Dingle onwards, and so is a less straight forward walk. Some of the stages are also slightly longer. But seriously, those views. Those mountains. I think Carl was fit to kill me, I'd want to stop every five steps just to drool over the landscape. The day after Dingle sees you reach the end of the peninsula and start heading north again. The view of the Blasket Islands slowly growing from around the mountainside was breathtaking. It was also a lot of uphill walking.
The sea had that beautiful turquoise colour that made it look almost tropical, with windswept cliffs and a sky that swallowed everything, extending the horizon miles and miles into the distance.
It was while we were standing on the side of the road gazing off one of the marked out viewpoints, that a woman offered to take our photo. Of course we said yes, because it was rare that we ever got the two of us in the one frame. It was only afterwards that we realised we should have offered to take her photo too. But there was nothing to do. We continued onto Dunquin. Unfortunately, we hadn't been able to book a ed in the hostel there, and they seemed to have a very anti-camping policy, so we were feeling a bit awkward and listless as we wondered where we'd sleep that night. We were sitting at a bench at another view point when we saw the same woman again. She was passing and we offered her some biscuits (prime hiking food). She sat down and we got talking, and quickly laughing. She was goofy, funny, a little crazy. Turned out she went to school with Carl's sister. It was getting dark when she offered us a lift to Dingle. With no other solution appearing, we head back to Dingle and wandered into the Rainbow hostel again. I think they were starting to wonder if we'd ever get rid of us.
The next day we took the bus back out to Dunquin and continued on. We weren't sure where we were aiming for that day. We stopped into the Blasket visitor centre and drank coffee. The weather was bad again and we were feeling tired. Actually, if I remember right, I was pretty wrecked that day. We had some beach stretches, some wandering through sand dunes, and we ended up in Ballygar. I sat on a wall, trying to not focus on my pulsing feet, while Carl googled. It turned out that 6km off the trail there was a campsite. We tiredly trudged up the road, and came across .. a weird way-marker. It wasn't our usual Elvis (the little yellow walking man), but definitely his sainted cousin. It turns out there's a pilgrim trail there too. We were too exhausted to stop and figure out where it lead. I'm glad we're able to pitch our tent in our sleep. We ate a fruit cake for dinner.
Side note! - While walking the Dingle Way we asked people to send us any questions they had about our trip so far. We filmed the answers to the questions as we walked/rested/coffee-d.
Our FAQ Answers Video.
Deciding to get out early the next day we enjoyed a gorgeous sunrise as we went back through Ballygar to the coast and approached Mt. Brandon. The approach was a steady incline the whole way up, with several faux-summits. It was the first day in a long time that we'd gone from sea level to 700+meters, and back to sea level in just a few hours. The trail takes you up a small pass beside Mt. Brandon, with the side we went up being very straight forward, and the side we went down much more "mountainous". I'm glad it was our way down, as I it would have been such a battle to get up with our bags. It was also the moment I solidly decided that going for trail shoes instead of boots had been the wrong choice for me.
When you reach the ridgeline/pass there's a standing stone sitting by itself in the middle of the mini-summit. It's believed to be a 1400 year old ancient Ogham Stone from the 6th century, and thought to be the highest Ogham stone in Ireland. For more info, see here. At the time, were just in awe of everything. We would have stayed up there all day if it wasn't for the midges. They flooded out of wherever they were hiding and gleefully attached, following us the whole way down the mountain.
While we were up on the ridgeline we had also noticed the approaching clouds, and therefore impending rain. As we made our way down we saw the clouds slowly crest the same pass and slowly start to chase us to lower altitudes. We managed to keep the clouds at bay, but still had to deal with the instant bugs. There were some very large ones. I'm not going to think about them too much.
Once off the mountainside the trail turns into a dirt track, and the land looks gold and navy, still making me want to stop and take photos every few seconds.
The walk from there to Colghane was slightly longer than we expected as we'd only really been focusing on the mountain part. Down at sea level again, we made our way into the village and our hostel for the night. We had a great night there, with breakfast included in the price(!!), and a lovely garden to relax in that evening.
Waking up the next day, we decided to be ambitious and see if we could finish the trail that day. We knew it would be long, but it was mostly beach walking, which looked very straight forward - 22km of beach to be specific. This beach stretch saw us walk along the biggest sand spit you could imagine. Up one side, and back down the other. We met a couple of people along the way - one of my old work colleagues happened to drive past and stopped to say hello. We were both quite confused by the situation. Secondly, we met my sisters and my mum. They were coming for a hike before my sisters summer holidays were over.
Because we were meeting so many people, and just generally having a good time, I didn't really pay attention to how much of the beach I'd walked in my bare feet. I knew that I was out of practice of walking without shoes on. And sand is soft, causing the muscles and tendons in your feet to work twice as hard. And then suddenly the discomfort was building, the pain getting sharper, and I walking, but awkwardly hobbling, trying to act casual, in personal denial that I might have just hurt myself. We got to my mum's car, where I'd be saying goodbye to my family, and I internally started panic. My foot was sore. But we were so close to the end. Probably 15km? I've walked that before breakfast, how can I not walk it now? I taped it up, wondering if that could really do anything, said it was fine. And so we continued on.
We got about 3km down the road and I knew I couldn't walk. Rounding a corner, I laughed out loud. The road was flooded. About 400m down the road I could see the top of a hunchback bridge sticking up like a small island. It wasn't deep: high calf, but not knee high. Carl just went straight in in his shoes. I changed into my sandals and followed. I made it to the bridge and just started crying. I was so sore. So, unbelievably sore. But I couldn't hurt myself. We had so much more to do. And the flooding looked incredibly beautiful in the sunset. So I also started laughing. Laughing and crying. After a few minutes I was ready, and we waded the 800m or so to dry road again. I hobbled, limped, and we made it to a campsite somewhere after Castlegregory. It was overrun with loud kids and campervans, tents that had more rooms than most city apartments. Taking off my sandals, my feet had one more surprise for me. You see, the soles of my sandals are made of leather. My feet had been "tanned" by the flood wading. The soles of my feet were a very strong leather-orange colour. (this took almost 3 weeks to fade/peel off).
The next morning we packed up. It was only 12km to the end. Carl took my backpack, carrying all the weight. I think I probably went into a mild form of shock as we pushed on. And let me say, Carl said we should stop many times. My family had offered me a lift back into Tralee the night before. But I really wanted to finish this one. It had been too good until then. I couldn't not finish one of the best trails we'd done so far. And there was no way I could have injured myself.
We got to Camp, and that closed the loop. We were finished. We didn't even really celebrate, just sat down feeling a bit like a zombie. We went to the petrol station and bought all the cheap deli food. And then made our way to the bus stop. While sitting there, a car that had passed us turned around and stopped beside us. It was the woman who owned the hostel in Cloghane. She'd recognised us, and gave us a lift right back to the campsite in Tralee. Right into reception.
We stayed in Tralee at the campsite for 2 days. When I still couldn't walk, we decided to head to Carl's parents. We had already agreed to do some house sitting for them, and now we were just arriving a few days early. By the time that was over, surely my foot would be fine?
It wasn't. But not wanting our adventure to be over, we waited day by day to see if I would magically wake up feeling great, and we'd get back on the road. After 2 weeks of waiting, we tried to go for a short walk (16km), and I was hobbling by the end. I finally had to admit that it wasn't just going to be ok.
I went to Dublin, went to a physio, and went through all the motions. I'd ended up with some very bad tendonitis, and a bit of a stress fracture. Neither would go away if I didn't stop trying to do stuff. I needed to stay still for a while. And to be honest, we hadn't really planned for this. Winter was coming, so if it had to happen it wasn't the worst time. We found somewhere to live in Dublin, and decided that this was it until the new year. And then we'd start walking agin.
The Dingle Way video.