30 September 2009

Killarney National Park by Bike

Yesterday I did a great cycle trip through part of Killarney National Park and Muckross Estate.

We collected bikes from Mary @ O Sullivan's Bike Hire and cycled past St. Mary's Cathedral into Knockreer Estate. Gentle bike tracks led us through open parkland down to the impressive restored ruins of 15th century Ross Castle.

Ross Castle was built by the O Donoghue Ross family and was one of Ireland's last strongholds to fall to Cromwell, eventually being taken from the water by barges and cannon...
The guided tour of Ross Castle is excellent and full of interesting gems, like the murder flap and the communal toilet!
Out on Lough Leane, Prisoner Island stands alone, once used by the infamous O Donoghue Ross to chain his captives, until they perished from exposure and hunger.

From Ross Castle we biked up Ross Road, took a right out past the Gleneagle Hotel and entered into Killarney National Park again shortly afterwards.
Autumn was in the air as we biked under huge oak and chestnut trees, their golden brown leaves beginning to carpet the ground. September is a great time to visit Killarney as the town and area is that little quieter and fabulous colours flourish throughout the National Park.
The quiet trail led us past Muckross Abbey, nestled in the oaks and yews. This is well worth a visit. It was built by pagan chieftain Donal McCarthy Mor in 1448, to guarantee himself a place in heaven; and it was here he was buried.

Within the shadows of the central cloisters stands an ancient yew tree. Legend has it that the abbey was built around this yew tree and when the abbey was razed by Cromwell the yew withstood the blazing fire and stood untouched, to this very day...
Coffee and cake were calling once we had explored the abbey and peaceful graveyard, so we pedaled up the long straight avenue to 18th century Muckross House and bypassing the magnificent roofs and chimneys went straight into Muckross coffee shop.
I'm always surprised at how great the food and cakes are here and it's usually the high point of my day!

Muckross House was built by the English Herbert family and later sold when they became bankrupt due to excessive spending, preparing for Queen Victoria's visit.
There's now an interesting one hour guided tour of the house; a good rainy day option. The magnificent gardens are also worth spending an afternoon strolling through...
A further quick bike detour led us to the base of Torc Waterfall, gushing down the side of Torc Mountain. You can walk easily to the base of the waterfall and steep steps also led upwards where you'll be rewarded with great views over Killarney National Park and the Lakes of Killarney.
The trip was approx 20km and including several stops took us four and a half hours.
Nathan Kingerlee

28 September 2009

Lakes of Killarney

26 September 2009

Beara by Sea Kayak

After a busy summer I decided to take three days off, pack a fifteen foot sea kayak with food and drink and explore the south west coast. My plans happened to coincide with what was probably the summer’s best weather.

I paddled out from Snave Strand, at the head of Bantry Bay, on a beautiful sunny afternoon. The gentle southerly breeze barely stirring the water. For the entire afternoon I couldn’t wipe the grin from my face as the coastline of the Beara Peninsula unveiled itself, in all of its rocky rugged beauty.

With my heavily laden kayak a little tippy to begin with, until I became accustomed to it, I hugged the coastline. Past Whiddy Island Oil Refinery and Glengarrif Harbour. After a couple of hours paddling my stomach began to let me know it was past lunchtime, so spying a huge black rock protruding from the water I made for it. Leaving my kayak tightly wedged between slippery rocks I scrambled to the summit, passing numerous orderly piles of twigs spread across the flat top, which on closer inspection turned out to be abandoned gannet nests.

Invigorated after a lunch of freshly baked bread, slightly warm goat cheese and tomatoes I hit the water knowing I needed to make it to Bere Island to be assured of a good camping spot that night. This was a long paddle; head down; long deep strokes for three hours, cutting down the middle of Bantry Bay to take the most direct line. Roancarrigmore, a tiny island with a lonely lighthouse perched on it, was my first target. Once I reached this little island I knew Bere Island was only 2km further. Slowly, but eventually, my destination became closer and closer. With the wind increasing, the temperature dropping and the sun setting I was eager to land and set up camp. Hugging the outside of the island I paddled into a calm natural bay called Lonehort Harbour.

Landing my kayak on a white sandy beach, I pitched my Vango tent in dusky twilight, fixed a line between two gorse bushes to dry my kayaking gear and climbed into my tent. After the compulsory ‘I’m still safe’ text messages I set down to the serious job of cooking dinner, making several cups of tea and attempting to open a bottle of red wine with a penknife!

The next morning dawned clear and cool, with the promise of a scorching day to come. After sausages and bacon, cooked on my powerful gas stove, I packed my kayak and while squeezing everything into the two watertight compartments had a revelation! For most of the previous day my kayak had wanted to veer to starboard, especially later in the day when the breeze increased. This had meant that every third stroke was a sweep stroke on the right to correct myself, which was hard work! Anyway my revelation was that my nine litres of drinking water plus three bottles of wine weren’t distributed properly inside the storage compartments, meaning my boat was slightly lopsided, just enough to effect the steering of it through the water…

Paddling along the outside of Bere Island was impressive, with the British gun batteries and bunkers disappearing slowly under an unstoppable tide of nettles and gorse. A Martello Tower from the Napoleonic Wars thrust bluntly into the blue sky, while nearby nestled a Megalithic Burial Site and a romantic looking promontory fort, probably Iron Age or earlier. Bere Island has a rich history and played an important part in World War 1, only being returned to the Irish in 1938.

I left Bere Island, crossing the mouth of Castletown Bere Harbour and passing a solitary fishing trawler which threw up a lazy wash behind it. It was now I began to feel I was sea kayaking for real. Bantry Bay widened before me, miles of open water, the Beara Peninsula on my right, steadily increasing cliffs, headland after headland curving out of sight. While on my left the Sheep’s Head Peninsula slowly tapered to a finish, exposing open sea beyond it.

Deciding to land for lunch is a decision that has to be well planned, as even in the gentle swell I was encountering, it’s no mean feat to land safely. Locate a section of rocky shoreline which doesn’t look too slippery, judge the swell as it surges upwards against the black rocks and rushes back down, sucking and gurgling. When a calming in the incoming swell seems imminent paddle alongside the rocks, timing it with the upward surge of salty water, pull off the neoprene spray deck, slide out of the boat onto the rocks and as the water begins to rush back downwards grab the handle and heave the boat onto the rocks, while all the time keeping the paddle securely in one hand!

Feat successfully completed, I looked around my picnic spot. I had landed in a narrow inlet, which was basically a cleft in the cliffs. There was just enough space to drag my kayak onto the warm boulders which made up the floor. On one side was the water, now appearing docile. On the other three sides were vertical sandstone cliffs which towered overhead and thrust most of this inlet into shade. At the very back of the cleft were the scattered ancient remains of a Massey Ferguson tractor, which I guessed a weary farmer had pushed (or driven) over the edge. I sincerely hoped that with the progress of REPS and environmental awareness there would be no more dumping while I sat there enjoying my lunch.

Technically launching from the shore after lunch should have been easier. A case of sitting into my kayak on the rocks, gripping my paddle tightly and when the right sized surge of water rose upwards seal launch myself into the swell and paddle away. Not the case! I ended up with the bow of my kayak in the water and my stern still perched on the rocks. Because of the sharp narrow shape to the kayak’s hull as the swell rushed downwards I capsized and then slithered the rest of the way into the water upside down. After the initial shock and realisation of how cold the water actually was I Eskimo rolled upright, shook the water out of my ears and vowed to find easier picnic spots in future!

My intended destination that evening was Garnish, a 21km paddle away from lunch. The security of the mainland was left behind as I cut straight towards Crow Head, avoiding the many indented bays and inlets. Crow Head was the furthest into the Atlantic Ocean I strayed. As far as I know it’s the most south westerly point of mainland Ireland. And it felt it… Medium, choppy swell rolled under my kayak from random directions, making me constantly adjust my balance; my face stung from two days of sun and sea salt; gannets on the lookout for mackerel soared and cried overhead, before diving in unison; the water roared and boomed against the cliffs on my right; no one else by sea or land for miles and miles. At one stage I stopped paddling and simply sat still, bobbing in the edge of the Atlantic, savouring the peace and tranquillity.

To save time and for a little more excitement I wanted to paddle through a narrow, tight passage between Crow Head and Crow Island. The passage, or channel, was three hundred metres long and at it’s narrowest I doubt I would have had the width to turn my kayak around. Carefully entering into it was like paddling into darkness, such was the difference between the dazzling sunlight and the gloomy shade. I emerged into a large calm bay with Dursey Island and Dursey Sound in front of me. The difference between one side of the three hundred metre channel and the other side was like stepping from a storm into a swimming pool! The sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon line and thinking about pasta and tomato sauce and warm red wine I put my foot down.

Cutting through the bay towards the Sound, a couple of dolphins suddenly appeared and began accompanying me. Then there were six of them! Streaking through the water in pairs, jumping high into the air alongside me and carving in circles around my kayak. Most spectacular of all was when they dive bombed towards me from deep underwater. From the depths they would race straight upwards aiming directly at my kayak, I could see their pale stomachs as they sped at me, then at what seemed like the very last minute they would veer sharply off and avoid me. The twenty minutes I spent paddling towards Dursey Sound accompanied by six friendly dolphins was the high point of my trip.

I had heard worrying reports from friends about tricky sea conditions in Dursey Sound; however it was calm and gentle as I paddled through it, with soft swell slowly rolling in. Two carefully perched fishermen waved at me from the rocks. The fantastic little cable car (Ireland’s only cable car) was trundling across the Sound, hanging from taut cables high over my head. Judging from the many ruined cottages, crumbling church and overgrown graveyard on the island I would guess that at least a hundred people lived there once. Now only six remain…

I left the Sound, passing Mealaun Point on my left, and veered sharp right, heading towards Garnish Point and safe harbour. Although the swell wasn’t huge it was the largest I had encountered so far. It rolled slowly under my boat, then seemed to accelerate towards the vast overhanging black cliffs, which glistened wetly in the sinking sun. The waves crashed in great echoing booms sending spray high into the air, where it seemed to hang in slow motion. The gentle hillside above the cliffs seemed hazy with mist which, on looking closer, was actually spray blown high into the air.

I couldn’t see the water my boat was moving through! I was paddling through a thick carpet of dirty white foam which covered the water’s surface all around me, absorbing noise. Every time I did a forward stroke my paddle blade and sometimes my hand disappeared into the foam, which had a bit of a surreal feeling to it.

Leaving the foam and echoing booms behind me I circled Garnish Point, surfed through a narrow gap between Garnish Island and a smaller unnamed island and landed on the rocky beach of Long Island. It felt good to stand up and stretch.

That night, propped against a comfortable rock in my trusty sleeping bag, I watched the moon rise, sparkling on the still waters of Allihies Bay; and later slept under the stars beside my driftwood fire.

Dazzling sunshine woke me the next morning and the sounds of local lobster fishermen preparing for their day’s work. After a lazy start I paddled to meet a friend who was joining me at Allihies Beach for my final day’s kayaking.

We circumnavigated Cod’s Head and headed across the wide open expanse of Coulagh Bay, aiming for three small islands huddled off the tip of Kilcatherine Point. As Noel and myself paddled and chatted I heard a snorting noise from my left and glancing over saw, ten or fifteen metres away, the crest of a big, big dark-bluish back rising out of the water. It was a large whale, less than fifteen metres away! Only the crest of its back was breaking the water, and that was big, so I can only guess how big the entire whale was! Ignoring us (or oblivious to us) it sank below the water heading towards Lamb’s Head, on the Iveragh Peninsula. Later in the day we caught one or two more sightings of probably the same whale, far in the distance; cruising the deepening waters of Kenmare Bay, in no hurry to be anywhere.

Having the safety of another person with me gave me the confidence to really explore the caves and strange rock formations eroded into the three small islands; Bridaun, Bridaun Beg and Inishfarnard. We landed in a little narrow inlet on Inishfarnard for lunch and stretched out on warm soft grass to enjoy sandwiches, grapes and chocolate chip cookies, while wondering how the sheep had managed to land on these rugged shores.

Paddling along the coastline of Kilcatherine Point towards Ardgroom I could feel the excitement of the exposed bays, high cliffs and Atlantic swell diminishing behind me and it was with regret that I pulled out my soggy map to navigate to our finish point. The coast was still really interesting, with all kinds of undercut inlets, little arches and strange choppy waves, but we continued past them, all for another day…

We were finishing at Bird Point, but continued a kilometre past it as according to our map there were caves there worth exploring. We weren’t disappointed! Slightly overhanging cliffs beckoned us into a high cathedral-like entrance, which protected two vast caves. Despite the summer temperatures outside, in the caves our breath condensed and hung in the air before us. The slightest noise we made echoed eerily under the high roof, while my Tikka head torch only dimly illuminated our path. The slick damp walls of the caves glistened and eventually the walls and ceiling tapered to a tight finish thirty metres back. Ancient tombs, Viking rendezvous points, smugglers dens, wreckers hideouts; the possible histories seemed to clamour through the empty space...

All I can say is what a trip!
Nathan Kingerlee
Outdoors Ireland

The Alternative Ring of Kerry

The Ring of Kerry with its classic stops and view points is world renown; however here are some alternative hidden gems along the way.

Visit Kerry Bog Village, on the main road between Killorglin and Glenbeigh. Here you can explore a traditional 1800s replica thatched bog village, complete with Irish wolf hounds and rare Kerry bog ponies; a great family trip.

Entering into Caherciveen take a right down past the old army Barracks, across the river to Cahergal Fort, an impressive Bronze Age stone fort with great views over Valencia Harbour. There is a second even more interesting fort nearby and also the ivy-clad crumbling ruins of 15th century Ballycarbery Castle, once the home of the McCarthy Mor's, now home only to jackdaws...
Back on the main road detour to the sleep village of Portmagee. A must see is the Skellig Experience Centre, dedicated to the history and stories of the 6th century monastic settlement of Skellig Michael. A great wet weather option. It's told by some that this was one of the last pagan sites in Ireland and one of the reasons it was inhabited for 600 years by monks was to drive out the last of the pagans.

Portmagee is named after an infamous pirate, Magee, who was shipwrecked on the coastline, met a local girl and settled down in the village to a life of married contentment and dangerous smuggling. The Bridge Bar serves delicious food and is a great lunch spot. On a fine day you can sit outside at the water's edge, watching the coming and goings of the brightly coloured fishing boats.

From Portmagee follow the narrow road over the top of Coonanaspig Pass and down to Saint Finan's Bay. Here you can swim in the fresh crashing surf at the sandy beach and call into Skellig Chocolate Factory where you'll be rewarded with sensational smells and free samples of delicious chocolates.

Continue to Derrynane Beach. Here long golden beaches, Daniel O Connell’s family home, wetsuit and snorkelling hire, sailing and windsurfing from Derrynane Sea Sports and the ruined abbey on Abbey Island are all calling to be explored. If you're into hiking, best of all, is a hidden mass path and secretive smugglers trail beginning at the pier and twisting along the side of Derrynane Harbour, through thick encroaching rhododrendrons.

Finish your day with a homemade icecream from 'The Green House' in Sneem.

If you've any suggestions of hidden gems on the Ring of Kerry put them into the comments section below.

Singles Adventure Weekends in Kerry

Win A Free Place!

On Sat 31st Oct & Sun 1st Nov I'm running Outdoors Ireland's first singles adventure weekend!

It will be a weekend full of adventure, suitable for all levels; fun, like-minded people; delicious food; comfortable accommodation and great craic in the evenings in Glenbeigh village. There will be plenty of opportunity to meet like-minded people in a relaxed, fun setting.

The weekend will be based in The Sleepy Camel Hostel.

I'm looking for ideas, from you, as to what activities would make the ideal weekend...

Email me your suggestion; we'll adopt the best suggestion and you'll win a completely free place on the first weekend!

Email: info@outdoorsireland.com

Entries need to be in by Mon 5th Oct.

Entries will be judged by Nathan Kingerlee of Outdoors Ireland and Roisin Finlay, of Outsider Magazine.

Some of the things you'll be judged on are the amount of thought and effort you've put into your idea; what combination of activities you've put together; what rough timings for the weekend you've come up with; and, most importantly, will it work and prove popular?

If you've any questions about the competition leave a comment below. I look forward to reading your entries. Good luck!

General Format:
Arrive Friday Evening
Activities Saturday
Entertainment & Craic Saturday Evening
Activities Sunday

Potential Activities:
Rock Climbing
Hill Walking
Night Hike
Lake Kayaking
White Water Kayaking
Team Challenge

Kayaking on the Lakes of Killarney

Kitty the Piper from Outdoors Ireland on Vimeo.


Nathan Kingerlee
Nathan runs an outdoor adventure and training company, based in Killarney, Kerry.
Outdoors Ireland specialises in training courses, team building and adventure breaks.
Climb Ireland's highest mountains, explore hidden trails through Kerry's glaciated valleys, rock climb on sandstone cliffs, kayak deep lakes and sparkling rivers or challenge your team with a team building and adventure day!

Linda Crossan
Linda is marketing manager for Randles Hotels in Killarney, Kerry.
Randles Hotels comprises of two luxurious 4 Star Killarney Hotels, The Randles Court and The Dromhall Hotel. Both are ideally located five minutes' walk from the Killarney Town Centre offering guests spacious rooms, leisure club, Zen Day Spa, choice of bars & restaurants and free parking.

Neil & Katy Lucey
Neil and Katy offer family run 3 star accommodation and an award winning restaurant with traditional Irish hospitality. Set in the heart of West Cork in the South West of Ireland, Gougane Barra Hotel sits on the edge of the lake surrounded by forest and beautiful scenery. Gougane Barra is a peaceful, romantic wedding setting with St. Finbar's church on the lake edge and its own National Forest Park. This is a popular place for walking, hiking and cycling holidays, or anyone looking for peaceful relaxation amongst stunning scenery. It is also an ideal location for touring Cork/Kerry.

Contact Us

Nathan Kingerlee of Outdoors Ireland
Training Courses, Team Building & Adventure Breaks in Killarney, Kerry
+353 (0) 86 860 45 63

Linda Crossan of Randles Hotels
The Randles Court - Luxurious Old World Charm 4 Star Killarney Hotel.
The Dromhall Hotel - Contemporary Family Run 4 Star Killarney Hotel
+353 (0) 64 663 93 00

Neil & Katy Lucey of Gougane Barra Hotel
Family run 3 star accommodation, with an award winning restaurant and traditional Irish hospitality
+353 (0) 26 470 69