The Wild Atlantic Way, Kinsale to Kenmare
The Mister and I were excited about driving the Wild Atlantic Way, Ireland’s new scenic drive along the spectacular Irish Atlantic Coast.
Although I’m more of a “start-at-the-beginning-and-don’t-stop-until-we-get-to-the-very-end-without-missing-anything-in-between” person, The Mister is more a “whatever” person when we travel. We are a good match like that. “Planning” for this trip consisted of picking a starting point and renting a car. The rest I left to chance and faith that all of Ireland is beautiful.
It all starts in Kinsale
Our starting point was the pretty little town of Kinsale, which we explored more thoroughly Sunday morning after parking our car illegally in the church parking lot the night before. It seems all the good people of Kinsale go to Mass on Sundays and God thought it funny to trap the non-attenders in the parking lot. Fair enough. Kinsale is a very nice place to spend a Sunday morning.
We finally paroled our car and headed South on the beautiful, winding lanes that follow the Wild Atlantic Way. The Mister was driving because I was doing important things like navigating AND if he accidentally scraped off the side mirror or shot a hub cap into a stone wall like most Americans do, I would remain blameless. Our plan was take a full day to follow the route from Kinsale to Kenmare.
Since signage for the Wild Atlantic Way is only partially complete, we found our first stop, Old Head of Kinsale, via the indirect bouncing-down-rutted-country-roads route and arrived just in time for the driving rain and 30 knots winds. It didn’t matter.
The views were spectacular and I was brave enough to crawl to the edge of the cliff to take a picture.
Believe it or not, Old Head is not only a scenic viewpoint, it’s also a prestigious golf course. Gorgeous, but is it possible to hit a tiny ball into a hole on the middle of a windy peninsula? I bet they count on the 30 knot winds drowning out the sobs of frustrated golfers as they fling their clubs into the sea.
The Mister was not deterred and immediately googled photos of the course. He aspires to be one of the sobbing golfers at Old Head. I could see it in his eyes.
We followed the road along Cortmacsherry Bay before it dawned on me that our plan to drive and see everything along the Wild Atlantic Way between Kinsale and Kenmare was…complete insanity.
I planned on seeing all the interesting bits on the Wild Atlantic Way… Timoleague Abbey, beautiful island lighthouses, old churches and ancient cemeteries, prehistoric altar tombs and the unparalleled, spectacular beauty of Ireland’s Atlantic Coast.
It didn’t seem right to skip anything, so we made compromises.
Our first compromise was not stopping for lunch at one of the lovely pubs along the way (which is always a sad thing) and decided to have a “picnic” instead.
Nothing says romantic, relaxing picnic lunch like eating deli meats with your fingers out of a grocery bag and washing it down with diet coke out of a plastic bottle. Absolutely criminal. At least we had a beautiful view.
We drove by the beautiful islands, through Toormore Bay and admired the wide, sandy, secluded beaches that line the coast.
On to Mizen Head
We drove the glorious sea road to Mizen Head, which The Mister had casually mentioned at least four hundred times. The Mister had only seen it through the eyehole thingies of a periscope and he had memories… submarine memories. They hold powerful magic, I tell ya.
We made it to Mizen Head just before closing. The Ladies were tidying up the tea shop and warned us to walk the cliff pathway before it was too late. This unbelievable view was my reward for walking down a steep set of stairs to a platform that juts over the cliffs.
This is also close to the spot where The Mister put the car in drive instead of reverse and almost launched us into the sea (this is why I drive, people). Nevertheless, we stood for as long as possible watching the waves race through the sea-carved arches and thunder into the rocks that line the cliffs. Absolutely mesmerizing.
Photo via Wikicommons
We had just enough time to make the pilgrimage to the signal station at the very edge of Mizen Head which required walking over a deep gorge on a very narrow bridge. I was too distracted by the scenery to use my usual hoppity-skippity, half-crawl I use when crossing any high place.
The lighthouse keepers quarters were stocked with all kinds of interesting memorabilia…logbooks, lists of coastal shipwrecks, and other lighthouse ephemera.
Most importantly, The Mizen Head signal light, seen and photographed. From land.
Things to Know About Driving the Wild Atlantic Way
If possible, fly into Cork as it is the closest to the start of the Wild Atlantic Way (South to North route).
Plan better than I did. It’s best to consider the Wild Atlantic Way scenic drive in sections. When calculating drive times, double your original estimate (triple it if you want to have an occasional pub meal, afternoon tea, pre-dinner guinness…and you should do all these things). We managed to finish the Cork to Kerry section in 4 days and it was admittedly rushed. We managed to see just the highlights and had to skip trips to Skellig and other islands. Your time requirements will vary with how much you want to see along the way…
Although our preference is for small, boutique hotels, booking bed and breakfasts gave us the opportunity to have a very authentic experience. We were never disappointed and truly enjoyed the chance to talk with owners, innkeepers and other travelers.
We spent our first night in Kinsale at Desmond House, close to the center of town. It is a lovely bed and breakfast with outstanding Irish hospitality. Michael is your host and provides an excellent breakfast, good restaurant recommendations and a warm welcome.
We spent our second and third night in Kenmare at Rockcrest House. We used it as a hub to backtrack through the Ring of Beara the next day and the Ring of Kerry the following day. I can’t stand packing and unpacking every night, so it worked well. The house was lovely, set close to town and offered the perfect balance of privacy and sociability. We had dinner at No35, a stellar choice for anyone who appreciates a good wine cellar, locally sourced foods and a creative menu.
I plan on adding posts as soon as I complete the next section. Stay tuned. I hope to go back again…to do more research, of course.
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Have you driven any of the Wild Atlantic Way? Which section? Any favorite spots along the way? Tell me about them in the comments below!