Dingle to the Aran Islands

Sunday 28th May was bright and sunny. I’d fixed the various leaking things, washed some smelly clothes, eaten well and rested. The forecast said light variable wind, which is code for “we don’t know, but there won’t be much”. It was going to be a good day. The Shannon estuary was coming up, so I wanted to get in position as close as possible, to minimise what would be quite a long crossing. That left an easy 34km for today, to the Magharees.

I got started quite late, after an excellent breakfast at The Old Pier B&B, where I’d been caravanning. There wasn’t much point leaving early because the tide was strong and wouldn’t be going the right way until lunch time. Nonetheless, I was keen to get going, so I left in the final hour of the south-going ebb.┬áNo sooner had I turned the corner out of Smerwick Harbour than it became clear that today “light variable” meant force 4 headwind (NE).

The coastline hereabouts is dominated by Mount Brandon with steep cliffs coming down to the sea and nowhere to land for most of 20km. I got a fantastic and rare view of the top of highest mountain on the Dingle peninsular. The paddling was hard work with wind accelerated by the mountain probably to F5 and an appreciable amount of tide still against me. Paddling into the bays didn’t help much, but eventually I got upwind of the mountain and the wind strength dropped considerably.

A rare view of Mount Brandon’s summit

The remainder of the day passed uneventfully with a short (7km) crossing to the Magharee Islands, on the edge of Tralee Bay. There Illauntanig, a small grassy island 2km off the mainland, with some sheep, an empty house and a 6th century monastic settlement, provided a pleasant stop for the night, There was quite a breeze blowing, but the walls of the monument provided excellent shelter.

6th century monastic site at Illauntanig, Magharees (Kerry)
Illauntanig, Kerry

The next morning was another very early start. Although the Shannon Estuary, from Kerry Head to Loop Head is only about 17km across, there’s nowhere useful to land at Kerry Head because it’s all steep cliffs. So I had to cross Tralee Bay too, a further 12km, to get to Kerry Head. I wanted to use the tide to help as much as possible and certainly didn’t want it against me, which on this particular day meant starting soon after dawn. I was up again at 3.15am for a 5.30am departure!

Crossing the Shannon from Kerry, Loop Head just visible about 20km away

The crossing turned out to be straightforward with 29km covered quickly in about 3.5 hours. The tide helped, as did the forecast light tailwind. On this “busy” shipping route I saw one large freighter entering Tralee Bay shortly after I left and one small fishing boat in the distance. Having reached Loop Head, it was another 26km to Kilkee, the first possibility for an overnight stop with a easy and reliable landing (ignoring Kilbaha which was 6km in the wrong direction). I proceeded slowly, stopping briefly at the Bridges of Ross where victorian holidaymakers used to be photographed standing on top of two natural sea arches. They fell down last centuary. There’s one remaining and there are more coming soon, but not in my lifetime, so the sign says.

Bridges of Ross, one of only a few places to land before Kilkee

After 55km and an early start Kilkee was a welcome sight. There I was met by Matt (Marty) Corbett, another friendly and extremely helpful sea kayaker who picked me up with my boat, took me home and provided dinner and a bed for the night. All very welcome indeed.

Unpacking and drying at Kilkee
Matt Corbett met me at Kilkee and provided board and lodgings. Thanks!

The next morning wasn’t very pleasant with F5 NW wind blowing directly into Kilkee, grey skys and rain. I didn’t have far to go, but paddling into that around cliffs would have been no fun at all. I fiddled around all morning and discovered the Diamond Rocks Cafe at the southern tip of the bay. After lunch, when the sun had come out and the wind dropped a bit, I got going. It was still rather bumpy.

15km or so got me to the beach at Killard, where I’d been offered the use of Ruth’s holiday home. It was also where Mick O’Farrell expected to get to that evening on his anticlockwise circumnavigation. It was a bit soon for me, so I paddled on to Quilty (Seafield Harbour), left my boat there and got a taxi back. Mick and I must have passed within 1km of each other, but neither of us saw the other. There was cold beer in the fridge on arrival at Ruth’s! We had a good chat about our adventures over dinner and a glass of wine before setting off in opposite directions the next morning.

Meeting up with Mick
O’Farrell (circumnavigating anti-clockwise) at Ruth’s house

Wednesday was bright, but with plenty of wind and a deteriorating forecast. I wanted to get to Kilronan on Inishmore before the bad weather arrived, because I’d maps to collect and to post there and it would be a civilised place for a day off. With a F4 tailwind it was another fast crossing, this time direct from Quilty to Inisheer, the smallest and most easterly of the three Aran Islands. The beach at Inisheer was warm, pleasant and surprisingly populated. I dozed after lunch for an hour or so, just long enough for the wind to pick up and turn against me. It was hard work crossing the sound firstly to Inishmaan and then finally to Inishmore, some 10km or so further on.

Curraghs at Inisheer

Kilronan was busy, for a small island town in the west of Ireland. There seem to be many foreign tourists, mostly not arriving by kayak. This is Father Ted country, so perhaps that’s something to do with it? The hostel was full, but again I found a very reasonable B&B In the Dormer Lodge, just a short kayak-drag from the slip. This one has the advantage of an adjacent well-stocked Spar and dinner-cooking picnic tables in the back garden!

Arriving at Kilronan (Inishmore)
Dinner at the back of Dormer House B&B, Kilronan
Father Ted!

Today I was hoping to paddle to Connemara, but with a F6 “and gusty” forecast I decided that really was too much, even as a tailwind. I hired a bike instead and took a look at the sights, including the well known bronze-age / iron-age hill fort on the edge of the cliffs at Dun Aenghus. One very calm day I’d like to paddle those cliffs, but it’s not to be this time!

Dun Aenghus hill fort, Inishmore
Cliffs at Dun Aenghus. Not paddling there this time!