Tag Archives: Top Gear

Ireland Road Trip Day 11 – Thu 21/4/2016

Ok so doing a road trip post every 2 weeks just isn’t going to cut it so I’ll try and step things up as I’ve another 3 week European road trip approaching soon.

Anyway back to 21st April and I said I’d mention the overnight b&b on this post as the previous post was getting too long already. It was the Clonmara in Dingle and what a gem it was. Once again it was €40 and the house and the location were just wonderful, overlooking Dingle Bay and just a short walk into town.

I don’t know if each room was individually colour coded but I was clearly given the “lavender room” which suited me perfectly as I love lavender, admittedly for the smell rather than the colour.

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What a bathroom ! There was even a little toilet for your pet….or to wash your feet.  How thoughtful.

And these were the views from the room with Dingle just across the bay.

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The lavender theme even made it into the bathroom as there was lavender shower gel and lavender hand wash.

I noticed they came from Dunne’s Stores (an Irish based supermarket chain with locations in Norn Iron and the UK (including Leeds) but I was glad I bought some of these lavender products before I returned as when I checked later, the locations at home didn’t sell them.

Breakfast was as good as everything else about the b&b and I’d highly recommend it if you are touring this part of Ireland. The view from the breakfast room was the same as from my bedroom and as I was the only guest, I had a lovely relaxed meal that set me up for the day ahead.

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I set off at 9:45am with the plan to drive south and west to the tip of the Dingle peninsula at Slea Head and then return to Dingle along the north of the peninsula completing a clockwise drive of only 24 miles but I was hoping the scenery would cause me to stop many times – in the end it took me almost 2 hrs to get back to Dingle !

The whole drive was on the R559, the famous Slea Head Drive and despite the overcast skies, it was stunning. The guide books suggest going anti-clockwise but as I’ve said before, I much prefer seeing views to my left and stuck to my clockwise plan.

It was only 10 miles to Slea Head and the “Cross at Slea Head” was my first stopping point. I’ve no idea why this life size calvary scene was constructed but its location may hold a clue. The shoreline at this point is particularly rocky and several ships have come a cropper over the centuries so maybe this calvary site was constructed as some sort of warning cum memorial.

Yeah, a bit of a stretch I know but in the absence of any other explanation………

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In the 2nd photo you can see how the location really is on a sharp curve where the R559 turns from going west and starts northwards.

As an aside, this road was shown in all its beauty on a recent episode of Top Gear when presenters Chris Evans drove his own 1976 Rolls Royce Cornishe and Matt LeBranc drove the new £250k Rolls Royce Dawn from Dingle and I was happy to see they were going anti clockwise too. Great minds eh ?  As their report made use of helicopter (or maybe a drone) footage, I’m keeping the episode as part of my holiday memories as it was amazing !  If you can catch it , it’s Series 23 episode 5.

The next 1.5 miles along the R559 after the “calvary curve” (catchy eh ?) were as stunning as any I’d seen so far. The way the road hugged the coastline reminded me of the A2 near my old school in Norn Iron, the Antrim coast road. If anything, this was more spectacular as there were mountains to break up the horizon. Yet again I loved having the time to park up and take in these views as I’d no b&b booking to rush towards. Best decision I’d made before setting off.  Given the number of b&bs, you’ll NEVER be stuck for somewhere to stay every night. Admittedly it would be more difficult in high season but even so………

Slea Head Road

I stayed long enough that the streaky clouds returned when I started off again but it was still bright enough to show off the scenery almost to its best. Here are a few more images from this 1.5 mile part of the R559. The middle photo shows the ruins of some “famine houses” which are stark reminders of the dark days in the middle of the 19th century when blight decimated the potato crops, the staple food back in those days.  Over a million died and another million emigrated to America, thus lowering the population of Ireland by 20%-25%.

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I’ve mentioned that this part of the route was only 1.5 miles and I say that because at that point there was a sign for a beach and I was more than ready for a beach.

I later learned it was Coumeenoole Strand and was used as a location in the 1970 movie, Ryan’s Daughter. In fact this whole area around the Dingle Peninsula also featured in the slightly more modern movie, Far and Away starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.

As I turned off the R559 I knew nothing about this cinematic history and I initially stopped at a parking area overlooking the beach, also seen in that Top Gear episode where the 2 presenters got out of their Rolls Royces and sat at a nearby picnic table (enjoying a lovely sunset) to discuss the merits of the two cars they’d been driving. Given the cost and size of those cars, I’m not surprised they drove no further on that narrow road but I did. It went down around a curve and headed right down to the beach.

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The above photo is a still from a video I took from the beach looking back to the road I came down. It drops from the top left and comes to a dead end almost at the edge of the sand but given the way the water swept around, you’d be very foolish to try and drive onto the beach. In fact when I was walking along that section to the right, the beach was like quicksand and my non waterproof shoes lived up to their description !

Here are some more stills from the phone videos I took and the first one shows how close a car can get to the beach as the steep paved road ends in a short, rough, uneven section. I carefully reversed back to the rock face so I could look out over the beach and then went walkies.

Coumeenoole Beach Still 1

Coumeenoole Beach Still 2

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I spent over an hour on the beach before another car came down the road and 4 people disturbed my solitude. How very dare they !

The contrast was amazing.  One way lay the lovely pristine beach with soft sand broken up with jagged rocks and numerous sheltered inlets (perfect for summer picnics or even bbqs)  and the other way lay a craggy coastline with enormous waves breaking over treacherous outcrops.

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Back up on the R559 I continued north and before the road turned east and back down towards Dingle, there was time for one more stop to enjoy the view.

It really is a lovely part of the world and it was with some reluctance that I left my seat on this rock and drove on.

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I arrived back in Dingle at noon and drove right past the b&b where I’d stayed the previous night. I also got the chance to drive through the colourful streets (well the houses and shops were colourful and not the actual streets) of the town before continuing northeast to go over the Conor Pass on the way to Tralee.

I’d read about this Pass (the R560) before leaving Leeds and so I knew from Google’s Street View that it would be scenic. The initial climb was certainly spectacular and my little underpowered Clio didn’t like it at all.  Although still climbing to the peak at 1,496ft, the gradient became easier and the views down to the valley below became more spectacular.

It was basically a single track road and if you met a car coming the other way, one of you had to find a narrow pull in area to let the other pass.  A pass on the pass if you like !

Suit yourselves.

In this still from the in car GoPro you can see there is a car up ahead. We both pulled in and after a bit of back and forth headlight flashing, he stayed put and I passed him.

Conor Pass 1

It’s hard to appreciate the drop down on the left so here is a better view I took by pulling onto the side of the road and jumping out to take a quick snap. I didn’t really need to rush as that car was the only one I met on the way to the summit.

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At the top there was a viewpoint with plenty of room for cars. In this photo you can see the road going off to the left before it sloped down for the return drive to ground level.

Conor Pass Overlook 3

The Pass is only about 8 miles long and at that point I left the R560 as I came to Ballyhoneen and a sign that promised much but delivered…not so much. It was the only time on the whole trip that I felt I’d wasted my time.

The sign said Brandon Point and I could see on the GPS that it was a dead end route that would take me 7 miles to the northern tip of the peninsula. The drive wasn’t bad but I did hit a detour that took me onto a farm track…..a road so narrow that my wing mirrors constantly hit the hedges on both sides. Thank God it was such an off the main trail type place that I never saw another vehicle.  Even a bike couldn’t have squeezed past me !

So it took a while to get to Brandon Point and when I got there……it simply WAS a dead end at a cliff face. There was a sign showing all the birds you could possibly see if you waited long enough but I wasn’t going to wait even a minute and made the return trip mumbling to myself and thinking it should have been called Brandon Pointless.

Back on the R560 and after 11 miles it joined the N86 heading towards Tralee but just before the town, I was getting hungry but didn’t want to stop for lunch. At Blennerville, I came to a Texaco petrol station which had a Gala shop and after fueling the car, I bought two sandwiches intending to eat one, or both, somewhere along the road.

I was heading inland for a while as I was going 32 miles north to Tarbert to catch a ferry across the Shannon estuary from Co.Kerry to Co.Clare. This would save me a dull 80 mile drive up one side of the estuary to Limerick and then back down the other side and as I’d no wish to stop in Limerick, I was happy to take the 20 minute crossing instead.

The ferry departed every hour on the half hour and by not stopping to eat in Tralee, I got to Tarbert at 3:15pm so only had a 15 minute wait. I used the time to stretch my legs and then sat on a bench to eat one of my sandwiches, watching the ferry arriving.

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It was a simple roll on roll off ferry and because I didn’t buy my ticket online for the 10% discount, I had to pay the full €18 which seemed a bit steep for a 20 minute crossing. That would equate to €216 for the Dover-Dunkirk return crossing I’ve just paid for…..which actually cost me €65. Never mind, it was a cool ferry crossing and a first for me in Ireland.

You can tell which of these photos came from the dash mounted GoPro !

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There were just two passenger walkways on each side of the Shannon Breeze’s car deck where we all spent the 20 minute crossing looking at the water, our watches and the approaching land. Soon enough I was in Co. Clare and heading along the N67 on the start of the 30 mile (40 mins) drive to Loop Head lighthouse which, surprise surprise, stands white and proud at the end of the Loop Head peninsula.

In 2010 the peninsula was granted a European Destination of Excellence award which is an EU accolade “for emerging tourism destinations which are developing in a responsible and sustainable manner. ” In 2013, Loop Head was named the “Best Place to Holiday in Ireland” by The Irish Times and was shortlisted in the Best Destination category at the World Responsible Tourism awards. The Loop Head Peninsula is the only Irish destination listed in the 2014 Global Sustainable Top 100 Destinations and in 2015 took the Gold medal at the Irish Responsible Tourism Awards.

I mention all this because I find it hard to believe, although I’m really talking about the lighthouse part of the peninsula and to be fair, it’s not specifically mentioned as being anything special at all. Just as well because when I got there at 4:40pm, there wasn’t a soul about and the impressive ticket kiosk was closed up.

Well I didn’t want to go up their stupid lighthouse anyway.  And I saved €5.

There was a wall around the area but I was able to hold the phone over it and take a snap.

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I then walked along the side of the wall to the right, towards the cliff edge. The ground was very marshy and I could feel my feet getting wet again.  They’d only just dried out from the “quicksand” earlier and not for the first time, I cursed the Sports Direct salesman who encouraged me to buy the walking shoes in the first place.

He managed to keep the “as long as you walk on dry ground” bit a well guarded store secret.

No selfie stick was used in the taking of these following photos. I was just werry, werry brave (and not foolish at all) and was teetering on the cliff edge.

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I returned to the ticket booth but it was still deserted so with a heavy heart, I left the lighthouse unclimbed (another bucket list failure) and set off to find a b&b close to The Cliffs of Moher, my destination tomorrow and only 47 miles from the lighthouse.

As I was going along the N67 just beyond Doonbeg, I came upon the imposing entrance to Trump International Golf Club………….

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As there was no barrier at this point, I decided to see how far I could go towards the clubhouse before I was challenged……or came to one of his infamous walls !

I drove and drove and felt I’d soon be in another county. Then a hotel and clubhouse complex came into view and I entered the car park.

Trump Doonbeg

There was a security guy in a golf cart sitting in one of the parking bays and I drove up and said I was passing and wondered if there was any chance I could get a scorecard or some “memento” of the place. Amazingly he told me to follow him and off he went in his buggy. I drove after him and once through that archway, he pointed ahead and he went off in a different direction.

I found myself at the hotel entrance but went in anyway and had a quick look around. I asked the lady at reception about a scorecard and not surprisingly she suggested I try the clubhouse…..except she thought it would be closed now. Wondering why the security guy had sent me to the hotel, I walked back to the car. In my haste to go into the hotel without being challenged I’d left my driver’s side window open and there on the seat I saw a scorecard, a pencil with the club name on it and a big glossy brochure all about the complex !

What a nice security guy. I hoped to find him on my way out to thank him but never saw him again.

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Back out on the main road I started looking for a b&b as it was almost 6:30pm and a few miles further on and only 14 miles from The Cliff of Moher I came upon Barkers B&B at Spanish Point.

It was run by Philomena Barker and her husband but I can’t remember his name. He was originally from London and was a Chelsea supporter but I didn’t hold that against him. The place was, lets say, quirky, with lots of clutter everywhere and a layout that defied any sort of logic. It was as if every room had been added over the years with scant thought to a master plan.  Despite showing €50 for a single, I was given a room for the now standard €40.

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Barkers B&B Bedroom

When Philomena started recommending eating places nearby, I said I was exhausted and just wanted to stay in the room, watch a movie on my laptop and have my 2nd sandwich for supper.  Despite having the tea/coffee making kit you see in the photo, she insisted bringing me a fresh pot of tea and some cakes and biscuits to pad out the sandwich.

How kind.

And I repaid her kindness by spilling my full cup of tea all over the tray, onto that glass cover and finally onto the white cloth……which then became a not so white cloth. I wiped the tray and the glass cover and with the table moved round so the soiled part of the cloth was towards the wall, it was all sorted !

Sometimes it pays to pay cash and not leave a trail.

What a day. It had a bit of everything and I drifted off to sleep hoping for good weather tomorrow for my first ever visit to The Cliffs of Moher, the most visited destination in Ireland and as it turned out, the best deal on the whole trip !

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