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A guide to exploring Dursey Island in County Cork. I explain what you can expect on the Dursey Island walk.
The Beara Peninsula is the hidden gem of south-west Ireland. With big competition from the Ring of Kerry and Dingle, this peninsula tends to get overlooked. It’s part of the Wild Atlantic Way, an epic road network that travels along the coastal roads of Western Ireland.
I was so impressed with my visit there that I would recommend anyone travelling to Ireland to dedicate some time exploring the Beara Peninsula. From the end of this peninsula Ireland’s only cable car transports explorers to Dursey Island.
We spent 2 days and 1 night exploring the Beara Peninsula as part of our Ireland road trip. Read on to discover what made these 2 days a big highlight of our trip.
Camping at Garnish Bay
The alarm went off and I immediately hit snooze. It couldn’t be time to get up already could it? After polishing off a bottle of our latest favourite wine the night before, we decided we would set the alarm early and rise for sunrise. However, after hitting snooze one more time it didn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.
I dragged myself out from the warmth of the tent to check what the weather was doing. A lot of clouds but potential for a colourful sky. I informed Nick that sunrise was a goer and soon we were clambering into the car and heading down to the beach. It was the start of a beautiful day!
As it turned out, the sky didn’t produce too much colour as the sun rose, but I managed to get some decent photos nonetheless. The scenery on the Beara peninsula is so picturesque it’s hard not to take a great photo. Afterwards, we headed back to our wild camp overlooking Garnish Bay.
The previous day we had spent the afternoon driving from Cork along the southern part of the Beara Peninsula. We scouted out several places to spend the night but without much luck. Just as we were about to give up and settle for a campsite, we found a spot with an incredible view. We pitched our tent and settled in for the night.
Nick cooked dinner as I continually jumped up to take photographs of the ever changing scene before us. The windy conditions which were proving quite an annoyance for the most part, were bringing in great clouds that constantly changed the light over the bay. The odd shower even produced a rainbow for us to savour. It had been a fabulous evening.
Now, in the morning after rising early for sunrise, we cooked breakfast and broke camp. Before we left we had a chat with a local farmer, some of which we understood, most of which we struggled to decipher, then it was onwards to Dursey Point.
We had decided to spend the day hiking across Dursey Island, a 6.5km long island off the coast of the Beara Peninsula. The island is 1.5km across at its widest point and is home to 3 villages, Ballynacallagh, Kilmichael and Tilickafinna.
The island has 6 (or 8, depending on who you ask) permanent residents and is 252m at its highest point. There are no shops, restaurants or pubs (in Ireland!!) which adds to the fabulous feeling of remoteness which the Dursey Island walk has. (Although there is a snack van conveniently parked near the cable car during the summer months.)
The Dursey Island Walk
Dursey Island cable car
We were told the day before, that the cable car used to access the island opened at 9am. We promptly arrived one minute before 9am to discover the building was completely deserted. We read the sign – cable car opens at 9am, first lift starts at 9:30am. Ah.
Not to worry, that gave us some more time to repack our bags and ensure we had everything we needed for our 14km hike. It also gave us time to inspect the rather low tech cable car operation.
Not quite the Austrian standard cable cars we are familiar with in the Alps, but it does having bragging rights to being Ireland’s only cable car.
Not too long later, the cable car operator arrived, sold us our tickets (€10 return) and instructed us to let ourselves into the car. No sooner had we closed the sliding door and we were off, albeit at a very modest speed.
The same procedure happened at the other end. The cable car stopped, we let ourselves out and as soon as we closed the door behind us, it immediately returned back to the mainland. We looked at each other, slightly bewildered at our cable car experience and turned to face what seemed like a completely empty island.
Dursey Island Loop Walk
Westwards along the road
The Dursey Loop walk takes you from one end of the island to the other. In one direction you follow the paved road and in the other, a marked trail across the hill tops.
The total loop is 14km but it’s actually the start of a much longer trail. The E8 trail is a long distance hiking trail that runs from Ireland, all the way to Istanbul, Turkey. It’s a whopping 4390km long!
Walking into a headwind we quickly decided to hike out along the road and return across the peaks. Take the easy route as we battled into the wind and then have the wind at our tails to carry us home.
We walked at a brisk pace as we started our way across. Being the first to cross the cable car we were determined to enjoy views without people for as long as we could.
Following the road we first walked past a long abandoned monastery, before passing through Ballynacallagh and then Kilmichael. Apparently monks from Skellig Rock founded the ancient church here.
One and a half hours later, after multiple stops for photos, as well as several stops to put rain jackets on and then back off again, we made it to Dursey Head. The end of the line.
On the final decent to Dursey Head it feels like you are walking to the end of the world. Like you are walking straight into the Atlantic Ocean. What an amazing view!
Once at the end, we sat for a long while and simply enjoyed the wildness of where we were. There were no railings to prevent people from falling off the edge. No signs to warn of the perils of steep cliff faces. Just a big open expanse of water.
The wind was pretty fierce and it smashed waves up against the rocks. Tucked behind the ruins of another old lighthouse however, we were sheltered from the wind and basked in glorious sunshine.
Eastwards along the hills
After a while, we decided the time had come for us to leave this majestic spot and make our way back to the mainland. One thing we had understood from our local farmer friend was that we needed to hike up to the signal tower for the best views. So, with our bellies full of ham and cheese sandwiches, we made our way back along the higher hill top route.
Taking in multiple peaks and troughs, the return leg was a little harder going and our pace slowed accordingly. We were, however, rewarded with magnificent views from the signal tower, as promised. The trail across the hilltops is well marked and easy to follow.
The way back involved just as many photo stops but this time the weather remained dry. As we neared the end of the hike our feet and legs began to ache, so when we turned the final corner, the rickety old cable car was a welcome sight.
Arriving on the island in the morning there were no other tourists around so now, as we reached the cable car, we were surprised to see a queue of people waiting to get back to the mainland.
The humble little cable car had a capacity of six people. So we waited our turn and after about thirty minutes, we were once again travelling at break neck speeds back to finish our exploration of Dursey Island.
Beara peninsula drive
It was 2:30pm by the time we collapsed back into the car. What a great experience it had been. However, the day wasn’t over yet. The sun was still shining (mostly), so we decided to push on and drive towards our next stop – The Ring of Kerry. A place we had heard so much about.
Leaving the now crowded car park behind us, we drove back past our wild camp on the Garnish Bay. The afternoon had more beautiful vistas for us to revel in as we drove the north section of the Ring of Beara. This windy, single track road was a delight to drive (though not quite so enjoyable for other tourists who were unacquainted with such roadways!).
I must confess at that point, for once I was glad that we were car camping rather than in a campervan. The drive from Dursey to Kenmare has to be up there with one of the prettiest drives I’ve ever done.
Having researched some options for the next day, we decided to stop at a campsite on the Ring of Kerry, near Eagle Hill. We paid over the odds for the privilege of staying at a holiday camper-van park. Not really our style but we were both keen for a shower.
We lucked out on a pitch right on the waters edge, with great views over the bay.
After setting up the tent we both agreed that before dinner was cooked, a celebratory beer was called for. Reception informed us there was a great local pub in the nearby village of Caherdaniel, called the Blind Piper.
We made a bee-line for the Blind Piper and ordered two pints of the local IPA. We raised our glasses to reflect on a beautiful day of Dursey Island hiking.
For more information on the Beara Peninsula visit the Beara Tourism website.
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