After being spoiled with the beautiful landscapes of County Cork, our roadtrip continued into the Kingdom, County Kerry. The Irish landscape has been made famous by Hollywood and a lot of that romanticism that is talked about comes from the classic movies of the 50’s and 60’s that made this area famous. Ask most younger people these days about those older movies and they’ll probably ask “Who’s Ryan and what about his daughter?”
A more recent Hollywood production and a far larger one has once again put County Kerry back on the map and made it a must-see place for a new generation. Of course I’m talking about Star Wars and the new wave of tourism it has brought to Ireland, for better or worse. Instead of signs saying “Beautiful cliffs”or “Amazing picturesque and wild locations” we get “Star Wars Filming Location” or more accurately they should say “Here’s where the beloved Luke Skywalker character was destroyed by a piss weak Disney movie that shattered our childhoods”…..but that’s another topic entirely haha. When I first visited this location with my parents, the first movie hadn’t yet come out but there was definitely a buzz around it as the filming location. Fast forward three years and there was a constant flotilla of boats making their way out to the Skellig islands in the distance. Local fishermen who may have been struggling in years gone by, now have an interesting new side gig.
Back to the beautiful scenery as that’s what Gemma and I came here for. The Kerry Cliffs near Portmagee have featured in this blog before. My frustrations at having to pay still remain but of course I understand there needs to be a balance between letting people experience these places and then maintaining them for future generations by fencing off areas. It’s a necessary evil of our modern touristic experience. A few decades back you could probably just walk up to this spot and have it all to yourself, no car park, no entry fee, no Air B’nB on site.
And then along came Instagram and now once remote and less visited places have been overrun and need to have such facilities constructed for their own protection. It’s a horrible and vicious circle but it’s sadly the reality. There’s no seemingly easy solution to it either, you can’t close it off and deny people access, you can only manage the numbers and keep the damage done to a minimum.
The next day we made our way a little further around the coast and drove onto Valentia Island, which is famous for being the eastern terminus of the first ever transatlantic telegraph cable. It’s hard to fathom the importance of that when now we can just open up our phones and send a picture to anywhere in the world instantly. We were blessed with the weather on this day and set off to do the fairly easy going Bray Head walk. It was cool getting to look back over to the Kerry Cliffs from Valentia and get a new perspective on them.
The walk up to the top of Bray Head or at least the end of it was rather pleasant with a number of families out for the day, both human and ovine with a sprinkling of bovine chilling out on the upper slopes. We soon arrived at the watchtower which was constructed in the early 1800’s following an attempted French invasion in 1796. Not the prettiest of buildings but it served its purpose up until 1920 before being called into action again during World War II. The watchers in the towers laid out stones below the tower that spelled EIRE to advise any terrible pilots that they had gone the wrong way and were about to bomb the wrong country OR to advertise to good pilots that they had successfully navigated and were in the right spot to drop their payload. Thanks be to GPS nowadays huh?
Having done a spot of research, mainly using a fantastic book my father had given me for Christmas months earlier, I knew that the most epic part of the walk wasn’t here at the watchtower but further on, at the very tip of the headland. We carefully made our way down the steep embankment, towering cliffs to one side and a steep grassy hill leading to slightly less but still towering cliffs on the other. This was no place for messing about or not taking care. The resulting views looking back towards the watchtower with the town of Portmagee in the distance were well worth the extra bravery. I wouldn’t recommend venturing down this way though if you’re unsure on your feet or not wearing grippy shoes.
Lots of people doing this walk probably just stroll up to the watchtower and then back to the carpark the way they came. We decided to do the full loop and head all the way around the headland. The way up and around was “guarded” by a bunch of cows sitting on the grass. They didn’t budge an inch as we walked carefully through them, obviously used to having walkers pass them on a daily basis. The epic cliff views fade a bit as the path steers well clear of the edge but soon you reach the top and are greeted with stunning views looking back along Valentia Island. This is why I much prefer loop walks as 99% of the walk is going to be new and fresh.
As we descended down and back towards the carpark the grass around us bursted with colour from pockets of gorse in beautiful shades of yellow, reminiscent of the Kerry GAA jersey. Then further along a carpet of purple began to blend with the yellow and made for such a beautiful blanket of colour that shone brightly in the golden sun that had been with us on the journey. It was a lovely end to a really really nice walk and once again we had been gifted a wonderful experience.