Our Return to International Travel
We did it. After a nearly two-year hiatus from international travel, we ventured outside of North America. As you might guess, it took some planning beyond the normal where are we going to stay? and what are we going to do? We wanted to be responsible travelers, as well as being safe ourselves, so we had a number of considerations, including what Covid precautions were required in the locations we were considering for a visit. We also knew that some folks believed (and still do) that it was too soon to venture out and staying put was the only way to meet those two goals. We felt (and still do) that as understanding of the virus and safe personal habits improved, the vaccines were made available and shown to be effective, and countries opened up to visitors we could travel while minimizing risk to ourselves and others.
Mark and I were fully vaccinated in March. Not wanting to get involved in a case of Covid, we lived our lives carefully, doing our part to stop the spread. We limited our exposure to people in our “Quarenteam,” people who were also vaccinated and with whom we spent the most time. We shopped with masks on and dined outside when eating out. Beyond continuing these behavior no matter where we were, our trip to Ireland and England was to be focused on hiking, so the majority of our time would be outside, away from others.
To fly to the UK directly from the US, vaccination and a negative PCR tests was required. However, if arriving in the UK from Ireland, no test was required, if you had been in Ireland for at least 10 days without symptoms. In addition, Ireland was accepting fully vaccinated US citizens without requiring PCR’s or any quarantine time. So, starting our travels in Ireland made sense, Covid-wise. Besides, as you will see, Ireland is a must see.
Our first four days were spent exploring the energy of Dublin. From quiet streets with their small stone churches to the busy Temple Bar district, Dublin’s liveliness kept us busy. Our hotel was conveniently located within walking distance of the big ticket items: Christ Church Cathedral and St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin Castle, the National Gallery of Ireland, Trinity College and Temple Bar. In addition, we took a walking tour with a local guide. He showed us the iconic markets and landmarks while weaving Ireland’s history throughout. After four days in the “big” city we headed west to County Cork where our hiking adventures would begin.
Sheep’s Head Peninsula
We booked our 8-day hiking tour around the Sheep’s Head peninsula through Hillwalk Tours. The company planned our walking itinerary for each day, as well as arranging our lodging and moving our luggage to the next night’s bed and breakfast. Taking the train from Dublin to Cork and then a bus to the small town of Bantry, we walked to our first B&B. Therese greeted us at her home, Doire Liath, offering us afternoon tea and scones in the sitting room. We’d start our first full day of hiking the next morning, after a full Irish breakfast prepared by Therese.
Bantry to Glanlough–16km. Starting from Bantry along quiet country lanes, our path eventually made its way up a ridge before descending to the village of Glanlough. We walked through pastureland, chatted with sheep and marveled at the lovely stone buildings and fences throughout the day. Little did we know the beautiful sea of purple and yellow flowers (on the heather and gorse plants) would color our views the entire way. Our first day’s journey ended at Seamount Farmhouse B&B, where Julia and Charlie met us with that iconic afternoon tea and goodies.
Glanlough to Finn McCool’s Seat–11km After a hearty breakfast we donned our daypacks and headed out for a more rugged, uphill day. We crossed gullies and climbed up ridges for some fabulous views and lovely wildflowers. We ended this day at Finn McCool’s Seat, the place where the giant, Finn McCool, had a rest from ripping up the coastline and hurling it at Scotland. (We’re still not clear on what exactly he was trying to accomplish…) Our host, Charlie, was waiting to take us back to Seamount for well-earned dinner and sleep.
Finn McCool’s Seat to Tooreen–15km. The third day’s walk brought us closer to the northern coast of the peninsula. Thick, low clouds settled on the ridge tops, so we took an alternate route avoiding the higher elevations. We passed an old copper mine and negotiated our way along cliff edges. The day was damp with a bit of drizzle and more clag, but we still enjoyed the views along the way. Reaching our goal for the day, the small lighthouse at the end of the peninsula, we stopped for a few pictures. Continuing on a bit farther to the Sheep’s Head Cafe’, Katie from the Bridgeview B&B was waiting to take us to our home for the night.
Tooreen to Kilcrohane–13km After yet another huge, tasty breakfast, Katie took us back to the Sheep’s Head Cafe at Tooreen where we would begin the day’s walk. Following waymarkers over mountain terrain and grassy slopes, we made our way east along the south coast of the peninsula. The weather gods decided we didn’t have enough of a challenge and so opened up the clouds with heavy rain. We delayed our start a bit, but finally decided to just jump in and start the day’s wet walk. Our waterproofs (read: raingear) helped, but we still ended up getting a bit drenched! We enjoyed the limited view we had, however. The last bit of walking took us into Kilcrohane for another delicious dinner and night’s sleep at the Bridgeport B&B.
Kilcrohane to Durrus–18km We continued along rugged mountain trails, making our way to the southern coast of the peninsula, and further inland. We passed the remains of the Bardic School founded by one of the oldest clans in Ireland, as well as ancient stone circles and marriage stones, and a memorial bench to Tom Whitty, the American who was instrumental in developing the Sheep’s Head Way trail system.
When we reached the village of Durrus we drank a pint while waiting for Andy from Ballycommane House and Gardens B&B to pick us up. Hosts Andy and Ingolf have several acres of lovely gardens they meticulously tend, with plants from many parts of the world. After cleaning up and enjoying tea and biscuits, we spent an hour or more just enjoying the gardens.
Durrus to Bantry 20km Our last day of walking took us back up the hills on the south side of the peninsula toward our starting point in Bantry. Up through forest lands, along ancient country lanes and a few more amazing views. While still on the ridgeline we took in the stunning views of three bays–Bantry, Dunmanus and Roaringwater. We could even see the Mizen Peninsula and Mount Gabriel. Eventually, our tired bodies brought us back to Doire Liath for a final night of the Hillwalk Sheep’s Head Peninsula tour. After serving tea and goodies, Therese visited with us in the sitting room. We fell in to bed exhausted, yet proud of our 6 days of walking adventures.
Sleeping in and Resting Up With our hiking week completed we rented a car and headed to another B&B we found online. Tucked away in the hamlet of Caheragh, Streamside Cottage is a haven for garden enthusiasts. Owners and Hosts, Stephen and Ke Yu provided lovely breakfasts, conversation, and a quiet, streamside rest in their back garden. The sun was shinning and I even wore a sundress.
Before leaving the US we received an insider tip from our youngest son about an iconic bar in Leap, a village not too far from Caheragh. Andrew had been to Ireland with his California Irish friends a few years previous. His buddy’s cousin owns a bar/music venue called Connelly’s of Leap. It’s well known in Ireland for live music, good brew and pizza. Our B&B hosts joined us for a pizza and a pint, and good conversation.
With the weather improving, we took a day trip back to the peninsula to see a few sights we missed and view the Sheep’s Head Lighthouse without the fog. Our first stop was Dunlough Castle. Founded in 1207, Dunlough is one of the oldest castles in southern Ireland. Tucked away from the ocean beside a lough (lake), these impressive ruins give visitors a glimpse of Norman architecture. Next, we took a short drive back to the lighthouse for a lovely, warm hike and sunnier pictures.
Hop the Pond Our time in County Cork had sadly come to a close. We made our way back to Dublin to catch a puddle jumper to Newcastle, England, and then on to the Lake District. Although I was eager to start our fell-walking adventures, I have to admit I was sad to bid Ireland farewell. Her people are friendly, helpful and chatty. Her tea and scones are delicious. Her natural beauty will make you fall in love. We will be back!