Best tips for hiking the Gap of Dunloe
With the numerous words of advice available on how to do things best, here is how not to hike the Gap of Dunloe.
Lesson one in any guidebook on hiking is be prepared. Proper shoes, dress in layers (especially in mountainous areas), bring something to eat and enough fluids. You don’t go out on a whim on a lovely sunny day in May, driving over from Cork in County Cork, Ireland to County Kerry to the Gap of Dunloe for a hike. What you should do is go for a bit of a drive, for a gorgeous, packed lunch or pub grub on an outdoor terrace basking in the sun, and perhaps a leisurely stroll when you enter the Gap of Dunloe from Killarney. That would be the smart, fun, and right option.
You don’t go on a half-assed mission to walk the Gap of Dunloe on a whim. On flimsy trainers, without sunscreen (believe me, after a few years in Ireland everyone has the same see-through complexion, you would too) or water, and decide to walk to the actual Gap. The start of this valley – created by a glacial plain breaking off about 25,000 years – is located a short 15-minute drive from Killarney, county Kerry. At the start of the road through you will find Kate Kearney’s Cottage, named after the woman who before the Great Famine was the innkeeper. The business still exists, though the home-distilled Irish moonshine: Poítin, Ms. Kearney once was renowned for no longer is provided here. That may have had to do with the strength of the fluid. The story goes that it needed to be diluted by seven times its own weight.
Gap of Dunloe
A 22 km round trip hike
When you park your car in the lot at the foot of the Gap Road, you do not just grab a bottle of water and bring a snack and set off. You make sure that you know that making it through the valley to the Gap, would be 11km hence the return will be 22 kilometres. You therefore would make sure to have proper shoes on, bring enough to snack on, have a working mobile phone (granted a couple of years ago that wasn’t that obvious plus reception in mountainous areas can be spotty) and enough water. Furthermore, you don’t start to walk halfway through the day, you make sure you have plenty of time to make it back too.
But the sun is beaming down, and the surroundings are stunning, so you walk. The rugged landscape, bright green grass intertwined with the tough taller mountain grasses. Stones, rocks and boulders in every shape and size left there after the last ice age.
You walk along the road once used by Queen Victoria. You become aware of the echoes that until the beginning of the twentieth century were awakened by buglers who would accompany those who travelled the valley. Sauntering past the first of four lakes; Loosaun Lough and over the wishing bridge with the sunlight reflecting off Black Lake.
The peace and silence are pleasantly overwhelming when you take a break to have some water and the snack. Both the road and the river Loe, the valley takes its name from, meander to the Gap between the Purple Mountains on the left and the MacGillycuddy’s Reeks with its peak of 1039m on your right.
Road to Gap of Dunloe
5 hours of walking in a varied and charming area
A herd of sheep take up the road and graze the cracks and the crevices under and between the rocks lining the hilly sides. The shepherd follows them at a slow and steady pace while the sheep dog flies from left to right and back again. And then, you reach the Gap and the choice of going back or walking the curving road into the Black Valley. The sun is still beaming down, and you may be a bit tired, but you think… why not?
Well, because it is longer than you think to walk down Mass Lane past McLouglin’s cottage. The sun that is setting just over the range reflects the purple light of the sandstone of the Purple mountain while you spot more lakes and islands down below. You are out of water and snacks and the surroundings look beautiful but devoid of people bar. The road turns into a path again which you find out later takes you through the bog land along Killarney’s Upper Lake also knows as Derrycunnihy Woods. You have walked five hours straight by this stage and you will remember how varied and lovely this area is by its many turns, as after each of them you had hoped to see a house, a car or any other sign of people still being there with you.
Walking towards Gap of Dunloe
Be with burning feet and without water
You passed the islands you looked down on from Black Valley, you have pictures from almost every angle as you walked around them until you finally reach the N71 aka the Ring of Kerry.
The soles of your feet are burning, your water has run out and though it will not be dark for a few hours, you walk in the shadows of the cliffs the road winds around. The road may not be intended to walk along but it is safe in the early evening hours as there is barely any traffic. Unfortunately, it also makes getting a lift near impossible.
Another hour or so passes by while you keep moving and you spot some houses set a little away from the road. The intrepid traveller you think you are, does not want to ask for help but your feet do not care about your pride. Smart feet!
Right, you know now that this would never happen to you because you will be prepared, won’t you?
We were not and as we knocked on the door of this house, we knew we still needed to make it back to Cork that same evening. The homeowner, a very sweet and helpful man gave us a 15-minute lift into Killarney, where we thanked him profusely, and called a taxi to take us back to the parking lot at Kate Kearney’s Cottage.
Gap of Dunloe
The drive back to Cork was in bare feet arriving around 22.30 hours. As you may imagine, we did not make it more than a few meters from our couch the next day. We drank plenty of water that day, had regular meal breaks, soaked our feet, and lathered on after sun creams to soothe our bright red arms, necks and faces.
We will always remember our useful lesson in that fantastic area of Ireland and our opportunity to tell you how not to walk the Gap of Dunloe. Though, go see and walk it yourself, it is well worth the effort. Just be prepared.