The day dawned bright and early... ok, fine, I tell a lie. The day dawned crawled out of bed, haggard and pale, at about 10am. That's when it started to get light, anyway. The two of us were up significantly earlier than that, breakfasting and planning our drive around the Ring of Kerry.
We commenced our trip by driving to Killarney, famous for (amongst other things) its lakes, trout fishing and its tourist industry. Killarney has been actively developed as a centre for tourism since the 17th century. Lord Thomas, Fourth Viscount of Kenmare, made a significant push during the 18th century to develop the industry further. In 2004 they even had a celebration of their town's 250-year existence as a tourist town.
Fair enough, too - it's a very pretty place, and extremely popular on weekends. We, of course, happened to be arriving in the town at about the same time on a Sunday morning as many hundreds of churchgoers. One short circuit around the town centre (more on that later) convinced us that no parking was to be had, and that even if we did find parking, breakfast would be rather difficult to obtain. We heathens should, of course, have been joining the congregation
Incidentally, with respect to the town centre: it was interesting to arrive at a fork in the road where two signs, one for each fork, proudly proclaimed "an Lár" (city centre). Signage in Ireland tends toward the approximate, as does spelling of many Gaelic words.
Since seeing Killarney properly would take more time than we had, we didn't really want to stop there for very long, and so headed off down towards the Ring of Kerry proper.
As fate would have it, we ended up stopping in search of breakfast in a little town called Muckross. Good move. There's an estate there called, funnily enough, Muckross Estate. At its centre is a beautiful old 19th century mansion, Muckross House. We explored the gardens but didn't enter the house (more on that later) as we were going to be pressed for time. The gardens are pretty barren at present, since it is, after all, the end of Winter here. This is one place we'll definitely be heading back to come Summer - the gardens are said to be spectacular, and we'd both like to explore the house.
So, back to the house, and why we didn't explore it. Firstly there's an admission charge and since I don't have a contract yet I'm feeling poor. The main reason, however, was that we'd arranged with our jarvey to only be 20 minutes or so exploring the gardens. What's a jarvey? Ask Syndia - she was getting very friendly with ours
A jarvey is the driver of a jaunting car, which is a two-wheeled, one-horse, open-topped cart. As we were parking our car we were approached by a jarvey and offered a discount off the usual EUR 40 cost due to its being off-season. Syndia bargained with him and managed to negotiate him down from the reduced rate of EUR 30 to EUR 27.50
Our jarvey, Patrick, and his horse, Charlie, took us all around the estate whilst providing an extraordinarily informative and amusing commentary on the place. Being shown anywhere by a local is different to exploring it for one's self, but this was something else again. Highly recommended. The only down side was that it was a cold day to be out, and Charlie was displaying his displeasure by attempting to hurry along the trails to get warm.
After leaving Muckross, we headed for Sneem, stopping briefly at Ladies View to - you guessed it - admire the view. Syndia became completely infatuated with some of the local sheep, whose behinds had been dyed pink. (The local farmers spray or dye different parts of their sheep different colours depending on the region in order to identify their owner.)
Shortly after photographing the pink sheep, we saw a sign advertising pancakes. I'm not sure what else it had written on it, but the word "pancakes" was enough to sell both of us, so off we went. The place turned out to be the "Strawberry Field".
The Strawberry Field is a delightful little pancake house. Its location on the Ring of Kerry evidently brings it a fair number of visitors, as evidenced by the number of contributors to the multiple guest books. By far the most compliments in the guest book were directed at the "fantastic" pancakes, so of course we had to try them. The verdict? They've earnt every single compliment in the guest books, and then some - they're the best pancakes I've ever tasted
Our next stop, and the last major one for the day, was at a staigue fort, or ring fort, in Castlecove. Most of the remaining ring forts are on private land, and this one is no exception. The walls must be a good 5 metres high at their highest points, and 4 metres thick at some points. The walls themselves are simple rock, with no cut stones or mortar. It's amazing to think that a structure built with such primitive methods has lasted for so long - this particular fort is estimated to have been constructed during the 1st century BC.
Syndia, true to form, was almost more interested in the psychedelic sheep