Sunday, March 3, 2024

Play the wild rover on an Emerald Isle roadtrip with great beauty, food & people

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DURING the pandemic, living in Stranraer, I blissfully watched the ferries sail in and out of Wig Bay bound for Ireland.

And I often dreamed that one day I would take a road trip over there to the famous Wild Atlantic Way  when the restrictions were over.

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Visit the Clonmacnoise Monastery in Ireland countrysideCredit: Alamy
The Burren “The vast, moon-like Burren in County Clare is one of Ireland’s most compelling landscapes”

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The Burren “The vast, moon-like Burren in County Clare is one of Ireland’s most compelling landscapes”Credit: Jennifer Jones
Enjoy a night wandering bustling streets of Galway with music and bars

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Enjoy a night wandering bustling streets of Galway with music and barsCredit: Jennifer Jones

It might have taken a little bit of time — but I eventually fulfilled that bucket-lister in November,  and boy did I love it.

First things first though. I didn’t want the hassle of hiring a car and figuring out the itinerary on my own.

And that’s where Scots tour company Rabbies came up trumps.

They run small group coach tours in a comfortable executive vans with only ever a maximum of 14 people per trip.

And they had a range of tours across Ireland, as well as other parts of the UK and Europe. Perfect.

Just what I needed to discover Ireland as a solo traveller.

I chose the five-day Discover the South West tour — taking us from Dublin to Galway, then a leisurely drive down the Wild Atlantic Way towards Killarney, Dingle and the ring of Kerry.

There were plenty of stops at places of interest along the way

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There were plenty of stops at places of interest along the wayCredit: Jennifer Jones

After a night in the Fair City, I joined my three tour mates, all from the States, on our adventures as we were picked up by our tour guide, Dublin-born Marcus, who had been taking tours across his home country for nearly five years.

We set off early on Sunday and headed straight west for the Christmas markets in the bohemian city of Galway.

People are often in a rush to get from one side of the country to the other but Marcus guided us off the beaten track and away from the motorway.

He showed us villages between the gaping peat lands and  told us the tale of how the hamlet of Horseleap acquired a statue of the Ferrari horse, with plentiful stops for coffee, cake and homemade chocolate. Yum.

We ate well, stopping along the way to watch everyday Irish activities like a travelling sauna and cold water dipping in the River Shannon!

We visited the heart of Irish Christianity, Clonmacnoise, an ancient and spiritual place where the Pope’s been  several times, right  slap bang in the geographic centre of the country.

Father Ted

The tiny museum showcases a fine collection of stone work and treasured early Christian monuments, including 70 Celtic crosses that have survived since the eighth century.

As you can imagine, there were plenty of Father Ted references in the van  as we traversed County Clare and later passed through the Matchmaking village Lisdoonvarna,  with its bright coloured pubs and hotels, towards the tourist hit, the cliff of Mohor.

We also visited the Cliffs of Kerry where the crashing of the Atlantic Ocean waves send furious spumes of water sky-high.  It was  breathtaking.

Marcus kept us constantly informed with his excellent knowledge of Ireland’s interesting but difficult past as passengers learned all about the heritage, from the emigration to the potato famine, the 1916 uprising, right up to The Troubles.

But on a Rabbies tour you also get a lot of time to yourself.

The schedule is not overpowering and is paced just so you can take it all in without it taking it all out of you.

There is no more than an hour and a half on the bus in between stops, meaning there were plenty of opportunities and places to just take in the atmosphere and take some snaps.

After a night in the bustling streets of Galway, we headed to Burren — the land of stone, taking in the ever-changing scenery as we made our way down the west coast towards  Killarney.

There are plenty of places to eat and drink, as well as to shop and relax in the pretty town and our group  visited the dreamy Inch beach, with nothing for miles except cold wild swimmers and the occasional dog walker as the glass-like winter skies touched the water.

We were blessed with glorious winter sunshine, creating scenes so beautiful that even Marcus stopped to take pictures on his way.

The furthest westerly point of Europe on the Dingle Peninsula

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The furthest westerly point of Europe on the Dingle PeninsulaCredit: Jennifer Jones
There was also the chance to feed the orphan sheep near Dingle

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There was also the chance to feed the orphan sheep near DingleCredit: Jennifer Jones

Further along the Dingle peninsula we visited a farm where we got to feed friendly orphan sheep and pigs for just a two euro donation.

Dolly Parton

The peninsula is a favourite of Dolly Parton, who chooses to holiday in Dingle, as well as Tom Cruise and Julia Roberts. Charlie Chaplin and even former French president Charles de Gaulle were also fans.

The beautiful town of Dingle and bay stole my heart

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The beautiful town of Dingle and bay stole my heartCredit: Alamy

It’s even claimed to have the cleanest air in Europe.

And for any Star Wars fan, there’s a stop to see the original 2000 BC beehive huts used in the movie, before heading onto  the furthest westerly point of Europe and mainland Ireland.

Our tiny coach bravely traversed single tracks and cliffs, through the devil’s elbow to reach a beach so beautiful for our cameras to capture.

We then stopped at the beautifully colourful town of Dingle, where every house is painted a different bright shade, after the village defied an order to paint houses black to mourn the death of King George III.

GO: IRELAND

Rabbie’s offers small group tours across the UK, Ireland and Europe. The five-day Escape to the South West tour from Dublin costs from approx £477pp. See rabbies.com

There are bars, restaurants, music and artist-led gift shops, as well as delicious Murphy’s ice cream — I got all my Christmas shopping when I was there.

Our final day took us through Killarney national park and around the Ring of Kerry, packing in the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, with stunning views and just a taster of the walks and hikes I would love to return to try out.

The Rabbies tour is great for solo travellers, it’s  low effort  with high returns.

Read more on the Scottish Sun

After dipping my toe into the road trip of my  dreams, it’s given me the confidence to head back and explore even further on my own.

Very soon I’ll be heading back on one of those ferries I watched so longingly.

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