Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Tour guiding the Kerry Way.Co.Kerry

I meet the group of six in a Killarny Restaurant on Sunday evening having missed the first full day as I was running a hedgelaying course for the Irish Natural Forestry Foundation. The hand-over from the previous tour guide goes without hitch and I swat up on the notes for the trip in my room later.

The first day of walking for us takes us from Muckross House near Killarny to Gowlane cross roads just over 4km North of Kenmare following the old road. The weather which hasn't been good holds out until we reach the Windy Gap, the Irish name of which translates to, 'Arse to the wind'. It pours down. Luckily no one is too bothered and the weather is not too cold. we arrive at Gowlane and I attempt to call our pick up who is going to transport us to the Derrynane Hotel near Caherdaniel. This proves difficult. In the pouring rain I try to find my contact number, my mobile phone and my glasses. Everything gets wet and the ink runs in the wet. Luckily the group are sheltering in a barn and can't see me. After a few minutes I get myself organised. I make my call only to discover no signal. I pray the bus arrives and we've not been forgotten. On time I see a mini-bus approaching. I hope it is ours. It pulls up and we're soon inside We sit in the bus listening to 'Irish' music and a rather good joke about the Irish moon landings (on CD). A couple of the group doze. Its been a long day and we've covered about 15k in 6.5 hours.

After a pleasant evening getting to know the group better, the following day dawns wet and rainy. We're picked up at 9:30am and the driver takes us to Sneam some 18km away. The lady driving the taxi tells us the weather will clear as it appears bright in the SW where the weather is coming from. We endure a long day through soaking wet hills and wet paths. As we make a short detour to visit the Staigue Fort I realise that unlike the last time I did this route we're not going to be picked up here and have to walk another 7km to the hotel. It turns out to be a long day. Tracey from Canada asks me is it possible to cut short the route the following day by getting a taxi if its raining. Oh dear! I worry if the weather is dampening more than our waterproof clothing. In the hotel that evening I get a couple of taxi numbers just in case.
The hotel has a slightly heated outside swimming pool. I go for a swim and am joined by Liz a doctor from Boston USA and Anne-Marie from Luxemburg. Afterwards Anne-Marie and I sit in the hotel sauna. It's hot. Anne-Marie announces that we should jump back in the pool, which she does. I announce I'm a wimp and go back to my room for a quick (hot) shower and change.

The following morning it is still raining. We now walk around the coast in the rain. Veronique, from France whose only protection from the rain is a poncho accepts my offer of the loan of a spare anorak I have in my rucksac. I listen carefully to see whether the group are dispirited with Irish weather but all appears well. The steep walk up to the Ring of Kerry Road has the wind blowing on our back. A relief from blowing in our faces.The view is stunning. Thick fog, rain and mist. I watch in amusement as tour bus after tour bus off loads their occupants for lunch and to admire the view. Tourists gaze into the mist looking for 'Irelands best known view' as the rain pours down. Our group try to visit the shop. They are evicted as the shop is too full. How times change! We walk on the road for a dangerous short 200mtrs before leaving it to head across the Beenarouke pass. I pray that the bus drivers are not looking for the view! The wind is blowing gale force - luckily at our backs. Crossing a style at the highest part we are blasted by the wind. For me it was like being in a Scottish mountain in winter. It's a few years since I've experienced this kind of weather. Soon we loose height and the worst of the wind is gone. The view, which is normally stunning is reduced to watching mist go by. We gather round a wedge tomb in the wet and wind. The group gets a short description on tombs in the wet, wind and rain. We move on squelching along the wet path until we arrive at the minor road and quickly make our destination, the Charlie Chaplin statue in Waterville. I remind the group that they do funny things to the grass here to make it greener and tell them about a previous visit. (here). We all retire to a cafe and wait 20 minutes whilst the owner prepares our drinks!. Brenda, who went missing several minutes ago re-appears and I relax. Joe entertains the owner's children as they attempt to do their homework on one of the ajoining tables. On time were picked up and taken to our B&B for the night the San Antoine in Caherciveen. Once the group are settled in I go to the nearest supermarket for more food for our lunches the next day.
That evening we go for a walk in the town. A few minutes of window shopping later and we've walked the length of the main street. Tracy asks, "Is that it?, I've nothing to do tomorrow now." Waterville has all the atmosphere of a town in terminal decay. Later that evening over food I outline some choices for their day off the next day.

Our day off dawns clear and sunny. I take a walk the few kilometers to catch the ferry to Valentia Island. If it rains I won't be sheltering in the terminal building. (click here to read more) The road seems a long walk on my own and catch the ferry and pay my two euro return fare to the Polish ticket collector. Liz joins me on the next ferry and we have an enjoyable walk around Knights Town. Liz's camera runs out of power and we go to the shop for batteries. The old boy in the shop points out that they won't work in digital cameras. Liz insists they will and he looks at me as if he expects support. He gets none. Liz buys her new batteries despite his objections and the camera works again - but only for another day!! The walk back passes quickly as Liz and I talk.

The final day of walking dawns clear and we're taken to our drop off near the Kells Post office and enjoy & pleasant walk along still wet tracks until we gain the the old road which takes us without incident to our final destination 18km away at Ross Behy. We enjoy some fine views across the hills and down onto the Ring of Kerry road, watching the tour buses far below us. I don't envy them one bit! Sitting on the wall of the car park at Ross Behy a few hours later we relax and I bring out the bottle of wine I was given at the Derrynane Hotel. Ross Behy as a long area of fine beach and sand dunes. A newly built children's play ground dominates the scene. Clearly the visitors here cannot be bothered to play on the miles of beach!.
That evening over our final meal together I ask the group about the trip and we all share pleasant memories. Luckily I can't be blamed for the weather!

The following morning we all say our good-byes. Some are going on to Dingle and others returning home. I'm handed a generous tip in an envelope. With some embarrassment I mumble some thanks. I'm never too sure what to say or do. I later hope that I did not sound too ungrateful. Tips are a considerable part of a guides income as the basic pay is rather small. (OK you get to stay in nice hotels and eat excellent food for nothing as well, so I'm not really complaining!). For me this will probably be my last work as tour guide in Ireland as we are to move back to the UK in October. Its been good fun and I can honestly say I've enjoyed the company of every participant and have learned a lot from them.
This tour was planned and organised by South West Walks Ireland based in Tralee, Co.Kerry. Slainte!

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