Last September I packed my boots and waterproofs and headed to the Emerald Isle for a west-coast walking adventure on the Kerry Way.
This might well be Ireland’s most popular long-distance trail, following wonderfully varied scenery past lakes and waterfalls, remote hills and hidden valleys, and pastoral fields dotted with sheep and cows, before ultimately leading you to the spectacular coastline on the wild Atlantic Ocean.
Whilst Kerry is renowned for having the highest mountains in Ireland, the Kerry Way avoids the higher peaks and leads walkers through the lower reaches of mountain ridges – while still offering fantastic views throughout.
The beauty of the Kerry Way was a wonderful revelation to me. The trail begins in the bustling and musical town of Killarney, which is certainly worth an extended visit. Ambling around the town centre, I was delighted to hear music around every corner – cheery Irish tunes could be heard from the shops, the pubs, the buskers on the colourful streets. It was a delight to the senses, with brightly coloured buildings, catchy folk melodies, and the curious aroma of freshly baked pastries and wet moss.
A visit to John M Reidy’s pub was an experience in itself, as this former sweet shop is now a popular pub and venue. Following a labyrinth of different themed rooms, I ended in an open courtyard, illuminated with fairy lights and of course, live music.
Killarney is surrounded by lakes and mountains, which can be admired as the trail leaves the town. The route later follows forest paths and waterfalls, leading you deep into Killarney National Park towards Muckross House. This 19th-century Victorian country house overlooks the shores of Muckross Lake, one of Killarney’s three lakes.
As the trail continues, walkers leave the busy world of Killarney behind. I entered a quiet landscape of green lush scenery and rocky outcrops, spotted with red fuchsia, purple heather and yellow gorse. Leafy oak forests and riverside paths guided me towards my destination in the remote Black Valley.
Being Ireland, at this stage the weather had turned … However, almost before reaching my final destination, I encountered a welcome pit-stop at Lord Brandon’s Cottage, where an Irish coffee lifted my spirits to continue on my journey!
The section that follows traverses the Black Valley and Bridia Valley, surrounded by a mountainous farming landscape, leading to the mountain passes around Glencar. Following forest paths, the views over Lough Caragh are dramatic and beautiful. The way then heads to the pretty small village of Glenbeigh, where the coastal section of the trail begins.
My next walking adventure took me from Glenbeigh to Foilmore, where I was kindly collected by my host Alan at San Antoine B&B and taken to the colourful town of Cahersiveen. This section of the trail is spectacular, as the path led me up the hillside, where views over the Ring of Kerry and the coastline were breathtaking.
From this height, I was accompanied by sunshine and rainbows, as I then trod through forest trails and traversed expansive green fields—cows and sheep my ever loyal companions.
Cahersiveen is a delightful stop along the way, with its busy main street laden with gift shops and traditional pubs. The main landmark of the town is the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church, a stunning 19th-century architectural feat in Gothic revivalist style, sitting in the middle of the main road.
Cahersiveen is also a great place for a rest day, as walkers can explore The Old Barracks, or take a day trip to nearby Portmagee, where boat trips to the famous Skellig Isles (featured in the latest Star Wars films) are available.
From this point onwards, I cheated… and actually drove the Ring of Kerry, rather than walking the Kerry Way. I passed through the charming towns and villages of Caherdaniel, Waterville, Sneem and Kenmare. Each was unique and offered lovely views.
Caherdaniel was a scattered village with tremendous views over the wild coastline, while Waterville had lovely gift shops and an expansive beach. Sneem was small and quirky, loaded with cafes and bakeries. Sneem village was divided by a bridge crossing a river, offering fantastic views over the water and forest.
Kenmare was larger and just as colourful as every Irish village and town I’d passed. The main square had various pubs and restaurants. Nearby, I visited The Shrubberies, an ancient stone circle dating from the Bronze Age. On the site, there were hawthorn trees full of wishes for the fairies!
The Kerry Way offered one of the best walking experiences on my travels around the UK and Ireland. The impossibly beautiful landscapes, as well as warm Irish hospitality and colourful villages, are at the core of this trail.
Perhaps the greatest asset of the trail is its wonderful variety, offering a wild adventure through all sorts of paths and scenery. If you are tempted by an Irish jaunt, why not get in touch so we can tell you more and help you organise your trip to the West Coast of Ireland?
Katia Fernandez Mayo
Absolute Escapes offer self-guided walking holidays on the Kerry Way, as well as many of the best hiking trails in the UK & Ireland. Our packages include hand-picked accommodation, baggage transfers, guidebook/map, and personalised information pack.
Send us an enquiry today – we’d love to help you plan a memorable walking holiday to the Emerald Isle.