It was the beginning of summer in Ireland, and here on the West coast the sun doesn't set until after 9:00 p.m. at that time of year. So, when a friend texts and says "We're walking Derrynane Mass Path Wednesday night!" I knew I was in for it!
Oh, just for a moment the thought flashed through my mind "the last time I went walking with this gang, I ended up with a medical boot on my left leg for five weeks!" but I shook that one off and texted back "I'm in!" Called a few others, and pulled out my Kerry Walking Trails map set, and eyeballed the route.
Back in the day, Catholics in Ireland were banned from celebrating Mass. The Catholics in Caherdaniel parish walked this Mass Path during the Penal Times (in the 17th Century) to attend Mass at the Mass Rock which we see on this walk. We met at the car park for the Derrynane House (www.derrynanehouse.ie) the ancestral home of Daniel O'Connoll, Irish politician and statesman. Surrounding Derrynane House is a 320 acre Irish National Park, and much of the walk is around this area, along trails on The Kerry Way (www.kerryway.com). There were 14 of us (plus one baby!) and we headed off at 7:00 p.m. to do the loop.
Starting from the car park, we walk over sand dunes and along the beach. Then up onto trails looking over beautiful Derrynane Bay. This is a challenging but not overly difficult walk. There are three steps along the walk up onto rocks that are VERY high steps - we had a hand from the first man up. 'm sure I would have scrambled on hands and knees if I hadn't had the pull up. At one point the trail leads up a huge rock, and over the centuries steps have been worn in o the rock. (I've done this walk in summer and winter; dry weather and wet (including sleet!) and it's slippery when wet.) There are some lovely walks through tunnels of rhododendrons - beautiful in the warm weather, but an invasive species that was brought to Ireland in 1763, and now taking over much of the Southwest's ancient woodlands.
The walk begins at sea level so - you guessed it! - the first half is up, up, up! As you climb the hills you can see beautiful vistas of the hills and valleys of Caherdaniel, the bays, the famous "lighthouse house" and the spectacular Derrynane beach. You can even see Skellig Michael in the distance!
As you come back down the trail, you pass through some pretty boggy (read: wet) areas of the trail. Part of the trail is maintained by OPW (www.OPW.ie) and has raised wooden platforms with chicken wire. Other parts you step stone to stone. Other parts you're, well - you're stepping in a bit of mud. My dear friend Paul, visiting from America, walked this path with me one winter day. He threw away his socks AND his shoes after that day's walk!
Eventually, we looped back around at the top of the hill, and saw the beginning of a beautiful sunset.
After the walk, (4.93 miles according to one person's Garmin) the sun was coloring up the sky and we were in the car heading back to Waterville. Finishing off with a much needed pint at The Lobster Bar in Waterville!
Off the Ring of Kerry road in Caherdanel.
OS Map 84
Distance 7.5 km
Time approximately 3 hours
Other food/beverage: The Blind Piper in Caherdaniel; Bridie Keetings Pub
Things to do: Wild Derrynane Tours (www.vincenthylandartist.com); Irish Fairy Trails; Atlantic Irish Seaweed walks (www.atlanticirishseaweed.com); Eagle Rock Equrstrian - ride horses on Derrynane beach! (www.eaglerockcentre.com)
A few more photos of the walk: