We drove first to Ross Castle, a fourteenth century tower house that is partly reconstructed and which features one of the best castle tours I've taken anywhere—due largely to an absolutely brilliant guide.
The tour is designed to give you a good idea of what life was really like in a castle. Not pleasant, by the sound of it. Too cold and drafty to be pleasant.
Still, you absolutely cannot argue with the views of the lower lake!
Time for a quick chat, before moving on to Muckross House—a beautiful "big house" that sits on the middle lake. Muckross is especially notable for the extraordinarily beautiful grounds that are packed full of gardens (including a wonderful rock garden) and loads of flowers.
In a few days I'll be going on to Scotland to talk about Queen Victoria and her influence on Scottish tourism (it should be fun). Given this, I was really amused to see the queen's fire escape at Muckross—installed specially for her day long stay in the house!
Right, from Muckross it was on to the main event: the Gap of Dunloe. This narrow pass between mountains is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful places in Ireland. I think you'll see why.
Before I reproduce photos of our hike, let me just fill you in quickly about what went down. At the bottom, a quick discussion revealed that six brave souls were anxious to climb the gap—ALL OF THE GAP. The rest of our group looked forward to a little horseback riding, some light hiking, and a relaxing sit in the sun. Fair enough, we split up. Claire stayed back, and I led the "Dunloe Gang" ever upward.
I want to stress one thing. These six are some of the toughest climbers I've ever run across. As you'll see in some of the photos, we kept up an absolutely brutal pace in order to make sure that we made it to the top. At places, members of the group actually RAN up the hill. It was, in a word, astonishing.
Two last things. The traditional way to see the gap is by "jaunting cart"; I've included one image. Second, I've photographed some ruined houses along the way. These stand as a testament to just how difficult it is to life in this beautiful but brutal place.
NOTE: We ran (literally, at points) to the top, took the "hero shot," then walked down at a more leisurely pace. Only then was there time to truly admire the beauty.
It was an amazing, if exhausting day. As for me, I've now got a wicked blister on my foot the size of a silver dollar. It was entirely worth it.