It’s one of Ireland’s, and Kerry’s, premier tourist experiences, but I think it’s at its best when tourist season is over and winter foliage dominates the landscape. Pure winter light mixed with the occasional shower – that combination brings out the the kind of colours that stop me in my tracks. From Killarney, the way to the Gap is west from the town on the N72 to Killorglin – just look for the signs.
From the Wishing Bridge
Driving through the Gap of Dunloe is not recommended at any time except winter, and even then caution is advised. That’s because the traditional way of travelling through the gap is by jaunting car, on horseback, on foot, or by bicycle and cars can be a dangerous and unwanted addition. And those – the on-foot or by horseback options – are the best ways of seeing it. If you have a hankering to experience it for yourself, just Google Gap of Dunloe and all the options will present themselves.
This couple from Germany had walked from the Black Valley
Robert and I have driven it twice now, each time in winter, and each time he has dropped me off to walk at my own pace, camera in hand, and picked me up where he can find a lay-by. We did it earlier this week, having ascertained that sunshine was a possibility (about the best that can be forecast this time of year), and we hit it lucky.
A river runs through it
The Gap is a deep glaciated valley, running north/south between MacGillycuddy’s Reeks and the Purple Mountain – can’t lose with a description that starts off like that! The road runs along the Loe River, which empties eventually into the Laune and thence into Lough Leane, the largest of the Lakes of Killarney.
Several lakes lie along the course of the river – Black Lake, Cushvally, Auger Lake and Black Lough. The road switches from the west side of the lakes to the east side as you go along, and then back again. The first bridge you cross is the Wishing Bridge – tradition has it that wishes made on this bridge always come true. My highly scientific testing of this assertion confirms the truth of it.
This is Ireland, of course, so no matter how blue the sky you have to expect that it can rain at any moment. True to form, the top of the valley filled with cloud and before I could blink I, and my camera, were being, er, moisturised. The compensation? A rainbow to the north, spanning the Gap.
Is there a hint of a second rainbow? And oops – drops on the lens
The rain didn’t last long – just enough to ensure the air was filled with lots of droplets and vapour to lend extra luminescence to the air – the colours always seem at their most sparkly after a shower.
Black Lough – no need to wonder how that name was earned
It was a steep walk to the top of the Gap, and it was hard to keep going when every bend brought fresh temptation to stop and take more photographs as the light shifted and shimmered. The photograph at the top of this post was taken from the highest point.
The Black Valley
Once over the top, the Black Valley opens up before you. This is a walker’s paradise, but also a community, with small farms dotted here and there, a church and a school – surely one of the remotest in Ireland. The landscape softens slightly from the craggy steepness of Dunloe to more rounded valleys and mountains.
You have a choice now to carry on West along the interior of the Iveragh Peninsula, but we had to head for home so we joined the N71 at Moll’s Gap where a welcome coffee awaited in the excellent Avoca Cafe.
A road through the Black Valley
Next time, I think we will do this by the traditional horse-drawn method, and return to Killarney by boat from Lord Bandon’s Cottage. Perhaps even in the summer – I wonder how it will look then.
Looking back at the Gap of Dunloe from Moll’s Gap
Update: We did it again in January 2020 and once again were blessed with a great day for it: