The Beara Peninsula lies on the far south-west coast of Ireland, between the Kenmare “river” on the north side and Bantry Bay to the south. The Caha Mountains form an imposing range down the center.
I have been fortunate to have spent considerable time here, in this spectacular, wild landscape. From a distance the land looks rugged, bare rocky mountains lashed by Atlantic gales. Yet, closer up, there are lush tree-lined lanes, overhanging with fuschia; gardens with exotic plants from all around the world thrive in this temperate climate. And everywhere, constant reminders of our ancient past, in one of the most megalithic-rich areas of Ireland.
I explored much by bicycle – its such a great pace of travel. You can stop and enjoy views and find things that would otherwise flash past. The terrain is very challenging though, especially on the minor single-track coastal roads which hug the landscape, on a constant roller-coaster of steep ups and downs and tight bends.
The Beara Cycle Route is an official route around the peninsula, sticking to the quietest roads where possible. Its 138 km takes in most of the villages on the peninsula. Many B&Bs display a bike-friendly logo.
I particularly enjoyed the challenge of biking the Healy Pass, on a stunning May morning, one of those days of rare clarity and intense blue sky. The pass crosses the Caha mountains from Lauragh to Adrigole, going from sea level to 285m in just a few km of twisting bends. The views are stunning, but be prepared as the weather can change in an instant.
“Hazards: Loose chippings, sheep, strong winds, dangerous bends, traffic, surface water, falling rock.”(https://www.the42.ie/toughest-cycling-climbs-1663501-Sep2014/ )
There is also the Beara Way long-distance footparth, a 206-kilometre long circular trail around the Peninsula. The route uses many old trails as well as sections unavoidably on-road, and passes by many ancient sites including standing stones and dolmens.
Garden highlights include the outstanding Derreen garden at Lauragh, one of my favourite places anywhere. The garden was laid out 150 years ago with sub-tropical plants from around the world and covers 60 acres. Paths wind through the mature woodland, framing views of the surrounding mountains and the sea.
Above all, the peninsula has an abundance – many hundreds – of ancient monuments. I’ve made my way to a fair few. The dedicated monument-hunter must be an expert map-reader, and be prepared for serious bogs, forestry plantations, animals and other hazards. Sometimes you simply don’t find what you were looking for. Having some local knowledge can help! For out of the way places you also need the landowner’s permission. I can highly recommemend Jack Roberts’ guide, the Stone Circles of Cork & Kerry – he has dedicated his life to exploring and mapping these monuments. Luckily there are some very worthwhile sites easily accessable close to the road.