August 17, 2013. Clifden, Ireland – Instead of drinking into the wee hours at the Puck Fair we slept soundly in our luxurious room overlooking Caragh Lake on the “Hill of the Fairies.”
Our hotel, the Ard na Sidhe (“hill of the fairies” in Irish), is surrounded by forest, gardens, and other outdoor spaces. It is one of the few hotels in which I have stayed where you can wander through a forest and get lost without leaving the grounds. The spacious rooms are filled with antiques and character. What they are not filled with are TVs, sound systems, or iPod docking stations. The Ard na Sidhe is all about escape from the modern world and returning to a more elegant, gracious, slow-paced era.
I could have hung out there all day, except we had some hiking to do, in the Gap of Dunloe, an ice-carved mountain pass connecting the road between Killorglin and Killarney on one side of the pass and the lakes of Killarney National Park on the other. It’s a narrow, paved road, not a wilderness trail, that connects the usual starting point at Kate Kearney’s Cottage a few miles off the Killoglin-Killarney road with Lord Brandon’s Cottage (a former hunting lodge) seven miles away at the end on the first of a string of lakes. The road is also traversed by horse drawn traps carrying tourists and the occasional car driven by people who live or work in the valley on the far side of the pass.
Despite the paved road and the tourists, it’s a great hike. The scenery is dramatic – a lunar landscape on one side of the pass (if the moon had grass) and a lush valley dotted with lakes on the other.
And one of the best parts of the hike is that after walking for 7+ miles up, then down, we got on a small power boat at Lord Brandon’s Cottage, by prior arrangement with Gap of Dunloe Tours, for an hour or so ride through the chain of lakes in the heart of the park. For most of the ride all you see are green hills and water. There are almost no structures visible along the lakes, except for occasional stone bridges that look hundreds of years old.
The trip ended at the 15th Century Ross Castle on Lough Leane, where our boatsman gave us a ride back to our car parked at Kate Kearney’s Cottage in a vintage style bus.
From there we drove back to the Ard na Sidhe for dinner. White table cloths, crystal, china, the whole “schmear” (that’s not Irish). The food was excellent, but what I most enjoyed was the “tipple” (that is Irish), a sampling of four fine single malt Irish whiskeys, that preceded it.
We slept very well that night.