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Did you miss the real Ring of Kerry drive?

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Possibly one of the most popular bus tours is the Ring of Kerry in southwestern Ireland. Promising picturesque countrysides, exciting mountain roads and panoramic seaside vistas; it’s got something that seems to appeal to everyone. Starting at Killarney, the typical tour takes a counter-clockwise tour of the Iveragh Peninsula in County Kerry with stops at all the big roadside pulloffs for pictures and at some of the obligatory souvenir shops.

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While thousands upon thousands have done the Ring of Kerry that way, there’s so much more to be seen if you travel it by yourself. That’s why I resisted the urge to visit there, until I had a couple days to spend and until I had my own set of wheels. This year, piloting my own Bunk Camper motorhome, I could stop at any vista that appealed to me, and could stay as long as I liked. Follow along and see some of the sights people on the bus totally missed.

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Super Hint: If you want to see the Ring of Kerry without fighting the throngs of bus tourists, start your tour late in the day (as they are all finishing up), spend the night somewhere on the southern part of the ring and then start again the following morning when you’ll be miles and miles ahead of the crowd for day two.

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In August of each year, the people of Gillorglin spend a week celebrating Puck Fair and the centerpiece of the fair is a wild goat (the puki) on display in the town square. To remember the unrivaled merriment for the rest of the year, they had a bronze sculpture made and erected it alongside the river.

[Lots more photos from the Ring of Kerry tour here.]

First stop I made that the buses certainly passed was this charming area in Caragh Lake where a field full of horses and adorable ponies were grazing. Our neighbor actually raised Kerry Bog Ponies and so to see them actually grazing in Kerry, Ireland was kind of a kick. I probably spent a half hour here, taking pictures and trying to have a conversation with them.

Next stop you’d absolutely miss was the tiny town of Rossbeigh Beach with some beautiful views of the Dingle Bay. A single lane road paralleling the Bay follows the Wild Atlantic Way signs, but there’s no room here for a big tour bus. Rossbeigh is popular with birdwatchers, anglers, ramblers and horseback riders, where you can rent a horse for a ride on the beach.

My destination for the evening was Cahirsiveen and the award-winning Mortimer’s Mannix Point Campgrounds. Set near the westernmost portion of the Ring of Kerry, this is a great location for exploring Valentia Island and taking the ferry to the Skellig Islands.

It’s hard to believe, but there are abundant palm trees here, lining the beautiful croquet course, overlooking the bay. Wooden benches overlook the rocky beach and make for a great place to watch the sun set in the evening. Campground personnel couldn’t be friendlier, and I highly recommend this location.

In the morning, despite the fog taking some time to lift, I was off to Valencia Island via the Renard Point ferry. You can avoid the ferry, but it will add another 90 minutes driving time to get to Valencia. Turns out that Valencia has an interesting 5,000 year history, being popular in the past with pirates and smugglers. It’s also rumored that John Paul Jones used to like to dock here.

When you complete your five minute ferry ride, you’ll be in downtown Knights Town, site of the world’s first successful transatlantic telegraph cable back in 1858. This charming town has a wealth of historic and charming structures. Take one of the many tiny roads around the island to explore sites like the lighthouse and the Tetrapod Trackway (prehistoric footprints from 385 million year ago.)

[Lots more photos from the Ring of Kerry tour here.]

Back on the mainland, continue following the Wild Atlantic Way signage, which will keep you off the busy busways and you’ll come first to the Kerry Cliffs and then to the beautiful Skellig Ring Road at Cloghanecanuig with its great ocean views. I made a quick cup of coffee here in my Bunk Camper, before continuing on. With the sounds of the surf and the warm ocean breeze, it was hard to leave.

Following Skellig Ring into Ballingskellig, you’ll also discover another hidden beach at McCarthy’s Castle.

Connecting back up with N70, you’re back on the main bus route, so be prepared for tons of busses at the main highway turnouts.

Preferring a bit more privacy, I found a pullover big enough for just one car and had lunch overlooking this idyllic little beach near Killeen. Watching a couple families play Frisbee with their dog down on the beach was a lot more fun that watching tourists pile in and out of buses.

Heading north of Sneem, you start to leave the ocean views behind and head into the hills. The skies open up, and interesting landscapes began to catch your eye. Its farm land here and you’ll see more livestock grazing on the hills all around you.

There are also some beautiful lakes surrounded by rocky hills, just perfect for quiet fishing if that’s your thing.

When I reached Moll’s Gap, I unfortunately found N71 was closed for construction. (Animal traffic only, I guess.) That kept me from completing the Ring of Kerry loop. Darn, now I’ll just have to come back again to do the whole thing.

Next article – Killarney and the National Park.

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Click here for the index of all Wild Atlantic Way articles in this series

Previous article in the Wild Atlantic Way series: Loop Head Peninsula

Next article in the Wild Atlantic Way series: Killarney

Why travel the Wild Atlantic Way? [Infographic]

Doug Bardwell, based in Cleveland, OH, writes about travel destinations, photography and tech topics across the country and around the world at DougBardwell.com. Feel free to drop him a line at travel.dougbardwell@gmail.com with suggestions for future stories. To get his stories delivered to your inbox, click the RSS feed or the "Subscribe" button above or follow him on Facebook , Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. To read Doug’s disclosure notice, click here. For travel ideas in Cleveland and around the world, check his Calendar of Events. To see his travel photo collection, see BardwellPhotography.com.

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