„May the road rise up to meet you,
and may the wind be always at your back“
As i walked through the duty free area at the dublin airport i found a spoon with this saying on it. I bought it because i loved the words and it`s kind of a family thing to bring spoons from places we visit in our lives. Several minutes later, i was already sitting in the waiting area of my departure gate, i couldn´t resist to look at it again. „May the road rise up to meet you, and may the wind be always at your back“...it fitted so perfectly on the roadtrip i made with my colleague and friend Max. I sat back, looked down at my hospital wristband which i got the day before and got released from 6 hours earlier and let my mind start to work and think about the past ten days. Obviously to many impressions to go over all of them in just an hour but i let the days rewind like a movie in my head.
I just came home in October from my first Ireland trip and still was flashed from the roadtrip along the west coast of the green island. My friend Max came up to me and said he would like to go there too and wanted some tips for his travel. Actually he not just got tips like „what to see“ or „where to go“ from me; on April 1st we both were sitting on the 8 o´clock flight nonstop to dublin. I can tell you that it did not need many words to make me go back to Ireland.
So there we were, one guy already been here and excited to see more of this island and one guy barely speaking english, never been so far from home and already overwhelmed by the dublin airport. We grabbed the car as fast as we could from the rental and went off. OK, we really did not came far the first day because we planned to see Dublin and Belfast. We more had a quick look into both cities than a real citytrip but we agreed not to stay much longer because it was simply a to busy place to be for two guys who were growing up in bavarian villages and beeing outdoors since their childhoods. All i can say for what i´ve seen is that Dublin and Belfast are definetly worth a visit.
On the next day our first intention after breakfast was to get in the car and do not stop until we reached the atlantic ocean. The irish country welcomed us with typical rough and strong winds with a mix of rain, seaspray and from time to time a glimpse of sun. But this can not hold back to adventurers with the will to explore. I remember an asian family in the car next to us, watching us with big eyes like „What the hell are they doing?“ as we geared up and were ready to go. We walked along the coast line, and look at that, it started to clear out a bit. Actually there was a spot at the end of the path we took with a massive rock in the water which reminds me of some sort of elephant rock, even when its not the „real“ one. On our way back we faced one more heavy rainfall turning into sleet but afterwards it became sunny the whole day. On the afternoon we traveled towards the Giant`s Causeway. A place you should have on your bucket list when you visit ireland. It doesn´t matter how many photos you have seen of this place, this natural wonder will takes your breath.
In the late afternoon we headed to our first sleeping place for the night in the car. In ireland it is not strictly forbidden to sleep in you car for resting. Be careful though because there are parking lots where its prohibited and some places will be closed for the night. Also make sure to have a place in reach where you can go to the toilet. Same counts for rubbish.
The first night outdoors was at Kinagoe Bay, a place i found on my first trip and it is one of the most beautiful bays i have ever seen. It has a big sand beach with rocks coming out of the sand surrounded by steep green hills going over into cliffs. If you are really lucky you can see seals sticking their heads out of the water to get air while hunting.
We woke up to a loud rumbling noice of high waves crashing onto the shore. After we had some bites of breakfast we were on the way to Malin Head, the most northern point of Ireland. What hit us there was way further than we could ever expect.
I felt it first in the steering wheel and thought to myself that this may be a really windy day. Windy actually might be a big understatement. The constant wind layed at about 50 knots and we actually do not know how high the gusts have been. All i can say is that we could lay back and did not fall over and we had a lot of fun with it. So to say: „...may the winds be always at your back“. As long as you know what you are doing it is „halfway“ safe. The biggest advantage in a morning with these conditions is that you are alone (and if i say alone i mean completely alone, not even birds were arround). The negative side of this weather is that you need to clean your lense every second or third photo because of the spray.
Wind was not the only thing we faced this day, every 15-20 minutes we had to deal with heavy rain and even sleet rolling in from the atlantic ocean. It never lasted long because of the high windspeed the rainclouds were gone after a max of about 5 minutes.
In total we spend about 2 to 3 hours there so you can imagine we were totally exhausted for the day. Back in the car we searched for the nearest open store or gas station, get some food and took a short break for an hour. We decided to make some distance and traveled towards our second BnB. We stopped from time to time at the coast line and at Fannad Head Lighthouse to move our feet until we finally arrived in Donglow, a little Harbourtown at the west coast.
Today the weather gods has been way nicer to us. It has been mostly sunny with some rain from time to time but much less than the day before. Our first place to go for the day is one thats not so famous but very beautiful: „The Sidney“ Memorial. Named after the ship Sidney which sunk in the bay of Port-Donegal. You can hike there but be prepared with good shoes for a steep ascend if you take the cliff to your right. But once up there you get rewared with amazing cliff views not so many people will see.
The next stop we made was at a place called „The Silver Strand“. I´ve been there on my first trip to ireland and it is one of the most beautiful beaches i have seen so far. Especially on low tide. Because the ground is so flat and only covered in sand you can walk for about 200 meters „into“ the sea. Just go down the stairs, put off you shoes and enjoy.
Rain rolled in in the afternoon. A bad sign for the first big target we had in our minds. The ongoing road takes you back more inland through some sort of „Highland“ and just before you come to the village we needed to go the road opens up into a breathtaking bayarea. Left and right of us the hills and in the middle you see green fields with a river in the middle which has been so blue that i can´t even describe it.
Teelin was not our main target but it contains the starting point for the next hike we made. In this village lays the start of Pilgrims Path, a path that leads up to the top of Slieve League. At first you walk on a graveld path for about 2 km slightly upwards to something that looked like a mountain from the backside. It is not steep at all, and the view into the valley when you turn around is absolutely amazing. After you crossed some streams and said hello to many sheeps you will come to the end of the path. and i literally mean the end. But you have a sign which i love the most: It tells you to find your own way (of course at your own risk). Now there are two ways you can take; One leads left through a stone/rock field straight up to the top or you just walk further on upwards „One Man`s Pass. The second and longer route will reward you with a lake just on top of the mountain. Because of the weather situation we took the shorter route but you should know where to put your feet. As we got closer to the top the wind started to pick up speed and we felt that we came closer to the top with a storm in our back rolling in.
We reached the top and then... I think we both stopped breathing at the same time. I´ve seen a lot of views in the alps or Teneriffe on the 3700 meter high „Teide“ with lava fields but starring down a 90° wall of more then a half kilometer into the dark blue atlantic ocean is just breathtaking. And so far we did not looked left and right. Actually we did not have time becuase of the weather. A bit to our left we saw a rock formation we could hide in. Expecting to face heavy rainfall and getting surpised with snow in april is also something sepecial. We waited till it has passed us and we went back to the top. Still flashed we now enjoyed the view from one of europeans highest cliffs, a moment i head in my mind since the last trip but couldn´t make it back then because of the weather. We sat there for about 30 minutes before we hiked further on downwards, right on the cliffs edge. I actually don´t know how often we stopped and turned arround. The complete hike took us about 5 hours i think and yes i actually think it makes a difference between hiking up from the backside than on the front. Make the backside first, the surprise on the top is greater then drive with the car to the tourist parking lot. As we arrived back at the car we both were in silence before we started our drive to the nex sleeping place.
Light rain is dropping on the roof, the sound of waves hitting the beach and the noice of seagulls coming from the sea and the cliffs. I could wake up to all of this every morning. While sleeping in our car seats every second day you may imagine that we not slept very long so we always woke up with the nature that surrounded us. We were alfway through the roadtrip so the decision was made to use this day to take a break. We found ourselves in Keem Bay, the very end of Achill Island, in front of a beach that`s surrounded by a hill with steep cliffs on the backside.
We did a little hike during the sunrise, but we only see the sun once because we had thick clouds above us. Just now and then the sun came through a view holes. We planned to hike the whole hill but heavy rain was coming in and forced us to turn arround. Feel free to go there with good weather, the view in my opinion is one of the most amazing ones in ireland and you can also find leftovers of an old fisher village on the beach. We were waiting in the car for the rain to move away to go an a second hike but sadly there was no better weather in sight on the radar. We used the day for driving further south and cross the middle of the wild atlantic way. Also we had to reach the BnB for the next night. If you ever come along a beach called Emlagh Beach then stop there. We found it by accident but this one was reminding me of the carrabean. Well, its obviously colder than the carrabean but it is a big beach, over 1 km long and wide and with small green islands in front of it. Make it there at low tide, its so flat that the incoming waves roll for 100 to 200 meters. So be carefull with your clothes and shoes, they may get wet.
Tully Cross has been the next village we woke up to. From our room we could see the beaches we´ve been before and the mountains just beside us. „We could“ so to say was true because we did just the they before but now it was fully clouded and rainy. Not a good sign for our todays plan. We finally arrived in the first mountains of ireland and were not able to hike them. Frustraded we walked to the hotel (which the BnB belongs to) for breakfast. This immediatly raised our motivation and vanished the frustration in us. Actually every irish breakfast do this.
We payed the bills for the night and moved on with Plan B for today. As the rain got stronger the hope for a good hike has been gone completely. So we killed some kilometers to reach a place i first wanted to avoid. Don´t get me wrong here, the „Cliffs Of Moher“ are truly a wonderfull place but it is crowdy as hell. It seems that all tourists who are visiting ireland meet up there. Yes we are tourists too, i can´t deny that but it is really overrunned by people. For me as a landscape photographer i mostly like to search for more unique places, far away from the hotspots. After ten minutes we were so surrounded with people we wanted to give up but curiosity kept us going and today i am more than glad that we did. I will tell you what and were we found ourselves at the end but i do not recommend you to do the same.
What i say now counts for day 8 as well es for this one. Max and i are two guys who are trained in steep hikes in the alps, also in climbing and we are well aware of how far we can go and when it gets to dangerous to move on.
At the eastern end of the cliffs you find an old watchtower were you can walk arround and down a bit on the backside. It is off the crowded path on the cliffedge above and almost calm. But harsh screaming sounds reached our ears besides the wind and the waves crashing onto the cliffs. Absolut curious about where this came from and what caused it we went down more and then we saw something we both have never seen before. A colony of common guillemots were nisting just beneath our feets in the cliffs.
Now we were fully excited to get a closer look. Leaving our backpacks behind, mounted my camera on the big tripod and we started to descent. In the end we were about 20 to 30 meters above waterlevel, there was also a possible way we could go further down but didn´t we risk it at this point. From here we got a great view of this colony and it was pretty massive. Hundreds of this fast flying divers filled every little piece of the rocky surface. Incredible to witness this wonderful creatures undisturbed in their natural habitat. This was another big highlight along the way and a great reward for keep on moving and not to give up because of the people. We stayed until the sunset before we started searching for a place to sleep.
This day was a real special one to me, i dreamed of this place where we go next for a long time. Arround lunchtime we stood on a pier with some boats and four other people and waited for our skipper. An old man arrived, maybe in his 70s´, thin with a short grey beared in his face. Just like you imagine an old captain whos talking about seafarer stories in an irish pub. He was a funny guy who spend more than 50 years of his life on the sea. He prepared us with instructions and lifevests and then we sailed out into an sea adventure.
About 11km of deep dark blue water layed in front of us. As we left the small fjord the wind picked up and the water became a bit rougher but it wasn't bad at all. As further away we moved from safe land the less birds we saw until there was non anymore. I thought to myself; ok, now you are definetly out in the atlantic oc... „Shark!!!“ we heard the skipper scream. I stood up immediatly but i wasn´t fast enough. The skipper made a sharp turn to avoid collision, the boat faced back to ireland and then we saw the shark right beside our boat. Basking sharks are massive fishes and counts to the biggest of their species. They are plancton eaters and travel just beneath the water surface for feeding. Thats a good thing, at least for us, because while doing this you can see their beautiful back pattern and the fin sticking out the water surface.
Because the moment did not last long i turned arround to my seat and then i saw it; the Skellig Islands. The place i missed to see on my first trip, mostly known now by Star Wars but for me its more about the animals living there. Little Skellig was the first one to appear and in the distance we could see the upper half of the island in a white shimmer. The numerbus of birds promptly was growing again. First we saw bigger white birds i didn´t know yet, the skipper told us later that these are northern gannets and we now are closing in to their nistig place in spring time. Now it came clear to me, the white shimmer on top of Little Skellig were not snow but thousands and i really mean thousands of birds. I was totally overwhelmed by what we´ve seen. The population of northern gannets are somewhere between 10.000 and 20.000 birds. Still no sign of the bird i wanted to see but like an excuse for that there were seals laying on the rocks in front of the the island. These two islands contain so much wildlife on and arround it, unbelievable.
As we circled arround the flank of Little Skellig the bigger Sekllig Michael came in sight. We were already speachless, the sky and sea arround was full of life. Then Max told me to shot a bird in the distance which he ment could be the bird i am looking for. First i was like; Yes for sure, no thats not. He said i should take a look at the picture and zoom in. Damn he was right, in the mess of all these birds he made out the one i wanted; a puffin. Finally after so much waiting and seeing lots of photos i could shoot the birds by myself. I had no pressure to shoot them, i am not signed to any company or something else but as i framed the puffin i had the feeling that a weight has fallen of from me. All the planning and searching for seeing them the last days traveling along the coast it has been like a relief for me. As we arrived at Skellig Michael we all were so excited, flashed, happy, amazed and so many more words you can find. We didn´t land on the island, at this time the governmet is not allowing the comapny to bring tourists on the island. I am truly glad that the irish gouvernment is watching so much after the animal habitats and their country in general. This was by far the best boat trip i ever made. As we came back we were soaked by the rain and fell dead into our beds in the BnB. What a day.
What more to come you will think, just wait for day 9 and 10. But first to our way on top of ireland. The conditions for a hike into the mountains of ireland were another time not the best. Cloudy weather with some spots of blue in it. A bad sign because we know that the peak will be in the clouds. Nevertheless we drove from the BnB over the Ballaghisheen Pass (worth a visit, not crowded and a great view) towards Carrauntoohil, with the height of just above 1000 meters the highest mountain in Ireland. For two mountaineers it is almost like: We can not fly home before we climbed the highest mountain of the country.
Packing all the gear we needed and off we went. At first you need to walk a gravel path upwards to a little lake. It is the entry into the hiking path, you can choose between to ways. Both are pretty hard, and the left one is even the hardest i think. We took it because it had less clouds and seemed to be the saver route on this day. I only can recommend you to take a guided tour because you easily can loose track and we almost did several times. If you are afraid of heights or not good in hiking it is better to leave this mountain behind. It can definetly be dangerous when you not know what you are doing.
The route first took us more on the backside of the valley before it startet to ascend onto the first of five peaks we had to make before the real one. The first three where pretty easy, loose trail surface but no problem at all. The fourth took a bit more effort because we went into the clouds upwards a lot of rocky fields. Afterwards you need to descent to the fith before we finally can hike to the top. This one was by far the most exhausting one. It was a mix of hiking, tightrope and free climbing. After four long hours we finally stood at the top of ireland. It has been windy like in the first days but it really didn´t bother us after this hike. It was good for us because the cloudlevel raised higher in the end and we had a great view. It has been such a relief for us, we planned all this from the first day on and now we stood there. You can see in the upper picture two lakes. At the end of the bigger one you can make out a stream ending in another more hidden lake; Thats where we started.
On the evening we reached the final point of Wild Atlantic Way. We traveld all the way from the north to the south in just 8 days. Sadly a closed door kept us away from the real end a few hundred meters away. Both of us had the thought to climb over the hip high fence but we did not want to break any law. Would have been a great shot from the cliffs because it was the first real sunset we had.
Day 9 & 10:
The next tow days were a bit off plan, so to speak. In the morning of day nine i felt very sick and after 15 minutens of drive we had to stop. I had to vomit on the roadside and passed out for several seconds. Max immediatly came out of the car and woke me again but i could barely move and were not able to stand up. He called the ambulance and i got transported to the hospital. The doctors ment, after some tests in the afternoon, it might have been something a ate the day before because they couldn´t find any pathogens. They wanted me to stay for the night because i also suffered from exsiccosis (strong dehydration). I knew that we had to catch a plane the next day but i couldn´t resist to stay. We managed to cancel and get a new BnB for Max within just an hour so he also had bed for the night.
On the last day i got released from the hospital 6 hours before our flight but we still had a distance of bit more than 4 hours to drive and also we needed to bring back our car. At least if eveything works fine we are not to late. So we raced back do Dublin in 3 h 30 min because there were almost free motorways and had enough time get rid of the car, jump on the bus to the terminal, checking in and get into the duty free area for some very late “breakfast” which i badly needed, some souvenirs and finally relaxing at the gate before we boarded the plane home.
These ten day has been full of impressions, long drives, not much sleep, stress, pain, relief, excitment, ups, downs, wind, sun, rain, snow and many many more words that could describe this trip of our lifetime so far. I want to thank Max in the first place for his patience with me taking photos, guiding me on the mountain hikes, staying with me as i had passed out and especially for making me go back to ireland. Thanks to all people in the BnB for beeing so kind to us and for the enormous breakfasts and some real funny moments. Also thanks to the National Ambulance Service Ireland and the Bantry General Hospital, you treated me more than just well, looked after me every 30 min to 1 hour, and always beeing kind and friendly with a smile. Special thanks to the holder of Grey Gables Farmhouse B&B (Air BnB), she canceld our reservation while i was in hospital and managed everything with booking.com for us.
Thank you for reading,
Olympus Om-D EM5 II, Om-D EM1, Haida Filters, K&F Concept Tripod, Jack Wolfskin, CMP Clothing, Fjäll Räven, Salomon, Deuter Backpacks
Hertz Rental, Dublin Airport
Glendaoch BnB, Dunglow Inisin Ocean View, Baywatch Tully Cross, Final Dimension Kerry, Aran Lodge Bantry