Sarah Poole discovers the perfect blend of town and countryside - and even learns a bit of history in Killarney
CLOSE your eyes, feel the warm breeze stroke your face, hear the gently sound of water lapping around you, take a deep breath and feel the pure clean air fill your lungs. Now open your eyes. All around you, mountains frame Killarney’s Lower Lake and light and shadow dance across them to a silent tune. They show off every hue of green.
As I sit in my kayak in the middle of this great expanse of water, I can’t help but think there is something invigorating and magical about this part of the Emerald Isle.
Jaunting CarsFed up with the bumper to bumper crawl up the M6 on a Friday evening to the Lake District, I decided to leave the car at home, in search of a new weekend getaway. I swapped the petrol fumes for the aromas of perfume in the Duty Free shop and hopped on a plane to Ireland.
County Kerry is just an hour flight time from Manchester, but as soon as you step off the plane and onto the tarmac, it feels a whole world away. The stresses of the week melt away and all is calm in the countryside.
I had heard all about the warm Irish welcome and I was not disappointed when I checked into the family-run Randles Court Hotel in Killarney. It is only 15 minutes drive from the airport and no time is wasted getting the weekend started. Charm and elegance ooze out of this Victorian building with sumptuous fabrics and antique furniture decorating the corridors. My room was light, airy and comfortable but with a tempting view of the mountains beyond the town, I was almost running out of the door to go and explore.
Ross CastleWhile the men in our group headed out for the afternoon to Killarney Golf and Fishing club, home of the Irish Open and one of 42 courses in the region, the girls decided to squeeze (and it was a tight one) into wetsuits and have our own adventure on the Killarney Lakes.
It is easy to forget Ross Castle Island is only five minutes drive from the bustling town centre. It’s like stepping back in time with the 15th Century ruins standing proudly on the edge of the water. This place exudes peace. Even the guards surrendered without a fight when Cromwell’s army came across the water to take the castle.
After getting to grips with the ins and outs of how to handle our kayaks and performing a few inelegant star jumps as a warm up, we venture out onto the lake. It is perfectly tranquil, set amid the mountains, with the tops shrouded in mist.
Aside from the odd fisherman sat quietly, his line cast, we are alone with nature. We paddle through limestone caves, past old copper mines, now lost to the water.
“This island is where prisoners were chained”, our guide, Barry, from Outdoors Ireland, tells us, pointing to an outcrop of rock in the middle of the lake. The history continues as we dock our kayaks at Inisfallen Island, once a leper colony.
Killarney Lakes viewWe get an opportunity to make contact with land again and discover the ancient ruins. There are screeches of delight when our guide pulls out a flash of hot tea and mint chocolate, which we savour, while hoping to catch a glimpse of the white-tailed sea eagles that have been reintroduced here or spot some of the native red deer.
The romantic landscape has attracted poets like Tennyson and Wordsworth, but undoubtedly the most famous visitor was Queen Victoria. The royal party was entertained at Muckross house by the Herbert family. There was no ‘60 minute makeover’ getting this house up to scratch. It took years of preparation just for one night. It is believed this lavish redecorating contributed to the financial difficulties suffered by the Herberts, which eventually forced them to sell the house.
It does feel like history has been frozen in time walking through the period rooms. Even if you don’t go into the property take a stroll in the mature gardens. They really are spectacular and local legend has it, the last private owner of the estate, Arthur Rose Vincent, was buried standing up on a hillside overlooking the grounds so he could continue to appreciate the landscape below.
You can continue to sample what life was like in the upper classes by taking a jaunting car around the estate and into Killarney National park, or as we chose to do, walk off lunch with a short trek to Torc Waterfall.
Torc waterfallIf you’re into trees this 10,000 hectares of woodland is an arboretum that’s certain to delight, although the park is battling invasive rhododendron that’s threatening to take over. Don’t expect to have the waterfall to yourself however, as tourists and professional photographers bustle to get a shot of this picturesque site. We got our snap, and after a few “ooohs and aahs” gazing at the fast flowing water smashing onto boulders below, it was time to escape the crowds.
Killarney itself has an old world charm that’s been given a modern brush-up. It’s spotlessly clean, but that has something to do with the town’s ambitious effort to try and win this year’s ‘Tidy Towns’ competition. Don’t be surprised if you see people merrily painting lampposts early in the morning, or neighbours tending colourful window boxes.
This is serious stuff. Everyone knows everyone here and it doesn’t take long to start feeling like a local. I was stopped twice on my Sunday morning stroll by a couple of friendly folk after a chat.
There’s no better way to round off the day’s walking than with a hearty meal and Killarney has an abundance of good restaurants. We headed to the West End House with its romantically cottage-like rooms. This listed building offers an intimate atmosphere but there’s also a relaxing buzz about the place.
The menu matches up to expectations with imaginative dishes, seasonal and locally sourced. The constants include seafood from Castletownbere, Kerry mountain lamb and local beef with a good wine list to match. Not quite ready for the weekend to end we headed to The Lane End bar and planned our next weekend trip here over a couple of, rather potent, but very drinkable cocktails.
Sarah Poole flew to County Kerry Airport with Aer Arann. The service currently operates four days a week on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays. Between 23rd July – 3rd September there will be additional flights on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Prices start from £39.99 one way, including taxes.
Randles Court Hotel Killarney
Randles Court Hotel Killarney is one of the most luxurious 4 star hotels Killarney, just five minutes walk from Killarney Town Centre.
Kayaking on the Lakes of Killarney
Spend a relaxing morning or afternoon exploring the deep, sparkling Lakes of Killarney by kayak or canoe, with an expert guide.
Killarney Golf and Fishing Club is home to the 2011 Irish Open, having achieved huge success in hosting it in 2008.
Muckross House – http://www.muckross-house.ie
Ross Castle Traditional Boat Tours - Innisfallen Island
Boasts leave Ross Castle regularly from 9.30am. It takes 10 minutes to get to the Island. On the Island are the ruins of the 12th Century Innisfallen Monastery. There are also 21 acres to be explored. Last boat leaves the island at 5.00pm.
West End House Restaurant
The Lane Café Bar
For a wealth of information to plan your getaway have a look at Killarney Tourism http://www.killarney.ie/tourism.php
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