My wife, daughter and I have just returned from 16 days in Ireland and England. We decided early that we would not rent a car and drive ourselves as we had never driven on the left side of the road, right side of the car, etc. and realized that we’d spend far too much of our limited time stressing over and focusing on driving rather than incredible scenery of the Irish and English countryside. So that left us with a choice among the types of guided tours that were available in each country.
For Ireland we made what turned out to be a perfect choice to go with Overland Ireland and to design the structure of our 7 day trip to Ireland ourselves, working together with Overland. From day one when I reached out to them, they were all about communication. After some back and forth and dropping a few options here and there, we decided on an 7-day itinerary that started in Dublin and ended at Shannon Airport. We flew into Dublin from the US and the next day, our Overland Driver showed up at 9:00am. We knew that is name was Eoin and the folks at Overland, especially Leah, had expressed excitement about our trip and its open, not overly structured form. This allowed for us to improvise as we went along, and from the beginning Eoin was more than up to the challenge. As soon as we met him we knew we had found a kindred spirit and soon learned that his love for travel and knowledge of Irish history and the land itself were exactly what we were looking for. It was clear that he was a kindred spirit with a gift for gab and a wonderful sense of humor. He also showed up with a Mercedes Coach that had room for 10 travelers…we were 3. So, there was plenty of room and it provided us with a wonderful view above the hedges that border the narrow Irish country roads. It is an amazing thing to ride in such a vehicle on the narrow Irish roads, especially when a bus is coming towards you. Never once did we doubt our safety, and the decision not to do the driving ourselves was reinforced continually!
From Dublin we went to Glendalough National Park and the Wicklow Mountains where we hiked through St. Kevin’s monastery and surrounding trails. We spent 2 nights at a B&B called Lough Dan house, a rustic farmhouse mostly used primarily by backpackers and hikers. The owners were delightful, the beds comfortable and the breakfasts wonderful. Our second day, at Eoin’s suggestion, we visited Avondale. We got there just as they opened and walked high into the trees using the famous platform before many people arrived. We had it to ourselves. An incredible experience. Then we hiked the Ballinastoe Woods and surround trails and hills. One word (of many) that comes to mind when traveling the Irish countryside is ‘stunning’, and we used it dozens of times per day.
After Wicklow we headed to Killarney and Killarney National Park for one night, visited Ross Castle and biked around Muckross House and its amazing gardens. This was the only rain that we experienced on our trip in both Ireland and England and it was a lovely rain that we actually welcomed. We stayed at a wonderful B&B called Applecroft. A beautiful place with wonderful and helpful owners and breakfast was excellent!
From place to place, as we drove, Eoin would call out that there was something cool to see in the neighborhood – a castle, a view, a park – this was exactly what we’d hope for and made the next part of the trip even more wonderful.
We left Killarney for the Ring of Kerry and the Skellig Ring. An overwhelmingly beautiful drive that included at least one very nice (though exhausting – remember there are lots of very steep hills) hike and a visit to Waterville and the statue of Charlie Chaplin, who had lived there. Finally that day we came into Dingle where we had a great inn – Base Dingle – and excellent food and music. On our second day in Dingle we biked and hiked to the Eask Tower – a great way to experience Dingle and the views of the countryside and ocean and islands are stunning. Later that day we had an early dinner and then did the Slea Head Drive in the late afternoon, pre-sunset light…I have no words that do this experience justice…but several hundred photos come close.
The next day we headed to the amazing Cliffs of Moher (or Cliffs of Insanity for Princess Bride fans) and then to Doolin where we boarded a ferry to the closest of the Aran Islands – Inisheer (Inis Oirr). This was a completely different experience. The weather was perfect, very breezy and clear and the light had an entirely different character…this being the smallest island, we were able to bike around it completely after a great lunch at a local pub. Afterwards we headed to Ennistymon where we stayed at Falls Hotel & Spa, which was very nice as well.
The next day was our last day with Eoin. We headed south towards Shannon but not before visiting Bunratty Castle and Folk Park. Bunratty was a surprise for me. I was skeptical at first, but it is an extremely interesting place and Eoin’s knowledge of it and the lifestyle of the people during the Castle’s heyday, brought it all very much into focus and to life. One of the visitors walking into a hut where Eoin was regaling us of his knowledge thought Eoin was a wax figure and part of the cottage’s decoration! Needless to say that got a pretty big laugh.
And then it was over. We were at Shannon airport. As with any amazing experience, parting with the folks involved is tough…and of course it is…but leaving Eoin was particularly hard for us. An amazing and generous man, a truly wonderful guide and a confident, sensitive and safe driver. We could not have hoped for a better outcome. Same goes for the entire team at Overland. We still have a lot left to see of the Irish Countryside…we would work with Overland again in a heartbeat!