Friday, July 12, 2013

The Ring of Kerry: Tetrapod Trails off the Beaten Track..

The Ring of Kerry is the most popular tourist route in County Kerry.  Big tour buses compete with cars and cyclists for views and space.  It is a 200km circular drive from Killarney so we set out eagerly in anticipation of a great drive.  We spend the morning in the town of Killarney first and packed a picnic lunch from the Wholesome Food Deli in town.

The Ring of Kerry is a bit of tourist trail but you can still find your slice of paradise by getting off the beaten trail.  The scenery is stunning and this drive well worth sharing with the tourist busses that make a beeline here – green hillsides dotted with sheep, lakes and waterfalls, the odd ruined castle or circle of standing stones, beaches and ocean views and once again views of those deserted Blasket Islands – of course this is a drawcard not just for travellers from afar but for the Irish themselves.   

We get off the trail to drive the Caragh Lake Circuit.  The trail is so deserted we wonder if we are lost!  The scenery is beautiful and the lakes glisten in the sunlight.  We find a lunch spot to enjoy our picnic. 
Our freshly packed sandwiches taste even better in this remote place - roasted chicken, salad and home baked ham…washed down with fresh lemonade - yum!  We’ve gone all out and purchased biscuits for desert, chocolate-coated almonds dipped in caramel; it’s hard to get more decadent than this. 

There’s a lot to see so we head back toward the main trail.  On the way two young backpackers hail us down.  I am happy to pick up backpackers in remote locations.  It is unlikely that someone with a 20kg pack has come out to this remote location to rob us blind.  As it turned out Bert and Sander were hiking the Kerry Way.  Yes, there are some (mostly Europeans) die-hard hikers who actually walk the 200+km trail over a 10-day period, carrying their food, tent, sleeping bags and clothes!  Sadly, Bert’s shoe has collapsed part way into the hike and while he has tied it up with some string it isn’t going to withstand the rigours of such a hike.  He tells us he’d like to find some super glue…we laugh…and advise him to get a new pair of shoes! 

Sander and he have split from their group of friends in the hope of getting a ride back to their rest spot for tonight – a campsite at Glenbeigh, a small village along the Ring of Kerry.  They’ve been here for over an hour and watched many other travellers drive past.  I wonder at the world we live in today.  So many people scared and afraid to trust each other, or give a helping hand to someone in need - even in such a remote place.  We reach their campsite and drop them off.  They are really thankful and wish us well and remark that today must have been their lucky day.

There are loads of little towns with magic names along this drive.  Killorglin, Cahersiveen, Portmagee, Ballinskelligs, Parknasilla…the list goes on.  Today we head across the ferry to Valentia Island.  My brochure says that even the Vikings didn’t have the heart to plunder this place when they called a thousand years ago.  It is a beautifully preserved place with pre-Christian remains, a radio station and dramatic cliffs but what intrigued us was the Tetrapod Trackway! 

In 1993, an undergraduate geology student came across these footprints when examining the rocks on this island’s coastline.  These footprints have now been dated to approximately 385 million years ago.  We read that this is the earliest record of when four limbed creatures began to leave the water and live on dry land!   Of course back then, Ireland did not exist, as we know it now.  In fact this land was actually south of the Equator, bordering a warm tropical ocean.  I read that it was a vast floodplain a bit like what Bangladesh is today – hard to comprehend!  

Once upon a time, a lizard like animal crawled out of the ocean and walked across the mud toward land.  The mud has now turned to stone and with the erosion that has taken place over time his footprints have once again seen the light of day.  There is a faint mark of a tail drag but we didn’t spot that. This is the oldest in-situ record in the world of a vertebrate walking on land.  Over time, animals such as this evolved to be mammals and eventually to be humans.  They left the ocean when plants evolved on land but we leave wondering why they left the abundance of what the ocean offered, to start life again on what might have seemed to be a far more inhospitable place…?  Perhaps just like us they too were curious about distant places and wondered if the grass was actually greener on the other side?

We have a splendid day on the Ring of Kerry.   We stop to enjoy another beach, reflect on our day and marvel at the wonderful scenery we have driven through.   Another spectacular day in Ireland but the changing light reminds us it must be time to head for home. 

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”   ― Albert Einstein

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