The Reeks District of Kerry is Ireland's adventure playground, with cycling, kayaking, horse-riding, surfing and climbing among the many activities on offer - so much so that we hand-picked it as one of our top destinations for 2019. Yet one of the best ways to explore the dramatic scenery of this southwest corner of Ireland is on your own two feet. These are some of the best walks in the Reeks District, of varying difficulty, with suggested places to refuel afterwards – a necessity on any good hike.
Route 1: Kells to Glenbeigh (14km/4.5hrs)
This section of the Kerry Way is long but fairly gentle, with great views over sea and shore. It follows the old butter road through some spectacular mountain scenery. Nearby peaks include Drung (640m), a gentle climb delivering sweeping views of Dingle Bay and the Blasket Islands. You can do this walk in either direction, but I was staying at the cosy Glenbeigh Hotel, so started by taking a taxi to start in the fishing village of Kells (not to be confused with Kells in Co. Meath!). The cab company knew exactly where to drop me, saving me a hard initial climb.
Where to eat
Rosspoint is a family-friendly restaurant overlooking lovely Rossbeigh beach, with good coffee, Guinness and a roaring fire. They have daily specials and a good selection of seafood as well as pub-grub essentials. The beach itself is popular for walkers when the tide is out. In Irish legend, this is where Oisín and Niamh Chinn Óir left for the “Land of Youth”, Tír na nÓg.
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Keel Uphill/Downhill (13k/3.5 hrs)
Start at the car park opposite the church in Boolteens (where you’ll find an information board), for this gentle walk around the village. It’s well signposted, mostly on very quiet country roads with little or no traffic. The first stretch goes through reclaimed marshland along the coast, so it’s very flat and pastoral. I saw plenty of birdlife as well as cows, sheep, donkeys and horses. The uphill half is optional but climbs about 100 metres into some striking mountain scenery and a bit of bogland with picturesque views of the sea, the Ring of Kerry and MacGillycuddy's Reeks.
Where to eat
Foley’s Bar near the magnificent Inch Beach is a traditional pub and restaurant with a high reputation for its food. I had fish and chips, but the seafood chowder looked equally good.
Caherconree is 825m high and makes for a long, steady climb with plenty of enjoyable views to take in whenever you stop for a breather. Park by the prominent sign on the single-track road from Camps, where you’ll happily discover you’re already at around 200m. The path up is well marked and the summit easy to see, until you realise what you're looking at is a false summit. This promontory at 683m holds an ancient stone fort that is the highest such one in Ireland. Carry on to the top for amazing views of the entire Dingle Peninsula, MacGillycuddy's Reeks, Tralee and the many other mountains around.
Where to eat
Sol y Sombra in Killorglin was a genuine surprise, a tapas restaurant and bar. This award-winning restaurant, set in a former church with soaring arches, melds traditional Irish produce with Spanish flair to create something a bit special.
Seefin Circuit (12km/4.5 hours)
This walk, starting and ending at Glenbeigh Church, runs mostly along farm tracks and country roads so quiet that grass and wild flowers up the middle. Seefin (493m) means “Seat of Fionn”, referring to Fionn mac Cumhaill of Irish legend – who is said to have chased the eloping Diarmuid and Gráinne here. From the top, you can see the sort of landscapes that inspired these epic tales, including mysterious Lough Caragh, and the mountains and valleys of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks and Slieve Mish. If you don't fancy the climb, the walk around the mountain is equally rewarding, whether for the beautiful landscapes or the endless variety of country cottages and small farms.
Where to eat
Carrig House sits on the shores of Caragh Lake and is an elegant hotel-restaurant with a warm family feel. Great seafood seems a constant in Kerry and this is no exception, with a wine list to match the high quality of the locally sourced food.
Carrauntouhil (12k/5-6 hours)
Ireland’s highest mountain, at 1,039m is easy enough for anyone of reasonable fitness but in poor weather or for the less initiated I’d recommend using a guide from Kerry Climbing. Their stories of local flora, fauna and history are well worth hearing, not to mention the reassuring experience. If you don’t fancy going all the way to the top, there are some shorter, well-signposted walks around the base, taking in two picturesque lakes. The most popular jumping-off point is Cronin’s Yard, which has a car park (€2 voluntary contribution) as well as a lovely tea shop and even showers.
Where to eat
Jack’s Coastguard Restaurant, Cromane. Celebrate a special climb in a destination restaurant. Jack’s is a former Irish seafood restaurant of the year and its oysters are the best I’ve ever tasted. It’s a destination restaurant, worth dressing up for, but as informal and friendly as you’d expect in Ireland.