Our second day on the Dingle Peninsula was as outstanding and memorable as the first (click here to read), if that could be possible!
We had a plan which we were hoping the weather would not interfere with, so when I opened the hotel curtains in the morning, and the sky looked promising I was delighted. The first thing I wanted to do however was run. I had been dreaming about the miles of hedgerows emblazoned with blood-red fuchsia flowers, which we drove through the day before, and I imagined myself running between the rows as if in a giant winding maze.
It was so peaceful, just me and the ditch and the smell of the heavy morning air as I breathed in. The only cars on the road were laden with kayaks or bikes heading for the ocean or some mountain-y path. I felt like giving every one of them a big wave saying, “enjoy the day as much as I plan to!” I really felt like the luckiest girl in the world. The only thing on my agenda was fun for the next 48 hours!
After we all ate a monster of a breakfast at the hotel, the foremost thought on everyone’s mind was, a dolphin. Yes, we were sitting in the place National Geographic voted one of the most beautiful places on earth and the plan was to go out on a hired fishing boat with lots of other tourists to see a dolphin, namely Fungie, the Dingle Dolphin.
A quick history of Fungie goes something like this: in 1983 he was spotted in the mouth of the harbor by the lighthouse keeper, and he has been there ever since, interacting with whatever comes along, fishing boats, canoeists, divers and swimmers alike. Basically, this 500lb dolphin is the town’s pet who likes to accompany the local fishing boats in and out of the harbor, while also boosting the economy by way of tourists flocking to see this friendly mammal. We were on our way to the harbor to do just that, and I will admit to being excited about the excursion.
I had the pleasure of seeing Fungie once before in 1996 when a friend of my father’s took Dave and I out for our own private little meeting. He was a local fisher man, but had turned his boat over to the more profitable job of giving tours out in the bay. We sailed out to the mouth of the harbor and there he was, swimming around the boat and breaking the water to say hello. I remember fishing off the side of the boat for mackerel before going back in. It was something I always remembered, and now, here I was again about to see the same dolphin with my almost grown up children!
My daughter was beside herself with anticipation, while my son was almost complacent. I think he figured by his being “cool” it might do something to create a balance, seeing he was stuck with three boisterous women. The boat was comfortably full (about 20 people) and as we sailed out towards the mouth of Dingle Bay I detected French, German, Polish, and Italian chatter.
Then it happened. There was a boat across from us, and swimming alongside it was Fungie, leaping into the air before resuming to race the boat back towards the harbor. Everything changed from low conversations and politeness to squeals of delight. After a lot of cajoling by our determined boat captain, Fungie was finally coaxed over to our boat. With the help of a firm grip from June, my daughter leaned out into the spray, and Fungie appeared right in front of her eyes. I had never seen her face so contorted with sheer joy. My son looked at me with disbelief and laughed out loud. It was impossible not to fall instantly in love with this beautiful fish. I tried my best to get a picture of him in the air but the dolphin caught me off guard each time.
Incidentally, it turned out that the man at the helm of the boat was the son of the man who had taken me out over 15 years earlier. What a great start to our morning.
After a quick stop at a fantastic bakery (O Curnain Bakery: you have to stop there if you ever find yourself in Dingle), for pastries, and another stop for local Annascaul Sausages I had overheard someone rave about, it was off to Slea Head Beach via one of the most beautiful roads imaginable. The sun began to beat down as we drove which made the tenuous plan of cooking on the beach a definite possibility.
As we motored along we took all the time in the world to stop whenever we wanted to soak in a view, or if there was something of historical interest that peaked our curiosity. We did not have to worry about trying to find a place to eat, or stop for a cup of coffee and cake: it was all in the back of the car, ready to be whipped out at a moments notice.
Winding down the twisty road to Slea Head beach (the road ends literally on the beach!) was a bit of a nail-biter as the road was narrow with not much room to pull over to allow cars to pass. June being the fabulous driver that she is managed it expertly and parked a short walk down to the strand.
We did look a bit odd carrying a big grocery bag, a backpack with a frying pan sticking out the top, as well as a couple of beach chairs, shovels, a net, plastic buckets and towels across a large expanse of the beach, but I knew that the moment the scent of frying onions hit the air we would look like geniuses, not crazy fools.
We found a place against a giant rock with a great view of the ocean where I could keep an eye on the kids when they went for some fun in the waves. At this point June and I felt like experts. Within 5 minutes we had the picnic blanket spread, chairs in place, stove out and lit, chopping board and food prepped, and a glass of lovely red wine in our hands: Salute!
We took a moment to take it all in and take stock of the fact that we were the luckiest people in the world right at that moment. I am serious. I really needed to acknowledge that I was in a most spectacular place, with the Atlantic ocean right in front of me and massive sandstone rocks formed over 400 million years ago all around and high above me. These rocks gave the beach such a dramatic feel, the whole place seemed eerily primitive and almost unreal.
As I got down to the business of slicing mushrooms and cooking pasta, the kids explored the endless giant rocks, played in the freezing cold water and sailed their bright yellow hula hoop back and forth to each other. The sun began to beat down even stronger and there my sister and I were in jeans and long-sleeved tops. June was so hot she asked if perhaps stripping down to her underwear might be OK. I told her fine, but that she shouldn’t expect dinner or any more wine for that matter!
Dinner was amazing, but dessert was even better. We had custard creams (like a Napoleon), carmel squares and toffee cake with icing. The sea air left us all ravenous and there wasn’t a scrap of food left uneaten when we were done.
There was a great atmosphere running through the entire place, and there was no shortage of families enjoying the lovely day, doing everything from boogie-boarding, to sitting around with backs against warm rocks and enjoying company and chatter. I did notice several looks of longing cast towards my aromatic frying pan, and I was sorry I couldn’t invite everyone over for taste. Hopefully I spurred a few of them to come armed with food and a frying pan for their next beach outing.
On our way back to the hotel we tried to find the grave of a writer from the rugged Blasket Islands but were out of luck.
We did manage to find it the next day, but more about that when I conclude my blog on our trip to Dingle!