The Beare essentials

Tumbling cloud, waterfalls, Siberian warblers, the odd cyclist

If you're looking for wild peace, head for south-west Ireland. The coast beyond Tralee offers a chance to get off the beaten track. At Glengarriff, crowds of daytrippers and tourists stop to visit the lush Italian garden on Garnish Island, then pursue a well-worn path north to Killarney or south to Bantry. Between these towns lies the Beare Peninsula, overlooked and under-visited.

As Beare begins, the traffic thins out. You pass spectacular views across Bantry Bay, and away from the coast the Caha Hills begin to rise steeply, as if ironed for sharpness along their ridges.

As I cruised the car towards Adrigole, where the coastal road begins, the sky promised rain - what they call "soft" weather in Ireland - and clouds tumbled down the hillside to the sea, like a bundle of spilt laundry. Beare's wildness, the hunches and twists of the coastal highway, and its brooding, straggly terrain give the peninsula an elemental allure. There were no fraught motorists, nose-to-tail in second gear, and equally no horse-drawn caravan adventurers with their holiday dreams being poisoned in a slipstream of carbon monoxide.

At Castletownbeara, the only town, I found the tourist information hole- in-the-wall behind the main street. A spindly New Zealander with a backpack was asking the times of buses to Dursey, the wildlife island off the westernmost tip of the mainland. He'd be looking for the minibus, he was told. "Mind you, it won't run with less than six passengers," smiled the woman through the tiny kiosk window, and added, "The minibus owner won't trouble to give a departure time. In fact, it hardly runs any more."

The hiker hoisted his rucksack. But this being Ireland, he was not to be disappointed. "Maybe try Aldo," the woman said, and scribbled a phone number on a memo pad. "Say I told you. Aldo might take you in his car. It's a four-wheel drive."

I pictured Aldo ensconced in his driver's seat, embellishing frequent sightings of cairns and standing stones, plus the odd megalithic tomb, with the whisper of legend.

More intrepid travellers take to the open air. There is a breath-sapping hike up Hungry Hill, to the source of Ireland's highest waterfall. And there is a trickle of cyclists, scaling the coast road beneath the ridge of the Slieve Miskish mountains. Heads down, they pedal with a steady, indefatigable rhythm towards the rainclouds. Bikes can be hired from the Supervalu, Main Street, Castletownbeara, for pounds 7 ("perhaps a wee bit less" for children).

Snugly in my car, I headed for the Dursey cable car. I arrived just before the first afternoon crossing. A bedraggled handful of cyclists had made it there already, and were eyeing up the rickety, rusting, but clearly functioning contraption that swings its passengers (sheep and cattle, as well as humans) to and fro some 50 feet above Dursey Sound, between the island and the mainland. Perched on the outer edge of Europe, the remoteness of this area makes it a sanctuary for rare birds, and a twitcher's paradise.

Tiny fields fan out from the summit of the island to the cliffs, and are a haven for choughs and ravens, warblers from Siberia, and the spikey North American Oven Bird, its green plummage camouflaged by the undulating greenness. The tapering island, with its holy well and standing stones, is walkable, but exposed. Blurred by the mist, it takes on a looming, baleful aura.

Back on the mainland, and the route around Beare Peninsula unfolds a necklace of dazzling, clean, deserted beaches. It also offers one of the most arresting views in the west of Ireland as you gaze across the horn of sea and sand from the headland at Ballydonegan Bay. Minutes later, you may see a clump of cultivated red roses among rock and scrub, marking the place of a long-ago garden, the last sign of a family's erstwhile history and demise.

The road clings tenaciously to the seaboard, a switchback ride not for the car-sick, passing through Eyeries, a rainbow village with houses and pub almost luminescent, piercing the gloom of a drab afternoon.

Having completed the 88 miles of the circuit around the peninsula, the Ring of Beare, I gazed back westwards from Kenmare. The mountains of Caha and Slieve Miskish blended in silhouette, peak after peak, fringed by the sun's belated appearance. It was as if this was a benediction on a landscape of recalcitrant magnificence.

To the edge of Europe

The closest air and sea port is Cork. From here, if you do not have a car contact the Irish bus and rail company, CIE, in Dublin (00 353 1 836 6111).

Information facilities in the area are seasonal, and the Irish Tourist Board in London (0171-493 3201) suggests you contact the Cork and Kerry Tourist Office in Cork City (00 353 21 273251 from the UK).

Accommodation can be found from the B&B Guide, which costs pounds 2.50 (plus pounds 1.50 postage) from the Irish Tourist Board.

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