Located along the southern shore of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry – a world famous region of green rolling hills, dramatic lava-stone cliffs, stunning ocean views and a completely unreasonable amount of sheep – is the wildly touristic Inch Beach.
The Beach is a roughly five kilometres long, one kilometre wide stretch of land jutting into the Atlantic, where visitors can go for a swim in the bitterly cold water, get surfing lessons on disappointingly low waves, or pay sixteen Euros for some fish n’ chips at Sammy’s.
I had a different experience.
For a lack of anything better to do, and due to my poor ability to accurately measure distances, I decided I’ll just walk around the thing. Figured it’ll take me maybe an hour and a half, two tops (spoiler alert, it took almost five!).
So off I go down the waterline, the only person around wearing boots and jeans. Behind me, the beautiful green hills of the Peninsula. To my left, a wide stretch of white sands and grassy dunes further away. To my right, the ocean. Containing, with decreasing proximity: Laughing and shouting boys and girls gleefully running into the water to take a few selfies and then run back out before hypothermia sets in; A scattering of disheartened surfers sadly floating around or falling off their boards; And finally, a truly beautiful view of the ocean, reflecting the cloudy and dynamic Irish sky. In front of me, adventure!
Walking down the west bank of the Beach was uneventful but pleasant. I put on some beach music (Real Estate‘s eponymous album), and enjoyed the view and the weather. Southwards I slowly cruise, walking right on the waterline, pretending not to notice when the waves lap at my boots.
A slow calm sets over me as I breathe in the ocean air, and life is fine. As I go farther and farther down the Beach I see fewer and fewer beach goers around. Two bikers are driving around, filming each other, and I hope they do some stunts, a wheelie, a stoppie, but they don’t. Halfway towards the dunes is a carcass of a goat and I wonder how it got there and why.
Finally I arrive at the southernmost point of the Beach and I can see the towns and the mountains across the bay. The walk takes just over an hour and is soothing. A strong wind from the ocean is blowing fine sand across the rippled mud of the shore and it’s just sliding along, long white lines curling and slithering like a thousand white snakes.
I almost turn away but from the corner of my eye I think I see a head in the water and I do a double take. I get closer and I see it again, at first I think it’s someone drowning but it’s a seal. He’s looking straight at me, just floating there. He dunks underwater, pops up after a few seconds a short ways down the shore where the current drag him, his eyes still fixed on me. Dunks again, floats further down, emerges. Dunks again and I expect to see him still further down the beach but he surprises me, appearing way back up where I first saw him. He kept that going for a while, playing Whack-a-Mole with me. I wave to him before I leave and feel a little ridiculous.
I start heading north up the eastern bank and the view is rapidly changing. I get to a long expanse of sand completely covered in colourful seashells, yellow, white, blue, purple. I can’t help myself and pick some up.
After the seashells, swamps take over the landscape. The dunes are still there to my left but on this side, protected from the ocean winds, they are overgrown with grass and shrubs. The shoreline is covered with a layer of dead, black seaweed and mud, with small islands of grass growing in patches on top of it. Between the swamps and the hills is a quickly narrowing stretch of sand and I see tracks of small animals on it. I can see movement among the bushes on the dunes.
After about thirty minutes walk everything is green, and I put on Camel’s “Music Inspired by The Snow Goose” – it fits the landscape perfectly. Frightened birds take flight as I approach, and I see little bunnies running for the hills. They look like fat, squat loaves of bread with white fluffy tails.
There’s nobody around for miles but I can see horse tracks in the dark wet mud beneath the grass. At the foot of the hills is a goat skull, bleached stark paper white by the wind and the sun, only the skull and nothing else, like you see in Westerns. How does that happen? Someone should look into that.
According to my map there should be a bay cutting into the Beach and I would’ve had to walk all the way around it, but it’s turned into a vast marshland and I decide to head straight through it, make a shortcut. Vaguely I feel that it’s a mistake but I go ahead anyway.
The land is completely flat, with patches of deep mud that you can’t see until you’re right on top of them, and my boots sink and squelch into it. It’s hard walking and after a while I hit a ravine with a stream of muddy water running through it. I have to retreat inland until I can find a passable spot, and I still get black bile up to my boot heels.
I continue north, hit another ravine. It’s deeper and wider and I almost lose my footing trying to cross it, almost get a mouthful of mud. After about half an hour I’m just at the centre of where the bay should be and I can’t go any further.
I’ve reached an actual river, maybe ten meters across and the water running between the muddy banks is about a meter deep at the centre, my boots are filthy and there’s mud on my ankles and hands and I’m tired and I give up, decide to leave this treacherous land and head back to solid ground.
That whole marshland is criss-crossed with mud streams and creeks and on the way back I have to cross five more of them, sinking deep into the banks each time I try to pass.
It’s almost impossible to traverse unless you want a mud bath, and when I finally hit dry land I’ve been walking for more than three hours altogether, and I’m exhausted, and I ran out of water. I find a spot that looks comfortable and think to myself “this looks like a good place to have a cigarette and probably die.”
Lying down, smoking, looking up at the fast moving clouds above me I have to try real hard not to fall asleep. I’ve had quite enough of walking and I’m thirsty and hungry, so instead of continuing along the shore I decide to cut through the hills and dunes in the middle of Inch Beach, back to where I started.
Green and yellow fight for domination on the hills, there’s a million rabbit holes scattered all around, and my path takes me on sharp ascents and descents, sliding in the sand and grabbing the weeds for support.
It’s long, strenuous hiking but finally I reach an actual trail, and I can see the flags of the surf school in the distance. Man was I happy to see those flags. There’s a fence along the trail, and when I almost get to where the school and the restaurant and the people are I try to climb over it. I touch the fence and it fucking zaps me! Why would they put an electric fence there?
So I limbo under it, climb down the hill and at long last I’m back on the shore, back where I started. It’s been a long, beautiful day full of different landscapes and unique experiences. I’ve not so far seen anything in Ireland like the east side of Inch Beach, and it’s a hike I would definitely recommend to the adventurous traveler (and when I say adventurous I mean masochistic).
So bring a good pair of waterproof boots, plenty of water, some food, a hat, head down to Inch Beach and for fuck’s sake people, don’t litter.