If you’ve ever wondered what a Country Walkers Self-Guided Tour is all about, ask Ashlea Sullivan, Audrey Keene, and Haley Keene—three sisters who recently completed our Ireland: Cork & Kerry Self-Guided Tour. “With Country Walkers Self-Guided Tours, I love having a structure and a plan—plus the ability to control what happens next,” says Ashlea. “My sisters and I chose this trip because we wanted a degree of independence with solid insider connections and support. And that’s exactly what we got!” Along the way, many of Country Walkers’ Irish friends helped Ashlea and her sisters discover the hidden gems of the Emerald Isle on this Self-Guided Walking Adventure. Best of all, the sisters deepened their family ties—and made many new friends along the way.
Finding Their Home Away from Home
Ashlea recalls arriving at Gougane Barra Hotel and settling into a delicious welcome meal. As the staff cleared away the dishes, a distinguished Irish gentleman approached them with a stack of maps wedged under his arm. Neil, their charming local host, introduced himself and his wife, the hotel’s chef, and gave the sisters a run-down of the hotel’s history. Unfurling an expansive map, Neil demonstrated his outdoorsmanship and deep knowledge of the area—showing them details of their walking trails and providing useful tips on scenic trails, live music, and where to have lunch. “So, how do we get to the trail head?” asked Ashlea, as Neil’s finger traced the map’s edge of Gougane Barra National Forest Park. “Not to worry,” replied Neil, blue eyes twinkling. “We have a driver all arranged. A friendly bloke—when you’re done, he’ll pick you up again and bring you home. He’s done it many times—knows just where to meet you.” And with Neil’s expansive hospitality and deep insider knowledge, home is exactly where Ashlea and her sisters felt they were.
More Cowbell! Vincent Takes on the Herd
Ashlea remembers a crisp, clear dawn the next day—the Irish sun dancing off the lake, illuminating the granite edifice of St. Finbarr’s island oratory. Following a hearty Irish breakfast, the sisters gathered in the lobby to meet their driver. Vincent proved to be a tireless entertainer—regaling his passengers with local tales about the sights on the day’s walk. “Tell us more, Vincent,” said the sisters, piling back into Vincent’s van after their hike. “You want to see something really interesting?” he asked them—to an enthusiastic chorus in the affirmative. “It’s a bit of a drive, is that OK?” Everyone in agreement, Vincent started off through the center of town towards the mountains. But first, he stopped and pointed out a plaque—”Priest’s Leap,” it read. The car pulled out of town and wound its way through the mossy Irish countryside—passing stone walls and whitewashed cottages. Making its way up a precipitous, rocky outcropping, Ashlea’s fingers gripped the seat in front of her. The little car climbed slowly upwards—then stopped abruptly. Looking up, Ashlea found herself face to face with the befuddled aspect of a dun-colored cow—its curiosity evidently piqued by their arrival. Vincent laid on the horn. “Out of the road, you!” he sputtered, stuffing his head out the window and gesticulating at the bovine assembly. “Be gone!” As the cattle ambled their unhurried way across the narrow road, Vincent’s cow-chivvying antics kept Ashlea and her sisters rolling with laughter.
At the crest of the hill, lay an other-worldly landscape covered in mist. A carved stone bearing the inscription “Priest’s Leap, 1612-2012” was set into a stone rampart at the side of the road. Here, legend has it, a local priest on horseback, pursued by soldiers, made a tremendous leap off the mountains to land in the town far below. As the van wound its way slowly down the mountainside, Vincent regaled the sisters with local legends. Later, relaxing by the warm hearth of the Seaview House in Bantry, the sisters laughed about the experience. “We weren’t sure if it would be easy to meet local people on a self-guided vacation,” says Ashlea. “But it turns out the structure was all in place. It was up to us to choose what we wanted to do, and how far we wanted to go. Everyone was so friendly—just delighted to talk to us.”
Three Sisters Meet Their Mountain
Days on the Ireland: Cork & Kerry Self-Guided Tour passed in a flurry of adventure—with long coastal walks framed by rolling green hills, and evenings spent savoring freshly caught fish, brown bread and butter, and tangy Dingle gin. In each new town, Ashlea recalls meeting someone who revealed a new aspect of local culture—opening their eyes in unexpected ways. Pat, in Killarney, gave them a great tip on bike and boat rentals. “Give them my card, and they’ll take good care of you,” said Pat, handing Ashlea a crisp business card. “Ask for Ducks.” A friendly guide on Blasket Island gave the sisters the low-down on Irish music at Dingle’s Culture Night—a local performance they would never have found otherwise. But the best, perhaps, was Danny—the driver who picked them up after their walk in Dunquin.
“You’re sisters, right?” said Danny, putting the car into gear. “Would you like to see a special Irish tribute to sisterhood?” With everyone’s agreement, Danny turned towards the sweeping Brandon mountain range—among the highest peaks on the Dingle Peninsula. As the little car spun merrily along the strand, past ancient stone walls and white-washed villages, three orderly pyriform shapes slowly rose from the ridge along the coast. “The Three Sisters,” said Danny, gesturing towards peaks that rose like fins from the back of the ridge. “Just like you.” The sisters were enraptured. “It’s like we belong here,” said Ashlea to her sisters. “This is clearly a trip that was meant for us.”