There is a problem with suggesting a touring route around a land that has 5,000 years of man made features to distract the attention as well as a geology and natural history that has created a place of sudden and wonderful contrasts and a landscape of unexpected valleys, wide plains, rolling hills and a coastline so indented that, though Ireland is only 200 miles wide by 300 miles long the coast is 4,000 miles long, whilst the Scottish coastline excluding the islands is 7,000 miles long – the islands (there are 800 of them) add another 2,000 miles (compared the 12,000 miles of mainland USA).
In my youth when petrol was cheap and time limitless my friends and I travelled far and wide exploring every side road and bohreen, investigating every graveyard and ruined mansion, every pub and church, every wayside memorial and local legend. A journey of 60 miles on one occasion took 5 days. We know the countryside! What I am really suggesting is that it might be better to do 2 journeys of 10 days each in different years, but if you do intend to do Scotland and Ireland together then I would suggest 14 days would be needed to get a good flavour.
We would suggest something along the lines of the following itinerary.
It take in some stunningly unspoilt parts of the countryside and goes through mountainous areas, the rolling landscape of river valleys, and seascapes. You will be able to visit some of the finest gardens, historic mansions and splendid medieval ruins, as well as museums art galleries and wonderful little shops in the cities, towns and villages You will be in places where some of the best golfing, walking, fishing and riding is available and there are really outstanding restaurants in the areas that we would suggest for overnights.
With a pub to every 300 of the population you are never far from a convivial meeting place, often with impromptu music sessions. :-
Day 1 & 2
Arrive Dublin early AM. Explore the city.
Dublin has long been a centre of art and culture. Stroll through the elegant Georgian streets of Merrion and Fitzwilliam Squares, shop in the elegant emporiums of Grafton Street and Powerscourt Townhouse, explore the collections of the National Museum and National Gallery, the Irish Museum of Modern Art, and many fine small private collections. The range of art and artefacts is enormous, and you will have no problem spending many hours enthralled… The city is over a thousand years old, and many of the towns and settlements that surround it are equally ancient. Successive centuries have left their distinctive overlays of character and architecture which means that Dublin has a wealth of historically significant and fascinating sights to explore such as Dublin Castle, where the Normans ruled from the 12th Century, St Patrick’s Cathedral, of which Jonathan Swift was Dean, and Trinity College, famous for The Book of Kells and for its alumni who include Oscar Wilde and Oliver Goldsmith. And no visit to Dublin could be complete without visiting either the Old Whiskey Distillery or the Guinness Storehouse!
Tour to Kilkenny in the South east
The Wicklow mountains may detain you for most of the day if you explore Powerscourt House and gardens, where Barry Lyndon was filmed (now with an excellent shop and restaurant), and the valley of Glendalough where St Kevin founded his monastery in the 6th Century. However be sure to leave time to explore the west side of the Mountains – Russborough House, home of the Beit collection of old master paintings, Castleruddery Stone Circle, the mysterious fort of Rathgall, the gardens of Altamount, the brewery in Carlow..
From Kilkenny you should first explore the city, full of medieval laneways, inns with tales of witches, a great castle and of course lots of shops.
valley of the River Nore to Bennetsbridge, with its many craft workers studios, Thomastown with the Cistercian abbey of Jerpoint and the Jack Niclaus golf course on the rolling estate of the Earl of Carrick’s mansion, Mount Juliet (now a hotel) and Inistioge with its romantic gardens surrounding the shell of Woodstock House.
Tour to County Cork
From Kilkenny there are two alternative routes towards Kinsale, Head south, visiting the Kells Priory and mill, and stopping for a tour of Waterford Crystal (be sure to see the cathedral whilst you are there).
From there a very scenic road follows “The Gold Coast” through Tramore and Annestown to Dungarvan. Shortly after Dungarvan the church and holy well at Ardmore is a must see, as is the church in Youghal, where Sir Walter Raleigh worshipped. The famous cookery school of Ballymaloe, with its shell house and associations with William Penn, is just to the South of Midleton, home of Irish Whiskey.
Heritage centre presents a fascinating story of emigration to America and as you rejoin the main road to Cork the gardens of Fota Island and Barryscourt Castle should not be missed.
The alternative route brings you to Cashel, a limestone outcrop rising from the plain and crowned by the cathedral and round tower. The back road to Cahir, through Golden, will bring you past the riverside ruins of Athassel Abbey and the legendary Motte of Knockgraffon. Cahir has a huge castle in a fine state of repair and a wonderful “Swiss Cottage” built as a folly in the Regency period.
It is also a centre of antique shopping. From Cahir you should follow the road over the Vee, climbing high up into the Knockmealdown mountains (watch out for the sheep & the monster of Bay Lough!) and coming down into Lismore whose castle was for many years home to Fred Astaire’s sister Adele. From Lismore follow the Blackwater to Fermoy pausing to visit the Barry mausoleum at Castlelyons on the way into Cork.
You could spend a week exploring the Cork area and still not have seen all the highlights. The bells of Shandon, The English Market, and St Finbarre’s Cathedral & The Crawford Gallery are a few of the highlights of the city. Blarney Castle, with its eloquent stone is a short drive to the north. The town of Kinsale, gourmet capital of Ireland, is a place to spend a day. The Old Head golf course, south of Kinsale, is uniquely challenging being surrounded by cliffs that fall steeply down to the sea. Touring to the west you will find brightly painted villages, mad folk museums, amazing sub tropical gardens and host of craft workers, farmhouse cheese producers and enchanting cafes, bars and restaurants. As you carry on down the coast the golden beaches begin to disappear. By the time you reach Mizen Head the seascape is as wild as anywhere in the world with the Fastnet light flashing its warning in the distance. To the North are Mallow Castle, the gardens of Annesgrove, the forest park of Doneraile, and the remote Boggeragh Mountains.
Day 5 & 6
Tour to County Kerry
Bantry House is a delightful stop. The house, with its “staircase to heaven” gardens is a wonderful example of a landlord’s home and has a stunning collection put together by the 2nd Earl of Bantry who did well at Napoleon III’s bargain basement sale at Versailles. Pick up a picnic at Manning’s Food Emporium in Ballylickey and then visit Garnish Island, a garden with no house laid out in the early 20th century by the great designer Harold Peto to take advantage of the Gulf Stream. On the boat ride out there watch out for seals.
There are several boats going to the island but the prettiest harbour is definitely the Blue Pool, particularly when the rhododendron are blooming. The fearless driver should follow the Priest’s Leap road, a single track laneway across the mountains that comes down to Kenmare close to the Kilgarvan Motor Museum. Leave plenty of time for Kenmare, or even consider staying there – it has excellent pubs and restaurants, some beautiful shops, and a generally relaxed air.
Whether you stay in Killarney or Kenmare you’ll want to explore the three famous peninsulas of Kerry – The Ring Of Beara, The Ring of Kerry and The Dingle Peninsula. Each takes a full day of over 100 miles of stunning seaside with the mountains always beside you. Kerry is a land of contrasts – velvet green golf courses, empty golden beaches, rugged cliffs, exotic gardens, wild scenery, unchanged since the ice age, hidden communes of artists and writers, stone age monuments, and fish filled rivers and lakes. When going around the Ring of Kerry be sure to visit St Flanans Bay where the wild fuchsia carpets the countryside and the Skellig Chocolate Company for the best chocolate in the world. A very spiritual place is the shrine in the slate quarry on Valentia Island – take the car ferry from Cahirciveen and rejoin the mainland by the bridge to Ballinskelligs. On the Dingle Peninsula do explore the early Christian beehive huts and visit Louis Mulcahy’ s pottery. Fungi the dolphin is another must in Dingle – a wild dolphin who shows off for the fishermen. And if you seek complete tranquillity then explore the Ring of Beara, whose roads are too narrow for the tour buses so it has remained far wilder than the other peninsulas.
Day 7 & Morning of Day 8
From Kerry you’ll head up through Limerick, passing Rathkeale and Adare, a very pretty village and well worth a stop. There are three abbeys here as well as the Desmond Castle and the Trent Jones golf course surrounding the neo-gothic Adare Manor Limerick is a busy city and has several major attractions – the Hunt Museum in the 18th century customs house, King John’s Castle, St Mary’s Cathedral and the Georgian House on Pery Square. After Limerick head out towards Shannon, stopping off at Bunratty Castle and folk park on the way.
Overnight at a country inn in Clare.
Be sure to see Dysert O’Dea near Corofin, the sulphur Spa at Lisdoonvarna, St Bridget’s Well at the Cliffs of Moher, the Doolin Craft Gallery, the internationally renowned karst limestone habitat of the Burren, with its orchids, gentians and ragged robin, and stop for a drink in Kinvara, home of the Galway Hooker and of King Guaire the Generous, whose right arm was longer than his left from so much giving. If you stay on the main road through Gort then Coole Park with its autograph tree and Thoor Ballylee, home of the poet WB Yeats are worthwhile stops. Fly home from Shannon or continue your tour on to Scotland
Day 8 and Morning of Day 9
Head to the centre of Glasgow City centre and start your tour at George Square, a spacious piazza dotted with trees and flower-beds and surrounded by wide streets, which was also the heart of Victorian Glasgow. At its centre is the 80ft (24m) high column and statue to Sir Walter Scott who, in truth, had little to do with the town. The column had been intended for a statue of George III but his failure to preserve the American Colonies along with Glasgow’s lucrative tobacco trade, saw this favoured plinth given to someone else. Statues of Queen Victoria, Robert Burns and, the famous Scottish inventor, James Watt, surround Sir Walter, besides hundreds of pigeons. The influence of the great architect Charles Rennie Mackintosh is everywhere. Carry on to Glasgow Cathedral for stunning interiors with a history that dates back to roughly the 5th century.
On past The Barras at Glasgow Green to The Tenement House. ‘A real time capsule.’ Just one of the comments from visitors who’ve been captivated by a unique property – an early 20th-century Glasgow tenement frozen in time. This first floor apartment was the home of shorthand typist Miss Agnes Toward, who lived here for over 50 years. Little has changed since the turn of the 20th century, and you can see many of the original features such as the bed recesses, the kitchen range, coal bunker and bathroom. Listen to the hiss of the gas lights and the ticking of the grandfather clock and you’ll be transported back in time.
Overnight in the city.
Via the “Bonny Banks & Braes” of Loch Lomond, 23 miles long, Scotland’s largest lake, and through the sharp peaks of the Trossachs to Inverary, the hereditary seats of the Dukes of Argyll. The story of Scottish crime and punishment in Inverary Jail with reconstructed prison cells and torture scenes may or may not appeal. Oban is the main port for the Isles, and a colourful and charming place to explore. On to a B&B close to the mouth of Glencoe
By way of Glencoe and Fort William to Mallaig and the Ferry to Skye, with its distilleries. The cross the Kyle of Lockcash and back down to Fortwilliam for the night
By way of Drumnadricohit on Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle, jutting out on a strategic point into the Loch, which was blown up in 1692 to prevent Jacobite occupation. Drive through Inverness, the Highland capital on the River Ness to Culloden Moor which saw the last battle fought on Scottish soil in 1746, where the Duke of Cumberland defeated Bonnie Prince Charlie. Today the Battlefield is restored to its 1746 appearance. Stay near Granston on Spey in the heart of the Cairngorms.
By way of Blair Atholl, Pitlochry, and Perth to Edinburgh.
Day 14 Depart Edinburgh Airport.