Lonely Planet Writer

Just back from: the west coast of Ireland

James Kay with his son Harvey at the Skelligs Chocolate Factory. Image courtesy of James Kay James Kay with his son Harvey at the Skelligs Chocolate Factory. Image courtesy of James Kay

James Kay, Editor at Lonely Planet, recently returned from a road trip down the west coast of Ireland with his family.

Tell us more… My wife and I spent a week driving down the Wild Atlantic Way, covering the section from County Galway to County Kerry. It was our first big trip as parents – our five-month-old son, Harvey, gurgled encouragement from the back seat.

In a nutshell... In many ways, this is the romanticised Ireland of many people’s imagination: green fields, sea cliffs, colourful villages and impromptu gigs in cosy pubs if you’re lucky (and not otherwise engaged wrangling a nappy). The Wild Atlantic Way gives visitors travelling under their own steam a readymade itinerary with lots of stops along the route, and it’s diverse enough to satisfy all sorts of people.

Defining moment? Looking down upon the Atlantic from the top of Skellig Michael, a tiny island several miles off the coast of County Kerry. Christian monks built a monastery in this ultra-remote place and lived there for more than 600 years. It’s like an extreme version of St Michael’s Mount in England, or Mont-St-Michel in France; much smaller than either of those, but a far more dramatic example of religious asceticism.

The view from Skellig Michael, a monastery built on a remote island in the Atlantic. Image courtesy of James Kay The view from Skellig Michael, a monastery built on a remote island in the Atlantic. Image courtesy of James Kay

So, learn anything new? It is a truth universally acknowledged by parents that a car in motion has the magical power to lull a baby to sleep, even against its will. But on a road trip that is a double-edged sword: the peace is welcome, but binge-napping in the day can spell disaster at bedtime. So we tried to work around Harvey’s natural rhythm, hopping between points of interest whenever he had a snooze. This only works if you can make an accurate estimate of the drive time – and it’s not conducive to spontaneous stops. Be realistic about how far you can, or should, go.

You’d be a muppet to miss… If you’re interested in natural history (I am, intensely), or just hanker after something unique, seek out the Tetrapod Trackway on Valentia Island. It’s a trail of fossilised footprints left in a rock near the shore, which might sound underwhelming. But my brain whirred like an overheating laptop fan as I contemplated the implications: this is the signature in stone of a distant relation, the first vertebrate to haul itself from the sea on to the land 380-odd million years ago; before man, before mammals, before dinosaurs even, at a time when this spur of Ireland was part of a supercontinent in the southern hemisphere.

Fridge magnet or better? My wife has a long-held obsession with lighthouses. She spotted a canvas print of one at Dingle’s aquarium that doubles as a height chart. Henceforth, Harvey’s growth spurts will be measured in increments of lighthouse. We also made a shrewd investment in a series of sheep-themed place mats. As you do.

James Kay travelled to County Kerry with support from Tourism Ireland (ireland.com). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.