Friday, 29 January 2010
Around Dingle with a Paunch
The Dingle peninsula in South West Ireland reminded me of Cape Town’s breathtakingly rugged beauty. The mountains run like a crocodile’s spiky-spine down the peninsula giving way to emerald seas on either side. And much like Cape Town the weather varies on either side of the ridge, depending on how fickle it’s feeling that particular day.
Dingle also shares Cape Town’s love of relaxation. There’s almost a Spanish feeling of “mañana” that glides into life here. Life in dingle is wonderful. The food is fantastic. The surfing is awesome. The golf courses almost unrivalled (but don’t tell a Scotsman). The only two things that are different from Cape Town are the extortionate costs and the weather. We've made this video to bring our experience to life...
Things to do in Dingle:
Go to Blasket Island. It’s the most westerly point in Europe apparently. And is uninhabited apart from a few prestigious sheep and a colony of very smelly seals who guard the coastline like a fleet of U-Boats. The scenery is staggering. It would make the most amazing place for either Blofeld’s hideout or a Mr and Mrs Smith shag-pad hotel. Just beware that the ferry costs a lot. But it’s worth it. It makes you realise why Blasket Island lamb is so special.
When you drive back along the Irish equivalent of the Big Sur, stop off for an amazing afternoon tea at an artist’s studio. She only opens when she feels like it so if you see the "open" sign propped up against the porch hit the brakes and dive in.
We were served delicious apple pie, wicked bread & butter pudding and scones with a pot of tea overlooking the most idyllic stretch of coastline you’ll ever find.
Go fishing in Dingle. The fishermen are very happy to take tourists out for a spot of fishing. We had a whale of a time catching mackerel, pollack, sand-eels, sea bass and pouting. Given my track record with a rod in my hands, I was very worried that I was going to reel in “Fungi the Dolphin” which would have had the residents of Dingle lining me up for a keel haul.
Not only did we get to take our impressive catch home with us, but our skipper also rapidly gutted them all as well.
We then drove back over the spectacular Connor Pass and barbecued our catch on the beach with plenty of salt and pepper and a squeeze of lemon. I’m convinced that fish doesn’t get any better than this.
Horse riding is very popular in the Cowie household and arguably even more popular in Dingle. Hacking across the wide open beaches, with the salty wind in your hair you can pretend you are training Red Rum for the Grand National. There are plenty of horse riding schools to choose from. Just take your pick.
If you are into hardcore endurance sport then sign up to the Dingle Triathlon. As a veteran triathlon spectator I can tell you that the setting for this one is charming. Participants swim across the bay before cycling into the hills and then run around the sand-dunes. It makes for a more natural experience than romping around Dorney Lake, Docklands or Blenheim Palace.
Go surfing. The beaches around Castlegregory never let surfers down. All you need to do is pitch up, grab a board and a wet suit and imagine you are Keanu Reaves in Point Break. It is the ideal way to spend a morning before heading to the pub for lunch.
God created Dingle specifically to be his golfing playground. Tralee and Ballybunion are two of the world’s best golf courses. And Waterville isn’t bad either! I played them many years ago and can’t wait to return to challenge the course record (for number of balls lost). This time we played at the Dingle Links which is a stiff challenge and at Castlegregory which is only a 9 hole course. Both are very good, but if anything the shorter course is better. If it was 18 holes it would be one of the best in Ireland. But I am delighted it isn’t because it was quiet and calm enough to teach Cowie on.
Lark around on the beach. The beaches flanking the Dingle Peninsula are staggeringly beautiful when the sun is out. The sun dances on the icy water and the sand seems to stetch all the way to America. Our dogs loved the open space whilst Cowie and I enjoyed foraging for mussels, hitting golf balls and playing cricket.
We had a very indulgent time but focused mainly on eating at home rather than splashing out on restaurants because the exchange rate is crippling.
We had an impressive meal at Paddy’s Cottage which far exceeded our modest expectations. It looks like a cross between someone’s house and a petrol station. But fortunately it boasts a galley manned by a Frenchman and his son with the wife looking after the diners. Warm duck salad and gratinated mussels were pretty decent to start with, but it was the “hake a la Grenobloise” that set the evening alight. The double cutlet of hake yielded perfectly to reveal pristine white flesh bound by an assertive lemon and caper sauce studded with softened croutons. I’m very keen to give it a go myself after learning the recipe from the young chef.
When you are in Dingle itself, you’ve got to go to Murphy’s Ice Cream and Dessert House. Their brown bread ice cream is to die for. And their waffles are worth living for, especially when slathered in chocolate sauce and ice cream. Arrive with a sugar low and leave with a hyperactive spring in your step gagging for more. We picked up a copy of their “Book of Sweet Things” which is a must have if you’ve got an ice cream maker.
If you don’t pay a visit to the fish and chip shop next to the spar then you owe yourself a serious dressing down. Their range of battered fish is one of the most impressive I’ve ever seen. And the quality of their fish and chips is worthy of a Michelin starred restaurant. My lightly smoked haddock and chips is the best I have ever had. And that list includes Aldbrough and Rick Stein.
If you’re feeling more flush then indulge in dinner at Out of the Blue which if the costs are anything to go by is something special. I've read several reviews which suggest it is one of Ireland's best restaurants.
Dingle also sports a fantastic fishmonger who sells live lobsters and an array of very fresh fish. We got our hands on some gorgeous scallops which were partnered for dinner by some exceptionally good black pudding from Annascaul. I wish you could get it in England. The monochrome marriage of Dingle’s finest black pudding and even finer scallops was magical.
Dingle offers everything you need for a relaxed family holiday. I can’t wait to explore more of Ireland in the future. Thanks to Murphy’s, Niahm and Toasted Special for giving us such great advice about where to go and where to eat.