Exploring Ireland at your own pace with Vagabond Tours

Exploring Ireland at your own pace with Vagabond Tours

Members of a Vagabond Tours group climb a rain-sllcked stone path in Ireland. The company offers less active exploration options it calls Driftwood trips. Photo Credit: Robert N. Jenkins

Vagabond Tours itineraries “are all about getting into the landscape,” said guide Dee Harmon. “When we are out of road markers, that’s the real Ireland.”

So she steered our new, 13-passenger Mercedes van, dubbed the “Vagatron,” from a six-lane motorway out of Dublin onto four-lane highways to, ultimately, one-lane rural roads.

This Vagabond Tours eight-day itinerary took us through Ireland’s famed hues of green. The colors were so rich that the hills and meadows seemed covered with a frosting swirled from melting all the greens in the crayon box.

One element that sets the 14-year-old Vagabond company apart is that it has two levels of touring: those offering travelers significant activities or more sedate trips.

While they may generally travel the same routes, the active packages, using the Vagabond name, find more out-of-the-way places with less driving between more frequent stops. The other tours, termed Driftwood trips, substitute visits inside great mansions or formal gardens for Vagabond options such as a two-hour bike ride in a national park, horseback riding on the beach, sea kayaking or surfing.

The same day’s itinerary on the two tours is representative of the differences: The Vagabonders, on their second day, made four hikes of varying degrees of difficulty. The first, about an hour long, was an uphill climb on a staircase of uneven stone slabs and boulders in a little-visited forest park. The second walk was far easier, modest slopes in a romantic forest of huge conifers and rhododendrons.

The next walk was a surprise: After Harmon, a driver/guide for five years, had navigated hairpin turns up what she termed the “bendiest road in Ireland,” we stopped at the top: Healy Pass, which reaches 1,100 feet above sea level.

“Get out and walk down,” Harmon said. “I’ll meet you partway down the hill.”

We strolled the steep, straight two-lane asphalt, pausing for great photos heading down to a lake in the valley.

The final hike this day switched from gravel to asphalt to grass, up an increasingly steep hill. We visited the remains of a stone cottage, typical of the early 1800s. Then back down to climb another hill, to see a stone circle thousands of years old, its purpose unknown. These two climbs took more than an hour.

Meanwhile on this same day, the Driftwood group walked on a level path through the forest park, not trying our uphill climb. They toured an old mansion, drove the scenic Beara Peninsula, rode up and down Healy Pass, made the brief climb just to the stone circle and were done for the day.

The actual travel was much the same for both groups. Vagabond’s Harmon and Driftwood’s Tim Orr recounted Ireland’s history, language and traditions.

One notable difference: When the Vagatron reached the broad Inch Beach on a County Kerry peninsula, Harmon hurried it through the sea mist in a series of figure eights. Then she encouraged us to walk back about a half-mile to a coffee shop.

For more information, see https://vagabondtoursofireland.com.

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