I first heard that the land of Kerry was referred to as the Kingdom on the bus to Waterville. My part time guide was John, driver of the bus and undercover agent for the Kerry Tourist Board, who, were he to receive a Euro for every acquaintance he honked his horn at between Killarney and Waterville, would surely be able to retire with a substantial income from his accumulated capital within a year. John, as delightful a man as you could wish to meet, quietly informed me that this was indeed God’s country through which we were driving and I didn’t need much persuading. The Ring of Kerry road which the bus navigated from the north-east to Waterville in the south-west has to be – quite simply – one of the most beautiful roads upon which I have ever travelled. The old road hugs the coast line with dramatic craggy hills to the left and magnificent views across the bay over icy water to the gentle hills and undulations on the peninsular on the far side. Today the sun came out as we left Glenbigh some 30 km outside of Killarney and bathed the entire scenery in a magical clear light that overwhelmed me with the sense of having travelled Narnia-like to another kingdom – one of great peace and beauty, where the march of time was conducted adagissimo, not affrettando. As the bus passed through little villages, perched above the sparkling water, waited at ancient bridges too narrow to allow traffic in both directions, serpentined its way along the coastal road, the elderly ladies who made up the largest part of the bus population and all of whom John knew on first name terms, picked up on my conversation at the front of the bus and oohed and aahed at the thought of my walking from their Kingdom across the whole of the wild east towards the big city of Dublin. They competed with each other to tell me stories of the surroundings, until one by one the bus disgorged them, a great clutch of them clucking out at Cahersiveen and John and I were left up front to muse on – me in wonderment, he squire-like in his knowledge of every nook, cranny, corner and escarpment of the passing countryside – the route I would be taking back over the coming days.
I am still pinching myself – how could I not know that one of the most beautfiful spots in Europe was here, so close to my original home? Waterville, on an early spring afternoon, with the sunlight dancing on the gentle breathing in and out of the quiet sea, surrounded by hills and crags and with a neat park – dedicated to Matt O’Dwyer a ball sport hero from the late 60s and 70s, whose statue stands in the grounds dedicated to him and shared only with Charlie Chaplin, who spent his holidays in Waterville staying in the Butler’s Arms, where I am put up for the night – is enchanting, so much so that I am already loth to be moving on in the morning. My walk is real now – I picked up the first signs for the Kerry Way this afternoon: Waterville, my chosen starting point at the western most point of the Kerry Peninsular, has been transformed from an anonymous point on a map to a town at the end of a bus route to a village with houses and a few hotels to a community of delightful people. I won’t even cause a ripple on the surface of the lives of this community, but they and this place will stay with me forever. My walk back home starts here.