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Valentia Island, off the South West Coast of Kerry, is an island of great beauty and contrast. Meaning ‘The Oak Wood’ it is one of Ireland’s most westerly points. It lies off the Imveragh Peninsula and is linked to the
mainland by the Maurice O’Neill Memorial Bridge at Portmagee. Situated along the Wild Atlantic Way, Valentia is small enough that you can bike around it in a day.
Not only does the island provide sensationally beautiful views but it is also rich in history and culture. Over 150 years ago the first successful transatlantic telegraph cable was laid between Folhammerum Bay, Valentia Island in Ireland and Heart’s Content in Newfoundland, Canada. And for the first time, it took minutes, not weeks, to communicate. While the Cable Station isn’t currently open to the public, the lighthouse is a suitable historic place to take it all in and think how this tiny little Irish land played a huge part in history.
The combined features and history of the island make it an attractive tourist destination, easily accessible from the popular Ring of Kerry route. There is so much that this little island has to offer; here are just a few things that you MUST do if visiting Valentia Island:
HIKE ON GEOKAUN MOUNTAIN
You don’t have to be a pro to hike up these mountains, these views were made for everyone to see! When you trek this wonderful mountain you barely encounter anyone – it makes the journey feel personal, whether you on your own or with someone else. Every time your turn a corner, there’s always a beautiful view. If you are travelling with you family this is a perfect activity to do, with only a few steep inclines, kids will be able to join in on the fun.
STAND AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD A BRAY HEAD
The tower at Bray head offers unrivalled views of the Skelligs, Blaskets, Valentia, the Dingle Sound, and the Iveragh Peninsula. You feel invincible, powerful and as if you are standing on the edge of the world. While you’re in the area, pop across the bridge at Portmagee and head to the Kerry Cliffs. They don’t get talked about as much as the Cliffs of Moger, but the rugged beauty of it all is quite something. Probably best reached by car.
Not technically accessible from Valentia Island, but a short drive across the bridge brings you to Portmagee where you can get a boat out to the Kelligs. Thanks to Star Wars thousands now come from all over the world to do the landing trip and see the ancient monastery at the top. The landing trip books up several months in advance, so you’ll have to be quick. Boat trips that take you out and around the islands are easier to come by.
VISIT GLANLEAM HOUSE
On the northeast of the island stands Ganleam House and its sub-tropical gardens. Protected by windbreaks from Atlantic gales and never touched by frost, these gardens provide the mildest microclimate in Ireland. Starting in the 1830s, Sir Peter George Fitzgerald planted these gardens and stocked them with a unique collection of rare and tender plants from the southern hemisphere, normally grown under glass in Ireland. The gardens are laid out in a naturalistic style as a series of walks. There are plants from south Africa, Australia, New Zealand – the tallest tree ferns in Europe – Chile and japan. The garden is open to the public.
So what brought us to this hidden gem? One of our Gandys ambassadors and travel photographer Jon Moore had recently travelled to this remote island, bringing all his Gandys gear with him. We spoke to Jon about his trip, Gandys and all things travel:
What made you choose to visit Valentia Island?
A lot of people had told me how stunning the west coast of Ireland was, so I didn't need much convincing to go. After seeing Cliffs Of Moher, we started driving the Ring of Kerry, following the coastal road and stopping to take photos every time there was a breath taking view. We stopped a lot! Eventually the Skellig Islands came into view and, as a Star Wars fan, I knew I had to get as close as possible. Being out of season none of the ferries were running so Valentia Island seemed like the closest we could get from the mainland. It was a short hike to from Portmagee to the top of Bray Head where these photos of the Skelligs were taken.
What was your favourite part about visiting Ireland all together?
Some parts of the coastal route were so quiet and peaceful. We would walk all day and not see anyone and then make friends with a few locals in the pub at the end of the day. There's a more relaxed and friendly way of life there and just being able to be part of it for a few days before heading back to London was really nice. The Skelligs and Blasket Islands dominate the horizon on a clear day and I would very much like to return there in the summer when the boat tours are running to see them up close.
What are your number one travel essentials?
I can't travel without my camera. There's nothing morefrustrating than going away without the camera and coming across a killer view with an epic sunset. I also can't get through a long car journey without peanut M&Ms.
Why should people travel wearing Gandys?
A came across Gandys whilst walking down Camden High Street and picked up a copy of Tsunami Kids off one of the shelves.
I remember the story breaking on the news about the British family torn apart by the Tsunami in 2004 and was inspired to learn about the origins of Gandys from there. The company are ethically conscious and give to worthy projects and charities which makes it a lot different to most of the high street. Their motto 'Don't Just Exist' also resonates with me on a personal level as it was essentially something I said to myself before I took up photography and rediscovered my love of the outdoors. It's a motto we should all live try and live by.
So if you’ve never been to Ireland and want to visit somewhere which is off the beaten track (and not Dublin) why not try Valentia Island, a place of stunning views and unique heritage.