Priest’s Leap is the colorful name for a single-track mountain pass between the counties of Cork and Kerry in southwestern Ireland. I’m driving a new Bentley Bentayga SUV on this steep, winding, tortuous road that seems better suited to the local sheep than automobiles. I know I’m well off the beaten tourist routes because I can’t see another soul. On a clear day, I’m told you can see Bantry Bay. But today, the fog seems like it's descending from heaven.
In Ireland, they drive on the left side of the road. I don’t find this particularly daunting, but a single lane with two-way traffic is another story. If I encounter an oncoming vehicle, I’ll have to back up to a suitably sized patch of road so the other can pass. As I drive, I note the few workable spots, given the Bentayga’s large size, in case I have to reverse back to them. I’m lucky, though, in that I come face-to-face with only one other vehicle and it has local plates. The driver backs up into an extra wee width in the road, proffering a smile and a wave as I pass. My wave back is filled with gratitude.
While the Bentayga is an extraordinary vehicle, right now I wish it had a tighter turning radius for easier maneuverability. That desire is somewhat mitigated by a “PDC” console button that activates exterior cameras to help navigate tight spots. It’s just one of the 10 driver-assist safety systems available but the most useful one in off-road circumstances.
The Bentayga is well able to handle a rocky landscape. I had driven the Bentayga once before in the desert outside Palm Springs, California, but the experience here is vastly different. At one point, I could feel stones sliding out from under the left rear wheel but the Bentayga dug in like a mountain goat and retained its sure footing. The Bentayga has four off-road driving settings for a variety of surfaces and conditions.
There is a V12 engine with 600 horsepower under the hood for lots of muscle. With few long straightaways in this curvy countryside, there is scant opportunity for rolling up the speedometer. But an ability to go from zero to 60 mph in 4.1 seconds means I can dart through some short car-wide tunnels before any traffic comes the other way.
There were some bright moments in the day, but when the rain fell, I found refuge on a massage-ready leather seat so comfortable I was thinking about how to slip it out of the Bentayga and into a pub for a post-drive pint of Guinness. In this stunningly emerald green country, however, I quickly learn to not let a little wet weather defeat my enjoyment of the outdoors.
The Bentayga can be outfitted with a new cargo-bay aluminum and leather hamper made by Mulliner that’s equipped with all the rods and lures required for fly fishing in the nearby Black Valley, an unspoiled landscape thick with Gothic atmosphere. Or you can simply stick with the picnic hamper, which will keep the champagne (or Guinness) nicely chilled.
Base camp for this excursion was the lovely Sheen Falls Lodge (sheenfallslodge.ie) in the village of Kenmare, which also arranged an hour of shooting at clay pigeons and a delightful demonstration of falconry. An “event seat” that slides out the tailgate provides a comfortable perch for enjoying the show.
But the real lure is the driving, because this may be among the most scenic parts of a country known for it, providing episodic backdrops for productions ranging from Star Wars to Game of Thrones that I could watch on the Bentayga’s superb wifi-enabled entertainment system. I drove along bits of a route known as the Ring of Kerry which circumnavigates the peninsula as well as sections of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 1,600-mile route that weaves its way from Cork north to Donegal along the west coast. I should have arranged to stay longer. $268,705 as driven; bentleymotors.com.