Drude Rides Ireland

 

Home

Background

Charity

Preparation

The Route

Ride Diary

Picture Gallery

Links

 

Ride Diary

Epilogue

So, 1339 miles around Ireland in a fortnight and the casual observer might be interested to know how it feels (I've been asked a few times since I got back)….

The Quest

You see a lot more from a bike - and smell and hear for that matter, too. I guess that's what drew me into the idea of doing this ride, the whole pace and experience of being on a bike giving you a greater sense of the landscape that you're passing through than you'll get from a car, whilst still allowing you to cover a decent distance and observe the changes. There were many wonderfully scenic moments, as recorded in the daily diary entries, but special repeat mentions go to the Antrim coast, Donegal, Connemara, Kerry and West Cork.

Then there's the fact that I'd already cycled about 930 miles from John O'Groats to Land's End 12 years earlier and, although a younger, fitter man back then, you would tend to think that if it's any kind of challenge, you have to top your previous one. So, with a great affection for Ireland, and some experience of enjoyable coastal rides on holiday there, it seemed natural to look for a 1000-mile+ route on the other side of the Irish Sea. This is even before you get into the distant but subconscious connection of my Liverpool-area origins and the strong Irish influence there, including my own great-grandmother and her family who settled after escaping tough times in 19thC south-west Ireland. I must have got talking about cycling "roughly" all the way round with one of my biking pals and then it became one of those things where an off-hand comment somehow builds up momentum, until you find yourself getting off the ferry at Dun Laoghaire in ridiculous black lycra tights and a bright orange top with the prospect of the next two-and-a-half weeks pedalling like the clappers.

It may seem strange that I had some doubts about how I would get on in this quest, considering those who know me well would say that I have a fairly dedicated, determined (some might say stubborn, mule-like!) nature and, in doing anything, do it to the fullest extent. However, I was acutely aware that other commitments had not allowed me to train as well as was likely to be needed so, with the best combination having been a training weekend with one 73-mile and one 56-mile ride, my head was full of how I was going to handle 75 miles-a-day for 16 or 17 consecutive days, if everything went to the sketched-out plan. How was it going to feel on day 3 - tired out or, more optimistically, building up day-on-day fitness? As it happens, it turned out to be the latter, but I would like to modestly point out that the weather certainly helped.

Springtime in Ireland would tend to bring mixed weather, especially down the Atlantic coast and, whilst it wasn't all in my favour, the wind probably didn't exceed a moderate 15 mph and was either with me or across me for more time than it was against me. So, this favourable weather, and achieving greater fitness as time passed, conspired to allow me to progress quicker than I thought, and most days finished with a mileage of about 90 miles or more. Having said that, I didn't lose my original concern that physical or mechanical breakdown was always a possibility, and never really looked beyond the target for the current day or, once that was out of the way, consider what was coming up the next day.

In this way, the completion of the whole quest with the sweep into Greater Dublin on Easter Saturday, a fortnight after departing, didn't exactly explode with euphoric fireworks, as I had been down-playing things all the way. I was certainly satisfied, but wasn't exactly walking on air, and it has felt like the story of the trip has to be retold a few times before what was achieved fully sinks in. Perhaps it would have been different if the final ten miles had been like the approach into Dingle or Kenmare with the adrenalin rush of a tough long hill followed by a swooping downhill to a more momentous finish than the busier traffic of south Dublin. Perhaps it betrays the fact that Dublin had an allure for me 10 or more years ago, but its greater prosperity these days has taken away some of the romance, and my interests lie further to the wild west. The bonus of that furious pedalling was that I completed the quest a couple of days early and had the chance for some extra rest and recuperation in the west but, quite genuinely, I had planned to be in Ireland for three weeks because it could easily have gone the other way, either with the weather or my fitness, and I might have been on the road for 21 or 22 days. As it happened, the nether regions were a little sore and the muscles certainly ached at times at the end of the day, or start of the next, but with a little help from Sudocrem and Deep Heat, they proved to be relatively minor inconveniences.

Before I wrote this epilogue, I'd jokingly left a tag-line about "Zen & The Art Of Long-Distance Cycling" so, for what it's worth, I suppose this is now philosophy corner. Having immersed myself fully in rock 'n' roll mythology on a regular basis over the years, various mantras have embedded themselves in the cranium: "let it be"; "it ain't why, why, why, it just is"; "let it happen", all of which helped to not be a slave to the sketched-out plan. Wherever we ended up for the day, that would do, and left the flexibility to make more or less progress according to how I felt. In many ways, my lack of confidence in likely progress made that flexibility a necessity, but enough good karma had obviously been banked so that it worked out positively. Without getting too mystic about it though, the beauty of Ireland being so geared up for drop-in tourism fell in our favour, as there really wasn't a shortage of accommodation in the vicinity of wherever we pitched up each day if you looked in the right places.

Coming back round to the actual cycling, a solo long distance ride obviously leaves you with a lot of time to yourself and plenty of time to think. Even though I'm very interested to study more of Buddhism, and Zen teachings in particular, I've never had the time so far. The closest I've got is beginning attendance at a yoga class last autumn, which has been a very positive experience with a good teacher, and has helped to step off the busy conveyor belt of regular commitments once a week, to find some peace and focus. The steady rhythm of pedalling, tackling the next mile ahead, and regulating your breath in line with the demands of the road's contours all bring a degree of focus. Sometimes this is as banal as working out how much longer you might go before your next banana or glug of water (or slug of whiskey!); sometimes a quieter road allows you to drift into a dreamlike state where reality seems distant; sometimes madness will descend and your mind is following crazy lyrics or imagining all kinds of daft scenes or stories of your own; sometimes you feel really grounded passing through some awesome scenery; all of this from achieving a little peace.

The Roads

The major roads in Ireland have really improved in quality of surface, speed of progress that you can make, and bypassing the towns so that locals and visitors aren't snarled in congestion. However, within larger towns and cities, increased car ownership makes for significant traffic, and cycling in amongst that isn't any more fun than it is in Britain. The regional roads and back lanes are still relatively quiet away from the east coast and the Cork area. The deal that you make with the devil to ride the Irish back roads, though, is to pilot your way around potholes and make do with some very uneven surfaces. Often, they seem to have been made by pouring some tar and then tipping a load of rough chippings on top, so it's hard to glide along.

The terrain on these back roads is like a real rollercoaster, as they will just go where the ground will let them, with no concession to smoothing out the contours. Up and down doesn't describe it, and that's what slows the progress on a bike, as the slight downhill gives you little momentum up the next rise and then you have to dig in to get the rest of the way up again. On the other hand, the road just going where the land allows means you get to some wonderful places. You can be snaking around sparsely populated peninsulas with no shortcut roads through the middle, as there are no settlements in between to merit it. The views that you get from those "secret" routes, and the absence of traffic on the lanes, make it a great place to be cycling if you're prepared to put the effort in to the actual pedalling and you're lucky with the weather.

The Country

If you have waded through the daily diary entries, you'll have realised that we've been regular visitors to Ireland over the last 17 years, and seen a lot of changes. In that time, the Celtic Tiger has roared and there's a real sense of prosperity around the country. The "old" Ireland is still there if you scratch below the surface but, particularly on the east coast and in the cities and larger towns, you see the evidence of the corporate world taking hold: standard chain stores with many of the same names as you see on the British high street, adverts everywhere for new cars and the other trappings of affluence, sharp suits and office buildings, and so on. More of the population have the opportunity to climb aboard the gravy train, and it is probably fair to say that the vast majority of Irish are pleased with this upturn in their fortunes, albeit with some fraying around the edges (increases in crime and gang activity, etc.).

This has also meant that Ireland has become an appealing destination for people emigrating from Eastern Europe, but this is a new angle for the Irish to deal with, and they are going through the teething problems of integrating these different cultures, as Britain did 50 years ago. We hear that the young Irish are reluctant to carry out many of the jobs that can only pay at the lower end of the salary scale, so the "new Irish" are welcome for many business owners. However, the indigenous Irish are still coming to terms with groups of immigrants huddled on the street talking in their own language, or going into a supermarket or pub-restaurant and not immediately understanding the accent of whoever is serving them. My long nights in the bar in Kenmare, chatting with local friends there, has given me some of the inside track on the dynamics of Ireland today, and it's very interesting to hear how quick the change has been.

The other thing that is easily noticed is how much building is going on in Ireland. There are cranes everywhere for larger buildings being constructed, and many villages and towns have one or more housing estates being built. My amateur observations and generalisations of the change in settlement patterns goes something like this: thirty years ago, outside the main towns in a largely agricultural economy, houses were located on the parcels of land being worked; then, to access services such as phones, electricity and mains water and sewage (still a big issue in many outlying areas), families moved from the old farm buildings to a fairly standard design of regular, long, white-washed, rectangular bungalows near the roads, probably a bit close to the road, considering how much traffic there is now (the side-effect was that this made a number of the old farm cottages available for holiday rental); in the last ten years, the developments have had a little more flair than that standard bungalow design, and the rendering is painted in more than just white, whilst there are often stone-clad features, gables and porches to break up the lines; many of these newly-built properties are set back from the road and take advantage of the amount of land available to them, so that they are large, grand affairs, or the last five years have seen the growth of housing estates to meet the significantly increased housing demand, usually quite tastefully done. From a landscape of quite individual housing plots in the past, a more regular pattern is emerging but, once again, the changes are welcome if they bring modern facilities and standards of insulation, even if there is the same issue as in Britain that many young people simply don't have the money to take the first step into owning a home, due to the boom in property prices.

So, to catch a flavour of that "old" Ireland, you have to get off the beaten track. There are still many small provincial towns where the main street is full of different brightly-coloured shop fronts, the land and buildings still owned by families rather than corporations, so they carry the more individual stylings of the traditional pub or store. The wilder country of the north and west coast is hard to tame, and there's still not enough of a population for it to be worthwhile for large national or international chains to invest out there. Alongside all this commerce, the landscape and coastline are still as gorgeous as ever, many of the people are as warm and friendly as you've heard, and you'd be hard-pressed not to feel relaxed when settling into the easy-going atmosphere of the pubs and restaurants with a good pint and usually excellent and good-value food after enjoying poking your nose around the back roads and beaches.

Day by Day
24th March 2007

Day 1 - 94 miles!!

After a 4 a.m. departure from home, collected Dave from Great Sutton (between Chester and Liverpool, on the Wirral) by about 5.45 a.m., and headed on to Holyhead in plenty of time for the ferry just before 9 a.m. The ferry was busy with Wales football supporters on their way to the match in Dublin . Arrived in Dun Laoghaire about 10:45 a.m. and, after driving off the ship, pulled in at the first parking space, took the bike down, and parted ways with Dave and the car, as he was going round the outside of the city on the M50 and I was going straight through. The sun was shining as I crossed the Liffey and stopped to look down river to the city centre. First stop was Balbriggan after 28 miles, having navigated through Dublin, which was busy on the north side and around Croke Park .

Castlebellingham was stop two at 53 miles, meeting Dave at O'Reilly's pub where the Ireland v Wales game was on fro him to watch, whilst I pedalled on through pleasant enough rural areas but nothing spectacular.

Warrenpoint after 82 miles was the planned finish for the day, having passed through Dundalk and Newry. Newry to Warrenpoint had beautiful scenery down Narrow Water with the evening sun on the Mountains of Mourne on gorse and heathers. Dave was checking the quality of the Guinness at The Square Peg as the rendezvous, and I suggested that I'd go on until it was near dark.

A further 12 miles on generally quieter country roads brought us to Kilkeel, where we found lodging at Home-Syde (No.7) B&B, run by Eleanor, a lovely lady who looked after us well. Dinner in the Kilmorey Arms hotel - Roast Chicken & Bacon (D) and Vegetable broth followed by Chicken & Broccoli pasta bake (S).
25th March 2007

Day 2 - 91 miles

Met briefly at Newcastle after about 13 miles where Dave had stopped to look out at the beach front and an old SS Great Britain anchor, just after Bloody Bridge .

Took slightly different routes then from there to Strangford - 36 miles, me via Downpatrick with a nice looking church on the hill, and fairly quiet country roads.

There was about 20 minutes' break before the ferry was ready to cross Strangford Lough to Portaferry and then, after leaving the ferry, we met up at Burr Point, a further 11 miles on, and the most easterly point in Ireland .

From there on to Groomsport just before Bangor , with us both checking our bearings as we passed at Donaghdee (and a burnt out Orange/Protestant hall - time to change my top!)

Then the haul into Belfast about 14 miles away, traffic had been building up as we got closer, and it wasn't a particularly pleasant section of riding, though it was interesting to pass close to the Harland & Wolf crane lifts, and see the smart redevelopment of the central waterfront in the city.

Out the other side of Belfast for about 12 miles to Carrickfergus, where we had to scout for accommodation (Premier Lodge on the harbour) before heading back into the city for the Waterboys gig, which coincidentally was on tonight. Food was hard to come by, so a beef and red onion sandwich at the venue and chips, spring roll, and satay chicken skewers from a Chinese that was open just before midnight back in Carrickfergus.

26th March 2007

Day 3 - 110 miles

A long day but a very good one; no wind against to speak of, except in the odd turn on the road by the coast; if any light breeze, it was mostly across. After turning the corner at Whitehead and getting past Larne, the coastal drive was especially beautiful, lovely scenery. One funny thing just out of Carrickfergus was where a corrugated cattle shed almost looked as though a cow had punched a hole in it, with the torn-off bit dangling down, and just enough room so that she could stick her head out and look out over the sea to Bangor on the other side. It was a good day for birds and animals; many birds along the coast; shag, oystercatcher, wagtail, curlew, tern, cormorant.

Met first at Glenarm after about 25 miles, though we'd passed a couple of times in between as Dave stopped to take in the view. Larne seemed to have a strong loyalist persuasion "Welcome to loyalist Larne" with murals, UFF, red-white-and-blue painted lampposts. From there on to Glenariff where there was a lifeboat station, and an inland town (Cushendall?) that had a real feel of the south to it with signposts from Navan/Kells, and a window painted like a yacht's lifebuoy named with Glengarriff as the port.

Second meeting was Ballycastle after 56 miles and more spectacular coastal scenery before turning inland and up over the hills - a long, steady climb, but okay, and then a great long freewheel down into the harbour town, from where ferries go to Rathlin Island . Early in the climb, went across the Glendun viaduct with a great view inland to the glen. Looking out to sea from there, the view was nice, but eventually melted into haze, not really sharp views at a distance; however, you got a good look at craggy mountains nearby, especially just on the coast road, sea to your right, cliffs to your left. Dropping down into Ballycastle via Ballypatrick forest and Vanishing Lake (there really was little water in there, even at this time of year), the sun was really coming through and heavily pregnant ewes were just lying basking in the field, one was either getting mighty kicks from its lamb or was close to bursting.

After Ballycastle, there was then a tough climb out up to the coast road for the Giant's Causeway, the minor road having some sharp ups and downs. However, the reward was some superb views along White Park Bay before a further turn off to get even closer to the coast, passing the remains of Dunseverik Castle and onto the Causeway Visitor's Centre. The promise of soup was thwarted as the NT teashop had run out and only apple crumble was left to go with the pot of tea. This was the originally planned end of the day, so it was a good point to break and, in the end, it was about an hour-and-a-half off as we walked the mile down to the causeway, which was a wonderful sight.

Back into Bushmills to pay homage at the distillery, 71 miles by now, although we were too late in the afternoon for Dave to take the tour (3.30 p.m. was last orders). Having walked rather than biked for an hour and a half, there was enough left in the tank to push on a bit further, and we agreed to meet at Magilligan Point; Dave was going round the coast via Portrush. From Bushmills to Coleraine and then out the other side was the first real traffic of the day as it was about work finish time. Past Coleraine felt like another long haul, though there were a number of interesting-looking NT places and a wide sandy beach. The wind seemed to have come against me a little as I went round that headland, but then I was grateful to turn off and head for 4 miles out to the Point, and I flew along with the wind at my back then. I got to the ferry with about 10 minutes to spare, else we'd have waited two hours for the next; Dave was two fine Guinnesses to the good from the Point Bar looking out over Lough Foyle to the Republic and County Donegal across the water. Just by Magilligan Point there's a prison and a firing range, so you'd expect that the inmates behave! Loads of rabbits in the firing range ground. Think the mileage was up to about 96 by this point.

Off the ferry at Greencastle in the evening sunshine, a lady on there had recommended Culdaff as a good place to stay (and was good enough to donate ? 10), so Dave went on ahead to scout accommodation (Cee Cliff B & B) and waited for me in McGuinness' with a Guinness, listening to locals say about a woman who ran from Mizen Head to Malin Head  pulling a pram behind her with her belongings - a wag behind the bar asked if the storyteller offered to fill her pram for her. Ate in McGrory's, excellent steak, veg and chilli fries, followed by chocolate fudge cake; looks like they get some good music in there as Mary Black, Albert Lee, etc. and photos of various luminaries on the wall (Saw Doctors, Guy Clark).
27th March 2007

Day 4 - 90 miles

Out to Malin Head first, tough work and a round trip of 25 miles to get round the head and back to Malin village. The head has various communications, meteorological and coastguard stations. There's a tower at the end from the early 1800s, and down below on a patch of grass, EIRE has been arranged in some rocks, for anyone flying over or coming ashore and wondering where they are! I got to the head before Dave, as he'd diverted off to look at the beach at Five Finger Strand. Saw a lamb standing on top of its mother in the field; if there was a pound or euro for the charity pot for every lamb I'd seen, we'd be doing well.

Next it was on to the bustling town of Buncrana , the daily total having reached 46 by then, where we met in the main street in the sunshine. Again, not too bad on the wind today, just catching a breeze from time to time (perhaps most coming back down from the Malin Head), and generally warm and sunny, if hazy at a distance. From Buncrana, we agreed to meet next at Letterkenny, total now 67 miles, and this was along the busy, fast N13 road, not such a pleasant section. After a breather for 20 minutes (at the Tesco car park, but definitely not buying anything to add to their outrageous profits!) and restocking the water bottles, on up the N56, a long climb up out of Letterkenny, which was busy again until Kilmacrennan, and then broke out into nice open country/bogland to our next meeting point, now 84 miles into the day at the Corncutters Pub at Creeslough, where I enjoyed a Guinness with Dave (tasted good!!) - joking lads at the bar donated their loose change, and a fella outside who we got chatting to gave ? 5.

On to Dunfanaghy, taking the final day's total to 90 miles, accommodation and food was hard to find, but we got lucky eventually at The Whins B & B. We had to drive on to Gortahork to find food, a good pizzeria called Maggie Dan's - An Panc; Dave had the seafood one; I had a vegetable soup and a make-up-your-own pizza loaded with stuff. There was just one guy running the whole show and he seemed hassled; quieter by the time we finished and he said it was unusually busy for a Tuesday night, and kindly gave us back ? 20 for the pot.
28th March 2007

Day 5 - 85 miles

Started slowly as breakfast at the B & B was not until 8:30 a.m. and the other guests were talking whilst drinking a cuppa beforehand, so we didn't get cracking that early. The bonus from all the chat was that the American guests from West Yellowstone, MT donated ? 20, and the Yorkshire couple donated ? 10, and Ann-Marie the landlady waived the fee so that another ? 40 went in the pot. Whilst eating breakfast (porridge and banana), we watched the weather across the bay, wet and windy, so it was off in rain gear and overshoes for the first hour, but it proved only to be showers rather than a soaking, so perhaps most of the rain had passed through overnight. The day's journey retraced the steps of the previous night's food hunt by going down to Falcarragh and Gortahork, with a first hook-up with Dave in Gweedore by the lake and the imposing Slieve Snaght (aka Mount Doom ) in the background.

We met up properly for the first break of the day after 30 miles at Dunglow; wildlife watch included a heron just leaving the river area between Falcarragh and Gortahork and heading towards the sea shore; and a deer later on just out of Dunglow. Next planned meeting place was Ardara at 50 miles, having passed through Maas (rain gear out for 20 minutes again) and taken the back road round close to Porthnoo, with a dolmen view and Red Admiral butterflies fluttering by amongst the gorse. The riding progress hadn't been too bad up to this point, but then it took a turn for the difficult on the minor roads out to Glencolumbkille out at the end of the peninsula; passed by a gorgeous waterfall (Assnacorry?), but then the road became a steep rock and stone track up the mountain, more suited to off-road tyres or 4 x 4 vehicle. It really slowed progress and, as we were also out of mobile reception, Dave thought we'd missed each other, when I was just taking a long time to get there. The scenery was fabulous, but some riding into the wind from the north-west made it difficult. Eventually reaching Glencolumbkille, there are a number of places relating to St Columba - a well, chapel, church, stone, etc. Since the last shower passed across, in particular, the evening sunshine made everything look especially beautiful, in that great slanting west coast light, illuminating mountains and valleys.

Met for a Guinness in Carrick after re-establishing contact with Dave following his jaunt to look out at the Slieve League cliffs, and agreed that Killybegs was our target. Just before town, Lismolin B & B was selected, and we backtracked in the car for a great meal at The Clock Tower (garlic/herb creamed mushrooms followed by Beef Bourgignon and mash, then Banoffee Pie) whilst watching the Ireland v Slovakia match.

29th March 2007

Day 6 - 96 miles

After another porridge and banana breakfast, set off in waterproofs as the day started with showers, definitely colder and a light dusting of snow/hail having settled on the mountain tops. Dropping down into the town of Killybegs , there was the smell of fish, as you'd expect from one of the largest fishing ports around. On about 18 miles to Donegal, the road was rolling up and down, and the wind kept blowing showers in and out, certainly not at my back to push me along. It was a busy road, and this pretty much set the scene for the day, the views not so striking as they had been in north Donegal and the roads much busier.

Met Dave in the central square in Donegal, had a break for 15 minutes and agreed on Bundoran as our next stop. Out on to the N15, the rain had stopped now, so the waterproofs were packed away in the saddlebags and, with the trucks flying past giving the odd slipstream, wind in my favour, and the smoothed out contours of the main road, I got along fairly well, cutting through Ballyshannon main street on the hill, which I remembered from a previous visit.

The Bundoran stop at 36 miles was very well timed, as I sat in the car for 20 minutes and ate home-made energy bars whilst a hail storm lashed down; made a couple of calls, including hearing the great news of the successful arrival of a baby boy for our good friends Sally and Murray. As I rode along with just my thoughts for company, I thought Charlie Coope would be a good name.

Next meeting stop was Drumcliff church, burial place of W.B. Yeats, at 56 miles, this leg of the journey having been the best of the day for scenery as I skirted around the mighty Benbulben mountain. Yeats' grave has the enigmatic inscription "Cast a cold Eye on Life, on Death Horseman pass by", and I think that, for this trip, Cyclist has replaced Horseman. Dave had had an unsuccessful detour in search of Glencar lake and waterfall, falling victim to that erratic signage, before heading into Sligo to grab his lunch. Being a colder day, there's been a regular whiff of a peat fire along the way.

Leaving Drumcliff, decided on Ballina as the target destination for the day; passed through Sligo and turned off the N15 to N56 and Ballysadare before heading west through a sparsely populated area and not that scenic busy road - the wind was gusting and buffeting me at this point, often in my face so it was slow and hard progress. A brief checkpoint at Templeboy after 77 miles was just before the road turned in a more southerly direction and there was a bit more help from the wind. Reached Ballina and a day's total of 96 miles, feeling very tired now; San Remo B & B was not the world's best B & B (nor Ballina's for that matter, and was probably recommended by Murphy's Bar because it was their mum or something!), but it would do as a stop if you overlook the damp on all the ceilings going with an overall cold feel, the pathetic dribble of a shower with lice and mites in residence in the tray, and a bathroom heater that sounded like a 747 taking off, and crash-landing when turning it off - I guess it's fine for those on a tight budget, or the desperate. Managed to get out for a nice meal though at Crockets at the Quay (chicken & mushroom soup, duck in a cassis sauce with roasted veg and gratin potatoes, finished off with a blueberry crème brulee, all washed down with a  couple of pints of the Guinness North Star special brew!)

30th March 2007 Day 7 - 102 miles

The breakfast at the rough-round-the-edges San Remo in Ballina wasn't too bad (went for cooked breakfast in the absence of porridge), and the landlady was good enough to donate ? 7. Thinking it looked a bit colder, ventured out with an extra layer on, but that was soon shed in the 7 miles on the still-narrow N59 to Crossmolina as the sun broke through. It was still fairly ordinary east Mayo farmland from Ballina, but Crossmolina itself was quite a charming little town/village. From Crossmolina to Newport , another charming town on the river, it started to get more interesting along the quiet R roads as mountains came more into view, including a good one called Nephin. Part way along, a bit of bike maintenance came into play after a bungee holding the saddlebags on snapped and got tangled in the cogs; after untangling, took the opportunity to squirt some WD40 at the pedal shafts, and to clean and lube the chain - no more than it deserved after racking up nearly 600 miles.

As that was an unscheduled stop at about 21 miles, Dave and I agreed that the next rendezvous would be Westport , duly reached at 38 miles, and a very charming and bustling town it seemed to be. Leaving Westport , there were views in the hazy distance to Croagh Patrick, another impressive mountain and one understood to be the focus of a regular pilgrimage. So far, the day's riding had been pretty good, with nothing especially sapping of energy, just the usual undulating road as it found firm ground over bog land between Crossmolina and Westport . Next stop would be Leenane after 58 miles and a superb section of riding, with the Maamturk Mountains in front of you as you followed the course of the river down to Killary Harbour ; as I crossed a bridge over that river through a wooded area, I'm sure the faery folk were whispering to me. The clouds are, at times, just kissing the tops of the mountains and the odd shaft opens up to allow sunlight to cast through a beam on to stone-walled fields tumbling down the hillside wherever a bit of fertile land can be found. I see a sheep knee deep in the bog stretching for a tuft of grass and, startled by an orange-clad superhero whizzing by, tries to extricate itself slowly from the gloop to pull away from the fence. Killary Harbour is as picturesque as I remember it; in all our visits to Connemara, we'd never been along that beautiful Westport-Leenane valley road, but had often reached Leenane and Killary Harbour from the other direction through the Maam Valley . In fact, I was thinking how we'd stayed near Maam Cross with the Coopes one new year when Calum was about six months old, and there'd been a massive snow storm en route there (we arrived about 2 in the morning), meaning power was out and our subsequent over-zealous attempts to get some heat in the cottage as Murray and I took literally the invitation to help ourselves from the turf (peat-fuel) shed of the farm had set fire to the chimney!

Anyway, back at Leenane, no stop for a beer in the pubs this time after a quick cake-and-banana stop, and on to Clifden, passing the beautiful Kylemore Abbey. Between Letterfrack and Clifden, there was much turf-cutting in evidence up on the high bog land. It's always interesting to see the waters running clear (not murky) yet so brown; and see the lake waters looking so dark. It's also interesting to see the precise lines with which the turf is cut, leaving sharp black-brown cliffs in the bog and piles of neatly cut turf strips out to dry in the sun, or later covered in plastic and weighed down with rocks to keep dry. Clifden is duly reached as the day's total hits 80 miles and the sun is really warm at this stage, drawing folks out on to the pavement for a Friday afternoon drink. There's a lot of development going on in Clifden and it's looking smarter than I remember from last visit. Meeting Dave out on the bridge that leads on the R241 round the coast, we agree that we're going on to Roundstone, and another lovely quiet road this is too, passing beautiful white sand beaches, often deserted, but one with a small coach parked up and what looked like a group of students taking some notes. Reached Roundstone as the day's total makes it to 95 miles and it's been a great day for scenery, the riding's been managed just fine, some hard sections but nothing desperate and, although we're struggling to find accommodation again at this time before the season's started, we eventually do about a mile out of town. As it's only just 6 p.m., I'm keen to get a few more miles under my belt and add another 7 miles to Cashel, rounding off the day at 102 miles in the evening sunlight which is doing that mad slanting thing that it seems to do on the Irish and Scottish west coasts, and turning things all kinds of unusual colours and shadows.

Back to the very comfortable and well set-out Ivy Rock B & B (significant contrast to previous night), clean up and back into Roundstone village and O'Dowd's where it's seafood chowder (S), lamb stew (S), mixed veg soup (D), salmon tagliatelle (D), raspberry & apple crumble, kiwi and almond tart, and baked lemon cheesecake (yes, I ate all three of those desserts - must have been the sea air!), washed down with a couple of pints of very fine Guinness and a first round of downloading and viewing photos from our cameras.

Guess what? - in my evening call to Beccy, she tells me that Sally and Murray have called their son Charlie - I know we're close friends but, of all the names they could choose, that's weird to have had such a premonition! I joke that I have druid powers, and then something like that happens..

31st March 2007

Day 8 - 94 miles

The day starts with a cooked breakfast and the lady at this excellent Ivy Rock B & B outside Roundstone agreeing to donate the fee for both our rooms to the charity pot, a full ? 90, extremely generous. As I'd cycled on further the night before, the bike goes back on the roof to get us to that point, ready to get going again from Cashel. There's a minor road across the bog and I turn on to that to cut the loop of that particular promontory and save myself a few miles. Over about 6 miles, I don't encounter a single car, but I do encounter some unfriendly wind. It proves to be the first dose of really sustained wind resistance so far and lasts until I turn the corner of Galway Bay over 50 miles later, and it really saps the energy. Due to the bog shortcut and not knowing if Dave would catch it, we'd agreed a long first leg, so we eventually meet up in Spiddal after 34 miles and about 3½ hours of beautifully bleak Connemara landscape. Dave's been having a wander and writing postcards in the sun lounge of the pub with the bay view, although it's really hazy and difficult to see the other side of the bay. The car is conveniently parked outside the An Teach Ned pub on the other side of the road and I spot that they've got the football on - Liverpool kicked off against Arsenal a couple of minutes ago. After that windy ride, I decide that I deserve a Guinness to sustain myself and we walk in at the point where Liverpool have just scored an early goal - wahey! The time taken for the pint is enough for us to score a second, then we're outside and setting off again in the knowledge that we shouldn't (!!) surrender a two-goal lead . we go on to win 4 - 1.

Knowing that Dave will need to navigate around Galway, we agree to meet on the other side of the bay now at Kinvarra. I go along the coast through the suburb of Salthill, and take a photo of the bike outside Leisureland, the venue of the Waterboys' New Year concert in 1990 that was the first trip that Beccy and I made to Ireland . Out past the harbour and, finally, at Oranmore, I change direction and start to get a little help from the wind; down the busy N16 for a section until I turn off at Kilcolgan and on to Kinvarra, passing and greeting a Willie Nelson character climbing up into his tractor wearing a plaid shirt and with long grey hair and a cowboy hat. After 64 miles, Kinvarra's a nice spot to take a breather, by the small harbour, having passed the ruined castle just on the corner. We agree on Ballyvaghan (76 miles) as the next stop and a pint at Monks pub by the quay. The scenery is really good again now on this south side of Galway Bay and, as well as coastal interest, there's the fascinating geology of the Burren to look at, with it's limestone pavement scraped smooth(ish) by glacial action all those years ago, and alpine flowers growing in the small amounts of soil in the cracks.

A final push for the day takes us to Doolin with the sun setting over the Atlantic on the right with the outline of the Aran Islands visible through the haze. It's a lovely evening and a fine time to be riding that coast. 94 miles done, I'm grateful to stop after the tough first part of the day, and we enjoy a veg soup and cabbage and bacon, then bread and butter pudding in Fitzpatrick's Bar before catching a bit of a music seisun in busy McGann's (the more famous O'Donnells must be around somewhere but tired legs, cold night air, and not knowing where on earth it is in much developed Doolin means we don't look too far). Staying in Killala House B & B, alright but a bit expensive for what it is in comparison to better places we've been - supply and demand, I suppose, as Doolin seems to have become an awful lot more popular and commercial since our last visit over 10 years ago.

1st April 2007

Day 9 - 38 miles

What a slacker! That's what my mum said when I called her to let her know that we had successfully swapped over the backup team from Dave to Beccy and Calum.

So, the day started at Doolin, back to porridge-and-banana energy fuel for breakfast and the landlady kindly prepared me a large bowl of fruit, too, as well as donating ? 20 back to the charity pot. A prompt start saw me up over the hills by the Cliffs of Moher and dropping back down to Liscannor and Lahinch at 13 miles with its great long, wide beach. I'm not the only nutter around, as it's before 10 a.m. and people are already returning from surfing. From 1991, I recalled our September camping trip took in the camp site at Lahinch and how we'd collected stones/rocks from around the site to hold down the edges of our old tent against the buffeting it was getting from the Atlantic wind, but it's a fairly gentle breeze today. Brief meeting with Dave agrees that Spanish Point is next, another nice beach at 22 miles, then pressing on and sticking within 5 miles of each other from there until our midday cut-off point. An arm-waving, toothless Co. Clare farmer came into the middle of the road at Creegh and told me how to get to Cooraclare, which I wasn't going to have any difficulty finding anyway if I looked at the map and followed road signs - I think he was just excited that he might have met someone who passed for a tourist stopping in his village!

Midday came just after I'd reached Kilrush at 38 miles, and where I could see the River Shannon and Co. Kerry beyond as I came over the crest of the hill into town. Time to put the bike on the roof and drive back to Galway to get Dave to the airport and collect Beccy and Calum. Driving up through Ennis, it took us just over an hour and a half to Galway. Lunch in the airport café; successful reunion with wife and son, and farewell to backup driver no. 1 completed, we drove back round Galway Bay to Ballyvaughan where we had a very comfortable B & B, Rusheen Lodge, booked for the night. After taking a bath, relaxing, checking the photos so far, and catching up on a week's absence, we went down to the village on a lovely sunny evening and had a nice meal in Monks pub-seafood restaurant (black pudding starter followed by Cajun paella and poached salmon, then apple pie), looking out over the Burren and across the Bay, where we could see the lights on the other side.

2nd April  2007

Day 10 - 100 miles

A very satisfying day overall in completing another significant distance that included the demanding climb at Connor Pass and taking in the most westerly point in Ireland on the Slea Head. No porridge available, so it's another cooked breakfast plus fruit, soda bread and loading up on the juices. After the previous day's diversions to the airport, we weren't yet back to the point where I'd stopped riding with Dave, so the bike was on the roof as we drove back to Kilrush, which took us over an hour through the country roads of Co. Clare. At Kilrush, we found the same spot that I'd stopped and got going again at about 10:20, with Beccy following soon after as we navigated our way out of the town centre and on the right road for the Killimer ferry. The change of direction put me against the wind for about 7 miles, so it wasn't a quick start to the day, but I arrived with almost perfect timing, as the 11:00 ferry was just loading; Beccy and Calum jumped in the car and followed on, and the ferry chugged off across the Shannon 5 minutes later; the east wind was certainly noticeable as we stood up on the deck. This was another memory from that early visit to Ireland of our's back in 1991, when we'd camped down the west coast, including this very ferry ride, reaching Tarbert in Co. Kerry and meeting up with our friend Catriona whose family had a dairy farm between Tarbert and Listowel.

So that the new support crew got into the swing of things, we kept the stops fairly frequent and met up first at Ballylongford, then the beach and cliffs at Ballybunnion, and then at Abbeydorney, just short of Tralee, 37 miles into the day, having passed through some relatively flat north Kerry farmland. We agreed that the next section would be a short one to ensure that we'd all navigated Tralee successfully and got out on the right road to Dingle, so we met at the windmill at Blennerville on the water just beyond Tralee, with the day's ride at 46 miles so far. Knowing that Connor Pass awaited, it had been tempting to take a shot of Bushmills to fortify me for the climb but, in the end, my preparation was to take off my leggings to unleash my dodgy, knobbly knees on the world and change to a lighter bright top, as the day had turned particularly warm, including the exertions.

It was about 3 p.m. as Calum finished his sandwich at the Station House and I set off down the N86, expecting it would take me three hours or more before I saw them again in Dingle. The first section along the Dingle peninsula is straight with just the usual ups and downs, and the backup crew passed by during that time, before they made the turn at Camp to take the less demanding road through the Slieve Mish mountains. I continued, and the traffic had thinned out by now as I looked over at various nice beaches on the north side of the peninsula, just on the right of the road. Eventually I reached the village of Stradbally where the road turned inland and I began to grind my way up to Connor's Hill, with Mount Brandon to my right side, using all my "skill and determination, and grace, too" (that's Tragically Hip lyrics, music fans!). This was definitely time to be singing to myself to will myself up the hill, and I remember motivation provided by Grace Too, Fisherman's Blues, Don't Bang The Drum, and At The Hundredth Meridian "if I die of vanity, promise to bury me someplace I don't want to be, then dig me up and transport me, unceremoniously, away from the stolen sea breeze, garbage bag trees, whispers of disease, acts of enormity, then lower me slowly and sadly and properly, and get Ry Cooder to sing my eulogy". It was hard work, but I was pleased to survive what was the hardest climb since the rocky approach to Glencolumbkille in Donegal, and probably likely to be the hardest of the trip. I'd been lucky that the wind wasn't blowing in my face to make the climb harder, but it was certainly whipping over the top as the bike would hardly stand up at the highest point of the pass as I took a photo at the stop. The descent was great, of course, long and sweeping, freewheeling down to get the payback for the climb, with views of Dingle Bay below, and I was probably speeding as I entered the town at about 5.30 p.m., the day's mileage having reached 75, not bad for a late start and a stiff climb.

Beccy and Calum had found a good guest house, Coastline House, just on the road out of town towards the bridge, and I enjoyed a nice cup of tea and cake sitting on the bench outside the room looking over the bay. Suitably fortified, and feeling that I still had something left in the tank, I decided to try and carry on to take in the Slea Head, which had been a practice ride during last October's half-term visit when we'd stayed in Dingle for a couple of nights. It had taken 2½ hours last time so, setting off at 6 p.m., I was hoping I could make it before dark. It was a great ride out, chasing the sun out into the west, and getting to Dunmore Head, which is actually the most westerly point in Europe, by Dunquin, out on the Slea Head. The cliffs and crashing waves, with the Blasket Islands and sunset ahead, made a wonderful sight, and the road was very quiet at that time of evening, making it even more pleasant.

It looked like a school reunion was taking place at Ballyferriter, and I greeted a couple of lads walking down the village who had spoken to me at the top of Connor Pass (after the girl in the car they were driving had just crunched a gear change right by me as we approached the top!). The Slea Head has a few steady climbs, and then some steeper ones as I turned back from Ballyferriter into the wind, making for a few more challenging miles before the ascent was repaid with the downhill back into Dingle at 8 p.m. and 100 miles being notched up just as I crossed the bridge and reached the guest house. A quick shower preceded a walk into town to grab a late dinner, at Paudie's Bar in the Dingle Bay Hotel, for salmon and mussels ragout, Dingle Bay fish in beer batter with chips, and a homemade burger for the boy, who swears he'd never touch a M*****lds. In the bar, there was an interesting episode where a loud Kerryman spotted gaelic football legend Paidi O Se at the bar and tried to get him to speak to his mate on the mobile while Paidi was eating his dinner, and was told to get lost! After that, back to Coastline House for a bath and that delayed shot of Bushmills, to mark a successful day.
3rd April  2007

Day 11 - 86 miles

In the absence of porridge, beans on toast is the breakfast fuel today as I ring the changes from the full Irish cooked option. Coastline House has been a comfortable and good value stay, so it's one to note for future visits to Dingle. As we're packing the car to head off, Beccy's chatting to another guest who's on their way and they kindly donate ? 10 to the charity pot, commenting that they'd lost their son to cancer in the last year. The day's action will involve riding to Kenmare where our friends live and we've visited many times, so the route is a familiar one, and was another of the training rides back at our last visit in October. So, the first 15 miles to Inch is quite nice and varied along Dingle Bay, then round a few hills inland before dropping back out to the shore to the sight of more cliffs and the long sandy beach of Inch approaching where, from the road above, I see Beccy and Calum are down by the sea. We meet briefly before agreeing to hook up again at Milltown; this section of road is not so interesting, almost entirely straight for 15 miles, and the usual bumps and rough rather than smooth tarmac surface that means you don't exactly glide along. So, Milltown main street is basking in sunshine as I break for cake and banana snacks after 30 miles, and then it's on another of the less scenic roads into Killarney and our next rendezvous at Muckross just beyond, at the edge of the Killarney National Park. However, it's during this section that I start to catch better views of Macgillicuddy's Reeks mountain range, and Carrantuohill, Ireland's highest peak. We'd climbed Carrantuohill, over 10 years previously during a new year visit, before we had Calum, and remember walking through cloud at the top, following the trail of cairns in amongst all the stones lying on the ground. Then, whilst at the top, the clouds had parted and we'd gained the view that makes such climbs worthwhile; it seems like a similar day today with cloud drifting across the summit. Reaching Muckross, the total is 45 miles, and I know there's a climb ahead so I allow myself a Guinness by way of preparation.

My chosen route takes us through the beautifully scenic Killarney National Park , one of the reasons why I have missed out the Iveragh peninsula, so that I can come this way instead. Also, the coast of Iveragh is the Ring of Kerry road which, in my humble opinion, is the least scenic of the three main peninsulas in Kerry, but just happens to be a convenient 100-mile route that coaches can tour round before the inhabitants are dumped back into the much-commercialised town of Killarney . They even have to restrict the coaches to only going anti-clockwise around the Ring, because there are so many of them in summer, and a number of places where they may struggle to pass if they meet, and that would slow everyone up if they had to inch along past each other. The coaches flying along those narrow roads don't make for pleasant cycling, either, so it's the mountain route for me. Passing through the woods and by the lakes of the park in the sunshine is very pleasant, a wild goat scuttles into the bushes, and then there's the climb up to Ladies View, where you see the park before you; well worth a photograph - I'm snapped with Beccy and Calum. There's a part of the climb still left to reach Moll's Gap overlooking the remote Black Valley , and then it's downhill for about 5 miles into Kenmare town, where Calum has already hooked up with his local pal David, and Beccy is chatting with our friend Mary. We're staying in their pub-restaurant-guesthouse for the night but, after an initial catch-up on news and a hello to Donal, I leave them talking and head on to increase the 62-mile daily count and make tomorrow's start easier.

Off on another road I know well from cycling on earlier holidays, I head out west on the Beara peninsula, Macgillicuddy's Reeks now on my right across Kenmare Bay, and the Caha Mountains on my left. Everything looks fabulous again in the evening sunlight and I'm on quiet coast roads which makes the ride even more enjoyable as I finish at Ardgroom after another 24 miles. As I am occasionally allowing myself the odd slug of Bushmill's from the bottle in the car, it's definitely Whiskey In The Jar, best known from the Thin Lizzy version, "as I was riding over the Cork and Kerry mountains..". Beccy's there with the car and we hoist the bike on the roof before driving back into Kenmare to find Calum and David, and get something to eat. We eat in Davitt's, great food as ever, seafood skewers, tagliatelle with chicken, and fish and chips, but no time for pudding tonight as we need to go and watch the football, Liverpool v PSV Eindhoven, out at the Sailor's Bar, a couple of miles along that Beara coast road, where we know that Barthy is a fervent Liverpool supporter and always has it on - Liverpool cruise through the first leg match to a 3-0 win and should (!) be comfortable with the second leg to come at home.
4th April  2007

Day 12 - 87 miles

So, here we are in a special place, and it proves to be an eventful day..we're later starting than usual as we sort a few things out in Kenmare, including breakfast at Davitt's (excellent porridge and scrambled eggs with smoked salmon - thanks Donal!) before getting in the car to drive back to last night's finish point at Ardgroom. By the time the bike is off the car and everything is ready to go, it's 11 a.m., and I know the road immediately ahead out to Allihies holds another one of the toughest rides, so that's demanding climbs for the third day running. The compensation is some of the most beautiful scenery of the trip in superb weather, clear blue skies and only the gentlest of breezes, showing Beara peninsula at its best. If Iveragh with the Ring of Kerry are the most popular, and Dingle gets a few coaches (but they can't get up the Connor Pass, so have to go the other way round), then the Beara peninsula doesn't seem to get any. So, it's something of an undiscovered gem and I'm glad that there aren't many people reading this ride diary, otherwise I feel like I'd be giving away a secret and the place would have hoards descending on it, and perhaps spoil it. Each to their own, and those who are comfortable with coach trips can hopefully at least appreciate the beauty of the Killarney National Park as they're driven quickly by, and it not just be another tick on the list to say they've been there. As the west of Ireland does still require a fair bit of effort to get there, perhaps only those who are able and willing to dig a little deeper will be seeking out Dingle and Beara with a good heart and respect for the natural beauty of those surroundings, rather than a tick on the list. Kenmare and, to an extent, Dingle are sophisticated, cosmopolitan little towns, and maybe there has been some subtle policy by the Irish Tourist Board and Kerry County Council to leave Killarney to soak up the mass tourism.

Anyway, all that background gets towards an explanation that the road from Ardgroom and Eyeries where I start the day going out to Allihies is well off the beaten track, has very little traffic and is a real twisting, turning roller-coaster with many sharp demanding ascents. After about 9 miles, I have my first mechanical failure of the trip as the chain breaks on my trusty steed whilst I'm attempting one of those ascents. Three consecutive days of tough climbing must have put it under strain, and I need to call in International Rescue, as I don't have the wherewithal to fix it on the spot. Beccy and Calum had already reached Ballydonegan beach, just below Allihies, and I phone for them to retrace their steps about 5 miles to find me. Whilst waiting, there's nothing for it but to sit on a rock and enjoy the view. When the backup team arrives, I unload the spare bike, my old Townsend Hot Rock, and load the Giant back on the roof. It does feel strange back on the old bike, with a slightly different posture, and gears aren't quite set as well as the xTc, but I manage the remaining sections of the rollercoaster round to Allihies, and report to Beccy and Calum, that Bike Two will do for a bit longer until Bike One can be fixed. This area at the end of the peninsula is full of disused copper mines, and it's interesting seeing the old shaft entrances and ruins of cottages nearby. All the twists and turns of the roads reveal secluded coves and rocky inlets with all kinds of bird life and many shades of blue water.

Leaving Allihies, the backup team are going on to Castletownbere to try and find a bike mechanic who we think is there, and I plod on the 12 miles or so to meet up there. On reaching the town, I spot the car with bike on the roof and see the chain fixed in place - marvellous! Even though time has been lost, celebration is due and I have a Guinness at MacCarthy's Bar and enjoy sitting outside in the sunshine before swapping the saddlebags back and preparing to depart once more. We share a table outside with some Scousers (they seem to get everywhere, and this lot have a family cottage down by Adrigole) and discuss the previous night's victory as well as the madness of my ride.

Next stop is Glengarriff after what is about 47 miles on the day (think the mileage counter is down by 18 from when Bike Two substituted); another pleasant section of riding mostly along the water's edge leading up to Bantry Bay , passing various islands, inlets and fishing activity along the way. We meet up at Harrington's Blue Loo pub, and agree that Bantry is next. 57 miles clocks up as we reach Bantry and meet on the square by the harbour; there's nothing that remarkable about the town but the bay is beautiful.

There's a long climb to Ballydehob, after turning off the main road out of Bantry, but a nice long downhill to follow and then, after a brief meeting with the backup crew at 68 miles just outside the village, we move swiftly on, agreeing that Baltimore is in sight as the finishing point. We get there via Skibbereen, and the more mountainous west has definitely been left behind us now to be replaced by more generally rolling pasture land. The song passing through my head on the approach along the water is, naturally, As We Sailed Into Skibbereen by Jackie Leven, the Celtic folk guy with the great voice and sharp between-song stories, before the turn over the channel and down to Baltimore, the most southerly point (according to our guide book, not Mizen Head, apparently). The crew have found Channel View B & B just before the village, and it has beautiful views across the water in the late evening sunlight. Not far from there, we take our host's recommendations for eating and enjoy garlic mushrooms and steak at Casey's Cabin pub for dinner, with a view of the sunset through the window as we eat.

5th April  2007

Day 13 - 100 miles

Those last three tough days with the mountain climbs have obviously left my defences down as I've picked up a cold, so the refreshment stops during the day now involve taking more medicine, i.e. a shot or two of Bushmills each stop. Leaving the B & B after a porridge and banana breakfast, I cycle down to Baltimore village and harbour to complete my visit to the most southerly point, then back up alongside the channel to Skibbereen before turning right on some back roads that will lead me to Union Hall, our first meeting point, at 15 miles. At one crossroads, the signs are superb, with three different ones saying that Union Hall is each of 10 km, 6 km, and 3 km away, yet there's only really one road at that junction that will take you there, and it's certainly not 6 km or less - perhaps they made some mistakes when making up the signs, but decided to put them up anyway. This isn't the only occasion when distances seem to have been randomly chosen to put on a sign, as though they've decided what numbers they have left that day will do, so they just stick them on. The other favourite trick is that the signs get moved around on the old finger posts; if they're not fixed at both ends, then some joker pushes it round on the post so it's showing a different direction - it maintains the challenge of navigation, and makes for regular checks of the map to reassure yourself that you're going the right way.

After climbing the sharp hill just before Union Hall, it's a fast, twisting descent into this nice little harbour village, and we sit by the water in the warm morning sunshine, and I take a slug of whiskey. There's an old single track bridge to cross the inlet to Glandore a couple of miles away, and we agree to see each other again there, as we know from previous visits that it's a lovely view from slightly higher ground, back over the harbour and out to sea. From there, it's on past the lane to Drombeg stone circle that we'd visited years ago, and down to Roscarbery, another nice spot on the water, where we hook up briefly before going on to Clonakilty. Although this is one of the more major N roads on this stretch, it's not too busy and, after Clonakilty, I turn on to an even quieter R road once more, to the next meeting place Timoleague. Here, at 38 miles for the day so far, we take a longer break by the abbey and the river, for the usual middle-of-the-day banana, cake and energy bar refuelling, topped up by the ice creams we're seduced into by the warm weather and seeing other folks enjoying their's.

Though the countryside in between is nothing remarkable, the drop down the hill into Kinsale harbour is very pleasant in the sunshine, and we meet again on the way into town, having reached the 52 mile mark now. Traffic's busy in Kinsale at the start of this Easter bank holiday weekend, as it is at Carrigaline, our next chosen stop south of Cork , so much so that Beccy can't find anywhere suitable to stop and continues to Monkstown. When we meet there briefly at 70 miles, it's only a couple of miles further to the ferry that we'll take to cross Cork/Cobh harbour, so we press on but, when, I get to the ferry loading lanes, there's no sign of our car and I get a call on the mobile to say they're already on the ferry on their way across - I think they're trying to get rid of me! Anyway, it's not long until the next ferry loads up and I see them on the other side for a bit more refuelling, where we decide I've still got enough energy to at least get to Ladysbridge, just off the main N25 road east of Cork . It's busy on there too on this Thursday evening just as people are finishing work and the traffic's made worse by there being significant roadworks. Being on a bike, I scoot through the queues, but saddle fever is definitely setting in by now, as I'm singing to myself, "I cannot pull over 'cos there is no hard shoulder to cry on" by the loon Julian Cope. Considering I've got the lurgy and it's late in the day, I actually make quick progress on this much more level road and meet Beccy and Calum at Ladysbridge sooner than expected.

We agree to head for Youghal, where the support crew have some initial difficulty finding accommodation, but actually find the Avonmore House closer into town and I'm surprised that, as I roll in there, I've knocked up another ton. As it's a later finish today, it's a quick shower and into town, where we forsake another pub meal and eat in an Italian Restaurant tonight, La Bella Roma, and very nice it is too. So, it's red wine rather than Guinness to go with some antipasto and stuffed pepper starters, followed by a spicy Penne alla Calabrese, Diavolo pizza and vegetable lasagne, then tirimasu and chocolate cake.

6th April  2007

Day 14 - 89 miles

Porridge and bananas are available again for breakfast at Avonmore House. Calum reminds me that another Julian Cope song could enter the singing repertoire, East Easy Rider, "It's a bruising, shattering ride" - the boy's getting very good with quoting song lyrics and naming tunes! We head off in good time on this Good Friday morning and, though I have to follow a major N road to get from Youghal to Dungarvan, the fact that it's a holiday means that there's less traffic about. It's much more open country again now and, on this fairly high road, I catch the wind a bit, which sets the pattern as I continue east all day. We'd agreed to meet on the far side of Dungarvan, after about 18 miles, distances now being measured according to how soon I might want more medicine! Dungarvan seems a nice town with a pleasant central square and, when we meet outside a florist's over the bridge, we agree on Bunmahon as the next stop to break up the distance to Tramore. Reaching there, Beccy and Calum have found a parking spot and picnic area that's allowed them to go off to the beach before coming back to meet me, and we sit and have the regular middle-of-the-day fruit and cake break. There's an interesting part of the picnic area where a walk shows the geological formation of the area's landscape with the information written in the stones.

Between Bunmahon and Tramore, it's a nice coastline-hugging road, giving great views of the cliffs, and still testing for the cyclist with the sharp rise and fall of the road as it goes where the land allows. Meeting in Tramore about 45 miles into the day's riding, there seems nothing remarkable about this seaside resort and, after a short break, we continue in the direction of Passage East which, if found to be running on this bank holiday, is where we can catch another short ferry that allows us to cut out Waterford. Sure enough, it is and, with only a short crossing, the turnaround is quick and we're on board fairly promptly - all of us together this time! Reaching Arthurstown on the other side, we've agreed a 10 mile stretch to Wellingtonbridge, where the heat induces another temptation for ice cream. From there, the regional R road continues fairly straight across to Wexford, and I surprise myself by overtaking a group of cycling club riders on their "proper" road bikes - maybe, even this far into the day and into the trip, I'm not so knackered as I feel, after all; in the last couple of days, I've felt better in the second half of the day, but maybe that's down to the terrain being kinder. From the road, though the overall landscape is generally flat and uninteresting now, there are views out to sea, and a ferry recently left from Rosslare can be seen in the distance.

It's a good job I'm making fairly quick progress, as Good Friday is not such an easy day to find service in Ireland . Beccy and Calum have gone on to find accommodation north of Wexford, seeking out somewhere that has a restaurant attached to a hotel and, therefore, more likely to be open. After navigating the traffic and one-way system in Wexford, I cross the bridge over the Slaney and head for Curracloe, about six miles further on, where Beccy tells me the Hotel Curracloe restaurant is open until 7 p.m. I get there not long after 6 p.m., and have time to shower and clean up, before an unremarkable meal and a welcome couple of Guinness (being hotel residents, you are allowed a drink, unlike other establishments on Good Friday in Eire).
7th April   2007

Day 15 - 78 miles

So, this should be the last day and, after an unremarkable cooked breakfast served pre-cooked from the hotplate in the hotel, I'm on my way by about 9.30 a.m. Dublin has become Zap City (The Cult) for the day as I sing my way into the morning with that as my target and, at less than eighty miles away, that's less than I've done on every day so far other than when swapping backup crew. I must have been spoiled by all of that other wonderful scenery on most of the other days, and this is back to regular pasture land, much as had been seen between Dublin and Newry on day one. I know that the beautiful Wicklow Mountains lie ahead, but they are inland and I'm mostly restricted to glimpses of them from a distance later in the day. To ensure that I've started the day in decent shape and have access to the medicine that will help with that cold that's still about, we meet after about 10 miles at Kilmuckridge, where there's quite a set of wind turbines, and a few more can be seen up ahead that are a couple of miles out at sea. I've only been having small slugs of whiskey, honestly, but in the last few days, I've had hallucinations of rats scurrying in front of my wheel and back into the verge; however, during this last day, I see so many, that I realise I can't be hallucinating. Then, we meet on the outskirts of Gorey amidst heavy traffic queuing to get into Tesco's (aarggh! - it seems that like, so many Brits, many Irish don't now make time to visit or no longer value their individual specialist retailers and are drawn through the doors to the homogenised shopping plastic-wrapped supermarket experience after sitting in their cars waiting to be allowed in).

We pass out of Gorey and its traffic onto the main N11 for a very busy section up to Arklow, where there's yet more traffic congesting the town centre, and then over the bridge and back off to the quieter coast road, where I meet the crew in a small parking area by Ennereilly beach, now about 36 miles into the day's riding. They're not the only ones there, as a group of swaggering young men are enjoying larking about in the sunshine - a few more people stop by, but drive on when they see the gang, obviously not finding the quiet beach experience they were seeking. I had been singing The Doors song to myself, "This is The End", but there were no signs of napalm-laden helicopters coming in over the beach.

On up the coast road, past Brittas Bay and beach area, there's a fair old climb before the payback of a good freewheeling section down into Wicklow town and out the other side by a couple of miles to meet just before Rathnew and plot the last couple of stages. At this point, having passed 1300 miles in total and with about 25 miles to go, I'm starting to allow myself to think of a finish, thoughts previously banished in a football-like "one game at a time" mentality, as insurance against mechanical or physical failure that could have thwarted the whole enterprise.

We meet briefly one more time at Kilcoole, on the quieter road out of Wicklow nearer the coast, but then I have to join the busier roads again coming into Bray. Now, though, it's Dun Laoghaire or bust, and time for one more significant hill to climb outside Greystones, the Wicklow Mountains proper to my left. It's that kind of hill that I prefer, a long steady one to grind out, with a smooth sweeping downhill afterwards, and then into Bray, which is full of traffic as people are out and about on this Saturday afternoon in the Greater Dublin area. More major roads take people around and into Dublin in different directions and I manage to pick more suburban roads through the pleasant Shankill area on the side of Killiney Hill. Around that point, I'm joined by Joe who lives on the west side of Dublin and is a member of Naas Cycling Club; he's a nice guy who stops at the lights for a friendly word and, he's going my way, so I ease up on the pedalling as we chat and I tell him some of what I'd been up to. We comment that when I tell anybody that I've done a fortnight's cycling in Ireland and only had the waterproofs out for three hours they'll never believe me! Then, another distance cyclist, Hugh, joins us and, from having spent the whole ride with only wildlife and farm animals for company, I have an escort to see me into Dun Laoghaire. Hugh is approaching retirement and plans to cycle to Rome in seven week-long stints when he stops work. He, too, has been cycling from Wexford area to Dublin , with an overnight stop in between, as part of his preparation. It sounds like an interesting trip, and shows that I'm not the only one who comes up with these crazy expeditions.

Pedalling slowly now as we talk, I enter the Dun Laoghaire harbour area flanked by my escorts and, in the warm afternoon sun, locate Beccy and Calum exactly where I'd described to them that I had started with Dave a fortnight earlier. Joe and Hugh stop for a few final words with us, congratulating me on my efforts, and then they ride off, leaving us to take a few end-of-ride photos for the record. We load the bike up on the roof once more and set off back to the south west for Kenmare and some rest and relaxation. All day, it's been difficult to think that it's nearly done, and now that I'm officially finished, I think it will still take a few days to sink in.

Training Rides

17th March 2007 52 miles to Shawbury (NE of Shrewsbury)
11th March 2007 35 miles to "Llanthony Valley" via Hay Bluff and Lord Hereford's Knob (two significant hills just south of Hay-On-Wye)
10th March 2007 72 miles round trip from Rhayader to Builth Wells, Beulah, Abergwesyn and the Devil's Staircase on the mountain road to Tregaron, and back via the other mountain road from Tregaron to Cymystwyth and above the Elan Valley to Rhayader
3rd March 2007 75 miles round trip from Kington area via Hundred House to Builth Wells and on to Brecon by the top road through Upper Chapel then back via Hay-On-Wye, Whitney-on-Wye (watched last half-hour of Liverpool v Man Utd with a Guinness at the Boat Inn to soften the blow of the last minute goal to United) and Lyonshall
24th February 2007 56 mile trip to Nantmel and back .... free Sunday lunch at mum and dad's!! .... on an outrageously windy day!
23rd February 2007 73 mile round trip from Kington area to Ludlow, Knighton, Pen-y-Bont and back home
10th February 2007 Snowed off...!!
4th February 2007 28 miles to Nantmel .... another Sunday lunch at my folks'!
3rd February 2007 75 mile trip from Kington area to Brecon and back via Hay-On-Wye (stopping in the pub for a couple of Guinness and the second half of the Merseyside derby) and on through Dorstone and the Golden Valley to Madley and Hereford
27th January 2007 40 mile round trip to Ludlow and back
13th January 2007 32 miles to brother Jamie's at Newtown via Presteigne, Knighton and over the top of the mountains between Felindre and Dolfor .... before settling in for the second half of the Liverpool v Watford match
6th January 2007 40 mile round trip to Hay-On-Wye via Brilley mountain and back via Gladestry (great couple of pints and bowl of soup at the superb Harp Inn in Old Radnor with seven miles to go until home)
Yule/New Year week Various 15, 20, 30 mile rides around Presteigne and back, or to Leominster and back, to get the training going