Malin to Iskaheen 53kms
Ireland’s most northerly point is Malin Head on the Inishowen Peninsula of Donegal. Ironically the most northerly point is in the south and not in the north, kinda proves this is one island with a silly boundary. Inishowen is virtually the same size as County Carlow but only a small part of County Donegal! On its own it’s a fantastic place to visit with stunning coastal views, beaches to compare with anywhere else on the planet, headlands, walking and cycling routes. And it’s steeped in history, with lots of heritage sites to visit too.
Our plan was to cycle the 700kms from Malin Head to Mizen Head using the network of quiet local roads (‘L’ roads) and bóithríns as much as possible and try avoid busy Regional and National Roads. The road less travelled and a journey to the remoter, quieter parts of this beautiful island. That meant packing 15 ordnance survey maps and still getting lost occasionally! Sticking to the local roads would help us avoid the car mad drivers that seem to exist north of a County Louth – County Sligo axis, where many seem to speed between car washes as they attempt to show off their gleaming set of wheels! There’s a definite difference in driving habits above that Louth Sligo axis! The safety campaign promoting 1.5 metres distance when overtaking cyclists is making an impact down south but we found many drivers up north ignoring this vital ‘shared road safe practice’.
It’s a five hour car journey from Carlow to Malin Head and of course we ran a bit behind schedule, meaning a very late start on our first day. It was close to 5pm on a sweltering hot summers evening when we pointed our front wheels south of the start line and rolled down the hill in the direction of pretty Malin village and our first ice cream stop!
Our senses were being overwhelmed by the idyllic views unfolding around every turn in the road and led us into a false sense of achievement – this was going to be a picnic in the park or so we thought for a while!
Why go on a 700km cycle? For me it is about stepping out of the banal, the brutal boring reality of 365 day living on a journey that is full of inspiration in the scenery surrounding us, in the magic of nature, in the delving into our past and not least in the sense of accomplishment when completed. You can’t do that so well in a car but on a bike every point of interest is a stopping off occasion. It might be a spectacular view, it might be a heritage site and Inishowen has plenty to whet the appetite.
There are so many unheralded heritage sites dotted on our landscape and there is a real danger of them disappearing through neglect. I love to visit as many of the less known ones when I am out and about on the rothar. These crosses are at Carrowmore, not far from Culdaff. I had planned to visit the Cloncha High Cross but we took the wrong road out of Malin and missed that one so it was nice to take a small diversion to Carrowmore instead. Our Christian past speaking to us today…
We headed south on our local road to Gleneely, and in keeping with our desire to stay off regional roads we had of course the delight of a serious climb (gradient 14%) up to a fantastic viewing point at Cnoc and Uininn. On November 30th 1941, a RAF Spitfire was just 3 minutes flying time away from his base at Eglinton Airport when 23 year old Roland ‘Bud’ Wolfe (he was from a unit made of completely American personnel) had to bail out of his aircraft before it crashed into the bog half a mile away. Seventy years later that Spitfire was located by a team led by avation historian, Jonny McNamee. Marking the location today is a memorial plaque with a panoramic view.
At least we had now crested the climb and it was downhill all the way to Redcastle; tough work but we prefer that to facing busy roads. The road from Redcastle along the shore of Lough Foyle was busier but tolerable and we had the benefit of a good level surface until the turnoff for our first accommodation in the download of Iskaheen.
In this time of pandemic most of our hospitality sector is struggling and a bike tour is one way to support local businesses. Its hard to book ahead when cycling – you never know what way a day will unfold but we did get the first three nights booked and we brought a tent just in case we got stuck. Many b&bs away from tourist areas have not reopened as it would cost too much. Luckily we booked a small little apartment in Iskaheen from Catrina Kyle. What perfect hosts, they went out of their way to be helpful which rounded off the perfect start to our cycle to Mizen.