Rothar Routes

Cycle routes & pilgrim journeys in Ireland and Europe …..

Posts from the ‘Routes’ category

2021 – a great year for the bike!

What a year of joy, cycling north, south, east and west of this beautiful island!

Approaching the finish of Malin to Mizen

I’ve said it before but we have an unbelievable network of local roads suitable for riding bikes, whether it be an hour loop or a long distance tour. The beauty of the local roads is that it takes you into the heart of rural Ireland, into small villages and off the beaten track. Virtually traffic free the roads are super safe. As rural Ireland declines, eco tourism offers a mountain of possibilities and the growth of hiking trails and bike routes will aid in the promotion of local areas and perhaps keeping them populated with increased economic activity associated with sustainable tourism. With Covid concerns in 2021, we really enjoyed avoiding the ‘tourist hotspots’ over the year and travelling the road less travelled; people have more time to be friendly and it has a more authentic feel to it.

The Blackstairs Mountains, County Carlow

There’s massive potential for off road touring too if routes can be accessed and developed. Any route development needs to be minimal; in most cases all that is needed is some annual maintenance and good signposting.

Ballycarney, Co Wexford
Sunset Dungarvan Harbour

It’s taken me a while to come to the realisation that a Greenway is definitely not designed as a cycle route. At this stage I’ve now cycled on all the Greenways across the country:

  • Great Western Greenway, Mayo, 42kms
  • Waterford Greenway, 46kms
  • Old Rail Trail, Westmeath, 42kms
  • Royal Canal Greenway, Longford to Dublin, 130kms
  • Suir Blueway, Tipperary, 21kms

My experience on the Greenways is that the routes are used more by walkers than cyclists and by families with young children. Consequently most of the activity is typically in the 5 kms close to the hub points, with the mid sections very quiet. As most of them follow the path of old railway tracks they tend to be very straight and boring after a few kilometres. While there is stunning scenery on the Western Greenway and the Waterford Greenway, most of the routes are enclosed by the old banks that bordered the railway line or hedging. I find them a bit soulless and sterile and much prefer the local roads that twist and turn offer up interesting heritage sites and beautiful views. The Greenways are great additions to an area but for cycle touring I would tend to probably avoid them unless they linked specific places I needed to get to.

Gougane Barra, West Cork
Free Derry Corner, The Bogside, Derry en route from Malin Head to Mizen Head

The majority of our cycling is of course locally and we have got into the habit of cycling all year round. Night cycles on cold winter nights are exhilarating and we have so familiar with our favourite routes close to Carlow Town that the bikes almost steer themselves!

Night cycle on the River Barrow
Heat Map of our cycle routes

We covered a lot of ground in 2021, most of it local but looking at the heat map, we are only scratching the surface of places to see and visit in the years ahead!. Roll on 2022.

How now brown cow?
Training run before Malin to Mizen
Barley Cove, West Cork

Ducketts Grove Night Ride

The thrill of riding in the dark is something I’ve come to savour these past couple of winters!

First thoughts about it were that it would be dangerous and boring, with nothing to see in the pitch black of night. How wrong could I be! Nothing compares to being out on a quiet country road or along the Barrow Track on a cold crisp black night, with stars twinkling overhead or occasionally with the Space Station making its way across the skies. Or a clear moonlit night making it easy to pick out familiar landmarks that aren’t so familiar looking in the half light. Especially trees, which take on a whole new shape and appearance. Throw in a few gusts of wind and it can be damn scary!

It’s only possible of course if you have good lights on your bike, front and rear and you pick your route carefully. With 1800 lumens in my front light I can safely get a good 90 minutes of a ride in. Tonight took me out to other worldly Ducketts Grove – is there a more iconic building for the Halloween season?

Another favourite is the along the River Barrow towpath between St Mullins and Clashganny which I did last year, starting out in daylight on the outward journey and coming back by the light of the bike. It can be tricky on the Barrow in winter as the track softens and becomes slippy so you need to be extra vigilant.

And it shortens the winter; being able to keep up the evening cycles is just magic and helps keep a level of fitness up for the following season!

Malin Head to Mizen Head Day 8

Bantry – Mizen 54kms

I don’t ride a bike to add days to my life. I ride a bike to add life to my days.

Anon

The final day. A sense of exhilaration floods the senses. Looking forward to a great days cycling, of great sea views, of the last few hills to climb, thinking of rounding that last headland and the Atlantic Ocean stretching out endlessly ahead of us. Friday’s Bantry Market is famous and it was setting up just as we started. It looked like a great place to grab a bargain! Pádraig and Celine Dooley, who are on holidays close by, popped in to wish us well on the last leg and kindly stayed around to see us at the finish. It must have been the giddiness of anticipation that saw us head 12kms down towards Sheep Head instead of onward to Durrus; we put a nice few extra kms on our route plus a nice climb over the peninsula to get back on track. But again these deviations from plan always seem to work out for the better. We had great views across to the Beara peninsula before we turned inland and over the brow of the hill. A tough climb but with a great tail wind so we weren’t too put out and we were soon rolling into Durrus.

Love the colourful Montbretia, so popular on the byroads of Cork and Kerry

The tail wind became a head wind soon enough and only the stunning coastal scenery kept our minds off the pain! Views of Barley Cove, Cape Clear, the mystical lonely Fastnet Rock inspired us with every turn of the pedals. Just one breathtaking view after another.

Goleen was buzzing; two large groups of cyclists passed us in the opposite direction with support vehicles, presumably head to Mizen! Once we turned at Goleen the wind was relentless; almost stopping us in our tracks. Ronan passed by, coming down to collect us. Pure adrenalin kept us going at this stage.

Barleycove
Not too far away now!

Eight days after leaving Ireland’s most northerly point, Malin Head, we crossed the finish line at Mizen Head. We didn’t kill ourselves, took our time, enjoyed the scenery, the fresh air and the exercise, getting stronger each day. I can’t recommend a bike trip like it highly enough. There are so many reasons to go on a long trip. The sense of complete freedom and independence on the road means travelling is so relaxed. It’s just you and the road. You decide when you go and how far you go. Its your schedule and not some tour company. It’s never about speed or time on the road. The pace of life away from the busy towns and tourist areas is a joy; people move slowly, cars stop behind you and are in no rush to whizz by. Things go wrong and you improvise. You get lost in your own thoughts; there’s a lot of public emphasis on wellness and mental health; I guess that’s what bike touring actually is when you boil it down. it’s good for the body and good for the soul! Thanks to all who have followed the blog – I hope it gave you a flavour of our trip and encourages you to try it someday for yourselves! Now where to next Mary?

Malin Head to Mizen Head Day 7

Millstreet – Bantry 72kms

Gougane Barra

Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of riding a bike

John F Kennedy

So many reasons for cycling Malin to Mizen. Nothing is as exhilarating as riding a bike. You feel the warm sun on your face; even on the warmest, gentlest of days you feel the cooling breeze. There are days you want to cover every part of your body from the wet and cold and on other days you just want to don just a t shirt and shorts. Take in the fresh air, smell the honeysuckle in hedgerows, admire the stunning Irish vistas unfolding slowly before your eyes. Living. Over the week all our senses were overloaded with nature at its best; in a kilometre on the bike you will appreciate the great outdoors more than you would in a 1,000 kilometre car journey. Over 700 kilometres, it’s a veritable sensual feast.

The finish line is fast approaching and today is one of the days I most looked forward to. Heading back to Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh where I spent the most wonderful month attending Irish College in 1973. Getting an early start set the day up nicely and we quickly made progress out of Millstreet, so good we missed our turn for Ballyvourney! But sometimes it’s for the best and we ended up on a marvellous route. Realising we were gone too far, we stopped to look at our map when a lady pulled up and advised us to continue on to Macroom or if we preferred hills she recommended another road through Clondrohid which brought us over by Renaree! The local roads always appeal best and we had a nice long 11km pull to the top of Renaree with the added pleasure of a great 5km downhill to Ballingeary.

At the top of Renaree

Great memories of my time in the Gaeltacht with a lot of my class mates from CBS Carlow. Céilís, football, hurling, hikes and treasure hunts…. it was a magical month that left an indelible impression on all of us. The next time Ballingeary came onto my radar was the explosion of John O Driscoll on the International Rules game in 1986. He was only a kid but won the third test and the series for Ireland with his lightning pace and his 15 points haul. He went onto play for Cork for a good number of years after.

We left Ballingeary and headed out to Cork’s Glendalough… Gougane Barra. Saint Finbarr built a monastery here in the 6th century on an island in the lake, the ruins of which are still there beside the beautiful oratory with its stunning stained glass windows. The Lake is the source or Cork’s famous River Lee.

We reluctantly left Gougane Barra behind and cycled back out to the main road and we were straight into the famous Pass of Keimaneigh. In the 19th century this road would have been much more difficult as it passed through the rugged but it still retains its beauty today. Cath Céim an Fhia was a famous poem we learned in school about the Battle of Keimaneigh.

Pass of Keimaneigh

Once we crested the Pass it was virtually downhill all the way through Kealkill into Bantry. Heavy rain from Kealkill meant we were glad to roll into the square in Bantry for our final overnight stop. Just 54kms to go. But who’s counting!

Malin Head to Mizen Head Day 6

Glen of Aherlow to Millstreet 90kms

Sheltering from the rain near Kilfinane

I love wind

said no cyclist ever

Rain is one thing, but wind on a bike is another! The mind can play tricks with you when it comes to wind; we always know when we have a headwind but never recognise a tailwind. Today was definitely the hardest day so far. Powerful gusts battered us all the way from Aherlow to Millstreet. It didn’t matter if we were descending or ascending, the wind whipped around us and our concentration was on controlling the bikes and moving forward, however slowly.

The Glen Aherlow is just a great place to visit; its a Mecca for hill walkers with a myriad of routes but it is also a great cycling base with the Kilmallock Cycle Hub and Ballyhoura cycle routes all close by. The Glen itself has some fascinating heritage sites worth a visit in their own right. None more fascinating than St Berrihert’s Kyle which I visited on a previous occasion but worth including here.

This simple circular stone enclosure contains an amazing collection of cross and decorated stone slabs. I’ve never seen anything like it. Not many have, as it isn’t signposted (might be a good thing, as these crosses and slabs would be easy remove). The atmosphere here is very special. It has a presence that is seldom experienced. To get to it we had to cross a couple of boggy fields and over a number of stiles. It is obviously a place of local pilgrimage as there are many holly bushes used as rag trees both in the enclosure and outside.

We were shortly into our 13th county of this north to south tour when we crossed the border of Limerick, just after we passed the important ruins of Moor Abbey. The history of Ireland’s oppression can be summarised in the history of this poor ruin which was destroyed during the Desmond Rebellions by a half brother of Sir Walter Raleigh (no wonder I don’t have one of their bikes!) and later by the devil incarnate, Oliver Cromwell. The R.I.C. attempted to blow up the ruin in 1921.

Lost in the mists of time is the reason for the name of Galbally. The Town of the Foreigner (An Gaillbhaile), is not the only town with reference to a newcomer or foreigner to an area, Donegal, Ballygall, spring to mind. We were again following the Beara – Breifne Way signs and a little road brought us past Galbally GAA grounds. A constant theme of our journey was the central presence of the local GAA club in communities. It’s extraordinary how important the GAA is to the fabric of each parish and it’s a great connection when visiting other parts of the country.

This was a magical bóithrín that connected us to the next village of Ballylanders.

Bóithrín..

‘cow path, a path made by a meandering cow or sometimes man made

These local roads crisscross the country and make cycling a joy. With a little planning it’s possible to traverse the country from north to south or east to west along these traffic free roads.

With the weather deteriorating and heavy thunder showers accompanying the wind, we had multiple shelter stops in hedgerows as we diverted once again and we took the protected side of Slieveragh. It definitely protected us from the worst of the weather. We were glad to eventually make it into Limerick’s highest village, Kilfinnane, after a 5km climb. The Golden Vale, which we entered around Tipperary Town covers parts of Tipperary, Limerick and Cork. It’s some of the best dairy farmland in the country and the heartland of the dairy industry. Great herds of friesian cows dotted the hillsides of the Ballyhoura Mountains on way into the attractive market town of Kilfinane.

Stalker Wallace is commemorated in the Town Square. One of Limerick’s old GAA Clubs is named after him. Stalker was captured during the 1798 Rebellion, he was flogged and tortured over a period of days, then hanged and his head displayed on a spike in the Square…. from the Bogside of Derry to here in Kilfinane we have seen so many reminders of the suffering this country endured under English rule. Thankfully those days are behind us but we shouldn’t airbrush them from history. A great source of local history, folklore is the Dúchas website. Approximately 740,000 pages (288,000 pages in the pupils’ original exercise books; 451,000 pages in bound volumes) of folklore and local tradition were compiled by pupils from 5,000 primary schools in the Irish Free State between 1937 and 1939. Have a read of this about the capture of Stalker Wallace:

Kilfinane is another great village in the Ballyhoura area to base yourself in and the Town Square has very attractive shop fronts and street art to welcome the visitor.

We moved on and the 15kms or so to Ballyhea in County Cork, our final county, was a good flat run across on quiet roads. Ballyhea is situated on the busy N20 Cork to Limerick road. We were glad to cross it and head over through Churchtown.

Churchtown, County Cork

We headed into a fierce headwind on the way across to Liscarroll, home of the Donkey Sanctuary and an imposing Castle ruin, right at the centre of the village. The Donkey Sanctuary has done fantastic work since 1987 and has saved over 1800 donkeys in that time. Lovely to see and hear them as we passed by! No photos as we were struggling badly at this stage! Our planned route was to continue west and uphill but the wind was ferocious and we decided it was best to head south instead. Delighted we did as this was a long hard day and we took the R580 into Kanturk. That meant that we would then have to travel the busy N72, the Mallow – Killarney Road, for 7kms but the compromise was just about worth it given the wind. Not a comfortable ride but needs must at times. We were glad to turn off and take a much quieter road down into Millstreet, host town to the Eurovision Song Contest in 1993, which was won by Niamh Kavanagh with her beautiful song ‘In Your Eyes’. Hard to believe it was that long ago. Ireland won three in a row 1992-1994 and then 1996. We can hardly qualify these days! A relief to get a room in the Wallis Arms after a day we struggled badly on! 590 kms completed, just 116kms to go!

1993 Eurovision Song Contest Final participating countries.
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