I had a bad fall on the bike 129 days ago. Multiple fractures of my humerus resulting in the insertion of 3 plates in the arm. The prognosis wasn’t good. It would be at least 8 months before I could cycle again and at that the arm would never be able to extend fully.
Just over 4 months later the picture is much better! Today was my first 20kms cycle since January and I did it along my favourite route, The Barrow Track. It was a slow cagey bike ride but it felt like I was getting my life back!
To be honest I was fearful I might never get back up on the bike given the extent of the break. But full credit to the great people in Waterford hospital, they did a phenomenal job on knitting the bone back together.
Funny how your mood and mind can change! I was resigned to no biking this year at best and now I’m planning ahead for my next bike tour. Coast to Coast. But not the simple Dublin – Galway route. I’ve a much more adventurous and interesting route planned from Blacksod Bay in Mayo to Carlingford in Louth. Hopefully get to it in July, providing rehab continues at the pace it is now.
What a year of joy, cycling north, south, east and west of this beautiful island!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
These story boards of the early stages of Turas Columbanus, the latest addition to pilgrimage routes, give a great insight into the life of Columbanus and his journey from Myshall to Bangor and eventually to Bobbio in Italy. Hopefully they will be rolled out soon for the rest of the route to Bangor in County Down for the Irish sections of the route. The route moves to Europe where it crosses through France, Switzerland, Austria and Italy. I cycled a version of the Irish route last year and the map of my version of the route follows after the story boards. Credit to all involved in the research and production of the story boards that highlight the life of one of the great saints of Ireland.
The bicycle is a curious vehicle; the passenger is its engine
John Howard, US cyclist
Climbing any of the roads up towards Bilboa and Killeshin or the Ridge at Old Leighlin definitely reinforces that quote! There’s nothing quite like a good steep climb on a bike ride to reduce you to a quivering mess. Heart rate is through the roof, legs are full of lactic acid and you just feel …. great to be alive!
It’s nice to change things up and get up a few hundred metres to admire the views back across Carlow towards the Nurney Plateau, the Blackstairs and the Wicklow Mountains. Especially at harvest time, fields of golden brown mixed with forty shades of green stretch out before you like a painting. The views are stunning and make the bit of effort to climb the hill so worthwhile.
The Blackbog Road is a great road for getting out of Carlow Town; it’s so quiet, has a good surface and brings out to Milford in a flash. Instead of crossing over the skew bridge at Milford I turned left and carried the bile over the drawbridge across the canal, then took the local road out by Ballygowan to Tomard and continued up to Tomard Upper. These are just perfect roads for cycling, virtually traffic free and so peaceful.
This route is a nice weekend route; its 37kms with about 400 metres of uphill – and better still 400 metres of downhill!
The descent from Rossmore down past the Reservoir and Killeshin Romanesque Doorway is just fantastic but caution is needed – this section fo road can be busy at times and you pick up serious speed so don’t be taking any risks! There’s a lovely walk around the Reservoir and the Romanesque Doorway is always worth a stop off.