I don’t ride a bike to add days to my life. I ride a bike to add life to my days.
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.
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.
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?
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.
‘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.
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.
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!
Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know
There was a symphony playing on the window pane when we woke. The weather had broken yesterday evening and it wasn’t letting up any time soon. After a hearty breakfast – ate slowly, we decided to give it another 30 minutes before departure to see would the clouds lift at all. They didn’t; it got worse! The thought of cycling in the rain is much worse than actually doing it and it was actually enjoyable; there’s a great sense of achievement in getting out and just dealing with the elements. We were on the eastern shore of Lough Derg and great gusts of wind were driving sheets of rain across the lake from County Clare and blowing us all over the place. We were saturated. It was a tough 27kms to Nenagh. And as Murphy’s law would have it, the rain stopped as we arrived! The break was only temporary. We changed our planned route to avoid a long steep exposed climb in the Silvermines. Instead we took a long diversion to Toomevara and onto the busy Borrisoleigh road. After 10kms we were delighted to see the Beara Breifne signs intersect the road and we followed those up into the hill country. It was delightful. The BB Way is well signposted and the scenery in this hidden corner of Tipperary is delightful. Beautiful country side all around as we reached Templederry. This peaceful village was home to the fiery rebel priest Fr John Kenyon (1812-1869). He was a fierce advocate of physical force and an outspoken opponent of Daniel O Connell, impacted as he was by the devastation of the famine in the surrounding countryside. But his efforts to relieve distress during the Famine endeared him to his flock. The local GAA Club is called Templederry Kenyons. That’s the beauty of the bike! You learn so much more about where you are passing through.
We were heading into very remote countryside now and still climbing gradually. Rain was still falling but it was majestic! Our diversion turned out really well and it was one of our favourite sections of the entire route. There was a lot of climbing today, almost a 1,000 metres in foul weather but it added to the whole sense of the journey. As I rounded a bend in the road a voice beckoned from 50 metres ahead ” How are ye? Will ye buy a lotto ticket?” We stopped and bought a couple, crossed our fingers, but Sean Treacey’s GAA Club haven’t been in touch so I guess we had no luck! I hope they have better luck in the Tipp Championships this year!
We eventually linked up with my original route at Hollyford, a busy centre for the timber industry. Another big climb had us pushing our bikes yet again but at least the rain had stopped and we had fabulous views across the hill country.
While Fr Kenyon had a reputation as an advocate for physical force our next stopping point was the village of Cappawhite had earned a world wide reputation for faction fighting in the 19th century, so we approached with caution!
We decided to not delay just in case the locals had ideas of resurrecting the practice and we kept moving forward following the BB Way signs which made navigation very easy and we soon reached Tipperary Town, gateway to the Glen of Aherlow. The climb up into the Glen was the toughest yet and we were both gasping – and that was pushing the bikes, not cycling! But it was great to crest the hill and enjoy the freewheel down as far as the Aherlow House Hotel where we had good grub and the luxury of a bath to look forward to! Another day down. 500kms completed, 205 kms to go!
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.