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West Coast Ireland (2016)

In the Summer of 2016 Rudi and Willem cycle around Ireland for two weeks. The road takes us from Cork to the west coast, and from there to Boyle, along steep cliffs, over mountain passes and through lake areas. In thirteen days we travel 1.135 km and climb 9.500 meters.

Day 1: Cork > Ballylickey (92 km)

We fly from Amsterdam Airport (Schiphol) to Cork and arrive at 10 a.m. local time. After having prepared the bicycles we go to the city center. Our first target is the post office: from here we send the bicycle packaging materials to the camping in Dublin, where we will collect and reuse the stuff for the flight back home. Next we go to the outdoor shop to buy two gas bottles. We have lunch on the green campus of Cork University.

As soon as we start cycling, it starts raining. Welcome in Ireland! The busy road (R618) takes us in western direction along the river Lee, but due to the heavy vegetation we see little of it. Cycling is easy, with climbs that are short and not steep. The landscape opens up from Inchigeelagh. The Pass of Kei (204 m) is today’s highest spot. We descent to Camping Eagle Point, which is located nicely next to Bantry Bay, and then quickly head for the pub.

Day 2: Ballylickey > Coornagillagh (56 km)

It has been raining and the wind has been blowing throughout the night. And this will continue the rest of today and tomorrow. Theoretically we are cycling a beautiful route next to the coast line; however, in practice from the hilly road we see very little of what surrounds us, due to the low hanging clouds and the high hedges. In Adrigole we are so fed up with the weather that we decide to leave the peninsula what it is and cut off via the Healy Pass.

The Healy Pass road was constructed during the Great Famine in 1847. At the time, the rich English rulers were against offering the inferior Irish food aid. That is why they started infrastructural projects like this pass road: at least the Irish would be doing something useful. A few years later also this type of aid had become not done; the Irish were basically offered two options: starvation or emigration. Yep, the English were a civilized people.

The pass road is narrow, has a lot of bends and goes through a rough landscape. The gale adds an extra dimension to the ride. The descent, with a view of Glanmore Lake, is stunning. In Lauiragh we take the R573, a narrow, quiet and lovely road. After just 56 km we arrive at our destination: the shabby Beara Camping, run by grumpy Frisians. We have run out of cash… Can’t pay with card… It keeps raining… Ireland is boring… Grumpy Frisians… Will this never end?

Day 3: Coornagillagh > Cahersiveen (89 km)

Believe it or not: today it is dry only between 1.25-1.32 p.m. We have English breakfast in the very touristic Kenmare, and next turn on the busy N70. This Ring of Kerry is Ireland’s most touristic road: a road filled with coaches during holiday peak periods. Well, the only thing we see is mist and rain. Totally soaked from the rain we enter a neat bistro on Caherdaniel Beach. The waiter almost panics: ’You are not allowed to sit there’ etcetera.

From the beach camping a short climb follows to Sheenan’s Point: the famous view point right next to the rough coast, from where the Skellig Islands, steeply rising from the sea, can be seen. We can see NOTHING, like in the Never-ending Story; so we take photos of The Nothing. From here we head north and have backwind. We race to the cozy Mannix Point in Cahersiveen. This camping has an amazing kitchen facility and living room.

Day 4: Cahersiveen > Dingle (106 km)

From Cahersiveen we go to the Ballaghisheen Pass, which is located in the middle of the peninsula. The first stage through a forest industry area is easy going, but from Ballaghisheen Forest the 8-13% slopes are quite strenuous. From the pass summit we have a splendid view of the wide landscape, with summits reaching 1000 meters or more. Next to the road we can see numerous pieces of peat drying. We then take a narrow road with grass in the middle to Killorgin. This time we have to climb up to 18%.

From Killorgin we cycle to the north for ten kilometers on a busy, wide road. Fortunately people drive carefully and keep distance. Near Castlemaine we turn left and head westwards, on the tremendously boring and busy R561. That is, until we suddenly arrive at a surf beach with “perfect waves”. After a few kilometers of nice coastal views, the road turns to the interior, where we continue our trip on a busy road and with several climbs to touristic Dingle. At our destination Camping Rainbow we see… a rainbow.

Day 5: Dingle > Tralee (89 km)

In the morning we do a roundtrip on the most western part of the peninsula. We first cycle on narrow roads through a sparsely-populated, agrarian area. The coastal strip that we enter next is more densely populated. At Dunquin we can see the Blanket Islands and behind this Tearaght Island, which rises very steep form the sea until 200 meters. And further away we can see the Skellig Islands. This area has been used for shooting the new Star Wars episodes; may the Force be with us! Next we pass the cape (Slea Head) on a road that has been cut out of the cliffs, without paying much attention to the prehistoric beehive huts.

We have lunch in Dingle harbor, where loads of tourists are getting on the boat to see dolphins in the bay. And then we start to climb. Unfortunately, from the southwest side, the 420 m high Connor Pass is not very spectacular. Up to Tralee we follow a relatively flat, quite boring and sometimes very busy N86; one of these moments to sit out the day... Near the Tralee camp site the annual election of the Rose of Tralee takes place: a sort of Miss Promoting Ireland from Abroad award. This is a very popular television event in Ireland.

Day 6: Tralee > Doolin (121 km)

This morning we leave before Maggie McEldowney, the new Rose of Tralee, will visit the camping (not kidding). We ride through the rolling hills on the boring R557 until Listowel, and from there on a narrow road to Tarbert. Here a ferry brings us to the other side of the River Shannon. The boat passes an old power plant and in the distance we see the new plant at Kilrush. North of the Shannon we now follow narrow and sometimes very steep roads to the north. But thanks to the backwind we make quick progress.

At Quilty we reach the sea. We race on the N67 to the northeast, next to the beautiful coastal strip. We arrive at Spanish Point, named after the soldiers and sailors that were either slaughtered or drowned in 1588 after their ships had drifted away from the rest of the Spanish Armada due to a storm. After the Lehinch surf beach we climb to the gigantic parking area of the tourist “star attraction” Cliffs of Moher. The evening sun allows us to make nice photos of this spectacular coast.

We descent on a narrow road to Doolin. After pitching the tent we have dinner in O’Connors, a famous pub dating from 1832. It’s nice to be here, with good beer and live Irish folk music. An Irishman from Dublin, a self-acclaimed descendant from an Irish king, teaches us the tragic history of the island (Celts, Vikings, Normans etcetera) – actually everything but the English, who are ignored in his pub lecture. It is 1 a.m. when we head for our tent.

Day 7: Doolin > The Burren > Inisheer (44 km excl. ferry)

Today we have a rest day. Meaning: a trip in the area known as the Burren, before taking the ferry to Inisheer. The Burren is a limestone area of some 300 km2, and full of archaeological monuments. Unfortunately we have no time to visit these, and also visibility is low due to the rain. In fact we find only the coastal road interesting. There we see how the stone plateau abruptly stops, with all kinds of crevices and beautiful shapes.

Back on the camping we pack our stuff and wait for the ferry to Inisheer. Which does not show up, without notification, and another ferry of the same company that does show up one hour later almost forgets to pick us up. But okay, we manage to arrive at the cute little Aran Island, where we pitch our tent right next to the hill that has O’Brien’s Castle on its top, dating from the 14th century. This ruin has an illustrious history of being conquered, with the O’Brien and O’Flaherty clans in the leading roles. This is truly a magnificent camp site!

Day 8: Inisheer > Ardnagreevagh (95 km excl. ferry)

At 8 a.m. we catch the ferry to Rossaveel, which is located on the south of Connemara. This rough area, with lots of rocks and 360 degree views, is relatively untouched by men. We ride on the R336 and R340 before caching a narrow and hilly road to the west. To our north we see high hills on the other side of the plain. We meet an elderly but very sporty couple on rent bikes from Colorado. We take a shortcut and thereafter the boring N59 to the neat Clifden.

We quickly proceed to the Sky Road: a beautiful road on the south side of a narrow peninsula. The road steadily climbs to some 100 meters above sea level. The most-western spot offers splendid views of the numerous islands. After the descent we continue northwards on the N59, meanwhile enjoying great views of the more than 700 meters high Twelve Bens. From Letterfrack we take a narrow and steep road to Renvyle Castle – actually just a keeptower. The camping at Ardnagreevagh is beautifully located next to the beach.

Day 9: Ardnagreevagh > Westport (68 km)

From the camping we ride eastwards: first on a diverse road right next to the coast, and next along small lakes through the interior to the N59. We go along the Keenan Lough to the south and take the R335 back north. After the Delphi holiday center we turn right and take a narrow road into the Sheeffry Hills. The landscape is wonderful; it reminds me of the English Lake District. After this hilly road we finally arrive at the camping in Westport, which is located on an estate with fairground attractions.

Day 10: Westport > Doogort (86 km)

The GPS track guides us through a true labyrinth of narrow roads in the area between the N59 and the coast. From Newport we see county flags – even more than elsewhere, in this case the green-red of Mayo. I find this “regionalism” a bit silly. From Newport we also see a lot of cyclists. Just like them we use the well-constructed cycling path on the former railroad (1894-1937) to Achill Sound. This is a really nice cycle trip.

After Mulranny we cycle the Corraun Peninsula clockwise. From the south coast we have a great panorama. Next we cross the bridge to Achill Island. Here we also cycle clockwise. From the south-west side we will enjoy the best view (cliffs, the bay, and Clare Island) of the entire vacation. We spend the night on a beach camping near Doogart. On the beach we can see the sun setting behind the dominant Slievemore (671 m).

Day 11: Doogort > Ballina (103 km)

During the first fifteen kilometers of the day we have head wind; it becomes easier when we take the sheltered cycle path on the old railroad. At Mulranny we turn northwards on the N59. Until Bangor the landscape is boring, although I have to admit that we do not see much due to the low-hanging clouds and drizzle. From Bangor we continue our trip eastwards on a 100 m high plateau. After the busy road between Crossmolina and Ballina we arrive the excellent camping to the north of the town. A day not to remember.

Day 12: Ballina > Strandhill (83 km)

Today’s route is simple: follow the coastline. First we ride along Killala Bay, where numerous little boats are floating on the water. Next we take the R298, first through ugly Eniscrone, next to lovely Easky, and finally over a wonderful coastal road to an old watchtower. Already early during the day, in a distance of 40 km on the other side of Donegal Bay, we can see Slieve League, which, at an elevation of nearly 600 m, is one of Europe’s highest cliffs.

At Beltra we suddenly see Knocknarea: a striking hill on the peninsula on the other side of the water. This hill is 328 m high, is made of limestone, and on the summit – well visible from great distance – a burial mound. We remain close to the coast and cycle on narrow roads to our destination. At the surf village we call it a day, pitch the tent and dive into the pub. It starts raining again.

Day 13: Strandhill > Lough Key (103 km)

Last night there was a fierce wind and rain. Today it stays dry – fortunately. We cycle to Sligo, which is packed with cars, and take the meandering R286 to the east. We ride along Lough Gill, where Parke’s Castle is located nicely next to the shore. After Dromahair we take a shortcut which appears to be very steep, however this variation is welcome. Just like elsewhere where we have been in Ireland there are plenty blackberry bushes next to the roads; no lack of vitamins this vacation.

After a lunch in Dowra we ride to Ballinagleragh, where we start the climb of an unnamed pass in the Iron Mountains. By following the Yellow River we gradually ascent to 400 meter. During the way down on narrow roads we have to watch out for sheep crossing. The road from Drumshanbo to today’s destination is quite hilly. Tomorrow we will cycle the final part from the camping at Lough Key to Boyle, and take the train to Dublin from there.