The south west corner of Ireland is spectacular but lumpy. We were going to be in for some cracking climbs over the next few days especially day 2, read on to find out all about it!
Day 1: Barley Cove to Marcus’
I’m up early. R isn’t; nestled in his sleeping bag cuddling Bluebell. I leave him to it as I go about de-camping, getting breakfast on the go and packing as much as I can.
He snoozes on. And on and on and on. If I remember rightly I had everything packed, cooking stuff washed, my bike loaded albeit minus tent, his sleeping bag and the sleeping mat before he woke. But he was nice and fresh and eager to start.
He gobbled his food, went off to the showers, came back and I was ready to go, just his panniers needed doing.
It’d be a shorter ride today so we could spend some time at Mizen Head Signal Station and the visitor centre. Firstly we’ve to get over the headland. In doing so we feel the wind once more which luckily has pushed the rain clouds inland.
The road passes golden beaches before we cross the causeway and around to the actual Barleycove village; such a glorious setting now, probably brutal in the winter!
A short climb and we are there. Touted as the most south westerly point of Ireland it is a close run call with the adjacent headlands being either slightly more west or slightly more south. But still, we pay out dues and head out along the path to the bridge which in its self is no small feat. It is a replica built of the original which was deemed un-repairable; in the process they made the deck wider for the increased visitor footfall.
Then up to the signal station; a room dedicated to Marconi’s Transatlantic and shipping communications and monitoring. Inside there are several other rooms showing life at the station & building of Fastnet Lighthouse just off the coast, along with various displays and info about the local fauna and flora. We have a little look around, then make our way to the true reason we were here, ‘The End’.
Out through a doorway we are met by the true force of that south westerly wind. We had to shout at each other. We made our way down to the very lowest beacon light, that furthest from the ‘Other End’; Malin Head, the most northerly point, even further north than Northern Ireland…
Feeling fresh we slowly make our way back to the Visitor Centre and prepare for the great journey ahead with CAKE! in the cafe. Once done and saddled up we immediately notice the wind on our backs as it pushes us over the headland, at last! I’ve picked a quiet route back along the peninsular requiring a climb, but then it edges the coast high above the shoreline in a long gradual descent; basked in sunshine we enjoy it spotting Peacocks, Red Admirals, maybe a Tortoiseshell, or was it a Fritillary or even a Painted Lady? Hard to tell when you are whizzing down a hill 😀
Yes, tonight we’d be staying with Marcus, a Warmshowers host, nestled in the hills north of Bantry in his self build eco-house. We have loads of time to get there so relish those yellow rays. Stop for a snack at a picnic table in the centre of Durrus; I point out to R a carport I slept in on a rainy September night in 2017, the 700 I did across the bottom of Ireland and back just for a laugh.
Bantry we stop again, wander round the town for a bit, do some shopping, grab some pizza for tonight just in case. Still loads of time. A bit further on we stop another time, sit by a bay eating biscuits. Enjoying the laziness; it was here I suggested to R that next year we just do a tour along the north coast of Brittany and Normandy for a bit of beach hopping. He’s cool with that!
One final stop before we get to Marcus’…
Day 2: Marcus’ to Cronin’s Yard
We have a relaxing time at Marcus’. R plays on the trampoline with his daughters, we’re treated to food, Marcus and I chat about houses, kids and of course cycling; he’s hoping to do some bikepacking, microadventures as he has the girls to consider.
After breakfast we say good bye and make our way back to the road. I have to deal with a horsefly bite, watch the video for my scratch resistant tip. We are straight into it today and have a cracking climb over a pass from County Cork to Kerry; it’s a consistent 5-6% so nothing arduous, just long and stunning.
Once at the tipping point between the Coomhola and an unnamed watershed we stop to fuel. That is after following the ewe and her lambs over the final bit. It’s taken about 2 peaceful and enjoyable hours to climb. We’ve only seen a handful of vehicles, this is what it’s about, whilst the actual Wild Atlantic Way route is lovely it is also a tourist magnet!
I dive into the bag and extract the pizza from yesterday, R was still hungry after dinner so I cooked them up and save some for a time like now! I think we scoffed some sweets as well, sat atop a rock looking down the valley.
As R says, we’re off to another cafe. The descent is a long drawn out gorgeous affair, it even has an alpinesque tunnel hewn into the side of the hill. At the bottom we avoid the easy main road into Kenmare and instead (I) opt for the back road; out of the whole journey I still think that had the steepest part, no picture does it justice!
After Kenmare we’d be entering the Iveragh penisula, the largest in the south. Like the Beara one that we’d just missed having done the previous pass we’d be chopping this one off too and heading straight to its heart, MacGillycuddy’s Reeks.
First it is straight up the main road to Moll’s Gap and its cafe. I’ve stopped here several times in the past, the view towards Killarney National Park is amazing. We rest and recuperate after the two long and arduous hills behind us.
Fully fed and limed up we’re off once more. Down we go then it is time for the best hill of the day, the pièce de résistance, the Gap of Dunloe, one of my favourite passes that I’ve done, and now R’s too. I’ll let the photos do the explaining.
Once more an easy descent before one final bump up to the campsite, Cronin’s Yard. We’d be staying here for a couple of nights so I use the tarp as an awning against the fence. R finds some other kids to play football with and I go about cooking.
That evening just before bed there is a ‘twang’; one of the replacement tent pole’s ferreles that had less than a weeks use in had snapped off. I bodged it to get us through the night. The following evening with the help of the site’s owner I fail to repair it!
You see that peak just right of the tree in the middle? That is tomorrow 😀
Today’s ride was one of mine & R’s highlights.
Day 3: Carrauntoohil
4 of 5
4th of the 5 British Isles’ Peaks. Stunning Weather. A hard climb on the Devil’s Ladder. Amazing Views. Equally hard descent on Brother O’Shea’s Gully. Best mountain so far!
Day 4: Cronin’s Yard to who knows…
Buzzing from scaling the heights of Carrauntoohil we prepare for the day ahead. We’d be going from the mountains, cross the Shannon and on to the coast. This was more a transit day to keep us moving north, again we’d be missing out the great landscape of another peninsula; Dingle and the Slieve Mish Mountains that make up its spine, along with Conner Pass and Mount Eagle right at the end. I’ve said it before, loads of reasons to return just to explore this corner!
I had no real endpoint in sight for the day other than the coast; there was little in between with the direct route we were taking other than bogs.
So we set off in the morning sun. It’s pretty much nondescript agricultural land other than for the mountains behind as and off to the side. I manage to grab a length of hazel from a road side bush that will hopefully act as a tent pole.
Before it gets interesting we peak back through a farm gate at the peak we’d conquered yesterday. Then begin the main ascent of the day up a lovely steep sided wooded valley, stopping at a recreational area (car park) that had a picnic table for some lunch, before popping out at the top for a lovely run mainly downhill for 25km.
Soon we emerge out of the trees to a more open landscape. Hilltops festooned with anti-fans, layers of peat being pealed of the bog, the road just going on and on into the distance.
That was going to be our route, straight on, but just before leaving I’d done some route fettling and noticed a gorgeous little lane that got to the same place, a little longer but followed a small valley most of the way thus missing some lumps.
It was great, butterflies fluttered by, it was void of traffic other than loads of cars parked at one point as a wedding kicked of at a church in the middle of nowhere.
So far today had also been really void of people and places as well and I didn’t have much in the way of food other than what we’d already eaten and R was hungry again. Luckily we were soon at Listowel, the only large settlement for the day. We find a cafe, do a shop and retrace our steps to the park we’d seen on the way in so R can evaluate the Irish swings.
Gone 17:00 we leave the town heading further north for the Tarbert Ferry to cross the Shannon. Again the landscape isn’t awe-inspiring but we do see some proper peat works; I thought this was banned but apparently only large scale ‘harvesting’ is, small scale it can still be undertaken and we see piles of peat bricks drying beside the road and in fields. Also more butterflies, this time I get a close up of a Peacock that I remove from the road.
We get to the quay gone 18:00, it is on it’s way back from the other side, we mess about, kick our wheels, go walking along the harbour walls waiting for it to arrive.
Sweets and snacks are bought from the ferry tuck shop and we cram them in during the crossing. As we slip up the slipway a whole hour has slipped by but we’re feeling good even if Red is a little tired; I give him some more sweets…
Again there is little between here and our coastal destination, just one village if I remember right, oh and an Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar. We’d seen one crossing the road on LEJOG, this time you can get a feel for how big they are!
Finally the coast appears and nearing 21:00 we arrive at Spanish Point; named after the Spanish sailors from the Armada that lost their lives in a storm there (those that survived were then executed). Lots of holiday parks with no camping. We pass the sand dunes which would have been a good spot to wild camp as public toilets are close by. Spanish Point is a popular surfing spot though and there were lots of other tents with music going so we decide to keep going, there is another bay a bit further on.
Luckily there is also a ‘campsite‘ there which we pull into as the sky dimmed that little bit more. It was an Irish lady’s garden with a simple toilet in what can only be described as a converted shed. I enquired at the house door as to the cost.
Looking past me at her land she said “Well we’re a very busy site you see, 17euros for the both of ya, an extra 2 for a warm shower.”
“I’ll give you 10 and that is generous, where would you like us to pitch?”
“Oh pitch any where, there’s only one other couple here” with a glint in her eye.
“Thanks, I know…”
Got to love the Irish! I’ve recently left a review as I see someone else didn’t understand the rules of engagement 😉
Luckily the new tent pole works.
Day 5: Cleedagh Bridge to we will see
It was a long day yesterday, both time and distance. Again today I had no real plan for an end point as there were a few things to see on the way. I did have a Warmshowers host just before Galway but they’d emailed before I left to say they’d be a way, a couple of potential wild camping spots or a campsite in Galway I’d stayed at with mates when we hitched around the island between out A-Level years.
As we pack there is a shower and the temperature has dropped. Should have paid the extra 2euros…
We leave the interesting ‘campsite’ and set off for our first geological tourist magnet of the day. There are big digital signs as we approach suggesting we book online to avoid the queues and get a discount, I’ve got cash. When we get there, wetter than when we started, I realise the entry fee is for the car park (but not per vehicle but per person – so if you ever make the trip drop the family before entering).
The famous Cliffs of Moher. We have a good peer, but I’m rather nonplussed by their commercialisation. I like my cliffs au naturel not with tarmac footpaths along their top, terraced viewing areas, snack wagon, sprawling car park, gift shop (even though the visitor centre was a sympathetic green roof design); you know it’s over the top when even the American coach party tourists comment on how commercial it is…
Still, the actual geological feature is something to behold and we both enjoy that. In hindsight we should have gone further up the coast and used one of the footpaths to get to the cliff edge and see the full spectacle stretching south.
A bit further north we’d stop for lunch. I was aiming for Doolin Cave so we could go underground as well but unfortunately things didn’t pan out that way.
To get onto the coast road we’d drop down by Doonagore Castle to Doolin Village. It was quite a steep descent, R was ahead, my brakes faded and I sped up into the bend and whooshed down the final part of the slope screaming at R to keep over as I squeezed between him and a confused motorist coming the other way. Luckily the road levelled out enough as I got my shodded rubber down to come to a stop.
I’d only installed these FWE (Evans Cycles) disc pads just after our Snowdonia trip so about 500kms worth. Luckily Audax Club Bristol member El had a set of Shimano pads she’d given me as back up before that trip which I still had in my tools & spares bag. So I sat beside the road replacing them with my heart still in my mouth; what if I’d had to fall off & ripped my panniers? I hadn’t packed any gaffa tape!
R was hungry by now so once fixed we rolled into Doolin and set about finding a cafe there; the Cave was further on unfortunately.
Of course, as well as normal food it’d be rude to not do CAKE!
I also go back outside to fettle my brakes, realign the pads correctly, sort out the cable tension; I notice the rear calliper is a bit loose on the dropout arm so give it a tighten.
And then we are on our way once more. Showers begin and the wind picks up from the south east. It’s getting on so we sail past the cave, past another castle and round the coast onto The Burren; I think I’m more excited about this massive limestone pavement with its unique flora and fauna than R.
The showers are getting heavier as we make our way round the coast but it is definitely an on/off scenario and actually quite warm. Then we pass Black Head where the Battle of the Atlantic began when U-30 sunk SS Athenia hours after the beginning of WWII just off shore. Its lighthouse marks a turning point and we head south east along the coast into the wind; we’d been in the shelter of higher ground till now, there was no escape here as we conduct our own battle head long into it!
The going is slow but eventually we make it to a petrol station that is advertising PIZZA! It’s dinner time by now so we indulge for the second time today much to R’s delight. On exiting the big rain clouds have passed and we get a bit of evening light, stopping at a castle just down the road for a mooch. Not long after that the sky actually begins to clear, and not long after that we turn north west towards Galway and the wind once more is on our backs making light work of the final stretch!
We’ve done about 90km, it’s 19:30, there are several potential wild camping spots ahead, I hear “Daddy!”
Shortly after, like a flick of a switch, the wind changes to a full frontal north westerly, the sky goes black and we are soaked! We agree wild camping is out for tonight and make a beeline to the campsite at Galway with our pedalling powered by pepperoni pizza!
Day 6: Galway rest day
Today is an easy read. Massive amounts of rain is forecast, about 50mm, so me and R last night decided whilst soaked at the end to take a day off.
We are up late. It is beautiful outside, sun shining & gentle breeze, the forecast later though is still foreboding. We go to the local swimming pool for a swim of course. If we aren’t going to ride all day in the rain me might as well go and get wet for the fun of it anyway…
Just after 13:00 we emerge, it is still sunny but sprinting towards us from across the sea is a wall of black cloud like a massive wet blanket being pulled across the land. People are literally standing and staring at it. We put our waterproof jackets on ready for the fun!
10 minutes later and it begins.
15 minutes after it began it stopped. Streets were flooded as the drains struggled, but people emerged from doorways, shops and cafes, we pootled round Galway entertaining ourselves whilst the sun came out. That was the rain for the day, all in one go!