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MizMal: To the start?!

Aches & Pains, delayed Trains! 3 days to the start?! Old train line, hills, coastal roads. Where to camp? This will have to do! Glorious sunshine, fades to wet grey.

Prelude

Typically a couple of weeks before departing, whilst loading the van for a tip run, my back gave out. It’s a long standing injury sustained falling out a tree from 20ft up trying to tightrope walk when I was a teen. I manage it, but it is never that far from the surface and can sometimes be triggered by a cough or a sneeze!

By the time it came for me to depart it had subsided…

Right, where are my train tickets? I’d collected them from the machine a while back and for the life of me I couldn’t find the outward journey. It was logged in the app but they weren’t eTickets. Thinking cap on; get the train from the local station, that gets me onto Temple Meads’ platforms, blag it from there.

Day -4: Getting to Pembroke Docks

Trials…

It has been a hot weekend, railway track has been buckling, trains are delayed and cancelled all over the place. If I’d hopped on the local going to Parkway then swapped to the earlier Newport train everything would have been OK, but I had advanced tickets. The first local was late but that didn’t matter as Temple Meads was moving at a snail’s pace.

Stressed Sweaty Support Staff were out in force. My first train to Newport was delayed. I spoke to the SSSS as my onward journey all relied on this one; I’d change onto the through train to Carmarthan which was the last one of the day to get the connection to Pembroke. The SSSS in all fairness were great and phoned ahead to various stations to try and get connecting trains to hold back and warn Carmarthan if not I’d need onward travel with a full laden bike.

Finally it arrived. I’d have minutes to change platforms in Newport. The train was packed. I had to stand in the corridor holding my bike. Lifting my bike onto the first train earlier had made my back twinge. Frantically trying to get off as we arrived was the final straw. Through gritted teeth I make a pained ‘arrgh’ as I try and support my weight on my handlebars whilst running for the lift. I missed the connection obviously.

Now the stress of timings is gone. I reach inside my barbag for the stash of paracetamol & ibuprofen I’d packed just in case. But it wasn’t there, it was on my bed under a fold in the covers. The next 14hrs were extremely painful. I used the arm supports to suspend my hips. The conductor was not pleased about my lack of tickets but I think he thought better of it having glimpsed the app after my agonising manoeuvres to free my phone. Manhandling the bike on and off the train was slow; I had to take all the bags off which added to the delay, no help from staff, too busy dealing with the shit storm of all the delays.

Carmarthen I limped to the Station Master’s office, along with a dozen other passengers. The last train to Pembroke Dock had left 15mins before. It wasn’t a returner; you would have thought it’d hang on but as it was run by a different operator they would have had to suck up the fines so instead the local taxi service gleefully rubs its hands together. We later find out this is a regular occurrence.

…& tribulations

Bamboo bike squashed in the back of minivan taxi
Get in there!

The bags are off the bike again. Then the front wheel off. It all just fits in the back of the 8 seater minibus. Non of this is doing my back any good as I attempt to not move the lower lumber region. I try and brace myself during the journey which isn’t direct as others are getting off at intermediate ‘stations’. The driver is kind enough though to drop me off at the port and helps put my bike back together. I now have a 2hr wait for boarding. The pain is tiring. I try to sleep, I don’t. I board and make my way upstairs to the bar and seek out a bench seat in a corner that is free and try again, I do!

Day -3: Roslaire – Dunmore East – Clonea

Waking up there is momentary relief. Then I move, or rather I don’t as it immediately sets it off again. I pack my bag from this position lying on my side, open up my shoes and line them up.

I roll off the bench onto my hands and knees. Use the bench and the pseudo pub effect pillar next to me to pull myself up catching my bag strap on the way. Insert feet into shoes. Bag strap over shoulder and go find a wall. Face it, place head on it for support and tie my shoes behind my back. Do some weird walk, that makes me look like I’m having a crap at the same time, to the car deck, grab bike and I’m off. Riding is a relief with the weight off my lower back, but still, the first garage I come to I stock up on pills, a breakfast roll, and become comfortably numb….

Bamboo touring bike leaning against sign
Passage East having crossed Waterford Harbour by ferry.

I won’t bore you with my back from here on in; just to say the more riding I do the more manageable it is, getting in and out of the tent is horrific to start with, later, when it has all but subsided, walking on uneven ground (climbing up a friggin mountain) induces moments of anguish as high voltage lightening bolts hit home.

True beginnings

First things first I have a new badge for R. It is the Brevet 1000 for completing 10x 100km audax events. We grab a picture with it before heading off.

Dad and son with their bikes before departing, R has his Brevet 1000 badge
R getting his Brevet 1000 badge: 10x 100kms

We’ve three days of riding to get to Mizen Head, just under 300km. We set off from Dunmore Easy Holiday Park just after noon saying goodbye to Y and R’s cousins. We have a catch up of what R had been up to as we make our way to Waterford. We are soon there and passing through. R tells me it is a Viking town.

The beginning of the Greenway adjacent River Suir

We pick up a Greenway, a traffic free path on an old railway which I’ve used before, and enjoy it’s 45kms to the outskirts of Dungarvan. Along the way we saunter next to the river as endless people pass both on foot and bikes before stopping at an old station and café along with a narrow gauge railway. It struck me before how popular this Greenway was all along its length with pubs close by packed with racks of bikes outside. Similar to the Bristol & Bath Railway Path but dare I say more popular with more ‘people’ on bikes not necessarily associating themselves as cyclists.

And then there is the novel way land access has been dealt with that often is an issue in the UK…

R on greenway path that goes under old railway bridge but over farm access below
Bridge within a bridge allowing farm access under the path.

Having meandered through the countryside, crossed a gently sweeping viaduct, dived through a tunnel we emerge back on the coast before turning off to find a campsite.

It’s full we’re informed when we get there. I had emailed before and like all the others they wouldn’t accept a booking saying there’d be space. “Oh well,” I say “we’ll go find somewhere to wild camp.” I’d seen a spot on the outskirts of Dungarvan tucked round a corner by the sea wall. The lad behind the counter however shot off to find a spot; it was just that, a couple of metres between a caravan and a bin! Still, there was a park and R got stuck into the swings as I set up for the night.

Day -2: Clonea – somewhere…

Views from the castle keep window

Next morning we set off and I don’t feel too bad having been robbed of 15€ for the slither of grass as when I handed the toilet block key back expecting to get my 5€ deposit back I actually got 20!

It’s a short hop back to the Greenway taking us into Dungarvan and across the bay. We stop to shop and get some ‘crunchings & munchings’ [Gurgi – The Chronicals of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander; our readings for the journey]. After sitting in the local park drenched in sun we go see the castle. It’s a quick stop to look round, climb the ‘keep’ and do a bit of history before setting off properly for the day.

Out of town we begin the climb, a long one dragging ourselves to the top to then cruise back down to the coast. Longer on the descent we arrive in Clashmore. I’d eyed this up as a potential wild camping spot next to the brook running through the village, the grassed area on Streetview was now all playpark so lucky we didn’t rely on that! We fill our water bottles from the village tap.

Filling water bottles at Clashmore village tap

It wasn’t that long ago that that was how the village got their water, R couldn’t get his head round that! We see many more on our travels, most now defunct, all cared for in different colours for different districts, some now blooming with flowers.

Eating lunch rolls overlooking Youghal Quay

Another bump and we are back on the coast once more and would be on the flat now for quite sometime making progress easier. We stop for half an hour to feast on rolls as we watch the local kids jumping through the fuel slick that laps Youghal’s Quay edge; if only they moved 20m but it was next to the slipway so an easy exit.

We head west along a geological low area bounded by shallow hills north and south. R sucks my wheel. I guess at one point this whole area would have been part of the River Lee which has breached the southern hills either side of Cobh forming a small island.

On the way we spot a Red Admiral on the road. Stunned, probably by a passing car I tenderly move it to the verge and R has a good look. We see many more over the following days.

Red Admiral rescue

The one bridge onto the island is guarded by Belvelly Castle which as far as I can tell is still inhabited albeit extensively refurbed. We make our way to the West Passage to catch the ferry, island hopping, thus avoiding the centre of Cork and limited quiet routes in and through.

It’s getting on to 18:00 now, we’d done about 80km, I had no firm plans for where to sleep tonight, the final ‘spot’ I’d identified was at about 118km, there were others in-between.

Cycling past big welcoming sign to the Wild Atlantic Way

On the other side, back on the mainland, we stop for sandwiches to keep us going. R enjoys watching the ferry making it’s way back and forth as the evening presses on. Finally I cajole him into action and whoosh, we’re off once more. Away from the flat lands we have a little climb before enjoying a long run down a valley to the sea, cross the river here and a climb up and over into Kinsale. On the way up we join the Wild Atlantic Way which we’d be partnering with quite a bit over the following days as we head north.

Just south of Kinsale there was a graveyard with ruined church that I thought would have been ideal to wild camp in with views out across the bay. Alas it was particularly busy being a Sunday evening so we push on. I have one spot left. A long up, a quick down and the evening is drawing in as we enter Ballinspittle. We stop at a pub, fill our water bottles, grab some crisps and again we head on just outside the village. We were heading to Ballycatten Fort, the second largest in Ireland with its triple ramparts. OSM maps showed a path up to it. It was tonight that I realised Irish rights of way don’t really exist like in the UK. The farm gate was locked, there were several lines of electrical fence behind it.

Shit!

It’s 22:00, dark, R is tired, even the moon is waning away. I have no backup plan. The only thing we can do is continue and hope we find somewhere soon.

Luckily, in less than 2km, I find somewhere. It isn’t ideal but it’ll do. I throw the tent up, R eats the crisps whilst plonked on a pannier and foregoes teeth brushing tonight. All done we crawl in and sleep soundly.

On the up side R has ticked of another 100km DIY audax. This will now count towards his next badge, the Brevet 2000; which, you’ve guessed it, is 20x 100km.

Day -1: Somewhere – Barley Cove

Well I’d found a layby the night before. Luckily most of it was blocked off by road chippings and had been for some time as grass had grown over the thin layer of them allowing me to get the pegs in, plus it was incredibly level!

Tent in a layby
Wild camping in a layby

Because this is just the prelude and the main aim was the end to end we miss quite a few landmark attractions of the Wild Atlantic Way, whilst seeing as many as possible, along the way. If we were to follow it religiously we’d have been looking at about several hundred more kilometres and plenty more climbing; we would have a fair bit of that anyway!

Off south is the Old Head of Kinsale & its Lighthouse, not that you can get to it, land access rights, but there is an area dedicated to RMS Lusitania which was sunk by a U-boat just off the coast; we miss it and continue west in the morning sun.

Cycling on a coast road with sea and sandy bay in background

A lovely cruise around the coast ensues. It is delightfully warm but the fairly stiff south westerly cuts through, cumulus pock the azure sky, matching the sea around the bays with their tufts of surf cresting waves before gently tumbling on golden sands.

We get to Timoleague and stop for Elevenses by the ruined abbey. Also we scrub up at the public toilets and fill our bottles from the drinking tap. We chat and soak up the sun some more. I’d tentatively look at the weather and an ominous front was moving in later in the day. Better get a move on!

Today was a bit up and down. Nothing major but one after another. In hindsight I would have made a few alterations to our route in places. R copes a lot better with a short steep ascent than a long drawn out one. Exiting Timoleague we could have done so then run the ridge between the two valleys; hindsight is a wonderful thing, always another time 😉

It's begun to rain, jackets on cycling across a bridge

Clonakilty we stop to shop for supplies plus a quick late lunch then continue the up & downs. Grey nimbostratus are replacing the fluffy cumulus clouds. We have the odd shower. We miss Drombeg Stone Circle that is just off the route.

We pass Glandore Harbour, there is some sort of regatta going on, or was over the weekend, loads of dingies out in the bay. Then the heavens open. We throw our jackets on and continue. The wind has changed, it feels considerably warmer.

It doesn’t relent in intensity. The weather app suggests it’ll clear later so when we get to Skibbereen we go find a cafe to shelter in, and dry off, and drink tea/coffee, and eat CAKE! Me and R agree it is the best ginger cake we’ve had; it is etched in our memories and now used as a reference point for all other cakes. I actually have limited taste as my sense of smell was annihilated after my head had a drunken argument with a pavement sometime in the past. But for texture and that fiery ginger oomph this one ticked all my boxes!

Happy face, delicious cake!
Red: “Having cake in Skibbereen. Yummy! It’s my favourite.”

Once again it is getting on, almost 17:00 and we are only just over half way. The rain has eased off. There are less big ups and downs from here. We decide to go and get it over and done with.

We follow the main road to Ballydehob. I had routed along some parallel side road which we did take to begin but a local resident advised us to turn back and stick to the main road as it got extremely laney in places that even local 4x4s avoided. Luckily we hadn’t progressed too far in to find this out for ourselves. Back on the main road I spot a peak off to the right; Mount Gabriel

Mount Gabriel – reminds me of Titterstone Clee Hill with its NATS atop – the service road is open to the public 😀

Then on to Schull. We pass a spot overlooking the bay that would have been good for wild camping but R wants to press on to the campsite. It’s now about 19:00 so on we speed.

Chatting again, this time about the two languages, I tell R I’m no good with languages, he pipes up with “because I’ve a bit of Irish blood it’ll be easier for me!”

We stop briefly at Alter Wedge Tomb, an easily accessible megalith that we could have wild camped at as well but we were close now so again speed on.

Panoramic view across bay from atop Alter Wedge Tomb
Tomb with a view…

One last bump as we make our way through small villages stuck out on the end of the Mizen Peninsula and we skirt Crook Haven, a natural harbour nestled in the far most southwest corner of Ireland. The corresponding Crookhaven village is across the water, IT harbours the most excellent O’Sullivans Bar that unfortuantely I don’t get to visit this time. More excuses to come back for more adventures, the list keeps getting longer!

Crook Haven – Crookhaven village middle right.

21:00 and we are at Barley Cove Holiday Park. I’ve stayed here before on one of the cycling holidays I crewed, it is idyllic, but alas we don’t get to do the beaches, another reason to return. I’ll come out with it now, this part of Ireland is fantastic and deserves its own trip!

Half an hour later tent is up, food cooking, panniers arranged as wind break, tarp over fence and bikes and us. Munch, munch, time for bed.

Eating food under tarp
Late feast…

Tomorrow the actual MizMal begins!

Adventure Parts