After a day off to avoid the rain we continue our journey. Needless to say we don’t avoid the rain and from here on in we are beseeched by huge downpours throughout the day. Luckily we seem to get a clear spell most evenings to put up our tent.
Day 7: Galway to Tawnyard Lough
We head west along the coast road for a quarter of the day’s ride; it feels like half with the headwind even though it is relatively flat. But we aren’t complaining as at the moment the sun is out, it is warm, we’re fed and looking forward to the next few days.
In Conamara now, a Gaeltacht area meaning the main spoken language is Irish; not that we come across that many people on the open road.
The right turn sign pointing us north is a welcome sight and a chance to rest the legs. We ‘cruise’ to Casla stopping for lunch by a Titanic info board. Also the sea pocked landscape to our west is so convoluted there is 160km of shoreline for 13km as the crow flies!
R needs a poo! Luckily there is a cafe just round the corner so I grab a coffee as we wait. I also check the weather, best get moving…
This part of the Emerald Isle is lovely, not for its hills or mountains but the rugged earthy greens with shimmering inlets as the wind made little crests. Slowly the white pillowy clouds gave way to a snug grey blanket. As we neared the end of this watery landscape the hills began to loom again, but you could only see the bases, then came the rain!
Biblical yet warm. We dragged ourselves into Leenane wet and bedraggled and head to Fjord Cafe. We sit, drenched on the outside but dry underneath. A small puddle forms under our table, a member of staff brings a mop tickling R’s feet.
Savoury food is smashed and we move on to CAKE! It is lashing it down outside now. We ask if we can table hog in this busy cafe for a bit until it subsides and they lovingly allow us to stay.
It lets up, a bit, we don our damp jackets. Having checked the weather, again, it looks to be clearing soon so we say our thanks and move on. Just at the head of the fjord is Aasleagh Falls, it is raging! We traipse along the sodden path and spend some time deafened by its roar. Red likes it, waterfalls are great!
Tonight would be our second wild camping spot. There was little other provision in the area and I had routed our journey especially for this. Leaving the fjord behind we climb to Doo Lough and head east to Tawnyard Lough. On Google Maps there simply was a place marker titled ‘Rest Stop’. Satellite View showed layby and a few grassy patches. Would we be in luck? Luckily we were and the view was something to behold!
Day 8: Tawnyard Lough to Enniscrone
Descending from Tawnyard I hear a clinkety sound, I’d heard it yesterday in the rain. It had got worse, R noticed it too. It was my front hub dynamo, a year old.
With it persisting we make our way to Westport, I find a bike shop, make a visit and I’m allowed to make use of the hire bike workshop as R twiddles his thumbs. In speccing my bike I went for the Shimano dynamo as it had cup and cone bearings so could be serviced, albeit delicately. I hadn’t expected to be doing it so soon! After carefully prying the wires off I manage to get into the bearings. Full of brown sludge I clean as best as possible and re-pack with grease. Hopefully it’ll hold. We go and sit by the river for lunch.
The sun is now out and we listen to a tour guide asking his American travellers if they know what the Wild Atlantic Way is. They don’t seem to know until he points out they are touring it; then goes on to say how it cost millions of euros to come up with the logo to identify roads that were already there. Still it had brought in millions of tourists who had benefited local businesses; a bit like the North Coast 500 in Scotland.
Continuing our journey we spot a Six-spot burnet identified later. I also notice there is some moisture behind the camera lens so that night stick it in the bag of rice. Then onto a road that isn’t on the road map. This turns out to be a butterfly haven as we count off countless Red admirals and Peacocks along the tree lined road before popping out next to Lough Beltra. It is a lovely stretch of just nature as much of the journey has been. Immersed in your surroundings! It continues as we head north along Lough Conn to Ballina.
By this point it is late in the day. Tonight we’d hoped to be staying with a Warmshowers host. We’d been in touch over the proceeding days with estimated time of arrival but the last 2 days it had gone quiet and we didn’t have an actual address. I try again using WhatsApp, then phone, but no answer so am left to find else where.
There is a campsite in Enniscrone so we make our way there; more a static caravan park with a filth strewn field for campers and motortourers. Again, like the fine Irish lady at Spanish Point, but this time a spotty youth, I have to decline their ludicrous price; as Red was on a bicycle they tried to justify a cyclist rate for him of 10euros, I gave him 2 like everywhere else.
To Red’s annoyance, my amusement, there were a few lads his age trying to catch butterflies, not that there were any; as they didn’t have any butter they’d pinched their mum’s margarine and went about smearing the whole tub over rocks, the fence, the picnic table…
Their mum was not pleased!
But at least the ‘campsite’ had a sandpit so I pitched close by.
Day 9: Enniscrone to Ocky’s
Leaving the Margarinefly hunters behind we set off round the coast of County Sligo. It was a relaxing passage of time where we came across Split Rock. Thrown by the Giant Fionn in a failed bet. So angry at not beating his rival Cicsatoin, who’s rock made the sea and continues to this day to give the great surfing waves found along the coast, that he split the rock in two with his sword. Legend has it if you pass between it three times it will slam shut and squish you! We didn’t test it. That or it’s an ‘Erratic’ left over by the last Ice Age.
Further on a quick stop at a cafe to recharge the batteries, both ourselves and my phone, food is basic not that we mind at this point. Also we get to use the toilets as to be frank you needed a turd pole to navigate the bogs at lastnight’s campsite…
We head off to the coast. Time for some playing, rock pool scouring & dam building; there is a small stream at one end!
Onwards once more we cruise to Sligo. On the way a group of cyclists pass, we’d seen a few others earlier in the same jerseys, one hangs back and chats. They are the Birmingham Irish Cycling Appeal who are doing MizMal in 9 days, 2019 being their 20th Anniversary.
Through Sligo the Dartry Mountains loom with their sheer rock face looking west with King’s Mountain & Benbulbin fronting them. We were almost at our destination; Ocky’s, an old mate from Scouts who’d I got in touch with before leaving. We arrived, had a chin wag, supper, I put R to bed, then beer and whiskey before I joined R surfing the couch!
Day 10: Rest…
Ocky had offered to take us hill walking but the last 3 long days of our journey had caught up on R. Instead we settled on the beach, the woods and a few local sights. Including a cottage that had been abandoned with clothes, bedding, everything left in place; very surreal! It was a very peaceful day…
…and had a ‘magic road’ where the car rolled uphill!
Day 11: Ocky’s to Julia & John’s
Farewells and thanks are said to Ocky and his family, Rollo bestows on us a Victoria Sponge CAKE! he made us especially. We loved it and devoured later as an early lunch having skirted the Dartry Mountains.
If memory serves me rightly the walls of a cottage are in a small enclosure with an info board about past Irish Independence specifically IRA involvement; but I can’t find any info online to support this. We are very close to the border here with Northern Ireland as we briefly pass through County Leitrim and into County Donegal.
In Bundoran a car pulls along side. It is Ocky, he is daggling R’s eye mask out the window, bit of luck meeting us, R is relieved and we say goodbye again!
Making our way ever northwards it becomes more rolling and a bit cooler and a bit damper. A couple of stops but no touristy stuff till later when we arrived in the town of Donegal and had a look round the castle with an I Spy crib sheet.
A grand old place it was as we whiled away an hour before heading to our Warmshowers hosts Julia & John for the evening.
And what an evening it was! Absolutely amazing couple, and house. We did a walk with Bruno the blackberry eating dog down to the river, had an amazing dinner, then after I put R to bed stayed up for some very interesting conversation; geopolitical, economical and the likes. Very interesting that ‘The Troubles’ didn’t simply fade away with the Good Friday Agreement; they are still there just contained and the recent Brexit has rekindled latent tensions in these border areas! All this was washed down with John’s home made Blackberry wine which was oh so morish. I vaguely remember stumbling to bed past the dark empty swimming pool to the converted changing room sometime in the early hours of the morning!
Day 12: Julia & John’s to Glen Veagh
In the morning after I drag myself out of bed after R has stirred we pack our stuff and make our way to the Kitchen. Julia is shortly off and John apologises that they have nothing to offer for breakfast but recommends a cafe in the town triangle. We thank them for a wonderful evening and head off. The cafe is great and by this time it is more brunch. Leaving the town via Aldi we head into the grey & wet & wind again with little to see on our way other than nature! So I’ll just bung in the days photos…
That night we wild camped in Glen Veagh National Park and I was eaten by midges. This rift is part of the same fault line as Scotland’s Great Glen.
Day 13: Glen Veagh to Buncrana
We skip breakfast and head further down the rift passing waterfalls tumbling to Glenveagh Castle and their tea rooms. As we’re here we take our time to look round the gardens, which R finds enthrawling, before heading on. More open hills, sun then rain then sun then… before it finally clears and we grab lunch on the wall of a bridge.
Soon after we descend into Letterkenny. For those that have been following our adventures thus far you will remember the #drainspotting. In this write up I’ve been quiet, not because it has passed but because there just wasn’t anything really interesting until now! We come across a collection that I spot as I pass that R stops for immediately; luckily I hadn’t gone too far down the hill…
Feeling revitalised, like a bout on the swings, R swings into chatty mode; “why doesn’t Ireland have more interesting drains?” “why are just those ones there?” None of which I can answer but if you know why please let me know!
More country lanes, more nature, a wind affected tree lined lane and CAKE! at a service station; and more battery charging. Then more nature & distant mountains.
I pop a question to R, “What do you prefer? LEJOG or MizMal?” To my surprise “MizMal, nature is better than triangles, except specials of course!” Now he has a much keener eye, and I’m say that writing this a lazy year later, I think we should do JOGLE for another perspective, I think it’ll be the best of both worlds!
Points of Interest had been lacking for the past few days along the route, I could have included some but the diversions wouldn’t have worked with our overall timings. But today towards the end we got to visit the ancient Grianán of Aileach stone fort sat atop a 250m high hill with unbridled panoramic views. Needless to say the climb was a brute, but well worth it!
It was late by the time we left, later still when we arrived at Buncrana as the sun went down and we found a spot to wild camp; just before the town in the sand dunes right next to the beach.
Day 14: Buncrana to Legacurry
We lie in the tent getting excited as it dawns on us we are nearly ‘there’. Malin Head was but 2 days away. It was an ‘easy’ ride today (short) so we’d get some sights in. First though R goes to play on the beach whilst the sun is out. I eventually emerge and do breakfast before we depart our private beach side resort as a shower comes in; the only one of the day!
In town we head to the Heritage Trail. We cross the bridge, pass the castle and skirt the Heras fencing and ignore the signs of landslips. The first one (pictured) is easily passed, the second harder involving me lifting R across the gap, the path after submerged in water but we are through. Only to be met by the Heras fencing at the other end that was not passable so back we go. Fun and games…
Up the coast we go with the Urris Hills in the distance. I tell R that later we can either follow the road straight to Clonmany or we could scale Mamore Gap; it’d be a tough climb and longer but we’d get to see more of the coast. Obviously he went for the best option; Mamore Gap 😀
Before that it was off to Fort Dunree, most recently used as a gunnery battery protecting Lough Swilly from Atlantic intruders. It also has plenty of wildlife which we have a gander at and spectacular views from the Inishowen peninsula. We have lunch amongst it all.
So now onto Mamore Gap. Back road to its base we gain height under a beautiful sky. Then left we turn to be greeted by a 120m climb in 900m. This is a good climb and I think the toughest we were going to get for the journey.
R heads off. It’s a concave affair with it becoming increasingly steeper. Then comes the sign…
…and going straight up to Hell!
According to the stats it peaks around 30%! I’m chewing my handlebars zigzagging frantically but concede to the additional 24″ gear. R almost gets as far but then we are both walking. At the top R admires the view back and the ‘windmills’ in the distance. The descent the other side is just as fun with sweeping turns, bumps and rolls, switch backs and clear runs! A third of the way down we stop and climb the gully side to admire the view out to sea, have a snack and bask on a stone amongst the heather in the glorious sunshine.
The rest of the day is ‘flat’! In Clonmany I do a quick shop and pick up a treat for tomorrow. Then we arrive at our destination. We’d be wild camping by the beach again. After a false pitch we move off the loose sand dune to a patch of grass just above the beach edge amongst the rocks and R leaves me a message in the sand… ♥
Day 15: Legacurry to Malin Head and a bit more
Legacurry wasn’t exactly on a direct route to Malin Head. But we were camped just below Doagh Famine Village and I wanted to get this in for some Irish history. You are given a guided tour, it was fascinating and covered so much: from what an Irish house would have been like not that long ago (the owner actually grew up in one and not dissimilar to the one we saw with Ocky); natural alternatives to things like teething rings, many replaced with the advent of the television and the rural population’s realisation of what was out there; to death and the wake and so many terms that stem from it; Poitín and its making, I got to sample some; and of course the Great Famine, the British influence and beginnings of Irish Independence.
We were there all morning. Entry got us a drink and CAKE! at the cafe across the road. It was afternoon by the time we left. If you are ever over there I highly recommend a visit. The owner and his family who do the tour are great and hold the attention of all ages. You will certainly come away knowing more than when you went in.
Now back to business. It isn’t too far to the northern most part of Ireland. I had to explain to R that this point was more northern than Northern Ireland. Certainly a 101 in how to confuse kids!
Circling Trawbreaga Bay we do 20km to end up 1.5km as the crow flies from where we started which brought a chuckle; all on the flat so it didn’t take long. Getting hungry we hang on for a little longer to have lunch atop the cliffs looking back to our night’s rest. Then a few more climbs to we arrive at Malin Head and the old signal station.
When you are touring it is often easy to loose track of the days. Whilst I had my phone to remind me, not that I was going to forget, R had no reference point. He was oblivious to the day. We sit down on the grass and luckily I have enough reception to do a video call with M. R is rather shocked when…
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday to you,
Happy Birthday dear Red,
Happy Birthday to you!
I pull out the treat I bought yesterday, a Victoria Sponge, it is too windy though and the candles won’t light, I have a few cards but we’ve saved the presents till when we get home. R can’t believe he didn’t know! I get a bit emotional…
He’s my super star. Love him!
The day isn’t over but it is bloody late in the afternoon. We hot tail it into Culdaff and have a Birthday meal at McGrory’s that just so happens to have an old CTC Flying Wheel on the front.
It still isn’t over! We head along the coast and finally drop down to another beach. Make camp around 22:00 with the sound of waves in the background. It gets dark…