Now that I have completed the Wild Atlantic Way and the Causeway Coast which was my aim when I first started to experiment with cycle touring, I had pondered the question of where to go next! Getting ferries to Scotland, England, Wales or France are possibilities I have filed away for future consideration. As it was, I had some time booked of in May and the dates crept up on me without having planned anything. I decided to turn my attention to the south coast of Ireland as it could be easily done and planned at the last moment so this is what I elected to do.
The South coast is of course much less rugged than the West. I decided to use my Brompton. I could transport it easily on the bus and I was interested to see how it would cope with loaded touring. I purchased a Brompton T-Bag last year which quickly and easily attaches to the front mounting block of a Brompton had proved to be a Godsend and and made the bike so convenient for shopping or other utility duties as it can hold so much and apparently has little or no effect on how the bike rides. If anything, I feel a Brompton rides better when loaded to the front, something which other Brompton users I have met have also agreed with.
I have always felt small-wheeled bicycles are under-used. The small wheels make it much more convenient to put luggage on the bike as the luggage can be mounted lower with no wheels to get in the way. This has less effect on the bike’s centre of gravity. All other things being equal, a small wheel will also weigh less so it is easier to accelerate the bike up to speed and it will also be stronger than a larger wheel built with similar quality components.
Despite this, small-wheelers have always been a difficult sell. People assume it will be harder to ride and be slower and think that bikes should have large wheels. When the traditional 28“ wheeled “black” roadster (which was to become the normal transport of the British working class) was designed prior to the first world war, Europe had little or no tarmac roads so the large wheel rolled better on very poor surfaced roads. Today, most cyclists are carrying out their riding on reasonably well-surfaced roads so the need for those large wheels has become less clear-cut.
Furthermore, for smaller riders, the challenge of fitting large wheels of twenty-six or more inches in diameter into a small frame without crippling toe-overlap means that the frame geometry is often compromised to package the large wheels. Small wheels remove this problem and the way that most small-wheeled bicycles are designed with step-through frames and long seatposts mean that they are infinitely adaptable for people of different heights. Something like a Raleigh Twenty could be ridden comfortably by anyone, male of female, aged nine to ninety or anywhere in between so frames don’t need to made in many different sizes. Every household should have one as it can be easily stored and lent out out to visitors should they need transport.
A lof of this was championed by Sir Alex Moulten in the 1960s and his small-wheeled bicycle obtained a cult following and the sportier versions were used to set some hugely impressive times so the myth that small wheels are slow is not quite true. The Moulten led to a lot of spin-off copies (but usually without suspension) such as the deceptively lively Raleigh Twenty, the Royal Enfield Revelation and also the Dawes Kingpin (One I’d like to add to my collection). The were also copies on Continental Europe such as the Austrian-made Puch Pic Nic (I own ones of these too). These bikes all sold well in their time but have almost disappeared now. It is rare to see a small wheeled bicycle in use today apart from occasional folding bikes and I feel this is a great shame as they can be great fun to ride as well as enormously practical. I would dearly love to own an original Moulton but they have become very collectable and expensive.
The Brompton is possibly one of the best known small-wheeler of the modern era. They are quite an expensive bicycle but a very high quality machine and fold very easily and very compactly so can be easily transported by car, bus or train. My Brompton is a relatively basic three speed model but I love it. I have toured on it before but at the time I didn’t have any proper Brompton luggage accessories and trying to strap a rucksack to the rear carrier was less than ideal. Ever since acquiring my T-bag I had been itching to try out the touring potential of the Brompton. Plenty of people have successfully toured on a Brompton, I wanted to try too!
Many people will probably point to the lack of gears and some have come up with ingenious ways to add extra lower gears for loaded touring. Such things interest me from an engineering point of view but I didn’t really feel the need to do so. I have done tours before on a (26“ wheeled) three speed and found the gearing fine if the ratios are chosen correctly in the first place. I believe a Sturmey Archer AW hub will be fine for 90% of the riding most people will do – and as for the other 10% – you can get off and push if you really need to and if you are spinning out on a descent, then just freewheel. Sadly most three-speed bikes have left (and continue to leave) the factory with ludicrously high gearing for the use that they are likely to be put too. It is relatively simple to swap out the rear sprocket of any post 1951 built Sturmey Archer hub for a larger one. I did this on my Brompton too when I got it first – swapping the 13 tooth sprocket for a 15 tooth. If your technique is good though, you can climb much tougher hills than you realised and also pedal at a much higher cadence than you think possible. Concentrate on pedalling smoothly and in complete circles. This is why riding fixed wheel can be used to help with technique for anyone wanting to train and improve – the fixed wheel will force you to pedal smoothly and you can then use this improved technique on your geared freewheel bicycle. I know many will disagree with this but I’m basing it on my own experience.
So early one fine Friday morning, I found myself complete with Brompton and luggage boarding a bus for Dublin. I had decided to increase my luggage capacity by adding a Carradice saddle bag, I probably could have fitted enough into the front T-Bag but I thought it was perhaps better to balance things out a little with some weight on the back as well. I had changed the saddle on this bike to a cheap copy of a Brooks B66 (borrowed from my Record roadster) to provide the bag loops and also because it would be more comfortable. The gel saddle I had on the bike was fine for about thirty miles but then became distinctly uncomfortable. I personally favour leather saddles. They can be hard and unforgiving to begin with but will soften up and take shape to suit you just like a good pair of shoes.
On the subject of luggage, I know many could travel lighter than I do but I prefer to have sufficient clothing, for both on and off the bike and as the weather along the Irish coast can change rapidly and sometimes without warning, I am equipped for whatever the weather will bring. Being cold or wet can make it miserable. I also carry tools and puncture repair kit, tubes, spare cables (I wanted a spare gear cable as I doubt a cable for an SA hub would be in stock in many bike shops these days. It is unlikely it would break but it is light to carry), a few spare chain links. A derailleur chain can always be shortened if need be and although you’d lose your low gear you could still continue. With my hub gearing, I took spare links just in case as you can’t really shorten the chain of any hub gear or single speed bike. I would sometimes be passing through remote places too so always carry at least a little food just in case. I prefer to be prepared. It just depends on how minimalistic you wish to be – I met a Dutch guy once who cycling the Wild Atlantic Way with basically nothing; he was buying a new cheap T-Shirt every day. Seems very wasteful to me but each to their own.
My plan had been to start my south coast tour at Rosslare Harbour as there is a railway station there but electing to use the Brompton meant I could now risk a multiple bus trip which of course works out much cheaper. I had booked my first night’s accommodation in a rural location in Carne in County Wexford. This is quite close to Rosslare anyway. From Dublin I took a second bus to Wexford town. I could have gone further along the coast by bus but had decided that Wexford would be enough. It would leave me a nice leisurely twenty miler to the B&B to ease me into the trip.
It began to drizzle rain as left Wexford, but it never became heavy, just a slight dampness and a mist hung in the air. Navigation proved tricky on minor unclassified roads and twenty miles were probably more like twenty-five with “scenic detours” in reality but I was in no hurry. I was to spend the night at the Windy Acres Bed and Breakfast and I was made very welcome and can happily recommend it. It even had sea-views and views of the many wind turbines which populate the Wexford coast. I know many complain about them but they have a graceful elegance and I don’t find them noisy at all. They are certainly preferable to a coal-fired power station belching filth into the air.
The view of the sea and the turbines was much clearer in the morning as the rain and mist had cleared overnight. After a leisurely breakfast I began my first prope day of touring along the Wexford coastline. There are in fact many possible routes to explore here, including the Velovision which is part of much longer European route along the Atlantic coast crossing country borders from Norway to the south of Spain. It also forms part of the Norman Way – a route which can be followed linking up sites which have connections to the Normans.
The Normans first came to Wexford in 1169 at the request of Diarmait Mac Murchada, the King of Leinster who had recently been over-thrown and had enlisted the help of King Henry II of England and the Anglo-Norman Lords to help him regain his Kingdom. He promised the hand of his beautiful daughter Aoife in marriage to Richard de Clare (Strongbow) and also the Kingdom of Leinster (upon the death of Diarmait Mac Murchada) was to pass to Strongbow. This was the early beginnings of eight hundred years of British occupation of Ireland.
The Normans brought fresh ideas with them too, evident in their buildings of defensive towers, fortresses and churches. You can still see much evidence of this around the coast of Wexford even today with many ruined churches and forts. The Normans also brought the design of the post windmill and many were built in Wexford for the same reason that electricity companies today have built so many wind turbines here – it tends to be windy! You can see the famous preserved windmill at Tacumshane which was working as recently as 1936 before being replaced with a diesel driven mill. It is now in the care of Office of Public Works.
Also in this area is Our Lady’s Island (linked to the mainland by a sandy causeway) which was quite an interesting place to visit.You will find a Norman Castle and Tower as well as the medieval church ruins and graveyard. The most striking feature is the leaning tower. The tower was built by the de Lamporte family in the 12th century. Rumours of buried Norman treasures at the base of the tower have caused people to dig and excavate around the base and foundations for the missing treasure over the centuries and the weakened foundations have caused the tower to lean at a rather dramatic angle. Our Lady’s Island was also to become an important pilgrimage site.
The other thing I found which I found hugely interesting was the “Shell Cottage” in Cullenstown/Duncormick. This is a cottage (and outbuildings) which over the course of many years, had all sorts of artistic art work applied to the outside walls by the former owner Kevin French (1921 – 2003). It is obvious that work is being carried out to the thatched roof which is currently covered by a tarpaulin but the shell decorations are a thing of beauty. I spent ages just examining them and I could easily have spent much longer if I had time. It is really an extraordinary piece of art showing great vision and dedication as the time taken to achieve this must have been considerable.
I continued on my way along the coastline. I would spend my second night in Fethard-on-sea. The Norman ruins, the windmill and Our Lady’s Island as well as many thatched houses were of interest, but I had not been particularly inspired by the Wexford coastline so far. I found it a bit flat and featureless so far and traffic volumes on even the minor unclassified roads was higher than I would have expected. I rarely get the chance to cycle in flat areas but today taught me that I actually prefer the hills as it is more varied, interesting and challenging.
The terrain did become more interesting as I moved westward. There were now hills to climb, the Brompton worked fine on them despite the luggage. The signposted route took me mostly along the coast though all sorts of interesting little villages and coves. I also found the Taylorstown Viaduct which is a magnificent red brick arched railway bridge dating from 1904. The long difficult climb out of the deep valley which the viaduct crosses saw me having to get off and push the bike for the first time.
The signposted route would also take me into the grounds of the Tintern Abbey which was built in the late thirteenth century. The Anglo-Norman Knight William Marshall, first Earl of Pembroke, was the patron of Tintern Abbey in Monmouthshire, Wales. On his return to Ireland, with a new title, Lord of Leinster, his ship ran into a storm. Marshall vowed to establish a monastery wherever he landed safely. After landing at Bannow Bay in Wexford he bequeathed 3,500 hectares of land for the foundation of a Cistercian abbey. The abbey was named after the one in Wales and also colonised by monks from there.
Following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries it was granted to Anthony Colclough who was an officer in Henry’s army and he coverted it into a private residence. The final member of the Colclough family to reside at Tintern Abbey was Lucey Marie Biddulph Colclough who left the house to live in Saltmills in 1960 and donated the abbey on her death in 1984 to the Irish Nation. I was aware of the Abbey but knew little about it and had no plans to visit it. It was just a chance that quite a few miles of my signposted cycle route was to pass through the gravel paths on the grounds and past the Abbey itself. It is a very beautiful place well worthy of a visit. One could spend hours exploring the woodlands and gardens which surround it.
I had covered about sixty-three miles as I rolled into Fethard-on-sea. It had been very easy going today, mostly flat, I don’t think I needed my lowest gear much, if at all. The wind had made it a bit of a grind in places but that is to be expected here – the presence of the wind farms is a bit of a clue! I had checked into the Hook Hostel for the night. Basic accommodation but perfectly functional and it gave me all I needed. For a second night, I had stayed somewhere in which I was the only guest.
The next day also promised to be kind from a weather point of view and I had been looking forward to to seeing around Hook Head and the peninsula. It is very scenic and of course the main point of interest at Hook Head is the Hook Head lighthouse. I’ve seen many lighthouses on my coastal tours. I still consider the lighthouse at Fanad head in my native county to be the most beautiful but the Hook Head lighthouse is a little bit special too – especially in terms of it’s long history.
First though, I made a quick detour to Slade castle and harbour. Slade castle was built in the fifteenth century by the Lafftan family who were to lose the castle following the 1641 Rebellion. It was used as storage by the salt works until the nineteenth century before being made into tenement housing. It was taken over by the Office of Public Works in the 1940s. A bright yellow early steel-framed Raleigh Hybrid bicycle has clearly been left to rot away in the salt air at the side of the castle which is a shame as it’s nice frame with decent components but it is seized solid.
As far back as the fifth century AD, there are records of a beacon being lit on Hook Head to warn mariners of danger. The current lighthouse tower is 847 years old and was built by Strongbow’s son-in-law, the Earl of Pembroke who succeed Strongbow as Lord of Leinster. The lighthouse was maintained originally by monks. The first lighthouse keeper was installed in the eighteenth century. Over the years the light has been changed from wood fires, to coal, to whale oil, to gas, to paraffin oil and finally in 1972, to electric light. The final lighthouse keepers left the building in 1996 when the lighthouse was changed to automatic operation and is now in the charge of the Commissioners of Irish Lights. It is the oldest light house in the country and the second oldest in the world which is still in operation. It is incredible to think that this simple tower has stood guard at the entrance to Waterford Harbour and cast a warning and guiding light to sailors for over eight hundred years. It seems the Normans built things to last.
It is possible to take a guided tour of the lighthouse but I declined due to time constraints. There is quite a lot to see around the lighthouse itself though, including the houses built for the lighthouse keepers which are now the visitors centre, a display of maritime relics and a small museum which contains an original rocket car amongst other things. I also seen one of these on Valencia Island when I cycled the Kerry coastline a few years ago. These were used to transport the life-saving equipment of the day – a rocket to fire a rope to the stricken ship from the coast which could then be fastened to a mast by the people on board and it could then be used to bring people safely to the shore. It obviously remained in use until the mid 1920s at least as it has been sign-written with Saorstát Eireann which would mean it was used after 1922 when An Saorstát Eireann (The Irish Free State) was created following the War of Independence and the signing of the Anglo-Irish Treaty. The advances in both vehicle design and in life-saving equipment in the past one hundred years is nothing short of incredible when you think about.
My next stop would be at Loftus Hall. I must admit I had never heard of this before but it also has had a long history; dating back to 1170 when it was originally built and it became known as Redmond Hall. It had an interesting past, including being the scene of many attacks and battles during the Eleven Year War and the Cromwell conquest of Ireland. English planter Nicholas Loftus was granted a lot of land in Wexford by Cromwell and purchased Redmond Hall (from adventurers) and it was to become the main residence of the Loftus family in 1666. The Redmond family continued to dispute the Loftus possession in court and were eventually granted land in the north of county Wexford in compensation. The Redmonds were to became a prominent local political dynasty in Wexford and avid supporters of Isaac Butt and Charles Stewart Parnell and of course, the most famous, John Redmond succeeded Parnell as leader of the Irish Home Rule party and came very close to delivering Home Rule for Ireland in the years prior to The Great War.
Loftus Hall went through a major re-structure in the 1870s to create the building we see today. It is thought that the extensive works were in preparation for a planned visit by Queen Victoria which never actually took place. The Loftus family never got to enjoy the refurbished house though as the family were in a poor financial position and house was placed on the market. It was eventually purchased in 1917 by the Sisters of Providence and used as a Convent School until 1983 when it was sold and re-opened as a hotel. The hotel closed in the 1990s. It is now open as a tourist attraction (although clearly in need of much renovation) and is marketed as Ireland’s most haunted house! There is a famous ghost story associated with it involving a game of cards and man with cloven hooves in place of feet (I remember my maternal grandfather used to tell a similar tale which happened somewhere near St. Johnston. I must check details with my mother).
I continued on my way along the west side of the peninsula. I was following cycle route signs which would eventually bring me to Tramore in County Waterford where I was planning on spending the night. First though I had to make a short ferry journey, one of two I would make on this trip, between Ballyhack and Passage East. It is only a short crossing across Waterford Harbour but substantially shortened the journey to Tramore as well as avoiding the need to cycle into Waterford City.
From Passage East, I would head south along the other side of Waterford Harbour. I must admit I was liking this much more than the first day. The terrain was more interesting and varied and the traffic volume had now reduced. On a glorious May Sunday evening I rolled into Tramore after completing a further fifty-eight miles. I had definitely enjoyed today more than the previous day. Tramore, as a popular sea-side resort was very busy when I arrived, as you might expect on such a nice Sunday evening. By seven or eight o’clock however all the day-trippers had gone and for a third night I was the only guest in my chosen accommodation – the Beach Haven Hostel which is a very nice hostel based in an old townhouse.
Tramore (Trá Mhór, meaning “great strand”) is a popular seaside resort and like many such places began as a small fishing port which became a popular holiday destination with the coming of the railway line and has remained popular for watersports even though the railway link with Waterford has long since gone. In the first few days of opening the Waterford to Tramore railway line, around five thousand people had made the trip and the Royal Irish Constabulary had to be brought in to maintain order on the platforms when boarding the train; such was the demand for a seaside trip by the residents of the nearby city. We really do take ease of travel for granted today.
The town’s symbol is the seahorse which has also been adopted as the logo of the Waterford Crystal company. The seahorse is a reference to a tragic event in the town’s history when the transport ship The Seahorse went down off Tramore with the loss of over three-hundred lives.
The good weather continued through to Monday. I was to continue along the coast today to Ardmore. This part of the Waterford Coastline is known as the copper coast as copper mining has taken place here in the past. It is certainly very beautiful. I also first passed the other thing which Tramore is known for – the Metal Man. Tramore Bay is sheltered yet potentially treacherous and can be easily confused with the safe haven of the Suir estuary. Following the sinking of the Seahorse, the ship’s insurers – Lloyds of London paid for the construction of these pillars as navigational aids. There are three pillars at Newtown Head, two pillars at Brownstown Head and finally Hook lighthouse is used as a single pillar. Sailors were warned to only enter Waterford Harbour after passing the other pillars and the lighthouse became visible. The “metal man” is a fourteen foot tall metal sailor mounted on one of the pillars. It has also passed into local folklore and legend as marriage is promised to any “eligible maidens” within a year if they could hop around the base of the metal man. Since the circumference is around eighty yards on uneven ground, this also ensured that any available eligible bachelor would be getting a fit and healthy wife who was able to complete this physically demanding task! Needless to say I did not spot any eligible maidens hopping around the base!
I actually decided the Copper Coast is one of the most under-rated pieces of coastline in Ireland. I really enjoyed my day’s riding here and would have liked more time to have explored some things in more detail. There is even an art work in a very picturesque location (“Fire and Water” by Collette o’ Brien) which represents all the formations and layers which make up the coast line. From a distance riding along the road I saw it and thought it was paint on the stone but is actually some form of enamel. A little past that you will reach Tankardstown Copper Works. Now a ruin, you can see the chimney, the engine house, the boiler house, the beginnings of the mineshaft and other relics of the mine. The steam engine was installed c1860 and sold for scrap in the 1870s as the amount of ore was less than anticipated. The engine house was to house a diesel engine when the mine was re-opened for a short time in 1906.
I passed through many little towns and seaside resorts and visited many little coves and beaches, the names of many of which I cannot now recall as they were so many. The Waterford coast really is under-rated. I had it all almost to myself. I was to spend the night in Bayside Cottage in Ardmore. First I made a final scenic diversion to Helvic where you can see the Victorian public baths and also a monument to the 1867 Fenian (Irish Republican Brotherhood) rebellion called Erin’s Hope.
Bayside Cottage is a lovely little B&B run by a lovely couple who made me feel completely at home. Yet again I was the only guest! Where is everyone? We complain about the cost of B&B but it is probably quite difficult to make it pay outside of the usual tourist traps as the season is actually really short. May or September are my preferred months for cycle touring for this reason – still long days and usually good weather but less people, less traffic.
Ardmore (Aird Mhór, meaning “Great Height”) is a small seaside town in Co. Waterford. It is noted in religious circles as being possibly the earliest Christian settlement in Ireland with the Christian faith being brought here by St. Déclán who came here possibly as early as 350AD which of course precedes St. Patrick. Today you can see the impressive and very well preserved round tower which dates from the twelfth century and the remains of the cathedral which mostly dates from slightly later although part of the complex dates from the eighth century. I found it fascinating to look around the remains of the cathedral. I am no expert on architecture but a few things did interest me. There is some impressive stone masonry in the cathedral walls, they actually represent Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, and also Solomon’s Judgement.
You can also see the difference in Gothic and Roman arch design as you look around the ruins. I’m guessing here but I suspect the impressive Gothic arch on the inside dates from a later period of building work to the exterior walls which feature the traditional rounded Roman arches in the doors. The Gothic arch was of course a major advance in building design in it’s time as it needed less material to build and made larger windows, etc possible as the load is forced mostly downwards from the keystone rather than outwards as with rounded Roman arch so less masonry was required to carry the load. Inside the cathedral you can also see Ogham stones. Ogham stones were used to write the early Irish language and around four hundred originals exist in Ireland today, mostly in Munster and also some in Wales.
I found Ardmore a very pleasant place to stay, probably the nicest of the towns in which I stayed during this trip. A number of celebrated writers have lived here including Molly Keane who is buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard, the American writer Nora Roberts who based three of her books in Ardmore thus making Ardmore a popular destination with American tourists over the years and also British writer Claud Cockburn moved to Ardmore in 1947.
The good weather continued on the Tuesday morning. I continued my journey westwards along the coast via Caliso Bay and Ferrypoint. I would have to join the N25 to cross the bridge over the River Blackwater. I always prefer to avoid National Primary routes but I never feel threatened or endangered around here in the way I do on busy roads in the north of the country. The standard of driving is and general attitude is so much better and you also rarely see the people who endlessly drive around town centres in the evening causing pointless noise, pollution and congestion which seems to be a favoured hobby for many in the north of the country.
I would soon arrive in Youghal and Co. Cork – my first visit to east Cork. I only passed through Youghal (Eochaill, meaning “yew wood” as there once were many yew woods in this area) but my initial impressions were favourable. The town has a long history, going back to a Viking settlement in the eleventh century and evidence of other settlements going back much further to Neolithic times. Youghal became a prominent and important town to British rule during the Plantations of Munster in the sixteenth century. Sir Walter Raleigh planted his first potatoes here at his home in Myrtle Grove after he brought them back from the “New World” and he was later granted 42,000 acres of land in the surrounding area by Queen Elizabeth I. Due to the Sir Walter Raleigh connections, it also became important in the early tobacco trade. There is so much history associated with Youghal that I can’t possibly go into it all here (nor do I know it well enough). I actually regret not taking an extra day here just to explore the many historical sites in the town and the immediate area. It is also a very scenic area with nice beaches and harbour and the second lighthouse I was to visit on this trip, in comparison to Hook Head, this one is a mere youngster – it only went into service in 1852! It was the work of architect George Halpin and is very nice building in it’s own right. Youghal was also where a lot of the filming was done for the 1954 film adaptation of Moby Dick.
I followed the coast road from Youghal towards Knockadoon Head. Things were to become slightly confusing here due to the absence of any useful road signs and several diversions due to roadworks but I eventually found my way to Ballycotton where I would end up talking to a lovely Dutch couple who were touring the Irish coast in a Renault Estafette 1000 van. I didn’t ask them how old it was I had just assumed 1960s from the styling of it but I’ve now read a little and found they were produced from 1959 – 1980. It has just a 1300cc engine to pull the rated one tonne payload. I’d imagine the gearing would be low to allow a small engine to pull such a payload so I’m sure their cruising speed would not be too high but if they are touring there is no rush whatsoever. This is how I like to see old cars (or bikes, tractors or anything else) – being used and bearing a few battle scars, not used as pristine museum pieces. At Ballycotton you can get a good view of Ballycotton Island and yet another lighthouse.
Despite the navigational problems and extra mileage, today was turning out to be a highly enjoyable day. The roads around this part of Co. Cork are basically traffic free, mostly very scenic and what little traffic exists is incredibly respectful. I stopped briefly in the village of Cloyne to look at another round tower. This one dates from 560AD when St. Coleman founded his monastery. It is not in such good condition as the one in Ardmore (it suffered a lightening strike in the eighteenth century) but is beautiful none the less. One can only marvel at the skill and the time that went into building such things. Quarrying and transporting sufficient stone would be a difficult task in itself before the machinery we now take for granted.
More problems with roadworks and diversions from leaving Cloyne and my planned route was closed to all traffic so I ended up on a busy main road in rush hour. Not what I had hoped for but again, the incredible respect shown by the Cork drivers is alien to me and not what you would find in the north of the country. It is never pleasant cycling along a busy main road though but at least I never felt in any danger.
At Saleen, I was able to turn left towards East Ferry which overlooks Cobh and was a little piece of tranquil heaven on the road to Midleton where I would spend the night. I had booked a room at Carrigashane House B&B is located a little out of the town and which was very welcoming, and comfortable and had huge gardens. I had a wash and change of clothes and cycled the two miles or so back into Midleton to get food. I was to take advantage of the nice evening and the nice garden to sit in a seat in the garden and read until it was it was time for bed. For the first time on this trip, there were other guests! I was surprised to see that I covered eighty odd miles today too – not all planned! I did have to walk a few hills but the Sturmey was working fine for touring. I think we over-think our gearing needs for touring!
Wednesday dawned nice and bright again and after a hearty breakfast to fuel me for my journey I was ready for the road again. One option would have been to venture into Cork City itself and continue around the other side of Cobh but I didn’t fancy that – too busy, too hectic. Some people enjoy cities but they’re not for me. With a Brompton, one other option would have been to have folded it up and got on a bus and missed the busy part that I wasn’t interested in. I took the third option – the ferry.
The Crossriver Ferry Company operate a service from Carrigaloe to Passage West across the River Lee which would keep me out of the city. I made a leisurely trip to Carrigaloe Port to catch the ferry. I regret not going on further first to visit Cobh (known as Queenstown prior to the formation of the Irish Free State), a port with a lot history going back many years and also was the last port the ill-fated Titanic was to call at before the tragic iceberg strike in April 1912. Cobh is actually the second deepest harbour in the world and was one of the “Treaty Ports” (along with Bantry Bay and Lough Swilly – also very deep sheltered natural harbours) which the British retained following the formation of the Free State until finally surrendering them to the Irish Defence Force in 1938.
The ferry crossing was very smooth and tranquil and lasts around five minutes. At only €1.50 I cannot complain about the price. I now found myself in West Cork, one of my favourite parts of the entire country. I would be spending the night in Kinsale, first I would be taking the coast road. I had been to Kinsale before, but never explored the coastline to the east of it. I would do it now. I began to make my way to Ringaskiddy and Carrigaline. A nice surprise was to await me at Carrigaline – the former railway line to Crosshaven has been turned into a “greenway” – a shared cycle/pedestrian path. I really do wish Donegal County Council would get their act together and do this with some of the many former railway lines here.
It is so much nicer to ride a path like this than to ride on the road. It is a very pleasant route too along the Owenabue River, Drake’s Pool and the Royal Cork Yacht Club. Unlike the Mayo Greenway, this has a metalled road surface (to be fair I never found the surface of the Mayo greenway to be a problem but many have complained). The greenway makes the ride to Crosshaven much more pleasant than the road journey would have been. I found Crosshaven a very pleasant coastal town. Crosshaven was originally a Viking Settlement, I learned that the name of Drake’s Pool which I passed on the River Owenabue is in reference to Sir Francis Drake having taken refuge there from the Spanish Armada. I bought some takeaway food from the deli counter in a supermarket in Crosshaven and sat and relaxed in the afternoon sun whilst I ate it in the village green opposite the Crosshaven House Hotel which is a beautiful eighteenth century mansion brilliantly preserved. The whole area and coastline around Crosshaven is wonderful and was one of the highlights of this trip.
I made a quick journey to Camden Fort (or Fort Meagher) which is on a hill a few miles out of town. The fort covers forty-five acres – sixty-five percent of which is underground. It is one of the defences in Cobh Harbour which was maintained by the British military following the Anglo-Irish Treaty and formation of the Irish Free State in 1922. It was handed over to the Irish Defence Force in 1938 (along with the other treaty ports in Lough Swilly and Bantry Bay) when it was renamed Fort Meagher by the Irish Army. It was maintained as a coastal defence by the Irish Army until 1989 when the army handed it over to Cork County Council. It is now a tourist attraction which is occasionally open to the public.
From Crosshaven I would make my way to Minane Bridge and then Robert’s Cove which proved to be another one of the highlights of this trip. The roads in this area are largely traffic free and peaceful and Robert’s Cove was stunning in it’s beauty and it’s tranquillity. A beautiful beach and tiny village, surrounded by beautiful scenery. I could have sat and admired the views and enjoyed the peacefulness for many hours but had to get back on the road again. This was a Yeats “Lake Isle of Inisfree” moment.
I continued my way along the coast to Kinsale with many other scenic stops and detours. The Cork coastline has a beauty all of of it’s own and perhaps it is just because I’ve only ever been here out of the main tourist season but it is generally quite peaceful and quiet. I consider Cork one of the best cycling counties in Ireland. Kinsale and my stop for the night was drawing closer. The last few miles would be on the busy R600. I discovered it was still possible to cross the River Stick using the old iron bridge which sits beside the new one just as you join the R600 (cyclist and pedestrian only traffic on the old bridge. It was built in 1878 according to dedication plaque which still exists).
At Kinsale (Cionn tSáile, meaning “Tide Head) I was to join up where I had been to before. Kinsale is long-established coastal town on the mouth of the River Bandon and has always been an important fishing port. In 1601, the final of several Spanish Armadas landed in Kinsale and linked up with local rebels to attack England but were defeated. Today a replica of the mast of a Spanish Galleon has been erected on the quayside.
King James II of England landed at Kinsale in 1689 with support from the King of France in a campaign to regain his Kingdom and was to flea Ireland to France from Kinsale in 1690 following his defeat at the Battle of The Boyne. In the late seventeenth century Kinsale was to become a prominent Royal Navy Base but was later to decline in importance during the Napoleonic Wars as the Navy moved to the deeper waters of Cobh.
Recently I read a biography on Ernest Shackleton and learned that two noted Antarctic Explorers also originated in Kinsale. Mortimer McCarthy (1882-1967) who sailed with Captain Scott on the Aurora and also the ill-fated attempt to reach the South Pole on the Terra Nova. He was awarded a medal for his exploits and donated a harpoon gun from the expedition to the Kinsale Museum but saw out his days in New Zealand. His brother Timothy (1888 – 1917) sailed with Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance and was to spend fifteen months trapped in pack ice and was one of the six men selected by Shackleton to complete the eight-hundred mile voyage in a open boat through some of the most inhospitable seas in the world to South Georgia to get help for their stricken companions. Timothy was also to be awarded medals. A remarkable seaman who was to sadly to become one of the countless tragedies in the Great War following a Torpedo strike. There are two plaques in their memory near the harbour.
Kinsale is a fascinating town to just wander around with it’s maze of narrow streets and brightly painted shop fronts, historic buildings, beautiful harbour, many restaurants and pubs, mostly with live music in the evenings. In my only other visit to Kinsale, it was winter and dark when I arrived, It was nice to see it in daylight. I was to spend the night at Dempsey’s Hostel. There were some other guests but not that many.
In some ways I would be re-tracing my footsteps from a previous trip which can read about here – https://theoldbikeshome.wordpress.com/2017/01/27/wild-atlantic-way-part-iv-kinsale-and-west-cork/ I have some of my fondest memories from all my Wild Atlantic Way trips here and I decided to revisit them when I was here anyway. The days were longer now in May than in January and I was a Brompton novice then. Now I had confidence in it’s ability to cover longer distances. I aimed to reach Skibbereen in one day and had booked into the Russagh Mill hostel a few miles out of the town.
I made a nice early start so decided I did have time to visit the Old Head of Kinsale after all. The rebuilding of the Napoleonic signalling tower seems to be complete now and also a very fascinating piece of art has been added to the collection of memorials to the 1,198 people who perished on board the R.M.S. Lusitania following the German torpedo attack on what was a civilian ship and not a legitimate military target. The artwork takes the form of sheet of steel with 34,513 holes drilled in it to create a picture of the great Clydebank-built ocean liner in full steam. It looks like a picture at a casual glance but if you look at my photo, you can see the Wild Atlantic Way road sign in the distance behind it through the holes. I found it fascinating.
From The Old Head, I continued on my way to Timoleague – or at least that’s what I planned to do. I will always remember this tour as the one which was much longer that it should have been due to endless diversions due to roadworks! I suppose it is good for my fitness! Sometime cyclists or pedestrians can pass through roadworks safely if you ask the County Council workers nicely even if the road is closed to motorised traffic. Not this time. I arrived at the bridge which crosses the River Arigideen on the R600 and found it had just had new load of steaming hot tar applied which they were starting to roll into place. I couldn’t walk or ride on the boiling hot road surface and it was a narrow, old stone bridge with no footpaths. I was told in no uncertain terms by the workers that I wouldn’t be allowed on it for about five hours. I still had to cross the river though so needed another bridge…the detour was massive, the people working at the bridge were good enough to tell me a much shorter route to Timoleague rather than follow the Detour signposts for the cars but it took me over a small mountain on mostly gravel roads and I had to get of and push for large parts of it. A planned half-hour journey took me about two hours longer. I would probably have been quicker taking the sign-posted route but it was interesting to explore somewhere truely off the beaten track and to fend off the sheepdogs at remote farms who were probably not used to cyclists straying into their domain.
With this delay, it was with much sadness at Clonakilty that I decided not to do the loop through Ardfield, Red Strand Beach and Galley Head. I stayed near Ardfield last time with a friend who was living there at the time and it is one of the unsung parts of Irish coastline but it would have taken too long. I could have cut the Glandore/Union Hall loop instead but the alternative to doing that is to ride the N71 to Skibbereen which I didn’t want to do. I continued directly to Rosscarbery with a heavy heart and turned off for Glandore. This is not easy terrain from here with a lof climbing but it is worth the hard work. Glandore (Cuan Dor, meaning harbour of the oak trees) must be the single most beautiful village on the whole Wild Atlantic Way and has a long history as a settlement – the Normans built castles here in 1215. The present pier dates from the early nineteenth century. I took the time to visit the Church of Ireland Church which overlooks the sea (is this Ireland’s most beautifully situated church?) and I also noted that the cave which you can from the other side of the road pass underneath the road. The entrance gate to the church is actually cut through the rock.
Nearby Union Hall (Bréantrá) is larger but similarily beautiful with it’s stone walls and bridges and the surrounding area has several ringforts and a souterrain and there are also the remains of two castles. It was near Union Hall that an over-taking Garda patrol car was to pull up alongside me and the Guard who was driving started chatting out the window to me. My first thought was one of fear – I must have committed some sort of traffic law violation but no idea what it could be. It was very different – he was asking me where I was going to and whence I had come – and making suggestions of where I should stop and explore. Community policing in action!
I continued on my way to Castletownshend, another beautiful seaside village in West Cork – and yet more roadworks in the main street! It was closed to traffic so I walked the bike on the pavement to the beautiful harbour. Castletownshend (Baile an Chaisleáin, literally “Town of the Castle). The village developed around a small 17th-century castle built by Richard Townsend, whose descendants still reside there. The main street of the town which is lined with large homes from the 18th century runs down a steep hill leading to Castlehaven Harbour and the castle.
I cycled the final ten miles or so into Skibbereen itself to do some shopping as I now had a fixed base for the next or so and use of a kitchen before locating the Russagh Mill hostel. It is a large building using a converted mill and is very welcoming and friendly with good facilities. The next day would be a free day, to do what I pleased. I had assumed I’d feel tired by now and had planned to take an easy day to relax and unwind before going hope the following day but I felt find so decided to some riding.
I liked Baltimore the last time I was there so decided to go there. I went the scenic route via Tragumna and Lough Hyne and I was following cycle route signs which I assumed would take me to Baltimore! It did! Via a very hilly route (somebody had painted slogans like “You’re doing great!” “Nearly there now!” and “Well done, you made it!” on the road on some of the steeper climbs. I did make it but on foot for some of them.) but one with great views and little traffic. Lough Hyne was very nice. There was to be a wooden boat festival in Baltimore that weekend but I saw little evidence – a single wooden boat in the harbour and a woman sitting on the green trying to sell sailcloth. Perhaps I was too early.
I considered my options from here. Taking a ferry to the islands from Baltimore was one option but the timetable was not friendly I would have a long wait and I preferred to keep moving. I decided to ride to Mizen Head. I knew it was a long way from here but I also knew if I timed it right I could get the bus back to Sibbereen from Goleen. So that is what I did.
The ride to Mizen Head was relatively uneventful. I stopped in Ballydehob and ate my lunch in the shadows of the magnificent viaduct where it crosses the River Bawnakockane. The viaduct is a twelve arch stone bridge and a fine piece of civil engineering. The train between Schull and Skibbereen ran from 1886 to 1947. From Ballydehob I completed the journey to Goleen and Mizen Head, first stopping at the beautiful Barleycove strand, one of the nicest beaches that I have seen in Co. Cork. I have written about Barleycove and Mizen Head in my blog entry from my previous visit – https://theoldbikeshome.wordpress.com/2017/10/09/wild-atlantic-way-part-vi-tir-na-nog/ I enjoyed my second visit to Mizen Head but am left wondering if I should have been more creative and went somewhere else instead of repeating what I had done before.
I made the return journey to Goleen to wait on the bus back to Skibbereen. This is the beauty of riding a Brompton. You can extend your rides further than you might otherwise have gone as folding the thing up and putting it on board a bus is always an option. It is true they will carry a large bike too and I’ve done so in the past several times but you are always trusting to luck as it depends on the available luggage room and the driver’s discretion – the bus driver is with his/her rights to say no. With a Brompton they can’t really do that as it folds down into a piece of luggage. I do carry a cover for it when travelling by bus as Bus Eireann state that it is required in their terms of carriage but I doubt that they’d insist on it.
I had a really enjoyable week but it was over now and on the Saturday morning I was faced with the long bus journey from Sibbereen back home to Donegal. It took eleven hours but I did have a ninety minute wait in Cork bus depot and one hour wait in Dublin. Not ideal but it’s not too bad in reality. The only real issue was being effectively marooned in the bus depots as I didn’t want to leave the Brompton and my luggage unattended. I am pleased I had taken the Brompton now as the bus between Cork city and Dublin was packed with a lot of luggage and I suspect a full sized bicycle would have been rejected. Taking a Brompton public transport really is very easy as I did it a lot this week!
I think I can declare this tour a success and the Brompton coped brilliantly with all that I asked of it. The gearing was fine most of the time and I found it no great hardship to walk an occasional hill. In fact, with long days in the saddle day after day it can be a nice change of pace for a few moments. I’m not sure whether it is because the Brompton is loaded to the front rather than the rear or for some other reason but it is very easy to push a loaded Brompton up a hill. Pushing a Viscount Aerospace with two loaded panniers up a hill is not actually that easy and having the gearing to climb a long hill is very useful. With a Brompton it doesn’t appear to matter in the same way – strange. Also, with practice on a step-through frame you can make the transition from cycling, to walking and then back to riding without actually coming to a stop!
From Friday to Friday I covered just over four hundred miles on a three speed city bike while carrying luggage. I’m not really sure it was much more tiring than doing it on a large-wheeler. For touring (if done properly), there is no rush so any possible advantage from 700c wheels is probably never noticed. It’s same with the aerodynamics really. If you were aiming to ride at twenty MPH or more, this upright riding position would not work but at touring speeds it makes little difference and gives a better view of your surroundings.
The Brompton really is possibly the most practical and usable of all bicycles. During this trip I became more and more impressed with my Brompton. It’s not a racing bike but it works brilliantly as a utility bike (The T-bag is brilliant for shopping), as a commuting bike, a leisure bike or even as a touring bike (so long as you are not going to extremely hilly terrain). On certain types of road surface you do notice a harsher ride quality than you’d have with a large wheeled bike but it’s manageable most of the time.
Riding a Brompton is also a great way to make friends as there are a never-ending supply of people who are curious about it and ask questions. I was comparing notes with a elderly gentleman I met outside a shop who had a modern day Raleigh folding bicyle with twenty inch wheels. It may not be the same quality as the Brompton and the fold is probably not as neat but he said he won it in a raffle a few years ago and doesn’t know how he survived so long without a folding bike as he uses a lot and often takes it on buses for random days out exploring with his free bus pass! I hope I live long enough and am blessed with good enough health to do likewise some day!