County Clare

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North Clare Cycleroute

One of the (many) places I passed through on my Wild Atlantic Way tour which I had decided I would like to return to for further exploration was Doolin in County Clare.

Doolin (or Dúlainn) is coastal town on the edge of the Burren area of county Clare and is built on the Aille River. The town itself is small but quite scattered over a relatively large area. The reasons to visit it are many. It is a good base for exploring some of the most beautiful landscape in the country including the fabled Cliffs of Moher and The Burren, it is a relatively flat area for cycling, you can catch ferries to the Aran Islands and the live traditional music scene in the town is legendary. It is also one of the hubs of the National Cycle Network which promises some nice cycle routes on lightly trafficked roads.

Doolin Pier

Fisher Street, Doolin, Co. Clare

When I was here before earlier in the year I was only spending one night and passing through on my coastal journey. This time I would go directly there and spend four nights with plans to visit one of the Aran Islands and also the Cliffs of Moher as well as explore some of the signposted cycle routes. I would base myself at the Rainbow Hostel where I stayed last time and highly recommend.

On Satruday evening I arrived after a tedious five hour car journey complete with Brompton and checked in to my accommodation. I decided to take the Brompton as it rides well, packs easier and would be easier to take on the ferry to the islands and in this area, three gears are perfectly sufficient. I just relaxed really on Saturday evening, walked around the village and harbour areas and sampled some of the live music sessions in progress. Tomorrow I would start with the early morning ferry to Inis Oírr, the smallest and closest of the three Aran Islands. It was a difficult choice really but locals told me that Inis Oírr was the most scenic and as it was also the smallest at roughly three square miles, I would have a whole day to explore it properly.

It was my first time to use my recently aquired Brompton T-bag which I instantly decided is an excellent piece of kit, worth the expense as it’s practical and well made and very spacious. With it, my Brompton now becomes a valid touring bicycle, on other occasions I had tried to use it for touring, strapping a rucksack to the carrier was less than ideal. I wouldn’t need all that space on this occasion but was able to take my lunch and camera, some waterproofs and spare clothes as the weather would be very mixed and have plenty of room to spare. The rear facing bottle holder is also very practical. The whole bag can be easily unclipped and used as a large shoulder bag too which is good if you were doing mixed mode travelling with buses or trains. I am very impressed with it.

I got the ten o’ clock ferry, the earliest available and the crossing takes twenty minutes. The fact that a Brompton effectively bends in the middle at the rear hinge if you pick up like you would a normal bicycle confused the ferry staff when they lifted it on board and I would get jokes about my “wonky wheel!” The ferry crossing was quite rough but I enjoyed it. I always enjoy being on board a boat.

Aran Ferry

The early morning brightness I had experienced in Doolin had gradually disappeared and when we docked at the island pier the day was quite over cast and misty with a slight hint of rain in the air. After leaving the boat I stood on the pier and looked around me. The mist clung to everything and the air felt damp despite the strong wind. The island actually had the feel of a small remote fishing village ( I suppose that is what it is in many ways) with a beautiful beach near the harbour, a lot of houses (and also pubs, shops, etc) in the immediate vicinity of the harbour and the ruins of O’Brien fort overlooks the harbour from it’s prominent hilltop location, as it has done since the fourteenth century.

Inis Oírr

Inis Oírr

 

The Aran Islands have an unusually temperate climate and frost or snow are almost unheard of on the islands. As the soil temperature usually remains above the 6C required for growth these islands actually have the longest growing season of any part of the British Isles. The islands are really an extension of the Burren and the small fields are the results of years of building soil by creating layers of sand and seaweed on top of the rocks. Stone walls abound on the island and I was to be grateful for the shelter they were to give me in the face of the Atlantic winds.

Inis Oírr

Inis Oírr

The island currently has a population of around 250 people. I believe the Arans only really became heavily populated during the Cromwellian period when people were forced to flee their land by the English forces (to Hell or to Connaught). There is evidence of monastic settlements dating back much further than that. The earliest sign of settlement on the island is the Cnoc Raithní, discovered in 1895 which dates back to 1,500 BC. Up until relatively recently, the islanders were self-sufficient in most things. Cattle were led to the mainland by being tied behind Currachs – the traditional west of Ireland lightweight fishing boat which is noted for being surprisingly seaworthy even in heavy seas. Many of these small boats are still in evidence.

Currach

I enjoyed riding around the island, there are no hills to speak off and it is easy terrain despite the fierce Atlantic winds. It may be small in size (3.1 square miles) but it contains a bewildering amount of roads and paths, the more important ones are surfaced, others are just grass or stone but I found no difficulty on the Brompton on any surface. It is possible to take guided tours of the island by pony and trap and just about the only traffic I encountered anywhere was of the equine variety with a few of the small 3 cylinder Zetor tractors which seem to be the prefered power on the land on the island. I couldn’t help feeling the rust-resistance of these little tractors in the face of the salt-laden air is a tribute to the quality of Czech engineering as the few British tractors I did see had long since lost the battle against rust.

Inis Oírr

Inis Oírr

Inis Oírr

Somewhat amazingly on such a small island I was able to find enough roads to keep me riding almost continuously apart from occasional photo or food stops for several hours. When the weather suddenly improved and cleared, giving the views for which the island is famous, I did most of it for a second time! It was an enjoyable and relaxing day, nice to get away from the huslte and bustle and traffic of the mainland for a time and there was much to see, including the endless and fascinating stone walls, the beautiful memorial to those lost at sea, the lighthouse, O’Brien’s castle and various other ruins, and also the wreck of the Plassey, made famous on the opening credits of the Father Ted TV series of the 1990s. The Plassey was originally a steam trawler launched in 1940 as the HMT Juliet. It was converted to a cargo ship in 1947 and was acquired by the Limerick Steamship Company in 1951 who renamed it as the Plassey. It ran aground and was wrecked during a severe storm in 1960 at Finnis Rock. Thankfully all crew members were rescued. A subsequent storm a few weeks later washed it above the water line where it has remained, now very much the worse for corrosion but I guess it’s almost 80 years old.

Inis Oírr

Inis Oírr

Inis Oírr

Inis Oírr

I caught the late evening ferry back to Doolin, the crossing being much smoother and in nicer weather than the voyage out. Unfortunately I missed the photo opportunity of a lifetime when a dolphin jumped out of the water at the stern of the ferry but such is life!

My plan for the following day involved a visit (my first) to the fabled Cliffs of Moher – one of Ireland’s most iconic scenic beauty spots. I did pass by earlier this year but it was extremely foggy at that time so wasn’t ideal for sight-seeing. There was to be no trouble with fog today, the weather was a clear, crisp, sunny Autumn day, not especially warm but it was dry and mist free with the promise of seeing the cliffs in all their glory. It is a short ride of about five miles from Doolin to the visitors centre. Some climbing is involved but I found it very easy on my Sturmey hub gear. I didn’t follow the main route completely but used the sign-posted cycle route 2 which took me on to some minor roads which were a delight to cycle on and past a tower of which I could find no information (I admit I didn’t try too hard!) but was clearly private property.

North Clare Cycle route No. 2

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

The cliffs extend for about eight miles and the high point is 702 feet above sea level ( much lower than Sliab Liag in southwest Donegal) at the point where O’Brien’s Tower is built. About 1.5 million people visit the cliffs every year. The cliffs are mostly shale and sandstone and home to an estimated 30,000 pairs of nesting birds of 20 different species. They take their name from the old promontory fort called Mothar which stood at Hag’s Head. It was demolished in 1808 and the stones were used to build the lookout/signalling tower like so many of the others around the Irish coast in case of possible French invasion during the Napoloeonic Wars. I locked my bike at the visitors centre and walked from O’Brien’s Tower to the Napoleonic Tower (where I sat and ate my lunch) and back again, probably about a two hour hike in total and it was indeed very enjoyable. I toyed with idea of completing the whole looped walking route which would have taken me back to Dooolin eventually and then driving back to collect the bike but elected to continue cycling. I completed the whole of the Route 2, 39KM according ot the tourist information and it is a very nice route, one I would recommend and it should be within the capabilities of most riders. When I had arrived back at my bike at the bike rack, I found a Canondale Tandem chained up beside it and got talking to the owners who were a couple from Belfast who were cycling the Wild Atlantic Way on the tandem.

Cliffs of Moher

O'Brien's Tower

Cliffs of Moher

DSCF7385 (Copy)

Canondale Tandem

I arrived back in Doolin earlier than I had expected and found I was in time to catch the final sailing of the Cliffs of Moher tour boat. Since it was such a nice evening, I decided to do that and it in itself is very worthwhile as you get a different perspective on the cliffs from sea level and are actually better able to appreciate their beauty.

Cliffs of Moher

Cliffs of Moher

Day three, and my final full day in Doolin, my plan was to visit the Doolin Cave (Poll-an-Ionain) where one can see the largest Stalactite in the northern hemisphere. It is a short ride of a few miles from Doolin to the cave entrance and visitors centre. The Stalactite is just over 200 feet below the ground and a lot of stairs leads to it and there is the need to wear the supplied helmets underground as it’s very easy to hit your head on the low passages in the low light conditions. The tour is excellent and very informative but I found the cave very claustraphobic and was pleased to get outside again. The cave was discovered in 1952 by two English men – J. M. Dickenson and Brian Varley,  After the underground tour, you can walk around a very nice park area with many varieties of goats and sheep on display.

Doolin Cave stalactite

Doolin Cave stalactite

After the tour, which didn’t take very long, I had the rest of the day to contemplate cycling. I decided to follow more of the signposted routes, starting with route number 3 which took me through Lisdoonvarna, but as it was still early and such a nice day, I also added route 4 to my ride taking me towards Lahinch where I was to stop for food and also called at the other highlight of the day – Poulnabrone Dolmen, which is the oldest dated megalithic monument in Ireland and the second most visited site in the Burren (after the cliffs of Moher). It is classified as a portal tomb and archaeologist Anne Lynch who carried out investigations in the 1980s found the remains of 21 bodies. The site was in use for a 600 year period with oldest dated remains dating from 5,800 years ago. The human remains show evidence of hard physical labour and one of the remains has an arrow-head embedded in it suggesting some sort of conflict. It is a fascinating site to visit and as always with these things, you are left with the question of how they got the stones into position. It is older than the Great Pyramids! This was in many ways the most enjoyable day of the trip as it was all very relaxed and I probably covered in excess of about fifty miles through some beautiful scenery on perfct cycling roads. Yet again (as in all my trips to the south-west of Ireland) the standard of driving and respect shown to cyclists and pedestrians by drivers show just how terrible and selfish the attitude of many drivers in the north of Ireland actually is.

Lisdoonvarna

Pulnabrone Dolmen

Pulnabrone Dolmen

Brompton

For the final day of my trip and the longest day (in terms of mileage) I decided to treat myself to dinner in the pub. Another night spent listening to the many excellent traditional bands to be found in Doolin, I was in some ways sad to be returning home the following morning. I was impressed yet again with the Brompton, they are such a practical bike and so good to ride. the addition of the front bag (and the possibility of fitting a Caaradice saddle bag if more luggage space is required) make the Brompton into a perfectly viable touring bike for shorter trips. It’s true it might be necessary to walk some hills due to the limited gear range of the Sturmey Hub gear but for a relaxed touring trip that is largely not important and the Bormpton has the advantage of being so easy to transport by car, bus, train or ferry

This was probably my last tour of 2018, and the only one completed from a fixed base as on the others I was always moving to a new destination each night. There are pros and cons to both methods of touring. Finding yourself in new surroundings each morning adds it’s own interest and you can cover greater effective mileage as you don’t have to return to base but on the other hand, once you settle in to your accommodation, it feels like home and is nice to go back each evening.

Kilmacreehy Graveyard

Inis Oírr

Inis Oírr

North Clare Cycle route No. 2

Inis Oírr

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Peugeot Pantera

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Peugeot Pantera

Usually the bikes I write about on this blog are cosmetically challenged and could be described as rustbuckets. Today I am going to write about one which isn’t!

I own many bikes. Too many really. One of my personal favourites is one I had actually almost forgotten I had. It was languishing in the back of a shed covered in dust. In the great scheme of things, it is nothing particularly special – a late 1980s Peugeot Pantera with HLE tubing.

Peugeot Pantera

I bought it from Ebay on whim a good few years ago. To be more precise, I put in a low maximum bid never expecting to get it for so little but I was lucky for once. I hadn’t expected to win the auction and having done so, I had to make the long, tedious drive to Belfast to pick it up. It’s amazing how my view-point has changed along with my fitness – today I’d probably take the bus or train to Belfast and ride it home! The seller had been accurate in his discription. It is in almost timewarp condition but had definitely seen some use. Clearly the original owner had taken care of it. A few minor paint chips and ideally the back wheel should probably be rebuilt with a replacement rim as there is a slight ding in it but the wheel remains true and it doesn’t interfere with braking.

I think it is a very attractive bike in it’s black and white colour scheme. The original Michelin whitewall 23mm tyres were very badly perished when I got and as I don’t like such skinny tyres as they don’t suit the roads I ride, I decided to replace them with 28s. I don’t normally bother with coloured tyres but wanted to keep the black and white theme so I decided to get whitewalls. Given that this is a French made bike with mostly French components, I wanted Michelins and would accept no substitute! A set of Michelin Dynamics in 700 X 28c with whitewall tyres were purchased.

Peugeot Pantera

I took the opportunity time to service and re-grease all the bearings, and I discovered the rear axle was slightly bent so sourced a suitable replacement. Everything else was in perfect condition. This was before Shimano almost monopolised the cycle component market so I have Maillard hubs, Stronglight cup and cone bottom bracket and a basic Stronglight 42/52 alloy chainset, Stronglight headset, Maillard 14-24 six speed freewheel block, Sachs-Huret mechs and shifters.

Sachs-Maillard

I found the bike fantastic to ride but the gearing was higher than ideal for someone of my fitness in the my local terrain. I had a Stronglight 50/36 chainset I had purchased for another project on which I then used something different so I put that on the bike and it made a huge difference.I rode the bike quite a bit that summer, though only on longish Sunday day rides on sunny afternoons and I also took it on a few V-CC rides.

It had no lights, I didn’t want to subject it to winter salt on the roads so I put it away for the winter. I mostly rode fixed wheel in the winter in those days anyway. I did ride it a little the following summer but not a great deal. I had started to get in to touring and had re-configured my Viscount Aerospace in touring trim and I mostly rode that. The Peugeot was put away for the winter again.

Only this time it didn’t get resurected when the weather improved and Spring arrived. It sat in storage for several years and I had almost forgotten about. A lot had happened in my life in the meantime and my head was elsewhere rather than my bikes so it languished in the shed at my parents house along with most of my other bikes.

I suddenly remembered about it and decided I’d like to ride it again. I also knew that I should fit replacement brake cables as the Weinmann brakes were not what they should be. I had already bought the white brake cable and replacement fake leather bar take I needed to do this a few years ago but hadn’t got around to it. Normal braking service was now restored although it would probably benefit from a set of better brake blocks as well. Unfortunately the brake hoods had suffered badly from old age and are falling apart. I’ll have to source replacements for the Weinmann levers.

I’ve now put a good few miles on in the past week, mostly twenty or so miles after work most evenings as I continue to enjoy our unusuallt dry summer and can confirm it really does ride well, very responsive and very smooth. I decided to take it on a little local loop of perhaps fifty miles or so on Sunday.

My ride would take me on the mostly untrafficked back roads from Letterkenny to Kilmecrennan. From there I would have several options. I elected to visit Doon Rock, a few miles North-West of Kilmecrennan, just off the main N56 on a road which would eventually take me back to Churchill.

Thatched cottage Kilmecrennan

Doon Rock is noted for several reasons. The Rock of Doon was where the coronation ceremonies of the O’Donnell chieftains took place, starting with Eighneachan in 1200AD to Niall Garbh in 1603 a few years previous to the “Flight of the Earls” at Rathmullan when the old Gaelic order fled Ireland and the advancing English for the last time. The O’Donnells or Ó Dónaill or Ó Domhnaill or Ó Doṁnaill which is derived from the Irish name Domhnall, which means “ruler of the world” – they were an ancient and powerful Irish family and lords of Tír Chonaill which was most of modern day County Donegal. From the top of The Rock of Doon you can get a commanding view of the surrounding area.

The O'Donnell crest

View from Doon Rock

Nearby at opposite side of the road from the Rock of Doon you find Doon Well which was said to be established by a Lector O’Friel who is supposed to have lived in the Fahans area and had remarkable curative powers. When the locals asked him what they would do once he was gone from them, his answer was the creation of Doon Well. According to tradition, he was supposed to have fasted for 18 days and on each of these days he walked from Fahans to Doon a distance of some four miles. On the 18th day he blessed the well promising that if the people believed in the holy water then they would receive the same cures and blessings that he had gave them. According to local tradition it was a Fr. Gallagher in the 1880’s who blessed the well and he is still prayed for as part of the turas. Many people still claim curative powers for this well. I did drink the water from the well and it was pleasant and cool in the mid-day sun but I can claim no miracles. Nearby, there is also a mass rock. Many of these exist in Ireland and they are the hidden sites where Mass was celebrated during penal times when it was illegal to practice the Catholic religion.

From there it was a pleasant if uneventful ride home via Churchill and the shores of Lough Gartan, the views of which I never grow tired. The bike performed faultlessly, I have never actually seen any other bike fitted with Sach-Huret indexed gears; Shimano had started to corner the market by then but they are a joy to use and slot home with precision and what amazes me is how little effort is required to change gear on this bike. It just needs the slightest touch with one finger.

Lough Gartan

Peugeot Pantera

In the great scheme of things, this bike is nothing special at all. It’s just a mid-range Peugeot and probably ignored by collectors who want bikes with more prestige but they are missing out. Something like this can be bought much cheaper and still rides great by any standards. I would like to use it more but as it is so original I feel the need to keep it like that and I don’t want to put too many miles on it as I would probably struggle to find the correct freewheel block to replace mine and still retain the indexed gears if I were to wear it out.

I am enjoying it for now but will probably put it away soon for the winter again. I’ll keep it as a special occasion bike, as an example of the fine bikes Europe could produce before manufacturing moved to the Far East. The smooth and responsive nature of the frame (even if it isn’t particularly light), the crisp accurate gear change without the need for silly skimpy chains and specially shaped sprockets which all seem to wear out at alarmingly low mileage and also the beautiful construction of the frame – internally lugged and brazed and finished with a beautiful paint finish. Modern bikes often have very rough welding on the joints. This is smooth and beautifully finished – much like the similarily constructed Raleigh Pioneer I recently refurbished – built by craftsmen. They really don’t make them this any more!

Peugeot Pantera

Peugeot Pantera

Sachs Indexed Gears

Wild Atlantic Way Part VIII (Slí an Atlantaigh Fhiáin – Sin-é!)

Townsend BX-40

Last Month’s tour of the County Clare coastline almost brought my ambition to cycle the Wild Atlantic Way to a conclusion. It left just one little bit to complete in the extreme west of Donegal. As we seemed to be getting a summer for the first time in a few years, there seemed no time like the present to complete it. This time very little planning was required as I could ride to the starting point and ride home again when finished. It would only require three day’s riding. At a push it could probably have fitted into two but my aim in all of this has been to take my time and enjoy it.

Panniers wouldn’t be required either as it was much shorter than the other trips – I could fit enough into my Carradice saddle bag. The weather forecast was good too, less need to carry excess clothes as I shouldn’t get rained on this time and no need to pack warm clothes either as it was shorts and t-shirt weather. I did play it safe however and took a lightweight jacket and trousers for “evening attire” and also my waterproof cycling jacket. I would be travelling and staying on exposed parts of the western coastline and inland weather conditions don’t always reflect what could happen along the coast. I’ve also got into the habit of always taking a spare pair of shoes as even when it’s dry, it is nice to have another pair to change into in the evenings and allow my cucling shoes (actually hiking shoes, I don’t use cycle-specific shoes and usually use flat pedals for touring) to air. I have a cheap pair of lightweight canvas shoes I keep for this as they can be packed flat.

I would use my Townsend mountain bike for this – the low gears would be appreciated as this is one of the hilliest parts of the coast roads in the west of Ireland. It was an easy decision to make.

My plan was to ride to Donegal Town on the Friday, cycle to Glencolumbkille on the saturday along the coast and home again on the Sunday – this would fill in the gap and allow me to finish where I started. I began in Glencolumbkille in May 2016 and cycled north and later in 2016 I started in Donegal Town and worked my way south in Leitrim, Sligo and Mayo.

I had options for reaching Donegal Town. When I did it previously I was living in Raphoe and took a rote via Killeter and Lough Derg which allowed me to keep off the main roads. Probably the easiest and most direct route from Letterkenny where I live now is to go via fintown but I’ve done that ride many times since moving here. The idea of cycling through Bearnas Mór is not without appeal but the N15 is a ridiculously busy and high speed route and not something I really fancy on a bike. I decided to take the third option and go via Doochary. It would be longer, slower and with more climbing but it’s nice route touching on the edge of the Derryveagh Mountains.

I set off initially on the R250 for Churchill, turning off on to the R254 for Doochary. This is a pleasant road to cycle on, the terrain is interesting with quite a bit of gradient and some beautiful scenery in the mountains. It really skirts the boundaries of Glenveagh National Park and there is an off-road path which can be taken to get to the castle, something I mean to do sometime. It is very remote area and very few cars use this road which is why it is such a nice route to cycle. The views around the Lough Barra and surrounding bogland are very nice.

Lough Barra

Doochary, properly called An Dúcharaidh (The black weir) is a small village in the Rosses area of Donegal and built on the Gweebara River. It is an Irish language speaking region and there is a lot to see around the area and some nice walkways along the river but today I was just passing through. A minor road links Doochary to Glenties but partly because I missed the turning and partly because it was a nice day and I was in no hurry I turned on the R252 and continued into Fintown. In weather like this, the views across Lough Finn are pretty amazing. Playwright Brian Friel remarked that it rivaled anything the Alps had to offer. I have written a lot about Fintown in the past on this blog.

Lough Finn

Lough Finn railway

From Fintown, I continued on the main road to Glenties and my first proper stop of the trip as it was time for refreshments. In this heat, I didn’t feel very hungry but had drank huge quanties of water. Glenties (Na Gleannta, meaning “the glens”) is located where two glens meet. Evidence of settlements here date back to the Bronze Age.

From Glenties I briefly joined the N56 to Adara. It is a National Primary Route but not a very heavily trafficked one. After passing through Adara I made a turn on the R262 which would take me through Frosses and on to Donegal town. This was new to me as I’d never travelled this road before. It is a hilly but pleasant route, very lightly trafficked and very scenic surroundings. Frosses (or Na Frosa) is a very small village and from here it is only seven miles to Donegal Town where I would be stopping for the night.

Frosses

Unfortunately, it meant joining the N56 again for the final few miles. Here on the outskirts of Donegal, the N56 is heavily trafficked and I guess it was now rush hour. I made a detour along the Donegal Esturary which again was stunning in the evening sunlight before reaching and checking in to The Donegal Town Independent Hostel where I would be spending the night and I can highly recommend. I had completed sixty-three miles for today. After a wash and change of clothes I walked the short distance into the centre of Donegal town in search of some food and later found a warm welcome and some excellent live traditional music in “The Reel Inn” before settling down for a night’s rest. I had enjoyed today’s ride but today wasn’t really about sight seeing as I was just aiming to get to my starting point. The main feature of this trip would start the following day.

Donegal Estuary

Donegal Estuary

Donegal Estuary

I was up and breakfasted and ready for the road quite early the next day. My first stop would be Mountcharles, somewhere I remember from family seaside trips in a Ford Cortina many years ago but today I would ignore the direct route on the N56 and follow the council signposted route on minor roads which is longer but more enojoyable.

The ride to Mountcharles Pier from Donegal Town is only a few miles and when following this route you are on quiet single track roads. There are such signposted cycle routes all over the country really and most are very pleasant but the signs usually just say “Cycle Route” without any information about where you are going which is an unfortunate over-sight in my opinion.

The scenery around the Mountcharles area is very nice. Mountcharles was traditionally called “Tamhnach an tSalainn” or “the field of salt” as the low-lying fields often flooded and salt remained after the receding tide. The salt was used to preserve locally caught herring. The name Mountcharles comes from the Scottish undertaker who took contorl of the area during the Ulster Plantations – Charles Conyngham who named the area as Mountcharles after himself. Charles Conyngham is the ancestor of The 8th Marquess Conyngham of Slane Castle in County Meath (sometimes incorrectly referred to as Lord Mountcharles). The modern pier was contruscted from blocks of sandstone during the great famine to provide work for the locals and unusually the stone was mined underground rather than quarried from above as is normal. The area is also the birthplace of Seamus MacManus (1860-1968), author, playwright, poet and “Seanchai” or traditional storyteller in the Celtic tradition who re-worked old Irish folk tales for the modern audience and achieved great acclaim in America. He was famous in the area for sitting telling tales of a summer’s evening around the village water pump to a ready audience.

Mountcharles Pier

Mountcharles Pier

Mountcharles Pier

From Mountcharles village I followed more minor roads around the coast before reaching the village of Inver (from Inbhear, meaning “estuary”) which has a very nice beach and a port nearby. It was once an important whaling station under the command of Thomas Nesbitt who invented the harpoon gun. Inver was served by a railway line between 1893 and 1960 but like the rest of County Donegal’s railway network it is no more.

Inver Beach

From Inver, I had to re-join the N56 again for a few miles until I reached Dunkineely. It was at Dunkineely I made the turn off the N56 for one of the things I was looking forward to on this trip – St. John’s Point, a narrow peninsula which seperated Bruckless Bay from Donegal Bay. This offers many scenic beauty spots and it was glorious in the summer sun and the air was scented with the smell of the hay-fields as farmers took advantage of excellent hay weather.

St John’s Point is one of the longest peninsulas in Ireland as you approach it’s tip, the magnificient lighthouse comes into view. It was first requested by the fishermen and merchants of Killybegs in the 1820s and went into service in 1831 and was electrified in the 1960s. This is a dangerous stretch of water and the scene of many shipwrecks ove the years including a large part of the Spanish Armada fleet in 1588. It is a very beautiful place with beaches and I was able to ride right to the edge across the grass on my bike where you can see “EIRE“ – one of many such stone signs put at prominent positions around the Irish coast during WWII as a warning to military pilots that they were entering the neutral air space of the Irish Free State. Each one had a number – this one is number 70. You can also see the remains of what must have been a Free State Army lookout tower dating from “The Emergency.” Eamonn De Valera’s government did take the threat of invasion very seriously in the early years of the war. Today, we thankfully live in peacetime and cattle nonchalantly graze the grass surrounding this piece of Irish military history.

St. John's Point

St. John's Point Lighthouse

"EIRE 70" St. John's Point

"EIRE 70" St. John's Point

The return journey along the peninsula was just as nice as the outward one and I eventually ended up back on the N56 heading for Bruckless and Killybegs. It was in Bruckless Bay that one of Ireland’s worst fishing disasters happened when a sudden storm cause around two hundred sailing boats to capsize with the loss of the many fishermen on board in 1813. Local people at the time never spoke about the disaster believing that a witch had brewed up the storm.

St. John's Point

St. John's Point

Bruckless

Killybegs was to be my next stop although I didn’t spend much time there. It is Ireland’s biggest fishing port and the size and scale of the fishing boats in the harbour and the industry which surrounds it is very impressive.

Killybegs

Killybegs

It was westward from Killybegs where it starts to get really interesting again as you follow the coast road to Kilcar and beyond. It’s starting to get very remote now and the roads are much quieter apart from the campervans which can be a menace to cyclists on these small roads.

First though, I made a scenic detour from the R263 to Bá Fhionntrá – Fintra Bay, one of Donegal’s prestigious blue flag beaches. It isn’t far from the main road but the descent is scary and is probably the steepest descent I have ever rode down. As you might expect given the weather, the beach was quite busy and it’s easy to see why as it is a beautiful beach. This is surely one of the single most beautiful spots on the entire Wild Atlantic Way route. In wartime it was the scene of several air crashes. An American B-17G Flying Fortress bomber successfully crash landed here in 1944 after suffering engine failure on a flight from Nebraska to Scotland. Years later, the crew and their families returned to Fintra to thank the locals personally for their help and hospitality following the accident. One of the final casualties of WWII also took place here when a British Sunderland plane crashed into the mountain with the loss of all twelve men on board. It was time to continue my way – I didn’t even attempt the climb back to the main road. I don’t think it would be possible even with my 26“ bottom gear so I just pushed the bike up the hill.

Ba Fhionntra (Fintra)

Ba Fhionntra

The next scenic stop would be at Largy, over-looking Donegal Bay. The views here very nice as you over-look Donegal Bay with Sligo’s iconic Ben Bulbin mountain on the horizon. Donegal Bay is the largest Bay in the country touching on the shoreline of the three counties – Doengal, Leitrim and Sligo. Despite the steepness of the fields, a farmer was at work cutting hay or silage and the sweet smell of freshly mown grass hung in the air. This is an area which needs further exploration and is rich in megalithic tombs. I wouldn’t have time to go looking for them today.

Valmet working at Largy

From Largy, a series of relentless climbs takes you to the top of Muckross Head – again offering an amzing view across the bay. Muckross Head is an area popular with hikers and rock climbers and it’s easy to see why.

Muckros Head

Muckros Head

Muckros Head

Continuing along the coast road I eventually reached civilisation again in the form of Kilcar. Cill Charthaigh or Kilcar is a small village famous for it’s tweed manufacture. It is also close to Sliabh Liag which are the highest sea cliffs in Europe rising up to 1,972 feet above sea level. To climb Sliabh Liag you would normally start in Teelin but I didn’t go to Teelin this time. I have explored Sliabh Liag on foot a few years ago and is worth doing but it’s not easy and I didn’t have time for it today. On this unbelievably hot June day, I instead took the time to enjoy a cooling ice cream. Passers-by asked me if it was hot riding a bike in this weather – I pointed out that my bike is fitted with air-conditioning – the sea breeze could be cooling on the 30 MPH descents despite the heat elsewhere.

Staying on the coast road, the next town of any note was Carrick on the Glen River. This was as far south as I had come on the first part of my Wild Atlantic Way trip so I had now completed the Wild Atlantic Way. It was a nice feeling in a way but there were no welcoming parties on the streets of Carrick waiting for me!

An Charraig

The main R263 road from Carrick leads directly to Glencolumbkille where I would be spending the night but I decided I had time to take the longer, probably hillier but definitely nicer, less busy and more pleasant route on a minor road past Lough Auva which leads to Málainn Mhóir. I remembered this road from the last time I cycled here. It was definitely less busy – I think the only vehicle I met was an old Massey-Ferguson 35 heavily laden with turf. Turf-cutting is still very much in evidence in these parts.

Lough Auva

When I reached Málainn Mhóir, I did consider the option of riding the few miles back along the coast to the other magnificient beach at Málainn Bhig and the old Naploeonic lookout tower but it was now late in the evening and I was now hungry and tired so I turned towards Glencolumbkille. I checked in to the Doey Hostel where I stayed two years ago on the first part of my Wild Atlantic Way. My mileage for the day just exceeded seventy miles. My journey was now complete. I had a wash and change of clothes and some food.

Glen Head

Glencolumbkille Beach

Stones of Ireland Glencolumbkille

All that was left the following day was the return trip home – over the Glengesh Pass and into Ardara, Fintown and back to Letterkenny again. The Glengesh Pass is special in itself. I never tire of the view from the top of it. It is a very tough climb comig from Ardara but is reasonably straightforward from the Glencolumbkille side. It is a long drag though, but because it’s consistant climbing you can get into a rhythm if you have the right gear. Once at the top of the Glengesh Pass it is mostly pretty straightforward for the rest of the journey back to Letterkenny. I had completed over 180 miles in three days taking in some of the most difficult routes the west of Ireland has to offer. I was happy with that from a fitness point of view, and yet again, impressed with the touring potential of my Townsend.

Malaidh Ghleann Gheis

Malaidh Ghleann Gheis

It is impossible to say which part of the Wild Atlantic Way I liked best but I came away with a sense that I had actually saved the best to last and in some ways I regret not breaking the journey between Donegal Town and Glencolumbkille in two with an overnight stay and much lower mileage each day as there was so much more I could have explored. Despite being a native of Donegal I have never been in this area much and this was my first visit to St. John’s Point and to Fintra Bay. It appeals to me in the same way that north west Mayo around Ceann Iorrais, The Doolough Valley and Killary Fjord on the Mayo/Galway border and also Garinish Point and Sheep’s Head in county Cork appeal to me – the incredible remoteness, the spectacular scenery and the quiet roads. On the other hand, places like Sligo, Westport, Galway City, Doolin and Dingle offer an amazing live music scene in the evenings – I suppose it depends if you want to get away from it all or are in the mood to socialise.

Now that the Wild Atlantic Way is completed, it leaves me with the question of where I can go next…

Thatched Cottage, St. John's Point

Muckros Head

Wild Atlantic Way Part VII – Galway to Dingle

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Wild Atlantic Way (S) Co. Clare

My ambition to cycle the Wild Atlantic Way seemed far-fetched and unlikely when I first decided it was something I would like to do a few years ago. At just over 1,600 miles, it is one of the longest coastal drives in the world and from a cyclist’s point of view, it takes in some seriously tough terrain and strong Atlantic headwinds are often present. It would be nice to have had the time to do it in one attempt but I was never in a position to give up so much free time. I guess that with a support car to carry luggage, a lightweight road bike and high daily mileage targets it could be completed within in a reasonable timeframe. But I wanted to do it in traditional cycle-touring style, unsupported and only aiming for maybe 50 miles per day as I’ve found that sufficient for a day’s touring if you actually want to have time to explore your surroundings and enjoy it.

Co. Clare

I started with most of the coastline of Donegal in May 2016 – Glencolumbkille to Letterkenny via Adara, Dungloe, Gortahork, Creeslough, Melmore head, Fanad Head, Rathullan into Letterkenny and added two additional stages in 2016 doing Donegal Town to Westport in county Mayo (including Achill Island) and also the Inishowen loop.

I took an opportunity to stay with a friend who was living near Clonakilty in January last year to use it as a base to Kinsale to Baltimore and Skibbereen. I then did the short and probably easiest part of the whole route from Westport to Galway city last summer and last September I did my longest stage from Tralee to Skibbereen around all the many peninsulas of Kerry and West Cork. These far away places like Tralee required extra planning as I needed to transport a bicycle by public transport as driving was no benefit to me as I would end up in one place with a car many miles away. My decision to start in Tralee last autumn was purely because there is a train station there. I could get the bus to Dublin and train to Tralee.

So, a little less that two years after my first leg of what seemed a mammoth journey at the time, it was almost a reality as I planned Galway to Tralee to fill in the missing part. There is also a small bit to complete between Mountcharles and Teeling in the west of Donegal but that only really requires one day’s riding and I decided to leave that to last as I could finish where I started – in Glencolumbkille.

The plan for this trip was to take my bike on the bus to Galway city on a Sunday evening, spending the night, and then cycle south along the coast on the Monday, crossing the county border into Clare and spending the night in Doolin on the west coast of County Clare. Tuesday would be from Doolin to Kilrush on the Shannon Estuary. I had hoped to stay somewhere towards Loop Head on Tuesday but I couldn’t find affordable accommodation so settled on Kilrush. Wednesday would see me taking the only ferry journey of this trip across the River Shannon to Tarbert in County Kerry and spending the night in Ballybunion. On Thursday I would make my way to Tralee. I could have stopped there as my route would be complete but on Friday, since I would have time, I would go to Dingle, purely bcause the Dingle peninsula was one of the highlights of my last visit to Kerry despite some horrible weather at that time. I would hope for better this time. On Saturday, I would cycle back from Dingle to Tralee and get the train to Dublin and hopefully a bus back home again on Saturday night.

I decided to use my Townsend mountain bike for this trip. So many of the other cycle tourists I’ve met are riding adopted early steel-framed mountain bikes. There is no doubt it is a cheap alternative to a proper touring bike and they are very sturdy and very adaptable. For this type of riding, speed is largely irrelevant in my opinion. I’d be interested to see how it compared to a traditional steel road frame for touring – most of this trip has been done on a 1975 Viscount Aerospace.

The first day was a very low mileage affair – I cycled the short distance to the bus depot and when I got to Galway I wheeled the bike on pavement for the few hundred yards to where I would spend the night. Total milage for today was just 1.6! I had accually considered riding out to the seaside resort of Salthill but I decided to just walk around and explore the city. It was a glorious sunny evening and the forecast said it would be like this all week…

It was actually very overcast and threatening rain the next morning although it never actually did rain. I left Galway at about 9:30, hoping that the mayhem of rush hour traffic would be over and headed for Oranmore. The road was very busy but the drivers were incredibly well mannered. Once clear of Oranmore, I was out in a more rural setting. The thing which has always fascinated me about Galway is the endless stone walls. I think Galway must have the best in country and the way they are built differs from those in the north too.

Galway stone walls

From Oranmore, I made my way along the coast to Rinville and Clarinbridge where I would be rejoining the N67. In some ways I wasn’t looking forward to this part of the Wild Atlantic Way as a lot of this part is on national primary routes, something I tend to avoid at home but I was genuinely pleasantly surprised at the standard of driving I encountered in Galway, Clare and Kerry. I never once experienced so much as close overtake or any kind of animosity from the local drivers in several hundred miles of riding. It is a shame that drivers in the north of Ireland cannot behave like this. It became normal to have people shouting encourage out of the window on long climbs or to stop and offer assistance if I stopped for a rest or to admire the view.

Rinville Park, Co. Galway

I was to remain on the N67 until Ballyvaughan. It is a nice route along the coast often lined with dry stone walls. The highlight for me being Dunguaire Castle near Kinvara, Co. Galway. It dates from the 16th century and features a defensive wall and 75 foot high tower, both of which have been restored. The name originates with the Dún (fort) of King Guaire – the legendery king of Connaught. The castle was used in the 1969 Wallt Disney film “Guns in the Heather” and also used as a Scottish castle in the 1979 film “North Sea Hijack.” The castle is an impressive sight on the shores of Galway Bay and you can pay to see around the inside although I declined. Kinvara also has a magnificent thatched hotel. Unfortunately a parked lorry made it impossible for me to take a photo of it as I would have liked.

Dunguaire Castle

Dunguaire Castle

Shortly after Kinvara, you leave county Galway and the province of Connaught behind as you pass into Clare and Munster.

Welcome to County Clare

My next stop was to be at Flaggy Shore, a place where poet Seamus Heaney enjoyed visiting and which inspired one of his most highly regarded poems – now written on the tourist information board for posterity.

Flaggy Shore, Co. Clare

seamus

I stopped and bought some food in Ballyvaughan, a very picturesque town on the north Clare coast. Ballyvaughan has a nice little harbour, the work of the Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo; like so many of the harbours I have visited in this corner of Ireland. I spotted an interesting facility fitted along the harbour wall too – a “bicycle maintenance station” which consisted of a reasonable selection of cycle related tools including spoke wrenches attached to it by small guage wire ropes. Thankfully my bike was well serviced before I left and I had no use for them but I thought it a nice and potentially usefully facility.

Ballyvaughan Pier

Bicycle Maintenance station, Ballyvaughan

Bicycle Maintenance station, Ballyvaughan

From Ballyvaughan I turned off the N67 onto the minor R477 which loops the Clare coastline and would take me most of the way to Doolin where I would be spending the night. I had been looking forward to this piece of road as it takes me around The Burren, one of Ireland’s areas of special interest and conservation and one which I had never previously visited. The Burren (from Boireann – the Irish for great rock) covers an area of 97 square miles and is one of the finest examples of glacio-karst landscapes in the world (I don’t fully understand the geology behind it either so won’t attempt to explain it! It’s mostly bare limestone pavement which has been eroded away into the shapes we see today after the glacial periods stripped the protective layers from the top. It is certainly different and really requires more time to expore than I could give it today.

The Burren, Co. Clare

The Burren, Co. Clare

Murroughtoohy, Co. Clare

Murroughtoohy, Co. Clare

You also see Black Head lighthouse, which built in the 1930s at the request of the Transatlantic liners who often visited Galway or sheltered in Galway bay during storms. I also stopped at Fanore on the west coast of Clare, a beautiful beautiful beach popular with surfers.

Black Head Lighthouse, Co. Clare

Fanore Beach, Co. Clare

Fanore Beach, Co. Clare

A few miles before reaching Lisdoonvarna, I made the turn-off for Doolin on to the R479 for Doolin and the last few miles of my day’s touring. Just at the junction, you can see the ruins of Ballinalacken Castle which dates from the 15th century and takes it’s name from Baile na Leachan which translates as town of the flagstones.

Ballinalacken Castle, Co. Clare

Wild Atlantic Way (S), Co. Clare

I arrived at the Rainbow Hostel in Doolin, my mileage total now at just over 66 miles so a definite increase on the previous day! I was welcomed warmly by the owners and made to feel very wlecome. Dúlainn is a very scattered town but a beautiful location, home to the cave which claims to have the largest stalactite in the northern hemisphere at about 25 foot long, is close to the Cliffs of Moher and also has as ferry link the Aran Islands. It also has many fantastic live music pubs and is a good place to spend an evening. Sadly I was only to be passing through but I hope to return at some point as I would like to visit the cave and the islands.

To my surprise I also found a French Randoneur bike which I’ve rather fallen in love with. It is in a neglected state, behind the hostel, having been left behind a previous guest and the sea air has not been kind to it. Doolin is definitely one of the places I’ve marked out for a future visit.

Sparting Depose

Sparting Depose Headbadge

I had planned to visit the Cliffs of Moher – one of Ireland’s most iconic landmarks (I’ve never been before) in the morning while I was passing them anyway on my road south but it turned out to be so foggy it would have been a waste of time. I could barely see the opposite side of the road. I called my dynamo powered LED lamps into action. Cycling in thick fog always makes me nervous. I’m not sure if my lights were bright enough to penetrate the fog or not but the few cars and coaches which overtook with lots of space.

As I started to descend from the mountains towars Lehinch the fog lifted and the sea views returned although there was still a soft drizzle of rain. The town of Lehinch first became a popular seaside resort with coming of the west Clare railway in 1887 and an 1891 guidebook said the mile-long golden strand was not to be bettered in Ireland. It’s a nice beach but I dispute that it can’t be bettered in Ireland. Pioneering pilots Pond and Sabelli landed in a field here in 1934 after aborting their attempted New York to Rome flight. They were given a warm welcome in a Lehinch pub afterwards.

Lehinch, Co. Clare

Lehinch, Co. Clare

At Lehinch, I had to rejoin the N67 again as I made my way towards Spanish Point which gained it’s name after the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588 as many Spanish sailors drowned here and the survivers who came ashore were executed by the English. It is thought that the great Spanish galleon, the San Marcos with it’s 60 guns and 500 man crew went down off Spanish Point. The results of 2014 survey of the seabed are encouraging and investigations and searches for the wreckage continue. In Victorian times, Spanish Point became a fashionable holiday resort with golf courses and what was then the largest hotel in the British Isles.

Spanish Point, Co. Clare

Spanish Point, Co. Clare

Spanish Point, Co. Clare

I continued to follow the N67 along the coast to the town of Kilkee. A minor detour from the N67 takes you to Doughmore Bay, where a Northern Ireland based Sunderland flying boat crashed while on Atlantic Convoy during WWII with the loss of 9 of the 11 people on board. Five of the bodies were buried locally (the others were never recovered) and the pilot who did survive was shot down and killed over Germany a few years later towards the end of the war.

Doughmore Bay, Co. Clare

Up until the early parts of 19th century, Kilkee was a minor fishing port but in the 1820s, paddle steamers operating on the river Shannon made it a popular holiday destination for the people of Limerick and the town grew and flourished with the opening of many hotels and a building spree brought about by wealthy businessmen from Limerick who wanted holiday homes by the sea. The large anchor which is on display on the seafront today belonged to the Liverpool based sailing ship “Intrinsic” which went down of Kilkee during a storm whilst on a voyage to New Orelans in 1836 with the loss of all men on board. The bay has become known as Intrinsic Bay.

Kilkee, Co. Clare

Intrinsic of Liverpool Anchor

It was at Kilkee where my planning before this trip didn’t quite work out as I had wanted either as I would have preferred to have continued to Loop Head along the coast from Kilkee but the only place I could find cheap accommodation was in Kilrush. I had options now. The fog and the rain of the morning were a distant memory now and weather was amazing (I actually ended up quite badly sunburned) but it was now about 5 o’ clock in the evening and the Loop Head Peninsula would add another 40+ miles on my journey to Kilrush. I had already covered just around 50 miles so far. With a heavily laden bike, it would have been very late getting to Kilrush and probably very tired and hungry. I decided to employ my Plan B. I had deliberately left the next day quite short in terms of distance to leave the option of visiting Loop Head in the morning before crossing the Shannon. I decided it made more sense to do that so stayed on the N67 and took the direct inland route to Kilrush.

The N67 passes through a small village called Moyasta where there is a little heritage railway and what appears to be scrap yard for old trains and other railway bits and pieces. I stopped and had a look around as it was something I hadn’t expected to find.

Old Railway Yard, Moyasta, Co. Clare

Old Railway Yard, Moyasta, Co. Clare

Old Railway Yard, Moyasta, Co. Clare

I reached Kilrush in glorious sunshine with my total mileage now at 131 miles. Although I had often heard of Kilrush, I knew nothing about it. Cill Rois, meaning “Church of the Woods” existed since the 16th century but underwent major expansion towards the end of the 18th century. The modern town is mostly due to the work of the prominent family in the area in that era – The Vandeleur family of Dutch origin. They originally came in the 1600s as tenant farmers but did very well for themselves, although not always by fair means.

John Ormsby Vandeleur built most of the modern town in the early 1800s, including the hostel in Frances Street where I would spend the night. My hostess informed me that it was 215 years old, although completely refurbished in recent years. The town prospered for a time but west Clare was badly affected by the famine in the 1840s and the Vandeleur name became synonymous with some of the worst of the landlord evictions, with over 20,000 evicted in the Kilrush Union. More prosperous times again arrived with the coming of the West Clare Railway in the late Victorian period.

I found the modern Kilrush a very nice town to spend time in with a lot of beautiful architecture, many nice walking routes and a very impressive marina and very friendly locals. I found it an incredibly peaceful town and the town itself and the surrounding area deserves more exploration than I had time to give it.

Kilrush, Co. Clare

Kilrush, Co. Clare

The following day dawned bright and sunny and an early morning walk along the Shannon and the marina was a very pleasant affair as there was barely the slightest hint of a breeze and the sunlight reflected of the smooth tranquill waters of the Shannon estuary. The Shannon is named after the Celtic goddess Sionna and at 224 miles long, it is the longest river in the British Isles. It has always been an important river in terms of navigation and it was also the chosen site for the hydroelectric dam at Ardnacrusha near Limerick which was one of the first projects started by the original Free State government in the 1920s.

After breakfast, I would (unusually for me on this journey) be backtracking in my steps towards Moyasta as I wanted to go to Loop Head via Doonaha and Carrigaholt before going onwards towards Kerry. This is quite a remote area and in some ways is a cyclist’s paradise with little single track roads with the grass growing in the centre and I only saw a handful of cars. Just the way I like it! I also found it quite flat compared to the North-West Clare coastline but the headwinds were horrible. This is the downside of flat terrain that many don’t realise – the hills often protect us from strong headwinds! I stopped to ask directions from a teacher in a small rural National School who was supervising her pupils playing in the schoolyard during their breaktime and suddenly found myself the centre of attention as I answered questions on what I was doing, the things I’d seen along the way and on life “up north!”

Loop Head Cycleway, Co. Clare

I really liked Carrigaholt (Carraig an Chabhaltaigh, meaning “Rock of the Fleet”) which is a small fishing village with a very nice castle at the harbour. The castle was built in the late 1400s by the McMahons and remained in the McMahon family until 1588 following a siege. It bacame the home of the Viscount Clare who reared horses for the court of James II but passed into the hands of the Burton family following the Williamite victory and the Burtons lived there until the late 19th century. Today the castle is just a ruin in the care of the Office of Public Works.

Carrigaholt, Co. Clare

Carrigaholt, Co. Clare

Carrigaholt, Co. Clare

I made the return journey to Moyasta and Kilrush and on towards Killimer where I would take the ferry across the Shannon to Tarbert in County Kerry.

Killimer, Co. Clare

Killimer, Co. Clare

The Shannon is just over two miles wide at this point. The road journey via Limerick would be around 85 miles so understandably the ferry service is frequent and very busy as it saves significant time and fuel costs. The crossing on board the “Shannon Breeze” takes about twenty minutes and on a calm day like today it was a very pleasant boat journey for a reasonable cost of €5. There is no extra charge for a bicycle. So after I disembarked the ferry I was now in the Co. Kerry town of Tarbert.

Tarbert, Co. Kerry

Welcome to County Kerry

Leaving Tarbert, I stayed on the coast road towards Ballylongford and Carrigafoyle. At Carrigafoyle I detoured slightly to see the ruins of Carrigafoyle Castle. I’ve wandered around the remains of many old castles in Ireland and Scotland but I think this one is my favourite so far. Carraig an Phoill (“rock of the hole”) was built in the late 1400s by Conor Liath O’Connor-Kerry and was considered one of the strongest Irish fortresses and became known as the guardian of the Shannon. The tower covers five stories and is almost 90 feet tall. It was besieged in 1580 and fell to the Crown forces under the command of Sir Willian Pelham and western wall collapsed under heavy fire and the entire garrison were executed and the Earl of Desmond’s valuables were seized and sent to Queen Elizabeth I. The damage was never repaired.

Carrigafoyle Castle

Today, it gives a fascinating look at how such forts were constructed as a lot of it is open for examination due to the damaged walls and it is fine example of stone arch building. You can climb the spiral staircase to the top and get a commanding view of the entire area. The lower floors have stone floors supported underneath by arches, the upper ones have joists and floorboards and as someone who is nervous with heights, the thought did cross my mind about how old were the floorboards and are they safe to walk on? I definitely recommend a visit to Carrigafoyle Castle to anyone who should find themselves in the area.

Carrigafoyle Castle

Carrigafoyle Castle

Carrigafoyle Castle

Quite near to the castle you can also see the ruins of Lislaughtin Abbey which was built in the 1470s for the Order of Friar Minor by John O’Connor and permission was granted by Pope Sixtus IV, The Abbey was named after Saint Lachtin who brought in Christianity to this area in the 7th Century. Following the siege of the castle in 1580, the Abbey was raided several times by English soldiers and fell into disuse.

Lislaughtin Abbey, Co. Kerry

My next scenic diversion was to Beale Strand, a quiet and deserted beach. I was there at high tide but when the tide is low you can see the remains of the Limerick based sailing ship the “Thetis” which ran aground here during a storm in 1834 when on a return voyage from Quebec with a cargo of timber and the wreckage can still be seen. The survivers were later arrested for smuggling when a stash of illicit tobacco was found on board the wreck.

Beale Strand

My final stop for the night was in the popular coastal resort of Ballybunion. My mileage for the trip so far just crossed 190 miles as I rode down Ballybunion main street. Of the towns I stayed in it was the one which appealed to me least. It just a typical seaside town with amusement arcades, pubs and takeaways, a lot of which seemed to be closed. It had a slightly run-down feel which I didn’t experience anywhere else.

Ballybunion, Co. Kerry

There were positives though. There are two beautiful beaches (the gentlemens beach and ladies beach! Men used to bath on a seperate side from the ladies in more innocent times) seperated by a large clifftop on which the ruins of Ballybunion castle stand. The town owes it’s name to the Bionnanagh family. The castle was built in the 13th century. The castle has been ravaged by nature over the centuries; the relentless pounding of the Atlantic Ocean has eroded the sea-facing walls leaving just the 40 foot high east wall remaining. The remaining wall suffered a further natural disaster following a ligthning strike in 1999 which damaged part of it. Remedial work by the Office of Public Works will hopefully have preserved what is left for future generations.
Even if I didn’t find the town very interesting, there is a lot to do in Ballybunion and I wish I had the time to explore the cliffs, sea stacks and the caves, the famous blowhole and there is another beach known as Nuns Beach with no easy access. Ballybunion was also once linked to Listowel by a Lartigue type monorail and the world’s first ever statue of former US President Bill Clinton was unveiled to commerate his golfing visit to the town.

ballybunion

Ballybunion Beach

Ballybunion castle

The following morning was again bright and sunny as I left Ballybunion and made my way south on the coast road towards Tralee. My first scenic detour of the day was to Kilmore beach and graveyard near Ballyduff. There you can see a plaque in memory of Alfred Faulkner Wheelhouse and mention of the RMS Lusitania. I wondered who he was but further research reveals he was born in Lancashire in 1891 and he was a junior engineer onboard the Lusitania when it was torpedoed of Kinsale Head in 1915 and his body eventually washed ashore at Kilmore where it was buried.

Kilmore Strand, Co. Kerry

Kilmore Strand, Co. Kerry

The ride from Ballyduff to Tralee was glorious in the May sunshine. I visited several other small un-named harbours and beaches as I made my way towards Kerry Head.

Kerry Head

The road then brings you to Ballyheigue (Baile Uí Thaidhg or “Tadhg’s Town”) which is another popular seaside resort. It is famous for it’s many beaches which connect with Banna Strand further south and also the birthplace of Christy Brown who wrote “My Left Foot.”

Ballyheige, Co. Kerry

Banna Strand was probably the nicest of the beaches I saw on this trip with many miles of golden sand stretching in both directions. Banna Strand was where Sir Roger Casement returned to Ireland on board a German U-Boat after being in Germany to secure arms for the independence struggle. Casement was a distinguished British Diplomat with Republican sympathies. After leaving the U-Boat his dinghy overturned near Banna Strand where he was rescued and arrested and later hanged for treason in London.

Banna Strand, Co. Kerry

Banna Strand

Banna Strand

From Banna, it is a short ride to Ardfert where you can see the remains of the Cathedral built in the early 12th century and dedicated to St. Brendan. The building is a thing of real beauty and apparently borrows archetectural designs popular in the south of France in that period. It was destroyed during the 1641 Irish Rebellion but later re-roofed and united with the Limerick Diocese. The roof was again removed following the opening of a new Church of Ireland Church in 1871 and following the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland Act in 1871 it passed into the hands of what is now the Office of Public Works who have carried out some repairs and restoration over the years.

Ardfert Abbey

Continuing along the coast you reach the small village of Fenit (An Fhianait, meaning “The Wild Place”). It is a fishing port with a marina for pleasure craft and small harbour of a lot of history. It is also the most western commercial port in Ireland. St. Brendan the Navigator was born near here in 484 AD. During the Spanish Armada, the Nuestra Señora del Socorro was surrendered here and the crew were marched the six miles to Tralee Castle and hanged. It was at Fenit harbour where Sir Roger Casement had hoped to land the cargo of German arms onboard the Aud but the ship never reached Fenit and was scuttled in Cork harbour by it’s German captain to prevent the arms falling into British hands. During the Civil War, 450 Free State Troops landed at Fenit on board the Lady Wicklow in an attempt to take Munster from the Republicans. History was to repeat itself in 1984 when the Provisional IRA attempted to land arms at Fenit but it was again thwarted by the authorities. You can see the remains of the railway line which operated between 1887 and 1978.

Fenit Harbour

Fenit Railway bridge

From Fenit it is only a short six mile ride along Tralee Bay into Tralee itself. It would be in Tralee where I would spend the night. My running total was now just short of 250 miles. The town of Tralee (or Tráigh Lí) is the county town of Kerry and has a long history – being founded by the Normans in the 13th century on part of an ancient roadway which travels over the Slieve Mish mountains. The modern town layout was created in the 1820s and the town centre contains many fine buildings from that period. I didn’t particularily like Tralee last time I was here as it all seemed very mixed up and a traffic nightmare due to roadworks everywhere. Nine months later, it all made sense. Large areas of the town centre have been pedestrianised or traffic restricted and it makes a very pleasant town without the noise, fumes and congestion which would normally be present and it doesn’t seem to have affected business for the shops, etc in the area. I wish more town councils would have the foresight to do this and reclaim the streets from the motor car which is surely the most inefficient way possible of travelling around a town. The other hugely impressive thing about Tralee is the beautiful park areas.

Tralee Park

Getting to Tralee had finished off the bit I wanted to do to complete the south section of the Wild Atlantic but as the weather was good and I still had time I had decided to go to Dingle for one night. It would be a relatively short day in terms of distance but there was something I wanted to do before leaving the Tralee area. On the outskirts of Tralee there is a small town called Blennerville. It was once a busy port before the building of the Tralee Ship Canal which could take steamships into the heart of Tralee. It is also the location of Blennerville mill which I recalled from my last visit and wished to visit if possible.

Blennerville

The ship canal is interesting in itself and was first proposed by the merchants of Tralee in the early 19th century as they were unhappy with the quay at Blennerville as it was too shallow for the larger ships and was prone to silting up. The building of a canal into Tralee was authorised by an act of parliament in 1829 and worked commenced in 1832 although it didn’t open to ships until 1846 as the construction was delayed many times due to a lack of funding. The canal was just two miles in length with several lock gates and also a swing bridge at Blennerville and could carry ships up to 300 tons. It was to have a short working life though as it was also prone to silting up and the improvements to the deep water port at Fenit and subsequent opening of the rail link between Fenit and Tralee brought about it’s decline and it fell into disuse and was officially closed in 1951. In 1999, an investment of IR£650,000 by the Office of Public Works dredged the canal and restored the lock gates and re-opened it as a tourist attraction. I rode the tow path on my way to Blenneville and it is a very pleasant if very short route and gives excellent views of Dingle Bay and the Blennerville windmill on the other side.

Tralee Ship Canal towpath

Tralee Ship Canal

Tralee Ship Canal

Tralee Ship Canal

Tralee Ship Canal lock gate

I then arrived at the windmill. The mill is of a type known as a tower mill. At just over seventy feet in height it is the tallest of it’s kind in Europe and was built in 1800 by Sir Rowland Blennerhassett who also gave his name to the village. It’s purpose was to grind corn for export to Britain but with the silting up of the river channel at Blennerville and the creation of the new ship canal which took the new larger steamships into Tralee itself the mill fell into disuse in the 1880s. It was purchased by the state and restored in the 1980s and is the only commercially operated wind driven corn mill in Ireland as it does take in corn for rough grinding as cattle feed at harvest time.

Blennerville Windmill

The mill and the museum was thankfully open when I arrived although it wasn’t in operation as the wind was from the wrong direction. I found the tour fascinating and one of the highlights of the trip. With this type of mill the top can be rotated around to face the wind but this is a manual operation by pulling a chain which loops a wheel. It is geared down to make it easier to turn but I learned that it takes 90 minutes to rotate it through 180 degrees so they tend not to bother.

Blennerville Windmill

Wooden gear wheel, Blennerville Windmill

By looking through old records and history books the staff have learned that back in the day, they knew the wind came from the sea when the tide was coming in so that was when they worked so they do the same now. There were once many such mills in Ireland (an estimated 400) although most are in ruins now. An easy way to tell the difference between an old windmill or a castle/military tower should you spot a ruined tower somewhere is that the windows are all on one side and in complete alignment on a windmill tower and this was actually an architectural weakness as the side with windows tends to collapse over time, especially if the roof has come off and water washes away the mortar.

Millstone

This mill actually differs slightly in some respects to others found in Ireland as Sir Roland Blennerhassett travelled widely and brought back ideas from other parts of Europe. Every millstone I have ever seen is made in one piece, usually from granite whereas the ones used in this mill are faced with seperate tiles so it was quick and easy to replace a tiny part should it get damaged. The stone used was also imported from France as it provided a higher quality flour. The original millstones can be seen outside. Millstones are heavy things and when a windmill loses it roof and the rain gets in, they end up falling through the floor. This had happened at Blenneville too, in the muddy silt beneath the mill, they had sunk into the ground to a depth of 25 feet and had to be be recovered when the mill was being restored.

Inside the mill you can see the relatively simple machinery which drove the millstones. The driving mechanism is really just a crown wheel and pinnion similar to the differential in a car only on a grand scale. The main shaft running through the mill from top to bottom is around eighty feet in lenght and made by hand from a single a tree as they couldn’t find anywhere with a lathe large enough to make it by machine. The crown wheel teeth are made from wood and the pinion from steel – the reason being that it prevents sparks which could be a major fire risk inside a flour mill. In the old days, machinery was lubricated with goose fat or lard which of course attracted rats and it was a legal requirement to keep a certain number of cats in an effort to control them. Hygene was a problem with flour making in those days as a result.

Crown wheel and pinion drive, Blennerville Windmil

Wooden gear wheel, Blennerville Windmill

The museum complex also has other attractions including a lot of model railways – modelled on the Kerry narrow guage network I believe, some old roadsters and motoscooters including a little Honda C50 which was once a common sight in rural Ireland and given Blennerville’s nautical past – a lot of maritime displays including models of the coffin ship “The Jeannie Johnston” which was based here and amongst other things the anchor rescued from the Aud which was used in Sir Roger Casement’s failed attempt to land German weapons in Ireland.

Model Kerry Railway, Blennerville Museum

Model of the Jeannie Johnston

Old navigational instruments

Aud Anchor

From there I made a leisurely ride to Dingle, the most relaxing of the tour really as I had only around 30 miles to cover today. It is a tough 30 miles though with some severe climbs which necessitated the use of my 28 tooth inner chainwheel for miles on end and the wind had changed direction now too. I’m sure the windmill was now working well when I wasn’t around to see it but such is life! There are many roadworks being carried out on the N86 which links Dingle and Tralee and the improvements seem to involve widening the road and removing dangerous bends but also a proper cycle path with good tarmac surface which runs alongside it. It makes for a much more pleasant cycle journey without feelings of being in the way of cars and yet again I applaud Kerry County Council for forward thinking. The only real stops I made enroute was in Annascaul (which was the birthplace of the famed Tom Creann, the Antartic explorer who accompanied Ernest Shackleton and Captain Scott on several exploration trips) and also at the small village of Lios Póil to to look at the remains the railway viaduct there. It is a very picturesque route along the N86. The alternative would have been over the top of Connor Pass which is Ireland’s highest mountain pass but I declined that option today. I still have bad memories of my aborted attempt (due to being literally blown of my bike) on the Viscount last September. I think if I am back in the area again, I will do it but will spend two days in either Tralee or Dingle so that I can leave my luggage at the hostel.

Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula

Dingle Peninsula

Lios Póil Railway Viaduct, Co. Kerry

I considered extending my ride to Brandon Creek but I had covered almost 300 miles in 6 days with a loaded bike in often difficult terrain and I just wanted to relax and was happy to sit in the sunshine at seafront in Dingle and watch the world pass by for a time before checking in to the Grapevine Hostel, having a wash and change of clothes and going in search of some food. I really like Dingle as town to stay in. I wrote about it’s history after my last trip. I enjoyed all the live traditional music sessions this time.

fungi the dolphin

Dingle Bay

Dingle Harbour, Co. Kerry

In the morning, I had to re-trace my steps back to Tralee to get a train back to Dublin. It may be only 30 miles but don’t underestimate how difficult and time consuming this ride can be. I was pleased to beat the Google Maps suggested time on a bicycle but it was far from speedy! I arrived in Tralee with plenty of time to spare but actually found it difficult to find the station and had to ask for directions! I had time to change back into civilian clothes in the station toilet before getting on the train. It was nice to sit looking out of a train window and watch the world pass by. It was Royal Wedding day of course and the female passengers were all crowded together watching it on someone’s tablet and commenting on the dresses etc. Changed times in Co. Kerry when they are watching a Royal Wedding! Free Wifi means there is now no escape from the outside world – a good thing and bad thing!

I had to change trains in Mallow and arrived in Dublin perfectly on time. I had a short journey journey from the station to the city centre but unfortunately just missed the bus I had hoped to catch and had an hour or so to hang around Busarus waiting for another. It was awkward as I’d have liked to have gone and got some proper food but didn’t really fancy leaving my bike and it’s luggage unattended in a busy city centre area. It was after 11 o’ clock when I was finally back in Letterkenny with just the short 1.2 mile journey journey to complete to my home.

I was tired but happy. This was one of my most enojoyable tours so far and I was hugely impressed with the bike. I had reservations and was tempted to use my Visocunt as I have done for all my other longer tours but I think an old MTB works brilliantly as touring bike. The frame is stiffer and handles heavy panniers better and the lower gearing, although I happily rode the Viscount without it, was appreciated at times. Two inch wide semi slick tyres means I could ride it virtually anywhere. 700c wheeled bikes do feel more responsive but for a ride like this at low average speeds it’s practically irrelevant. The cantilever brakes are confidence inspiring on long descents with heavy loads in a way that calliper brakes aren’t. The only fly in the ointment was the saddle, I find the Charge Spoon comfortable enough but after sitting on it for hours, day in, day out, I yearned for the comfort of a Brooks. This is an easy fix however. On a bike the internet tells me is bike shaped object, I had covered 340 miles in 6 days and enjoyed every minute of it!

Carrier cycle, Kilrush, co. Clare

Fenit, Co. Kerry

Kilrush Art Work

coracle

Old Railway Bridge, Camp, Co. Kerry

Dingle Bay

 

Old Raleighs never die…

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Raleigh Pioneer

Walking home from work one frosty winter’s evening, in the twilight, I spotted a vandalised bike hanging forlonely by a cheap cable lock from one of the bike racks outside the library. I didn’t pay much attention beyond registering a certain sadness that someone would do such a thing to someone else’s property but sadly such acts are commonplace.

A week later it was still there so I took a proper look. To my surprise it was not one of the usual cheap supermarket bikes but it was a 1990s step-through framed Raleigh Pioneer Jaguar with Cro-Mo tubing. The wheels were beyond repair but everything else looked savable. It seemed a shame to see a decent quality bicycle left like this but it wasn’t mine, I didn’t need it and to remove it would still be theft even though it was clear the original owner had no intentions of taking it for repair.

Raleigh Pioneer

A few months passed and the bike still remained. Someone had broken the left had gear shifter by now too. I decided the frame was too good to leave lying there until it was vandalised further or taken away for scrap by the council. I wasn’t sure what to do as I had never claimed an unwanted bike in this way before.

I decided to do it legally so I emailed both An Garda Siochana and the local council, neither of which could be bothered to reply to my emails (why am I not surprised by this?) so finally after a few more weeks passed, I went into the library and asked the librarian if she knew anything about it and explained I would like to take it. My offer was greatfully recieved as they had been waiting for months on the council to come an take it away for them.

So I set to work to remove it. I armed myself with bolt cutters and a hacksaw but as it turned out, I didn’t even require tools to break the lock. I guess the moral of the story is if you are worreid about having your bicycle stolen, buy a quality lock but there again, any lock is only a guarantee against an honest man! If they want it, they’ll get it somehow.

I inspected what I had acquired when I got it home. The wheels were scrap but I knew that anyway. They weren’t just bent but someone had used a great deal of violence to not just bend but to actually break the rim. Both tyres were almost new however and still inflated so both tyres and tubes seemed fit for further service which was a nice unexpected bonus.

The bike was sadly fitted with twist-grip shifters which I personally hate and the left one for the front derailleur was broken but the right one seemed to work fine. This was a minor issue really as I had a spare trigger type friction front derailleur in my bits box so that would work as a cheap replacement for the broken one.

The brake and gear cables were a bit distressed too and badly fitted with some strange choice of cabling routing in evidence but that would be easily and cheaply rectified. I don’t think it is a good idea to install a brake cable with a right angled bend in it…

Interesting cable routing

The bike had been fitted with plastic mudguards which unfortunately had also been smashed beyond repair by the vandals. I would need to replace them with something as a bike without mudguards isn’t very practical (in my opinion) in this country. The other nice surprise was that the bike was fitted with a very good quality rear carrier rack, a very practical addition to any bike for utility use. It may not be a high end bike but this was still a bike of decent quality in it’s day and clearly the original owner had had it well kitted out. The dealer sticker on the seat tube suggests that the bicycle originated in Galway.

Raleigh Pioneer

When I first glanced over this bike in the dark I thought it had a triple chainset but it is only a double, what confused me in poor lighting was the black plastic bash-guard which in poor lighting under sodium street lights looked like a third ring! Perhaps it’s time I visited the opticians! Still it could have been much worse as it was a 40/48 double (rather than the dreaded 42/52 racing gearing often found on older bikes) which when combined with the 14-28 block gives a perfectly decent range of gearing for most purposes. This gearing is good enough for touring really.

I decided on a quick and cheap overhaul – “The best laid schemes of mice and men….” The bottom bracket was very stiff and gritty but it was cup and cone type so I hoped some fresh grease and new bearings would restore normal service. Thankfully it turned out to be fine once I cleaned it up and repalced the very rusty caged bearings with loose 1/4 inch ball bearings – 11 on each side. I prefer to use loose ball bearings for these as I find it runs smoother and lasts longer. The bottom bracket told a story of how much this bike had been neglected though – I have rarely seen one in such dire need of an overhaul and bear in mind this was a bike that was presumably in regular use rather than something which had languished in a shed for thirty years.

Raleigh Pioneer Bottom bracket

I had a spare 700c steel wheelset which I had intended to use as I wasn’t planning on using them for anything else in the forseeable future. Problem number one – the front axle was bent when I went to overhaul the bearings – solution – rob the axle from the damaged original wheel which was the correct dimensions. So far so good. Problem number two – there were some broken and damaged spokes in the rear wheel. Cheap solution – rob the remaining undamaged spokes from the original wheel which were conveniently the same length. I had the wheel trued up perfectly but every time I ventured for a few miles test ride, I heard the dreaded ping which informed me another spoke had gone.

As I would probably end up selling this bike, I couldn’t or wouldn’t sell it to anyone like that. The rear wheel ideally needed rebuilt with new spokes but it probably made more financial sense to buy a cheap replacement rear wheel which is what I did. The replacement is alloy too so lighter and better braking in the rain. When I did that, I decided to repalce the steel front wheel with a spare alloy wheel I had lying around.

When I was cleaning the crud of the chain and freewheel block, I noted that they were very worn, so much so I could see daylight between the chain and sprockets. I thought there would be a chance that as they had worn together they might just still work fine for another while but the chain was skipping on some sprockets so I repalced them too. This was starting to get expensive but if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right. I have never been one to worry too much about cosmetics but I do like things to work properly from a mechanical point of view.

My first attempt revealed very imprecise shifting, even with a new chain and freewheel but closer inspection of the rear mech revealed several things. The mounting for the cable stop had movement which it definitey shouldn’t have. It was an easy fix though as I just removed the mech and supported the rivets from underneath and hammered them tight again with a small ball pein hammer. There was also a lot of unwanted free movement at at the bolt which mounts the derailleur to the hanger. There seemed to be play in the nylon bush which was allowing it to move. I’m not sure if this part can be bought seperately but I took up the slack with a 10mm washer carefully filed to suit. These “modifications” were enough to restore a crisp gear change. I’ve always found basic Shimano works very well if everything is as it should be.

Raleigh Pioneer

A set of cheap plastic mudguards were added too to the growing price tally. They’re not bad really but with hidsight, something better would have been longer and given better protection but they are sturdy and well made and they should last well enough and are solidly mounted and rattle free although to achieve this I did fit an extra mount with a small P-clip to the rear rack.

So with new wheels, new chain, new block, new cables, new mudguards and new brake blocks for the Shimano Cantilever brakes , how does it work. The answer is very well. The bike is smooth and responsive and I’ve covered probably about two hundred miles on it so far and to be honest it was with some sadness that I have now passed it on to friend who wanted to buy it. I had got used to rambling, leisurely ten or twenty mile rides on it after work now that the there is enough daylight. It is a very relaxing bike to ride.

Raleigh Pioneer

There is just about enough seatpost extension for me to pedal efficiently and despite it’s sit up and beg nature it is possible to maintain decent speed and it is really responsive. The cantilever brakes perform very well, maybe my skills at adjusting canti brakes are getting better but this is the best canti setup I’ve ridden so far. My only real niggle is the horrible handlebars. At twenty-five inches wide, I find them just too wide to be comfortable and they are also straight. I suppose bar ends would fix this but I think if I were to keep it for myself, I’d swap the bars for something else. I found on my mountain bike that cutting the bars down made and fitting bar ends made it very comfortable but these have a rise so cutting them down isn’t really an option.

This bike cost me about €80 when I add up all the bits I bought for it. For very little more I could have bought a brand new bike from Argos or similar but it wouldn’t ride like this. It wouldn’t come with rack and mudguards or puncture resistant tyres (rescued from the old wheels) either. This is a real Raleigh – Nottingham-built from quality steel tubing with decdes of expertise behind it’s design.

Raleigh Pioneer

I admit I prefer the look of their older lugged frames but that is just a cosmetic thing, this rides just as well in my opinion and after a walk around Halfords, none of today’s bikes have such neat welding and I know many say Raleigh’s quality started to tail off after WWII (it did in reality) but after twenty or more years use and after at least one winter left lying in the steet facing the elements, the paintwork is still sound and rustfree. I think it was worth spending the time and money to return a fine, if basic old bike from one of the world’s most famous cycle manufacturers back to the road where it belongs and I hope it will give it’s new owner many years of enjoyment.

Raleigh Pioneer

This project has also reminded me that I do have a gents Raleigh Pioneer frame at home, bought from Ebay for the princely sum of 99 pence a few years ago that I have never done anything with. It is the older model with lugged construction and Reynolds 501 tubing. It also has horizontal drop-outs (this one has vertical drop-outs, good for derailleurs but not for anything else). I think it would work very well with a Sturmey AW3 in it and take advantage of those horizontal drop-outs…

Raleigh Pioneer

Raleigh Pioneer

The Letterkenny to Burtonport Line

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A few years ago due to my involvement in the Errigal Arts Festival at the time, I had joined a group for a guided walk along part of the remains of the Londonederry and Lough Swilly  railway line which once ran between Letterkenny and Burtonport in the extreme west of the county. Parts of it have been converted to paths for recreational use and I thought at the time, that although it is mostly aimed at hikers, it is perfectly doable on a mountain bike. The parts which have been well surfaced with gravel could be ridden on anything which doesn’t have high-pressure skinny racing tyres but other parts would call for a bike with proper off-road capability although it’s not a technical trail as it’s more or less flat, it is muddy in places and wide tyres with grips are called for.

The section I was interested in, partly because I had previous experience of it on foot and also because it is only about twenty-five miles away from where I live so accessible for a day ride is the part between Creeslough and Falcarragh. The trails only start just outside Creeslough anyway. It is possible to see the remains of much of the infrastructure from the railway prior to Creeslough but it is very over-grown and the infamous Owencarrow Viaduct, scene of a fatal rail crash in the 1920s when a gale derailed a train from the top of it is a now a partially dismantled ruin.

Ruins of the Owencarrow Railway Viaduct

Work commenced on the line between Letterkenny and Burtonport in 1901 and it opened in 1903 as a joint venture between the British Government and L&LS Railway Company but it was never a commercial success and struggled from the start to make a profit. It planning possibly wasn’t what it could have been as it was built mainly to transport fish from the west of Donegal to Letterkenny and Derry where it could be then easily transported elsewhere once it joined the mainline connection to the busy ports for exports to the UK mainland. It seems the problem was that the passenger side of it never really reached it’s potential, mostly, I suspect because although it touched on numerous remote towns such as Kilmecrennan, Cresslough, Falcarragh, Gorthaork, etc, the stations were often miles away from the towns themselves so it wasn’t as useful to the local communities as it should have been. Clearly the decision was made to take the easier, cheaper route without actually considering how useful it would be. Officially it closed in 1942 although trains did continue to run at reduced frequency until 1947.

Former Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway line

That was all over seventy years ago now and we can look today at the remaining wonderful feats of civil engineering in all the beautiful stone arched bridges that existed along the route and wonderful if tragic ruins of the Owencarrow Viaduct. Cine film footage of the railway journey itself, made in 1937 by the late Father Doherty has survived and a little of it can be seen on the RTE archives. I will take the liberty of posting a link to it.

RTE Archives

The potential for converting parts of the once extensive railway network which criss-crossed the country can be seen with the success of the Mayo Greenway in Westport/Achill. I hope to see something similar carried out in Donegal. My personal favourite would be old Ballybofey to Ballyshannon line through Bearnas Mór but this one comes a close second as it offers great views of the Derryveagh Mountains. Railway lines make great cycle paths as the Victorians built them on the level and removed obstacles wherever possible. You can see many examples of this on the Cresslough to Falcarragh section of this railway line but I’ll come to that later.

The ride to Creeslough was enjoyable but uneventful. I took mostly the minor roads towards Churchill, passing Lough Gartan and towards Glenveagh before turning off across the Owencarrow valley and passing the viaduct and over the stone bridge where the railway crossed underneath the road before briefly joining the N56 a few miles east of Creeslough. I normally hate main roads but the N56 isn’t particularly heavily trafficked this far west. The starting point I was aiming for is a few miles on the other side of the village, taking a road to the left just at the old graveyard and passing Muckish Sand and Gravel. First you pass the sign for Noreen Bawn’s Cottage. I did go up the lane but didn’t see any old cottages and eventually arrived at a locked gate. Noreen Bawn, immortalised in the song by Bridie Gallagher (a native of Creeslough and an international singing superstar in her era), was a woman who moved to America and returned sometime later very wealthy but suffering from TB picked up on the voyage home from which she would die. “What is gold and what is silver when your health and strength is gone, when you speak of emigration won’t you think of Noreen Bawn.” Her homeplace was definitely shy of disclosing it’s location.

DSCF6057 (Copy)

I had covered twenty-five miles when I reached the gate I had to open to gain access to the old railway line. There are signs at this point showing trailhead and Lúb an Iarnród (the railway loop). Twenty-five miles may not sound much but it is a tough, mountainous ride from Letterkenny to Creeslough and usually quite windy. I had lots of low gears to play with though so no problems. I’ve ridden many miles in this area last year on a Sturmey Archer hub gear and on occasions today as I used the 28 tooth chainwheel of my triple chainset I wondered how I did it but don’t recall struggling too much. That is the thing with bikes with lots of gears, when you have them you seem to need them all yet for the most part I can get along fine without them if I don’t have them! I definitely would not have fancied today’s ride on a fixed wheel though. A lot of walking may have been involved…

Once you leave the road the first few hundred yards are climbing across a soft, muddy field to the top of the old railway embankment so I appreciated my two-inch wide tyres although it left me wondering why I had bothered to clean my rims and brakes before leaving…. You almost immediately see relics of the L&LS company in the form of two round stone pillars where a gate must have hung at some sort of crossing once upon a time. I’ve been told that this these round pillars are L&LS trademark design and now that I know that I’ve spotted them in other places too.

Former Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway line

Former Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway line

I was now on top of the raised embankment, built to raise the ground and keep the track level and even after all these years you can see the gentle curve and banking/camber used to allow the train to turn a corner at speed and remain on the tracks – known as “superelevation.”  I am definitely not an expert on railway construction but when you study things like this you can see and appreciate what great engineers early railway builders actually were.

The first mile or so of the path has been cleared but hasn’t been re-surfaced yet so it is rocky, sometimes muddy and progress isn’t much faster than walking to honest, although I am naturally cautious, I ride almost entirely on roads and even though I’m riding a mountain bike, it has been heavily modified to be used on tarmac.

Former Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway line

It’s obvious at a glance that the building of the railway line was no easy feat. The embankments are easily raised by what I would estimate fifty feet or more in places to bring the rails up to the level of their surroundings and as you progress you come across several deep cuts made through the mountains. I imagine they must have had a huge team of men working on this to complete it in two years as they did not have tools and implements available now to make it much easier to do this sort of thing.

Former Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway line

You cross a minor road and from there the path is well surfaced with gravel so my speed increases. After you pass through one of the cuts, Lough Agher comes into view – a very picturesque secret lake, hidden for many years to all but the local sheep farmers, those old enough to have travelled on the Burtonport train or the determined hiker but now easily accessible again, albeit not to motorists (please keep it like that!).

Former Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway line

I didn’t go the whole way to Falcarragh (distance about six miles). I had seen the lake which I wanted to see again and the other thing that makes this place spectacular – the close up views of Muckisk Mountain, including the miners path (A very high quality grade of sand was mined on the table-topped Muckish mountain for many years and transported to Ards Pier where it was exported for the manufacture of fine quality glass used in optical instruments.) was deeply shrouded in an ominous dark mist and I could feel occasional spits of rain. I know from previous experience on a hiking trip with a friend last summer that this not somewhere you really want to be if the weather turns nasty. There is also the ruins of an old hunting lodge which is of interest but I didn’t go there today.

There are many streams which run off the mountain and the railway engineers of yore had built small arched bridges into the embankment to accommodate them. I decided sitting on the edge of one of them was a nice place to sit and eat my lunch which was very much needed by now. Cafe stops can be a pleasant part of cycle touring but when going to remote places, it is best to bring your own fuel supply!

Former Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway line

Lunch!

I decided to see what else I could find in the area to do. Ards Friary has always been a popular destination with tourists but I had never been before although I’d passed it many times as there are a selection of possible routes turning right from the N56 between Creeslough and Dunfanaghy. I decided now would be a good time for a quick visit.

It’s further from the main road than I expected – probably about five miles, mostly hilly. The original Ards Friary (Ards House) was built in the early eighteenth century by the Wray family who had originated in Yorkshire. The house was sold to the Stewart family in 1780. It was taken over by the Capuchin Franciscan Order in 1903 and re-named Ard Mhuire. It had become too small for the number of students; who came from as far away as the USA, Zambia and New Zealand and plans to extend it in the 1950s were abandoned and the new Friary was officially opened in 1966.

Ards Friary

The grounds would definitely be a very pleasant place to spend some time and many dog-walkers were in evidence. The road through the Friary also passes along the west side of Sheephaven Bay offering some very nice views and on the road out I noted what must have been the pier built for the sand export trade, although now sealed off by the council and described as an unsafe structure in the warning signs.

Sheephaven Bay

It was now time to go home, I returned mostly on the same road I had come on, with some minor diversions through the grounds of the Glebe Gallery which I have written about in the past and around the Lough Garten area, still one of my favourite lakes although the skies weren’t that clear today to gain the best views.

Lough Gartan

Over seventy miles covered, taking in lakes, mountains and sea. I realise how fortunate I am to live somewhere which such natural beauty easily accessible by bike and accessible by mostly traffic free roads, very different to Kerry or Connemara. I’m still pleased with my old Townsend too, the novelty hasn’t worn off after a few hundred miles now and an early steel framed mountain bike is very usable and practical for anyone who isn’t racing and I simply could not have done today’s ride on a lightweight racing bike. A vintage roadster might just about work but it would have been murder on today’s route with no low gears. I suspect this is why most keen cyclists end up with a collection of bikes as no one bike can do everything but this one definitely works well enough for most purposes and I do not feel fitting the semi-slick tyres have made it any harder or slower on a normal road but have given the option of a bit of light off-roading.

Former Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway line

As for the Creeslough railway path, to be honest, it is more enjoyable as a walk. The current surface is not conducive to easy riding and it is not currently long enough for a decent length ride but maybe this will change in the future if more funding is found (and I hope it is). Mayo has shown what an asset these types of paths can be to a county if done well.

Former Letterkenny to Burtonport Railway line

Lough Gartan

Sheephaven Bay

The resurrection of an old friend

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Reilan Bridge

Somewhere back in the midst of time, in a previous century I bought the only brand new bike I have ever had or am probably likely to have. It would probably have been in the early 1990s although I can’t recall exactly. I do know it cost me IR£128, a small fortune to a teenager with some potato-gathering money and birthday presents saved up.

The bike itself was nothing special, just a plain Townsend BX-40 mountain bike with 15 speed  SIS Shimano gears with thumb shifters, cheap plastic canti-lever brakes, tractor tyres and very little else. Mountain bikes were the fashion at the time, this one falls into the category of what is today referred to as BSO or bike shaped object although I don’t think that is really fair as the frame might be hefty but it is accurately made and perfectly true, the paintwork was good and components were decent enough and worked as they should and it did have the desirable feature of alloy rims. Truth is, almost thirty years later they were still working.

Townsend BX-40

I rode it a lot as teenager, although probably not that far in terms of distance, the knobbly tyres were switched out for a pair of Swalabe City Jets slicks (surely the most indestructible bicycle tyre ever made) in the interests of speed and easier rolling, cheap steel mudguards were fitted in the interests of keeping clothes clean, cheap battery lights were fitted in the interests of not being driven over.

I definitely wasn’t a keen or committed cyclist in those days and a driver’s licence meant the Townsend spent years lying in the coalshed, collecting dust with only a very occasional short outings. Then deciding I’d like to cycle again, and the desire and need to get fitter and lose weight the bike was given a good clean and oiling and off I went, gradually building mileage. It would have been in about 2007 or 2008 when I started cycling again as an adult.

To my surprise, as my fitness improved, I really began to enjoy it and take a keen interest in bikes in general and older bikes in particular. I remember being impressed with myself  when I clocked up 1,500 miles in one year on my Townsend. It doesn’t sound very much now but it represented huge progress for me at the time.

I hated (and still do) the styling of modern road bikes. I restored a Raleigh Twenty I had as well as Rudge roadster and a 531 framed Carlton came my way and was a revelation in how light and responsive it was despite being on a fixed wheel and began my love of riding fixed wheel bikes, something changing location to somewhere with not much bike storage space and the fact that the area surrounding Letterkenny is just so hilly, my fixed wheel bikes have been forced to take back seat for now.

With the coming of all these other bikes, the Townsend began to return to it’s previous position of languishing forgotten in the shed. It was past it’s best now anyway, a lack of any kind of maintenance in most of it’s life had caught up with it. I had always meant to revisit it however for nostalgia reasons and indeed a few years ago I had bought a lot of parts for it – new (basic) wheelset, new chain and freewheel block as the originals were worn way past the recommended change point and gear changing was very sloppy and unpredictable as a result. I had also bought some basic Shimano canti-lever brakes as although the originals always worked reliably they always squealed no matter what I did and I had never liked the idea of plastic brake arms.

I hadn’t actually done any work on it at that point as other projects and life events got in the way of it. More recently I decided I wanted a cheap bike I could use around town with worrying too much about it and the fact that at some point this year my work will be moving premises so my nice fifteen minute walk to work will be no more and I will need a bike to commute on. Low gearing will also be essential because of the terrain so it rules out my preferred choice of an old three-speed. I needed a cheap mountain bike…without suspension as I don’t see the point for road riding…I needed to finally fix my Townsend.

Townsend BX-40

I must admit my original plan when I bought the wheels, etc was to return it to basic mountain bike spec as it was originally but now I wanted it as a practical commuting bike, the needs changed. My original steel mudguards were almost rusted through so I bought some decent plastic ones. I finally decided it was time to replace my aged City Jets as they were very perished and I wanted reliability.  The logical solution would have been another set of City Jets but as I wasn’t planning on covering big mileage and I decided it would be nice to have a bike that I could ride on forest tracks etc, I opted for a set of semi-slicks which I thought would give me more options.

Continental Double Fighter

Despite being a very cheap bike, the paintwork had held up very well with only some signs of rust on the top tube where I suspect the brake cable routing had trapped water and mud under the brazed on cable mountings. At some point I might do something with it but the bike definitely doesn’t need a full re-paint at the moment.

Townsend BX-40

The new chain and freewheel block had ended up on a Dawes on a temporary basis so I robbed them back again and greased and adjusted the hub bearings. I know the wheel are new but in my experience the problem with cheap wheelsets is that they seem to leave the factory with basically no lubrication and are always adjusted far too tight. People say cheap hubs don’t last but in my experience if you grease and adjust a cheap hub properly before use they last for years and run freely.

The driveside crank put up a fight before releasing it’s grip on the bottom bracket spindle (I suppose it had never been off since it was fitted at the factory) but once it was off, the bottom bracket was rebuilt with new loose ball bearings and fresh grease. It was showing some wear but still fit for further service. Whenever it wears out I will replace it with a sealed unit for ease of maintenance in the future. There was some wear on the chainrings , especially the middle 38 tooth ring which seen most use I suppose but it would still be okay for a new chain to mesh on it.

I replaced the headset with a new unit as the old one was worn and a worn headset can have a big impact on how a bike rides and handles yet often gets over-looked. The new brakes and mudguards were fitted along with a spare rack and a spare Union bottle dynamo which was fitted to a little bracket I had got somewhere to fit on to the brake boss of a canti-equipped frame.

Union Dynamo

I have lots of lights but borrowed some LED lamps from another bike which I am not riding at the moment as the modern LED lights are much better and I was interested to see how they would perform when powered from a bottle dynamo rather than a hub dynamo. The answer to that is perfectly, they reach full brightness at little more than walking speed and in some ways it is better as they don’t flicker at low speeds due to the bottle dynamo turning at higher speeds and producing higher frequency AC. The familiar bottle dynamo hum is there but any drag seems to be negligible. A hub would still be preferable though as it should be more reliable (though in fairness I rode thousands of miles with bottle dynamos in all weathers and never once had it slip – the key is in correct adjustment) and it is silent.

After years of riding road bikes, I found the mountain bike handlebars uncomfortably wide and awkward so rightly or wrongly I took a hacksaw to them and cut about two inches off each side. I am more than pleased with riding position that it has given me, though the bars are very crowded now that everything is squeezed into a smaller space. When I cut them I hadn’t considered all the stuff that had to go there. I am used to having gear levers on the downtube and hadn’t considered the shifters. There is room – just about. It would now be tricky to find room to mount a bar bag or battery lamp on the bars due to lack of space.

When I ventured off for a test ride I wasn’t sure what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. It rides very well and rolls along effortlessly. It is amazing how even a cheap frame with basic components can ride so well when it is built with care and attention which sadly many cheap bikes never receive. I would go so far as to say this frame is superior to the Muddy Fox Courier I also have. The Muddy Fox has a lighter frame but it doesn’t feel as smooth or as responsive. This is not a lightweight racing bike but it’s good enough for most purposes. The Continental semi-slick tyres also surprise. It seems to roll just as well as the Big Apples on the Muddy Fox and if there is any additional drag compared to full slicks, it’s not obvious to me. Now with new chain, block and cables, the humble bottom of the range Shimano gear system slots through the gears with ease and precision. I’m just so pleased mine has trigger shifters rather than the awful twist grip shifters often found on cheap bikes as I detest them (it’s easily and cheaply rectified in reality).

Shimano SIS

After a few ten or twenty milers I decided to test it properly today with a circular route of around seventy miles, leaving Letterkenny towards Convoy and Raphoe on minor roads and then on to Ballybofey, Glenfinn, Brockagh, Fintown and back to Letterkenny again. It proved to be very enjoyable. I know I could probably have done it faster on my Viscount Aerospace but that’s missing the point. The bike is very comfortable and with such a wide range of gears it will cope with anything although I found no use for my 28 tooth inner ring today – I must have gotten fitter since I last rode this bike – or have the Donegal Hills lost their steepness? I suppose it helps that I’m about 30lb lighter – you will read much online about how you need the lightest bike and lightest components and people will object to things like my Carradice saddle bag adding far too much weight but the best and cheapest way to reduce the weight of your bicycle and make hills easier for many people, myself included, is to reduce the weight of the rider!

River Finn

I’ve often thought that this part of Donegal needs to be explored and cycled in more detail than I have given it so far. My ride only really started to get interesting once I left Ballybofey by turning down Glenfinn Street where you more or less always have the River Finn in view somewhere and the Bluestack Mountains in the distance. The terrain gets steeper but never seriously so – a lot of gradual climbing and on a Sunday out of tourist season at least, the main road to Glenties was very lightly trafficked so I found no reason to leave it and seek quieter alternatives. I did sop at a bridge and watched the peaceful scene of anglers fly-fishing for a period of time but nothing seemed to be biting for them. The scene brought to mind “The Fisherman” by William Butler Yeats.

River Finn

As seems to be my habit of arriving at tourist attractions and museums when they are closed, I stopped briefly at the old Brockagh National School which dates from 1921 but is now the Isaac Butt Heritage Centre, somewhere I keep meaning to visit but I guess it’s best done when it will be open!

Isaac BUtt Heritage Centre

Isaac Butt (1813-1879) was a native of Glennfinn and the son of the local Church of Ireland rector and he attended the same Raphoe secondary school as myself though achieved rather more in life! He trained in law and made a name for himself as a brilliant barrister. As might be expected given his background, he was a staunch supported of the Act of Union and campaigned against Daniel O’Connell’s attempted reforms but in his work as a barrister while defending the cases of Fenian Society in the 1860s, he became sympathetic to their cause and wondered if it could be achieved by political means. This led him to form the Home Rule League and other bodies. He was never a republican, believing that Ireland would be best served by having it’s own parliament but still under the British Crown. His career in politics was not to be long-lasting or successful though as he was quickly over-shadowed by personal problems and by others within his own party and he died in Dublin in 1879 but he probably did pave the way for Charles Stewart Parnell and others which followed him to achieve greater things. His body was brought home from Dublin to be buried in Stranorlar Churchyard “beneath the tree where he sat and dreamed as young boy” in accordance with his wishes.

Isaac Butt

On the road between Brockagh and Fintown, there is a model of a thatched cottage with lots of old farm implements and other bric-a-brac including a single speed Raleigh Roadster sitting around it. I had seen this many times in my life but had never previously stopped so did today. It is a nice little display really, though the remains of two black Austin A30s which I remember once sat on the opposite side of the road are no longer there.

Thatched Cottage

From there it is a straightforward ride into Fintown. I didn’t actually need to go into the village as my turn back to Letterkenny is a mile or so on the Ballybofey side but I did so anyway as it was such a nice day and I’ve always found something special about this area and I wanted to visit one of my favourite vantage points across Lough Finn. The little railway is closed for the winter now. Although it was generally a very mild day for the time of year, you could still see the remnants of last week’s snowfall on the tops of the mountains and although mild, I could still feel the cold in places, the windchill factor on some of the long, high speed descents was very noticeable.

Lough Finn

The ride back to Letterkenny was uneventful in the evening sunshine. The bike performed well and it has definite touring potential. If you’re not actually racing, you can clearly enjoy cycling without spending very much money at all. I grew to like this handlebar setup a lot as the ride progressed, the bar ends give more hand position options than just flat bars alone and just like the North Road bars of a sports roadster you are more upright than with drop bars so you can the scenery better (drops are better in a strong headwind though). I had replaced the worn original saddle with a Charge Spoon which I had in my bits box. I think these are an excellent saddle for the money. They are closest I’ve found to a Brooks for comfort and substantially cheaper. An adaptor bracket to fit to the rails allows me to fit my Carradice bag.

Charge Spoon

When I was working on this bike I was wondering why I was bothering but I’m pleased I did now. It should give a good few years more service and it’s better than ever it was before now. A little play did creep into the bottom bracket but it can be adjusted. I was just left pondering the gearing as I built it with like-for-like components. The gaps in the gears of 14-28 five-speed block are quite big and I don’t really need to go so low. It might have been better with a 14-24 and closed the gaps a bit or even change to 6 or 7 speed freewheel with an appropriate shifter which can be bought easily enough from Ebay. As the frame is standard mountain bike spacing (I think, I never actually measured it but it looks like it is) it would also have been easy to convert to 7 or 8 speed cassette hub for very little extra expenditure. I will leave it as it is but regret not considering the options open to me. Overall it is a much better bike than I ever realised and I think I will definitely do a little touring on it over the summer. I think it would be a good bike for a return trip to Rathlin island as when I went previously with the Viscount years ago, the high pressure road tyres did not like the gravel road surfaces but this bike won’t have such problems.

As an aside, I read somewhere once that Elswick-Hopper had involvement with Townsend as a budget brand in their closing years as they fought bankruptcy and built some of the bikes in Barton On Humber. I’m not sure if this true but it may explain why this bike rides better than it should.

Townsend BX-40

Turf Cart

Winter Riding

Muddy Fox Courier

Every spring and summer, dozens of cyclists appear on our roads yet come winter most disappear or go into hibernation. Only the very keen continue to ride regularly through the winter months. Commuters other short distance utility riders may continue but leisure riders often disappear.

In some ways it is perfectly understandable. It is colder in winter, and although it often rains a lot in the average Irish summer there is a big difference between warm summer rain which is mostly just an inconvenience and getting soaked on a cold December day which can be downright miserable and soul-destroying.

There is also the question of the possibility of ice or snow. Snow can be manageable when it comes but black ice if you hit unawares it is almost a guaranteed fall for anyone on two wheels. Nobody likes to get hurt.

Icy Roads

There is also a lot less available daylight in winter. You can’t really take in the sights in the dark. In rural areas and quiet roads, night riding can be enjoyable however if you have equipped yourself with decent lights. This can get expensive but lights serve two functions – the other being to make it easier for other road users to see you and I consider it an investment in my own safety so have always been happy to buy decent lighting.

Busch & Muller headlamp

The other thing about winter riding is the joy of being out on a crisp frosty day when the air is clean and clear and everywhere looks different with clear skies, no leaves on the trees to hinder the view and possibly a coating of frost.

I must confess that my own winter mileage is well down on previous years due to a variety of reasons and having got out of the habit it is doesn’t always seem very appealing to get back into it again. It is worth it though, it’s a different experience to cycling in summer and it helps to maintain your fitness. “Winter miles, summer smiles!”

I decided to venture out today, after waiting for the roads to thaw a little. It was bitterly cold but it wasn’t a problem as I wrapped myself up warm. There would be no heroics, just a leisurely thirty miles or so around my local area.

Winter ride

You can ride any bike, much the same as you can in summer but there a few things I thing the think the winter cyclist should consider. First of all, mudguards. Sadly few new bikes come so equipped and many frames are built with such tight clearances that fitting proper mudguards is difficult if not impossible. My view may be old-fashioned but in my opinion any non-racing bike without mudguards is not fit for purpose. It is not very pleasant being showered with icy cold muddy water. The bike doesn’t like it very much either as the grit thrown up by the wheels will accelerate chain and bearing wear.

Secondly it is more difficult to maintain a derailleur equipped bicycle in winter. The chain needs regular cleaning and lubrication as it is so exposed to the elements. I favour fixed wheel myself, or hub gearing. It’s lower maintenance and longer lasting. The chain is (usually) a stronger 1/8″ chain running in a perfectly straight line and sits higher and doesn’t collect all the dirt that a derailleur chain does.

Muddy Fox Courier

Today I would be riding my Shimano hub geared Muddy Fox. The bike would originally have had derailleur gearing but I built it with this 8 speed hub a few years ago and find I am happy with the outcome. It isn’t perfect, the gear range is more than enough for most applications and I have toured with panniers in a hilly area without a problem but the gear spacing is a bit strange and it never feels as efficient as the humble Sturmey Archer AW hub but I guess that is the price you pay for the more complex gear arrangement which provides the additional gears and  wider gear range but I still think it is an excellent piece of kit, reliable and easy to use.

The main use for this bike for me is utility riding so to further cut maintenance and help keep my clothes clean I have been experimenting with a Hebie Chainglider. It’s not as good as the traditional chaincase as found on my Rudge and other similar bikes but it certainly keeps my clothes clean. I’ll see over time if it extends chain longevity. As it floats on the chain it must add some drag but it isn’t apparent when riding and I don’t notice it noisy now that I’ve adjusted it properly. It did originally interfere with the gear selection but proper adjustment has sorted that problem out.

Hebie Chainglider

As this is an old mountain bike, the wide 26 X 2 inch tyres are also a good thing for winter riding in my opinion. I have never felt the American 559 wheelsize rolls as well as other sizes like 700c, 27 x 1 1/4″ or 26 x 1 3/8″ but the plus side is a wider, lower pressure tyre which makes for a comfortable ride and superior traction in most situations.

I wouldn’t be needing lights today as this was to be completed in daylight but I have also fitted a Shimano hub dynamo to this bike which powers the 60 lux Busch and Muller headlamp and Hella rack mounted tail lamp. I personally think dynamo lights are the only sensible choice for anyone who rides a lot in the dark. This is a real headlamp, with proper shaped beam to put the light on the road where it’s needed and also giving good visibility to other traffic. I never switch the lights off as I see no real point, I like to think it offers additional visibility in the often overcast winter daylight and with no filament bulbs to burn out it costs nothing to run it and I cannot tell any difference in drag between riding with the lights on or off. A bottle dynamo works well enough too if set up properly and I happily rode many thousands of miles with a bottle dynamo powered Lumotec halogen lamp and it was sufficient but this setup is definitely better – the hub is silent and has less drag, the lamp is brighter. Given the choice though, I would still chose my old bottle dynamo powered halogen lamp over any battery lamp. It is more reliable and again the light is put on the road where I need it, not lighting up the treetops and blinding other traffic like so many of the high-powered torches I see used a cycle lights. My personal advice to anyone wanting to buy cycle lamps is to buy something which meets the German traffic laws, ideally dynamo powered. You can’t put a price on your own safety.

Shiamno Alfine dynamo hub

The ride itself was nothing very exciting or covered no new ground for me but was genuinely enjoyable. It was just a local ride going toward Kilmecrennan and the alongside Lough Garten for a little bit before returning to Letterkenny. This bike is not responsive in the way a lightweight racing bike or even a decent sports roadster is but is nonetheless an enjoyable companion for clocking up a decent few miles on a Sunday afternoon. It is very comfortable but can be ridden at a decent pace if desired.

Muddy Fox Courier

Lough Garten looked beautiful in the low Winter sun. The fields were mostly white with frost although the roads were generally clear, caution was needed in a few places, especially under trees or anywhere else the sun didn’t shine. Care needs to be exercised in weather like this but it’s still possible to get a decent few miles in. It will help to maintain some sort of fitness and pay dividends in summer and is more enjoyable than an afternoon watching daytime television. To me, it’s not about obsessing about average speeds (today it would have been pathetic!) but about time on the bike.

Lough Gartan

Lough Gartan

It is harder to cycle at this time of year, the cold air is denser and makes your muscles stiffen up in a way that doesn’t happen in warmer weather. The extra clothing also makes it more difficult and breathing cold air restricts your breathing. I returned home with cold feet but feeling refreshed and feeling fit and healthy. I hope for many more cycling miles in 2018 and rides like these will keep my legs ticking over, hopefully for some touring when the longer days arrive. The other thing about riding trough the winter on a heavy bike is when you dust off your light bike in spring, you feel like you are flying!

River Lennan

Muddy Fox Courier

River Lennan

The Fanad Peninsula

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Fanad Drive

As October draws to a close with some unseasonably nice weather and a whole Sunday free, it made sense to go to do some exploring by bike. I decided to do a long day ride, around the Fanad Peninsula, what is known as the Fanad Drive. Most of this route I have done in the past several times, although usually in the opposite direction from what I was planning today. the west side of the peninsula along Mulroy Bay would be new to me.

With the clocks changing it means less daylight in the evenings for this sort of thing and this would be a slow ride with a lot of gradient, it was best to make an early start. There is little point in goinf sightseeing in the dark after all.

Leaving Letterkenny, Ramelton bound on the N56, eerily devoid of traffic early on a Sunday morning, it would have been fine to continue on the main route via the R245, normally a truely horrible road to cycle and puts me off making more day rides to this part if the county. It isn’t far on the main road, probably about ten miles although with a long draggy climb. However, I decided to turn off on to minor roads a few miles out of Letterkenny. There are many small roads here which I haven’t properly explored yet, mostly giving views of Lough Swilly, but all the minor country roads are beautiful with or without sea views at this time of year in this weather due to the autumn colours and the falling leaves.

Lough Swilly

A minor detour takes you to Killydonnell Friary, a ruined friary dating from the late 1400s and a graveyard which appears to have been in use to relatively recently. Old graveyards can be fascinating places in themselves if you have the time to read and study the tombstones. Killydonnell Friary was originally built by the O’Donnell Clan for the Franciscan Friars on the site of an earlier church. The Friary was granted to Sir Basil Brooke during the plantations in 1603 who closed it down. Today all that remains is an imposing ivy-clad ruin on the banks of the Swilly.

Killydonnell Friary

Celtic Cross, Killydonnell Friary

From there, it is a relatively short journey to the town of Ramelton. For me, with a little renovation and development, Ramelton could easily be the nicest town in Donegal. It is built on the mouth of the River Lennon. The English name Ramelton comes from Ráth Mealtain, (Gaeilge for “the fort of Mealtan”), an early Gaelic chieftain. The fort is said to lie under the ruins of a medieval castle of the O’Donnells, the ruling family of West Donegal before their exile to mainland Europe in 1607 during the “Flight of The Earls.” It was settled by Scottish planters during the Plantation of Ulster in the early seventeenth century and is the location of the oldest Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The modern town was founded William Stewart who was granted a thousand acres of land in 1610. The Stewarts remained as landlords until the early twentieth century.

River Lennon

The town of Ramelton prospered in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries as can be seen from the many fine Georgian buildings in the town and linen trade and export of local agricultural produce and Ramelton was the richest town in the north of the county and a steamship link was used to link the busy port, linen and milling industries to the railway line in Derry City but that all came to an end when the railway line reached Letterkenny in 1909 and Ramelton went into decline while Letterkenny began to prosper. Today, the once busy quayside is deserted and the once beautiful Georgian warehouses and mills which line the quayside are derelict and starting to collapse. Industrial decline in action. I do hope one day that money will be found and they will be restored to their former glory.

Ramelton Quay

River Lennon, Ramelton

From Ramelton, you cross the old stone-arched bridge to commence the approximately seven mile journey along the Swilly to the seaside town of Rathmullan. Rathmullan – Ráth Maoláin, meaning “Maoláin’s ringfort.” This is really the start of the Fanad Peninsula and another town with a long history. The remains of the Carmellite Friary date from 1515 but was sacked by the English in 1595. One of the best known events in Irish history took place in Rathmullan in 1607 when the last of the old Gaelic order fled Ireland to escape to the continent and would never return. This is known as the Flight of the Earls. Today a monument stands overlooking the beach in memory of this event. There is also the fortifications built by the Bishop of Raphoe in preparation of possible French invasion during Napoleonic wars which still stands and is used as a heritage centre now.

Lough Swilly

After leaving Rathmullan, I took the coast road for Portsalon and this for me is where the Fanad Drive starts to get interesting. The road starts to climb as you approach Knockalla Mountain. This is a tough climb coming the other way from Portsalon but from the Rathmullan side it is really just a very long drag but it still eats into your average speed and low gears are useful and much appreciated. The only other time I have ever climbed Knockalla from this side I did it on my Viking Superstar with a 40/24 bottom gear – tough but possible. Today with a 36/32 bottom gear it was comparatively easy and I was able to sit and spin.

At the bottom of Knockalla mountain right down on the coast below road level you can see Knockalla Fort. The first defences were built here in 1798 following French Naval activity in this area in support of the 1798 Rebellion and work began on the more permanent fort in 1815. With Fort Dunree on the Inishowen Peninsula almost directly opposite, it provided a guarded protection for the entrance to Lough Swilly. Lough Swilly was always highly prized by the Royal Navy as along with Berehaven and Cobh in County Cork, it is one of the deepest anchorages in the country. Fort Knockalla was abandoned by the Royal Navy in 1896 although Fort Dunree remained until 1938 and was the final British garrison to be handed back to the Free State Army and the end of British military presence in the Free State. I have never taken the time to try to explore Fort Knockalla more closely and wouldn’t have the time today either. I settled for a photograph taken from the road – the lazy version of exploring!

Rathmullan Fort

It is after you pass the fort that the real climbing starts but once you crest the mountain, you are given a reward for your efforts – a birdseye view of what must be one of the nicest beaches to be found anywhere in the world – Ballymastocker Strand. The calm waters of the Swilly and the miles of golden sand glinted in the midday sun. Sadly it doesn’t always look like this – weather here can be variable and can change quickly but there was no risk of rain today. The sky was blue and cloud free. This was better really than most of the summer of the past two years!

Ballymastocker Strand

A Royal Navy frigate, the HMS Saldanha was wrecked near Ballymastocker Strand in 1811 while attempting to return to port during severe weather conditions with the loss of all 253 people on board, the only survivor being the ship’s parrot. Over two hundred bodies were washed up on the strand. It was this tragedy which prompted the building of the Fanad Head Lighthouse which would be my next stop. I didn’t visit the seaside resort of Portsalon on this occasion.

Fanad Head

Fanad Head Lighthouse went into operation on St. Patrick’s Day 1817 with the lighting of the oil lamp which showed up to fourteen miles out to sea. Major celebrations of it’s bi-centenary took place earlier this year.

Fanad Head

Over the years it has become a major tourist attraction, it is an unusually beautiful lighthouse set amidst the beautiful rugged scenery of Cionn Fhánada and is said to be the most photographed lighthouse in Europe. It was converted to electric lamp in 1975 and was fully automated in 1983 when the final lighthouse keeper left. Today it is possible to take a tour and climb the many steep steps to the lantern room over seventy feet up in the air and also to see the previous lighting set-ups used, the set of semaphore signalling flags dating from before wireless communications and many paintings and other art works created by the various lighthouse keepers over the years as they found ways to pass the time during their lonely existence in the lighthouse. I did take the tour on a previous visit and have included some of the photos below to show the inside of this magnificent lighthouse. I’ve seen many lighthouses on my coastal tours and this is the nicest in my opinion.

Spiral Staircase, Fanad Lighthouse

Semaphore flags, Fanad Lighthouse

view from Fanad Lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse art cabinet

Fanad Lighthouse

Cionn Fhánada has evidence of settlements going back to the megalithic period and agriculture and fishing have always been the main industries in this remote and sparsely populated peninsula. Despite the Ulster Plantation and the granting of the land to Scottish Servitors the area remained majority Irish and it is still an Irish language speaking region.

Fanad Head

From the lighthouse I would make my way along the top of the peninsula towards the beautiful Ballyhiernan Bay with it’s long golden strand. It mightn’t be as nice as Ballymastocker but it comes close.

Ballyhiernan bay

From Ballyhiernan bay I would make my way down the west side of the peninsula and on the opposite side of Knockalla mountain. If you are following the Wild Atlantic Way, you would be taking the Harry Blaney Bridge across Mulroy Bay to Carrigart. It’s from Carrigart and across the bridge that I have previously rode the east side of the peninsula while returning from trips to Tra na Rosann hostel which I have documented previously on this blog. This would be my first trip from Ballyhiernan to Kerrykeel along the shoreline of Mulroy Bay. I’d highly recommend it really, it’s much easier terrain than the Portsalon side and also very scenic.

Kindrum Lake

First you come to Kindrum and the Kindrum lake which is very nice in itself and on the shoreline of the lake a large Celtic Cross stands in memorial to the “Fanad Patriots” – Michael Heraghty from Tullyconnell, Michael McElwee from Ballywhoriskey (who was known as Mickey Rua) and Nial Sheils of Doaghmore who ambushed and shot the hated Landlord, Lord Leitrim near Milford. Although the churches all condemned the murder and the police investigated thoroughly, eventually arresting two innocent brothers who were detained in Lifford Gaol before being released without trial months later due to a lack of evidence, nobody mourned for the tyrannical Lord Leitrim and his death is seen as pivotal in the fight against landlordism in Ireland and the plight of peasants and led to the formation of the Land League in 1879. The true identity of his killers was well known in the Fanad area but it was never made official until the erection of the memorial in the 1960s.

Fanad Patriots Memorial

From Kindrum you continue along the coast to the village of Rossnakil which has a Church of Ireland Church dating from the seventeenth century before continuing into the village of Kerrykeel. This is a nice ride, pretty flat and easy with well surfaced roads and some great views of Mulroy Bay and today at least, it was very lightly trafficked.

Mulroy Bay

Kerrykeel – An Cheathrú Chaol, meaning “The Narrow Quarter” is surrounded on one side by the Knockalla mountain and on the other by Mulroy Bay and has only really two roads into it. It is a quiet, small village surrounded by some stunning scenery and was the home of the ballad singer John Kerr who owned one of the pubs in the village.

It was getting later on in the evening now and with the clocks changing I decided I would prefer to be home before dark which meant I didn’t really stop for any photos from this point onwards. From Kerrykeel, I continued on the coastal R246 into Milford. This road takes you past the remains of the Milford Bakery and flour mill which began in the 1930s. The mill is located at a small harbour on Mulroy Bay and I have fond memories of going here with my father in the 1980s in a Leyland Buffalo to pick up loads of wheat and pollard. Only small ships carrying around six hundred tons could dock here and I remember the wheat being augered out of holds. The mill is now derelict and most of the roof seems to have fallen in.

The town of Milford itself was founded in the eighteenth century by the Clement family and was historically known as Baile na nGallóglach which literally means “town of the gallóglach”. The gallóglaigh or gallowglass were an elite class of mercenary warrior who came from Gaelic-Norse clans in Scotland between the mid 13th century and late 16th century. A battle between the Irish with assistance from “an gallóglaigh” and the English took place on a hill in the townland and this is where the name comes from.

Mulroy Bay

Thatched Cottage, Fanad head

From Milford, I was back in familiar territory and decided to ignore the main roads and go to Kilmecrennan and Churchill. I like the bike ride from Milford to Churchill as it’s usually a quiet road and has a few things of interest. In the right lighting, the small and largely unknown lake of Lough Fern creates very nice views and from Kilmecrennan onwards you are riding alongside parts of the remains of the Letterkenny to Burtonport railway line which closed in 1947 but a lot of the bridges and infrastructure remain. I will explore part of this line on a later date.

Lough Fern

 

Former LD&LS Railway Bridge

I arrived back in Letterkenny just as it was beginning to get dark so my timing was perfect! A total of eighty-three miles completed, the first half of it taking in quite a lot of climbing and I enjoyed it all. I’m pleased with my overall fitness, I’m pleased with how well my bike rides. I will soon be putting it away for the winter again as I prefer hub gears for winter riding but I’ve covered about 800 miles on it in the past month or so (this includes the Kerry/Cork trip), by far and away my best month’s riding in a very long time.

Lough Fern

Fanad Head

Ramelton

Wild Atlantic Way Part VI – Tír na nÓg!

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The latest part of my attempt to cycle the Wild Atlantic Way seemed a good way to fill two weeks holidays from work. As I had moved further south it becomes more difficult with the need to transport a full-sized touring bike. I had previously used my Brompton for parts of it but this was to be a longer trip in tougher terrain and I wanted the luggage capacity and wider gearing range that my Viscount Aerospace could offer me.

After looking at the options I decided to start in Tralee, my first visit to the Kingdom of Kerry. This seemed a good started point as Tralee is accessible by train. I wanted to minimise my reliance on bus connections as there is always the possibility of missing the connecting service or finding there isn’t enough luggage space for my bike. So I decided to get the bus to Dublin and the train to Tralee. The decision then would be whether to head north through county Clare to reach Galway or to head south towards Cork city. I decided to go south. I had liked what I had seen earlier in the year of west Cork and Cork City is again on the mainline rail link to Dublin.

For the first day I would cycle the relatively short distance to the bus stop for the 8:30 bus to Dublin and then  cycle the short distance from Parnell Square West to Heuston Station for the 3pm train to Tralee with a change of train at Mallow. I was able to book a bike space online and ticket cost was much more reasonable than I thought it might be at just €28.55. I probably didn’t need to leave at 8:30 as it left me with a three hour wait in Dublin but decided to play it safe in case they wouldn’t take the bike I had options of taking one of the later buses.

It all worked out fine and it was still daylight when I arrived in Tralee. I had covered approximately 290 miles as the crow flies but only about five of them were actually cycled. There would be time in the coming days to add greatly to that total. When I arrived the weather was dry and clear but quite windy. I found the accommodation I had booked in advance in the Castle Hostel in Tralee town centre. There I met a couple, also from the north of Ireland who were also cycling the Wild Atlantic Way but their trip was much longer as they had started out in Ballyshannon and had spent a few months. We were able to compare notes.

The following morning seemed fine but still a little stormy. I wanted a quick look around Tralee in daylight before leaving. I didn’t really warm to Tralee as a town as I found it too busy and touristy but it has it’s good points as well. There is a beautiful park and gardens area in the town with a whole section dedicated to the Rose of Tralee festival for which the town is probably most famous nowadays. The town of Tralee (or Tráigh Lí) is the county town of Kerry and has a long history – being founded by the Normans in the 13th century on part of an ancient roadway which travels over the Slieve Mish mountains. The modern town layout was created in the 1820s and the town centre contains many fine buildings from that period. I would like to have taken photos of the town but there was so much traffic, people and roadworks I couldn’t seem to get anything as I would have liked.

Rose of Tralee Statue

I wanted to escape urban life and head for quieter parts. My plan for the day was to cycle along the north shore of the Dingle peninsula via Castlegregory and over the Conor Pass before reaching Dingle where I had booked my second night’s accommodation with the option of doing the Slea head route Slí Cheann Sléibhe  to the west of the peninsula if there was time. That was the plan anyway, a relatively short day to begin with but the best laid plans of mice and men gang aft a-gley…

This route took me clear of the crowded Tralee to Blennerville where you can see a preserved windmill.

Blennerville Windmill

This a tower mill and is a working exhibit although it didn’t appear to be working when I was there. At just over seventy feet in height it is the tallest of it’s kind in Europe and was built in 1800 by Sir Rowland Blennerhassett who also gave his name to the village. It’s purpose was to grind corn for export to Britain but with the silting up of the river channel at Blennerville and the creation of the new ship canal which took the new larger steamships into Tralee itself the mill fell into disuse in the 1880s. It was restored in the 1980s and is the only commercially operated wind driven corn mill in Ireland.

Further along the coast road you reach the village of Camp where you can see a monument to the rail crash that happened in 1893.  These type of memorials always want to make me find out more. It seems when the train was descending the steep mountain gradient from Gleann na nGealt, it  went out of control and crashed over a bridge and fell forty feet into the River Finglas with the loss of several lives. It also seems there were several other serious accidents on this stretch of track in 1898 and 1907. Today the Dingle railway line has been long since closed like all of it’s type in the west of Ireland.

Monument to Camp train crash

I continued on through Castlegregory which has a very nice beach popular with wind surfers. I continued on my way towards the Conor Pass. There was a strong wind on the coast but it wasn’t too bad at this point. The Conor Pass is a tough climb over the mountains with an average gradient of 7.5% over a distance of about 4 miles as it climbs it’s way to what is Ireland’s highest mountain pass. The weather had really changed for the worst now as I could barely see any of the famous mountain views through the mist and rain. Possibly tailwind assisted I didn’t find it a very difficult climb though but just at the summit the wind from the other side was severe. So severe I could barely stand or hold on to the bike which was blown from my hands by a gust of wind and slid across the road like an empty bottle. I was now only a few miles from Dingle but to ride into such strong winds would have been unthinkable and downright dangerous if not impossible. I had never before experienced anything like this.

It left the problem of how to get off the mountain in safety. A kindly driver of a camper van stopped and took me and bicycle back to the lowlands. Just trying to stand and walk and put the bike into the van was difficult in the extreme gale and the van was blown all over the road on the way down. The driver was in Ireland for a three week surfing holiday and was making his way to Castlegregory, excited at the prospect of huge ways now that the wind had got up! Every cloud…

From Castlegregory I had to re-trace the morning’s steps back to Camp and take the “low” road on the south side of the Dingle peninsula to Dingle adding perhaps thirty miles, mostly into a gruelling headwind that reduced my speed to around 6 MPH for a lot of it. So much for a short first day! But for the last fifteen miles or so the weather began to improve and wind died off so I was able to ride much faster. I eventually arrived in Dingle just as it was starting to get dark and soaked to the skin and very fed up but thankful to have survived! As I arrived in town and after almost hitting a small roundabout I simply didn’t see I thought it might be a good idea to stop and clean all the encrusted sand and dirt from my glasses! Thankfully traffic was very light.

With vision and the ability to see road and signposts restored, I quickly located the Grapevine hostel where I had booked for the night. After getting cleaned up and a change of clothes before some much-needed food I felt much better. I just felt annoyed I had ridden to the top of Ireland’s highest mountain pass and didn’t have a single photograph of it…but I don’t think I will ever forget my first visit to the Conor Pass!

I found Dingle a much nicer town to stay in than Tralee with many live music venues and generally nicer atmosphere and it was less busy and hectic or perhaps the inclement weather had kept people at home. I’d imagine it would still be very crowded if you were here in peak tourist season.

I had covered just over eighty miles on my first day, more than I had intended and some of it was incredibly difficult but I still felt good. My fitness level seemed to be good.

Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry

Dingle is the only town on the Dingle Peninsula (properly called Corca Dhuibhne)  and is in the Kerry Gaeltacht. There is a long history of settlements in this area dating back to the 4th century AD. The modern town was developed as a trading port by the Normans and Dingle was one of Ireland’s busiest trading ports with close connections to Spain. There was also once a thriving Linen trade in Dingle but it suffered badly in the 1830s by industrial production of cotton in Britain as the demand for linen plummeted. It remains a major fishing port as well as a tourist centre and a centre of learning for those wishing to study the Irish language and music.

Dingle Harbour, Co. Kerry

The weather was much more promising the following morning. My plan for today had been to ride to Killorglin but I decided to make an early start and do An Slí Cheann Sléibhe first. This would take me to Ceann Sléibhe or Slea Head on the extreme west tip of the Dingle Peninsula. This is also the most western point of Ireland. It was a must-do really and the weather was now clear and sunny if still quite windy. I’m glad I did it as this was one of the highlights of the whole trip. The coast road here is amazingly beautiful and now out of season very lightly trafficked. I made friends with seagulls too when I stopped to take a photo as they are unusually tame and friendly here.

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

This area is also rich in ring forts and other ancient stone monuments, some of which I stopped to have a look at but I didn’t really have to explore properly. There is also a prehistoric museum which I visited and there is a fascinating collection dating back to the stone age and before including the skull of a mammoth which is bigger than I could ever have imagined. It must have been eight or ten feet between the tips of the horns.

From there I was coming back into Dingle and re-tracing part of the route I had done the night before as far as Annascaul, only this time in much better weather and with the wind behind me now. From there I stayed on the coast road past the very beautiful Inch Strand beach and on to Castlemaine.

Inch Strand, Co. Kerry

Inch Strand, Co. Kerry

From Castlemaine I was going to be joining the N70, the main national primary route from Tralee to Killorglin. I normally avoid main roads as I don’t like cycling in heavy traffic but there would be a  lot of it on this trip as the mountains and the peninsulas of the west of Kerry mean there aren’t many other options. I can’t complain about any of the drivers or overtakes though and traffic wasn’t really heavy anyway despite being about the time most people are finishing work for the day and making their way home. I did make one minor detour from the N70 on to a little road which was beautiful and peaceful to cycle on but didn’t seem to go anywhere apart from a small harbour.

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

I passed through the village of Milltown on the route which is apparently home to the World Bodhrán Championships. They definitely like their traditional music in the west of Kerry. I had made good time today and after yesterday it was all feeling very effortless. The thing about cycling on main roads is the bike rolls so much easier than it does on the usual horrible chip surface put on the surface of minor roads so you tend to ride faster.

I had booked into a B&B on the outskirts of Killorglin, as it turned out a few miles out of town. After I checked in and had washed and changed my clothes I cycled into the town of Killorglin in search of food and to see what it was like. Now unladen as I had left the panniers at the B&B the bike suddenly felt super light and responsive.

The town of Killorglin is situated on the River Laune and is a decent sized provincial town, well known for it’s trout and salmon fishing. There are almost thirty miles of stone embankments in this area, the work of the Scottish engineer, Alexander Nimmo as an attempt was made to drain and provide flood protection to the boglands to grow hemp to make sailcloths during the Napoleonic era when the British government of the time wanted to strengthen their navy against possible French invasion without impacting on normal agricultural output.

I found Killorglin a nice town although I didn’t stay very late there, just had something to eat and a walk around and then cycled back to the B&B, thankful for the Shimano dynohub lighting. I don’t ride this bike very often in the dark and have halogen headlamp and incandescent bulb tail lamp handed down from another bike which does see a lot of dark riding but I still find the halogen lamp perfectly adequate for night riding on unlit roads. To me it is infinitely superior to any battery system. It is always there when needed and 100% reliable and the German standard headlamp puts the light on the road where it is needed. The downside of course is that the lights go out when I stop but more modern lights avoid that problem.

I was offered and accepted some local smoked salmon with scrambled egg and toast by the B&B owner the following morning and it was indeed very nice and I’ve never had smoked salmon for breakfast before. My day started with the realisation that the clamps holding my rear rack to the seat stays were slipping. I re-positioned it and tried to tighten the securing nuts but they seemed tight in the first place and I only had a small adjustable spanner which was a bit unwieldy in the confined space where the nuts are located. It seemed the black anodised alloy finish had chipped off leaving it slightly loose in the clamps. Perhaps I had over-loaded it. I had some large cable ties in my toolkit and cable tied it in position and hoped for the best. I would do a proper repair when I would get home. Thankfully it held although it looked a bit untidy!

I cycled back into Killorglin and began my trip around (part of) the fabled Ring of Kerry – a 112 mile circular route around the Iveragh Peninsula. Many people will cycle this in a day but I wouldn’t be doing the full route as I am doing a coastal tour and wasn’t going inland towards Killarney and I was also riding a heavily laden bike and my intention was to do it slowly and try to appreciate the beauty and history so I had decided to break it in two with a stop at the west of the peninsula.

The Ring Of Kerry

Leaving Killorglin I found myself mixed up in a group of club cyclists on modern lightweight racing bikes. I love the retro steel one of them said and then on noticing my panniers added you’re making us all look really unfit! To my surprise I was able to stay with them and it was nice to compare notes and chat to other cyclists. It was a Killorglin based club and very friendly people. They said that the roads around there are so busy with tourist traffic that they actually ride more in winter than in summer. It made me appreciate the quiet roads I can enjoy in Donegal. Eventually they turned off on to another road and I continued on my way to Rossbeigh Strand.

Rossbeigh Strand, Co. Kerry

There is a beautiful beach at Rossbeigh Strand and also you can see (at low tide) the remains of the schooner “The Sunbeam” which was blown ashore by a gale in 1903 whilst on a voyage between Galway and Cork. All I could see today was some of the exposed timbers jutting out of the rising tide.

ruins of "The Sunbeam" Rossbeigh, co. Kerry

According to legend, Rossbeigh is also the location of Tír na nÓg (Land of the Young), the mythical kingdom which features in one of the most enduring romances of Irish mythology. Tír na nÓg is said to be located in the narrow stretch of water between Rossbeigh and Inch strand. Tír na nÓg is the land where no-one grows old – it is depicted as a supernatural realm of everlasting youth, beauty, health, abundance and joy. Its inhabitants are the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods of pre-Christian Ireland . The story tells of the love affair between the beautiful Niamh, daughter of the King of Tír na nÓg and Oisín, the son of the Celtic warrior Fionn MacCumhaill. They ride to Tír na nÓg on Niamh’s white mare. After three hundred years have passed, Oisín becomes homesick and wants to visit the land of his ancestors. He goes with Niamh’s warning not to touch the ground but accidentally falls from his horse and as he hits the ground he instantly turns into a very old man who dies almost immediately.

From Rossbeigh as you continue along the coast road you reach what is known as the The Mountain Stage. The first road through this area to link the remote communities and help develop their fishing industry was also the work of Alexander Nimmo and road opened in around 1811. The coast road is very scenic at this point.

"The Mountain Stage" The Ring Of Kerry

The Ring Of Kerry

The railways came in 1893 linking the slate quarries on Valentia island (which I would visit later) to Killorglin and from there to the main lines to the large cities. The railway line closed in 1960 but you can still see a lot of the infrastructure including the magnificent Gleesk viaduct. The train had to stop at this point to build steam pressure on preparation for the big climb over the mountain and it was apparently normal for passengers to alight and have a drink in the near-by pub whilst waiting. The pub and the viaduct are still there. I couldn’t find a good viewpoint to photograph the viaduct as I would have liked as I didn’t have time or inclination to climb mountains for a better view.

Gleesk Viaduct, Co. Kerry

The road continues from the viaduct along the coast to Cahirsiveen. I had booked to spend the night at the Sive Hostel in the town but I had arrived much earlier than expected and the weather was beautiful so I decided to continue on to Valentia Island first. I had planned this for the morning originally but decided to take advantage of the nice evening. You can catch a ferry from Valentia harbour to Knightstowm the principle town on the island. When the railway was operating, Valentia harbour was the most western railway station in Europe.

Valentia Harbour, Co. Kerry

I didn’t spend very long there but Valentia Island was to prove to be one of the highlights of the trip. It is also connected by a road bridge to the mainland further around the coast and my original plan was to catch the ferry and cycle in the morning and cycle through it and over the bridge to Portmagee but since I was now doing it in the evening and spending the night in Cahirsiveen it made more sense to just get the last ferry back again.

Kightstown is quite small but is very interesting in itself. The first thing you see is the magnificent Royal Hotel in all it’s Georgian splendour. It really is a beautiful building but I suspect staying there may be out of my price range! There are other historical interests too – you can see the restored 1902 “rocket car” which was used as recently as 1989 by the Valentia coast and cliff rescue team to carry their equipment. It is housed in a glass-fronted display.

1902 Rocket Car, Valentia Island

There is also the town clock building which dates from the 1800s (although the clock was added at a later date) and there is a small two ton weighbridge made by Avery og Birmingham which was used to weigh the coal being used by the slate quarry amongst other things. I was tempted to try to weight my bike!

The Town Clock, Knightstown, Valentia Island

Avery of Birmingham 2 ton weighbridge, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry

There is also an old anchor from the 2,800 ton sailing ship, the Crompton on display near the sea front. The ship was built and based in Liverpool but went down in 1910 near Valentia island and the anchor was recovered from the wreck by divers in 1971.

Crompton Anchor, Valentia Island

From Knightstown I rode along the north coast of the island for a few miles towards the slate quarries for which the island is famous and also the lighthouse. The island is quite hilly on the north coast but it was worth the effort as parts of it are very picturesque.

Valentia Island, Co. Kerry

On the way back to Knightstown I visited the grounds of the Church of Ireland church and saw an amazing mosaic art work behind the church. The fountain is the work of artist Alan Hall and there are eight pictures in the fountain depicting both physical and religious themes and the four standing stones were collected from the four corners of the island and carved to represent the four provinces of Ireland – Ulster, Connaught, Munster and Leinster.

Alan Hall Artwork, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry

After that, I caught the 6:30 ferry back to Valentia harbour and made the return journey back to Cahirsiveen to check into my lodgings for the night. Cahirshiveen has a long history and is probably most famous as the birthplace of Daniel O’Connell or “The Liberator” – who did so much to campaign for Irish freedom including winning the right for Catholics to sit in the House of Commons while working within the structure of government of the era. O’Connell died in 1847 and the church in Cahirsiveen is built in his memory.

The next day was to have a wet and overcast start. My planned journey was to Kenmare but I decided to explore some of Cahirsiveen’s other history before leaving town. The old (and fully refurbished) former Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks is to be found near the town centre. It was built in 1870 and I was a little surprised by how big and imposing it was compared to other RIC barracks I have seen but apparently the reason was the need to guard and police the transatlantic telegraph link which had recently opened between Valentia Island and the “New World.”  I’m not sure if this is true but local legend has it that was designed for the Punjab in India but the plans got mixed up and somewhere in India is a building which is supposed to have been built in Cahirsiveen!

Old Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks, Cahirciveen. Co. Kerry

The building was burned down in 1922 by the retreating Irregular Army (supposedly by the women) who did not want it to fall into the hands of the Free State Army and there the story may have ended but in 1991 but major renovation and reconstruction work began in the 1990s and the “new” barracks was opened as the town’s heritage centre in 1996. Unfortunately as I was there early on a Sunday morning I couldn’t gain admittance.

A few miles out of town along the coast you can go back much further into history with visits to the Cathergall Stone fort which dates to about 400AD and the Leacanabuile stone fort which dates from the ninth century. There is also the imposing ruins of the fifteenth century castle built by the MacCarthy clan but is now just an ivy clad ruin. You can get a great view of the castle from the tops of the stone forts.

Ballycarbery Castle, Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry

Cahergall Stone fort, Co. Kerry

Ballycarbery Castle, Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry

Cahergall Stone fort, Co. Kerry

There is also more recent social history as you can see another of the bridges which carried the Valentia train until 1960. It is located beside the town park.

Railway Bridge, Cahirsiveen, Co. Kerry

After leaving the town park, I continued on my way along the Wild Atlantic Way. I was panning on going to Kenmare where I had my accommodation booked for the night. I was going to go to Portmagee but decided to take a minor road for St. Finian’s Bay which turned out to involve some fiendishly difficult climbing and scary descent into Allagee Beg and I joined the Skellig Ring.

Skellig Ring, Co. Kerry

The Skellig Ring loops the south west corner of the peninsula taking you through Baile an Sceilh en-route. It should be possible to get views of the Skellig Rocks from here. A monastic settlement was founded by Saint Fionán on Skellig Michael, the larger of the two Skellig rocks here in the sixth century and was inhabited until it’s abandonment in the twelfth century as the monks left this inhospitable, desolate six hundred foot high rock for the abbey which was built on the mainland at Baile an Sceilg. Today, Skellig Michael is preserved as a world heritage site and it is possible to take boat trips to visit the islands. I could only see the basic outline of the rocks from the shore due to the thick mist which was present. I did spend a little time at the beach before moving on where you can see the remains of the priory.

Baile na Sceilge

Baile na Sceilge priory

From there you begin the route along the south side of the peninsula which takes in the long climb up Com an Chiste which rises to a height of seven hundred feet above sea level and offers panoramic views over the coastline at this point. As a climb, I didn’t find it too bad on a loaded bike but it does seem to drag on for miles and really eats into the average speed. It is worth the effort though, even on this misty overcast day which blocked out much of what should be visible.

 

Com an Chiste

Com an Chiste

From there is a relatively easy ride all the way to Kenmare where I was to spend the night, passing through the villages of Castlecove and Sneem along the route. It was late Sunday evening when I arrived in Kenmare and checked into the Failte Hostel. The name Kenmare is the anglicised form of Ceann Mara[7] meaning “head of the sea”, referring to the head of Kenmare Bay although it can also be known as An Neidín, meaning “the little nest.” It is located at the junction of  the Iveragh Peninsula and the Beara Peninsula. There is evidence of settlements here dating back to the Bronze Age. The whole area was granted to Sir William Petty by Oliver Cromwell in thanks for his mapping the entire country in 1656. Petty laid out the modern town in 1670 with a triangular main section which can still be seen today in the town centre. I found it a very pleasant town.

The following day I would commence “The Ring of Beara” which circumnavigates the Beara Peninsula. It was to be another wet and windy start to the day but conditions were to improve. The route from Kenmare takes you along the north side of the Beara peninsula via Lauragh and Ardgroom. The signposted route at this point would take you Castletownbere on the south side but I stayed on the north coast through Eyeries and Allihies. This route takes in some tough climbing but by now the weather had cleared and I was able to enjoy beautiful views across Kenmare Bay.

On the coast road near Allihies you find the remains of a copper mining operation. There is evidence of copper mining here from the Bronze Age period but it was in 1812 that local landowner John Puxley began mining commercially. The mines remained in operation until 1912 and 1,500 men were employed at it’s peak with an estimated 297,000 tons of copper ore were extracted here over the one-hundred year period and were exported to Swansea for smelting. Cheaper sources of copper ore in the US, Africa and Australia sounded the death knell for Cork’s mining industry although an attempt by a Canadian company in the 1950s to re-start production never got properly off the ground.

Today you can see the abandoned mine shafts which go far below sea level and also the remains of the Cornish engine houses which housed the steam engines which pumped water and drove the machinery. Puxley had brought in a lot of expertise from Cornwall to help with his mining project.

The Ring of Beara, Co. Cork

The Ring of Beara, Co. Cork

I had booked to spend the night at a B&B at Garinish point, right at the extreme end of the Beara peninsula. This is a very remote part of west Cork. It is also where you can get the cable car to Dursey Island. This Ireland’s only cable car, installed in 1968 to transport people and livestock to Dursey Island as the sea crossing is particularly rough and dangerous. Garinish point was probably my favourite place of the trip. It is so beautiful yet incredibly peaceful. At some point in the future I’d like to come back to take the time to explore the hillwalking routes around the point and on the island itself.

The Ring of Beara, Co. Cork

Dursey Island/Garinish, Co. Cork

Dursey Island Cable Car

Dursey Island/Garinish, Co. Cork

The next day began bright, clear and sunny. I was to ride to the village of Ballylickey today along the south side of the beara peninsula. This would be a relatively easy day, made easier still by the weather. I would pass through Castletownbere, Adrigole and Snave with views of Bantry Bay.

The Ring of Beara, Co. Cork

I stopped briefly in Castletownbere to buy some provisions. It is a town with a long history, it takes it’s name from the MacCarthy castle which no longer exists and not the Dunboy castle as many assume. Dunboy castle was the home of the O’Sullivan clan. The remains of Dunboy Castle can still be seen about two miles out of town. It was reduced to ruins by the army of  Elizabeth I following an uprising by the O’Sullivans against the English and O’Sullivan fled to Leitrim and I believe there is a long distance signposted hiking trail which follows his route. Theobald Wolfe Tone with the help of the French attempted to land at Castletownbere in 1796 but the attempted rebellion was aborted as heavy seas meant that the French fleet couldn’t dock. An air station was established by the US Navy in 1918 to launch sea planes but it was closed following the Armistice. Castletownbere was also one of the treaty ports (along with Lough Swilly and Cobh Harbour – the tree deepest anchorages in the country) retained by the Royal Navy after the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921 until 1938 which marked the final withdrawal of British forces from the Free State.

Castletownbere Harbpur

Along the south side of the Beara peninsula you pass many small harbours and also Whiddy Island view. Whiddy Island was the location of the US Naval Air base in WWI but has a long naval history as it was considered of strategic importance to protect the deep water anchorage. Fortifications were built following Wolfe Tone’s aborted landing in 1796 and also during the Napoleonic wars. In more modern times a large oil terminal was opened in the 1960s by Gulf Petroleum as the waters here are deep enough for the large supertankers sailing directly from the Middle East. The Whiddy Island disaster occurred in 1979 when the French tanker Betelgeuse exploded with the loss of fifty lives. The terminal was never properly repaired and today is used by the government to store the national oil reserve.

Whiddy Island View, The Ring of Beara, Co. Cork

I had planned today to an easy day “rest” day but it was too easy really as I arrived in Ballylickey at around five o’ clock. I spent some time exploring the area before checking into my B&B. Ballylickey is a small village near Bantry and it’s coastal setting on the mouth of the River Ovane make it very picturesque.

Ballylickey, Co. Cork

Ballylickey, Co. Cork

Ballylickey, Co. Cork

The weather was dry but quite stormy again in the morning as I made my way into Bantry. I had actually originally intended to spend the night in Bantry but it was much cheaper to stay in nearby Ballylickey. Today was an open day as I had definite plans up until now but I had no accommodation booked for tonight. I would see where I ended up but had intended to stay on the coast to Mizen Head and maybe the following day take the inland route back into Cork city to catch a train back to Dublin. As always it didn’t quite work out like that.

I stopped briefly at Bantry harbour where I could see my co-ordinates written on an old mine. Bantry has strong connections with Saint Breandán the navigator who made many exploitative voyages and may have discovered the Americas many years before Columbus.

Bantry, Co. Cork

From Bantry I would be going west along the Sheep’s Head peninsula, mostly following what is known as the Goat’s Head Path. I found it very tough going due to the headwind and also the many steep climbs on the peninsula. I think this was the toughest route I encountered.

The Goat's Pass, Co. Cork

To get to Sheep’s Head on the western extremity of the peninsula you first need to climb to the top of the Seefin Viewpoint. This is not easy as the climbs are short but tough but it is worth the effort. You can see both sides of this narrow peninsula from the top – overlooking Bantry Bay to the north and Dunmanus Bay to the south and on clear days you can also see Roaring Water Bay in the south. Also in the distance, you can see Fastnet Lighthouse, known locally as the “teardrop of Ireland” as this was the last sighting of their homeland for the many who emigrated from West Cork to the “New World” in search of a better life and an escape from famine.

Seefin View (North), Co. Cork

The Goat's Pass, Co. Cork

Seefin View

From the Seefin viewpoint there is a long descent into Kilcrohane, the town of any note on the peninsula. The climbing starts again as you make your way towards Sheep’s Head. Sheep’s Head is a very popular destination with hikers and has been deemed a “European destination of Excellence” and again is an area that would need a lot of more exploration than I had time to give it. There is a small cafe and shop on the headland where I was able to have lovely homemade soup which was very welcome as it was quite a cold day now and the winds showed no sign of relenting. If you walk to the end of the headland you can also see Sheep’s Head lighthouse. I was also surprised to find what must be the most remote cycle parking facilities in the entire country.

Kilcrohane, Co. Cork

Sheep's Head drive, Co. Cork

Sheep's Head, Co. Cork

Sheep's Head, Co. Cork

The ride back along the south side of the peninsula was much easier, both in terms of gradient and also I was now tailwind assisted. I had come to realise all these peninsulas share common characteristics of a hilly side and a flat side and a headwind on the way in and a tailwind on the return leg,

I began my ride on the north coast of the Mizen Peninsula from Durrus. towards Drishane but again there was a headwind which dramatically slowed me down. It was now getting quite late in the evening and I had to make a decision as I had no accommodation booked – to continue to Mizen head and hope to find accommodation in what is a sparsely populated rural area or turn back towards Skibbereen – a large town with plenty of options. It was still really windy and now threatening rain. I decided on Skibbereen. The roadsign said 34KM, I’d have time to make it before dark with the wind which would be  behind me in that direction.

I had no difficulty in securing accommodation in Skibbereen and in contrast to the previous day I woke up to a glorious warm sunny day and no wind! I would actually end up getting sunburned today. Of course with doing this and not reaching Mizen Head the previous day, there would be no inland trip to Cork city today as I still had to go to Mizen Head, as Ireland’s most southern point, it was one of the main destinations on this trip. I elected to cycle leisurely along the south coast of Mizen peninsula towards Goleen and Mizen head and in the evening I’d get the bus back into Cork City ready for the train trip back to Dublin the following morning.

The weather couldn’t have been kinder on this final day. I rode on the coast road west from Skibbereen, through Ballydehob and Schull, both of which I had passed through on the previous evening but now with more time and better weather. Part of this road is the N70 National Primary route but again I didn’t find it particularly busy – I had waited before leaving Skibbereen for the “rush hour” to be over.

The West Cork coastal route must offer some of the best views in the entire country and Ballydehob and Schull are both very nice little villages with nice harbour areas and you can also see yet an other French Anchor from the 18th century.

The Butter Road, Ballydehob, Co. Cork

Schull Harbour, Co. Cork

18th Century French Anchor, Schull, Co. Cork

You also pass a view point at a place called Altar which has been a sacred place for thousands of years as can be seen by the Wedge tomb nearby and in more modern times in the 18th century Catholic priests said Mass here when it was illegal to do so.

Altar, Co. Cork

Altar Wedge Tomb, Co. Cork

From Altar you continue along the coast to Goleen “The Mizen Village” which is closest main town to Mizen Head. From Goleen it is perhaps another fifteen miles to Mizen Head. I visited the small seaside village of Crookhaven first. The village is associated with Sir Thomas Crooke who also founded Baltimore in the seventeenth century. It was traditionally an important final port of call for the transatlantic bound ships and many local businesses sprang up to server the needs of the temporary visitors. It was also used by the English film-maker James Clarke in his film “An Irish Village” in 1959 and was also one of the areas in which Guglielmo Marconi experimented with wireless transmission.

Today it is a very picturesque seaside town with harbour and the location of Ireland’s most southern pub and restaurant.

Goleen, Co. Cork

Crookhaven, Co. Cork

From Crookhaven I made my final approach to Mizen Head. The seas were so clear and blue on this summer-like day. First you pass Barley Cove, in my opinion the nicest of the beaches I had seen on this trip. It is a very peaceful place and the sea was incredibly calm during my short visit yet the sand dunes we see today are the after effect of a tsunami that took place following an earthquake in Lisbon in 1755 when the Cork Journal of the time reports that the coast was pounded with waves fifteen feet in height.

Barley Cove Beach, Co. Cork

Barley Cove, Co. Cork

My tour was drawing to a close as I cycled the final few miles to Mizen Head. Mizen Head isn’t actually the most southern point in Ireland, that is Brow Head which is nearby but it is to Mizen where all the tourists flock and I would be doing the same!. For those on the transatlantic ships this is usually the final (or first) sighting of Europe as they cross the Atlantic and the rocky headland is guarded by a lighthouse and there is also a signalling station which has been there for many years. Shipwrecks in this area have been quite common and you can see the propeller of the Steamship Irada which is one such wreck, having gone down after losing it’s way in thick fog in 1908 on  voyage to Liverpool with a cargo of cotton and resulted in a major operation to rescue the sixty-three people on board from the bottom of the high cliffs.

Mizen Head, Co. Cork

Propeller from the steamship Irada

After visiting Mizen Head all that was left was the short journey of a few miles back in Goleen where I would wait on the bus service to Cork City. I was the only passenger for the first part of the journey so space for a bike wasn’t an issue here. It was dark when I reached Cork, I booked into a hostel adjacent to the Kent Train station, with some difficulty as they wouldn’t originally accept me without a valid passport – why do I need one to travel in my own country?

After a wash and change of clothes I explored around Cork City centre (my first visit) for a short time before retiring to bed. I would be up early to catch the 6:15 train back to Dublin, from whence I was able to get the 9:30 bus back to Letterkenny so I was actually home in the early afternoon. It is amazing how public transport compares favourably with the time needed to drive from one end of the country to the other and travelling by train is much less tiring than driving.

I cycled just over 530 miles along the Kerry/Cork coast, an experience I found really enjoyable despite the changing weather conditions. It didn’t snow but it did just about everything else it could do! This is definitely not an exhaustive tour of the area as there is much more that could be done if time permitted. Overall I think I prefer Cork to Kerry as it seems less busy and crowded but Kerry has a lot to offer too, particularly the Dingle peninsula and Valentia Island.

Hopefully in the spring I will be able to complete my Wild Atlantic Way tour with a journey northwards from Tralee this time towards Galway city.

Mizen Drive, Co. Cork

The Ring of Kerry

Dooneen, Co. Kerry

Gour, Co. Cork