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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.