I had planned the other parts of my attempt to cycle the Wild Atlantic Way ( An Slí an Atlantaigh Fhiáin) in great detail and I had started close to home and been heading south. Part IV turned out to be a spur of the moment thing and I began at the opposite end of the country this time. I began at the beginning! Kinsale in County Cork is where the Wild Atlantic Way begins.
I had wanted to take a friend up on an invitation to spend some time in Clonakilty in west Cork. I found the thought of a six hour drive intolerable. I looked into rail options from Derry and from Sligo but they were prohibitively expensive. I decided to take the bus. Bus Éireann of course do also take full-sized bikes and I did that last summer when I brought the Viscount Aerospace home from Mayo but you cannot reserve a space and there is no guarantee they can accept it so on this occasion I took my recently acquired Brompton. I would need several buses to complete this journey so couldn’t take the risk of missing the connecting service if space wasn’t available on a journey of this length.
My original plan was to go straight to Clonakilty but the weather forecast was so good for the time of year that I decided to extend my trip for a few days and explore. I decided to spend the first night in Kinsale and cycle to Clonakilty the next day. I’d make the rest of it up as I went along. I have no Brompton specific luggage and my normal panniers are no use on this bike. My large Carradice saddle bag was a possibility but my saddle has no loops to attach it and it would need to be removed each time the bike was folded. I decided to use a rucksack. I thought it would sit happily on the sturdy standard-fit Brompton rear carrier but that didn’t work in practice. I ended up with it on my back, I don’t normally like cycling with a rucksack on my back but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it might be. It is a good quality rucksack which attaches securely and is well supported and doesn’t move around.
I caught the Letterkenny to Galway service in Ballybofey and I was happy enough with my equipment as I completed the journey between home and Ballybofey on the bike. As mentioned, I couldn’t get the rucksack to stay in place on the rack so stopped to put it on my back but after that the short ten mile trip was straightforward. I didn’t find the rucksack too much of a problem. I guess it helps that the riding position is upright. I wouldn’t fancy riding with a heavy rucksack in an aero position on a road bike but I have seen people do so. I arrived at the bus stop in good time and I folded the bike as I waited for the bus. The terms of carriage for folding bikes on Bus Éireann is to have them in a travel bag or else pay the €10 surcharge applied to non-folding bicycles. I don’t have a Brompton bag but I did it on the cheap with a small sheet of tarpaulin and some bungee cords. The bus drivers didn’t question my strange bundle.
The bus journey was uneventful with short breaks in Donegal Town and Sligo before completing the journey to Galway. After another short break in Galway, I boarded the service for Cork city. This is where it was to get more interesting for me. I had never previously been further south than Oranmore in County Galway so I was into uncharted territories for me. Unfortunately it is still winter and was pitch-dark by the time I reached Limerick. I did enjoy the County Clare countryside though I do look forward to this part of my Wild Atlantic Way journey when I get around to doing it. There was another short break in Limerick bus depot before continuing to Cork.
I would have an approximate thirty-five minute wait in Cork city before catching the final bus service to Kinsale. I probably should have taken the opportunity for a brief walkabout in Cork but I didn’t want to leave the bike unattended so I just hung around the bus depot in Parnell Place. My initial impression of Cork is that it looks quite similar to Dublin in terms of layout and architecture, at least in the area around Parnell Place. It is built on the River Lee and like Dublin it is a city with a long history dating back to the establishment of a Viking settlement in 922AD. It is the second largest city (after Dublin) in the Irish Republic and has always been considered the Rebel City, a reference to it’s support for the Yorkist cause in the War of the Roses and also as the main centre of anti-treaty forces in the Irish Civil War in the 1920s. I understand Cork people like to declare Cork as the “real” capital of Ireland for this reason. Cork was European City of Culture in 2005.
The final leg of my bus journey to Kinsale took almost another hour. Like Donegal, Cork is a very large county (the largest in the country, Donegal is the second largest) and journeys within the county can take a considerable amount of time. It was almost nine o’ clock when I finally reached Kinsale – a total of 11 hours travelling. I wouldn’t say it’s fun sitting so long on a bus but it could be a lot worse and it is a lot less tiring and stressful than driving myself and as I was travelling alone, the cost was about half of what I estimate it would have cost me in petrol if I had driven. I had booked my ticket for the entire journey online which made it quite cheap and I felt excellent value for money.
The bus stop in Kinsale is conveniently located just opposite Dempsey’s Hostel where I was to spend the night. I checked in and went for a walk around the town. It was good to stretch the legs after spending so long sitting down. Kinsale or Cionn tSáile (Tide Head), situated on the River Bandon, was built by Royal Charter from Edward III in 1333 and has a long history as a sea-faring town. The last of the Spanish Armadas landed in Kinsale in 1601 which resulted in the Battle of Kinsale which concluded the Nine Year War and led to the Flight of the Earls in 1607 (when the last of the old Gaelic Cheiftens fled Ireland). From 1694 it was used as British Naval base although only for smaller ships as the harbour isn’t very deep. It’s notable buildings include the c1200AD Church of Ireland church, the c1600 Market House and the “French Prison” or Desmond’s castle. Today it is a major tourist attraction with the boating fraternity and also famous for it’s food and restaurants. It is also the start of the 2,500KM Wild Atlantic Way journey up the west coast of Ireland.
My time in Kinsale was only a short few hours. Too short really. It’s very picturesque with a lovely harbour setting and many old, narrow, interesting streets which wind their way from the harbour area. Take away the cars, advertisements and television aerials and it would probably look much the same as it did a century or more ago. It is also a very friendly and welcoming town with many nice bars and restaurants. I could have done with at least another day in Kinsale. It was with a heavy heart that I unpacked the Brompton and began the next part of my adventure.
After a brief photostop at the harbour I made my way towards Clonakilty on R600. It was late morning by now, I had delayed my departure until the clothes shops opened as I needed a new cap after I had left mine on the bus the previous night. It would have been cold without it as although it was mild for January it was still cold on the seafront. I was in no hurry though. The direct route to Clonakilty is around 25KM according to the signposts but I had all day to do it. Time for scenic diversions! First of all the Old Head of Kinsale beckoned.
The Old Head of Kinsale was formed over many centuries by coastal erosion at different rates of the sandstone and slate layers which make up the headland. It is a very beautiful headland. The first lighthouse was built in the 17th century and there is still an operational lighthouse today. Unfortunately, I was saddened by the fact that I couldn’t gain access to the lighthouse or the head itself as it has had access restricted by a golf club which opened in 1997 and only golf club members are allowed. I find this very unfair and probably and example of money making the rules. It has been the scene of many protests over the years believe.
Kinsale is also the nearest point of land to where the Clydebank built oceanliner, RMS Lusitania met it’s fate at the hands of a German U boat in April 1915 with a substantial loss of life and caused serious international outcry and arguably led the USA going to war with Germany a few years later. Several memorials exist today in memory of the those who lost their life on the Lusitania and the wreck of what was once the largest oceanliner in the world lie 11 miles out to sea from the current lighthouse.
There is also an old lookout tower, (one of many from the Napoleonic war era around the Irish coast) at the Old Head of Kinsale. Unlike the others I have seen on my travels in Donegal and Mayo, this one is in the process of being restored.
Continuing along the coast from The Old Head of Kinsale you pass a memorial to the birthplace of Anne Bonney in 1697, one of the famous Irish women pirates who along with her partner Calico Jack Rackham took part in many raids in the Caribbean until they were captured and sentenced to be hanged although she was given a stay of execution as she was pregnant at the time. There is no record of her execution or death and it is believed she escaped and continued her wrong-doings under a different name.
The minor roads along the coast bring you past Howe Stand and are very quiet, often with grass growing up the centre and no traffic to speak of. There are certainly some hills but against all expectations the three speed Brompton copes admirably in the sort of terrain it was probably never designed to be ridden in. Eventually you join civilisation and the R600 again near Timoleague. Timoleague (Tigh Molaige, meaning “house of Molaga”) is another very old settlement. Probably it’s most famous landmark is the friary or Abbey which dates from 1240AD and is a hugely impressive ruin. There are also some nice river scenery and a lot of swans and also some very nice stone arched bridges. There is also a preserved Post and Telegraph phone box, these once common sights in rural Ireland have all but disappeared.
Rightly or wrongly (I regret not staying on the coast) I took the direct route from Timoleague to Clonakilty, staying mostly on the R600. I did make a detour of several miles to see the Michael Collins Centre but it was closed. Clonakilty is another very old settlement dating from Norman times and there are many relics of that period to be found. It is a hilly area but with rich farmland and famous for it’s dairy farming. The town is also famous for it’s vibrant night life and live music. It was also the birthplace of General Michael Collins, Irish patriot, politician, soldier and noted military strategist and commander-in-chief of the IRA during the War of Independence. One of the delegates sent to London to negotiate the Anglo-Irish Treaty with the British government, he reluctantly accepted the offered terms believing it “gave the freedom to win freedom” but noting that he had probably signed his own death warrant. So it turned out as he was killed in an ambush by anti-treaty troops at Béal na Bláth, west Cork in 1922 during the Civil War.
After a brief exploration on foot of Clonakilty and getting some food (I needed to sample the other thing Clonakilty is famous for – it’s black pudding – and can confirm it is very nice!), I began the final part of my journey for the day. I was to spend a few days with friends in a small place called Ardfield about five miles from Clonakilty. Ardfield is really just a townland and small farming community although there is a small pub and there are many beautiful beaches in the locality. It was also the home of Noel Redding (1945-2003), noted musician and former bass player for Jimi Hendrix.
The gun recovered from another of the famous shipwrecks off the Co. Cork coast can be seen outside O’ Suilleabhean’s bar in Ardfield. The HMS Mignonette was lost to a German mine in 1917 although there were no casualties on this occasion.
I can’t really say how many miles I covered as I have no cycle computer on this bike and I didn’t stay on any signposted route but went all over the place but it was a pleasant day’s riding in winter sunshine and I found the Brompton a much more capable bike than I had ever thought it would be. The area around Clonakilty and Ardfield and the Old Head of Kinsale definitely isn’t flat, it’s tough going in places but I found my 3 gears just about sufficient. I rode a few miles with a carbon bike mounted local who expressed surprise I was able to keep up. I allowed him a quick test ride on the Brompton and he was very impressed with it.
The next few days were spent playing with horses and dogs and walking around varios beaches, Red Strand in particular I really liked with a clear view of Galley Head lighthouse across the bay. I enjoyed my time in Ardfield, including a pleasant evening in O’ Suilleabhan’s bar and also one short ride into Clonakilty to do some shopping and a very brief exploration of the Clonakilty hinterland. The weather was good too and I wanted to make the most of my time in Cork. It was time to say goodbye and move on.
I had intended to keep my riding distances short but the Brompton had coped well with the terrain and riding with a rucksack hadn’t been as bad as I feared so I set my aim a little higher this time. I decided to go to Baltimore. The direct route is only thirty odd miles but I wanted to stay on the coast, a route that is described as very hard in the Cycle Ireland route guide. I had all day to do it however and booking accommodation at this time of year wasn’t going to be a problem.
I left Ardfield and headed for the coast at Red Strand beach and continued on towards Sandcove and Long Strand and then in Rosscarbery. Rosscarbery (Ros Ó gCairbre, meaning “Cairbre’s wood”) is a small but picturesque town built on a shallow estuary. Many swans were again in evidence. There is evidence of settlements here from as far back as the Bronze Age. I reached Roscarbery via minor roads along the coast, joining the N71 national primary route from Cork city about a mile outside the town. I normally hate N-roads but on a Sunday in winter it was eerily quiet. I also spotted an old Ordnance Survey mile marker which informed me that I was now 39 miles from Cork city.
The next stop was to be the Drombeg Stone Circle or Druid’s Altar. This is one of the most visited megalithic sites in Ireland. The stone circle is 31 feet in diameter and is of the “Cork-Kerry” type stone circle design where the setting sun on the Winter Solstice alignes with the south-west axis and the stones have been shaped to capture it. It might be the most visited but it was completely devoid of people during my visit – the joys of travelling well out of season!
The next settlement on my route was the more modern village and harbour of Glandore (Cuan D’Ór, meaning harbour of the gold). It is possibly one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited. There have been settlements here since Norman times and the ruins of two Norman castles can be seen. The modern day harbour dates from the early to mid 1800s. There are also old RC and Anglican churches and the Irish Coast Guard have a base here. It is simply a beautiful spot.
From Glandore, the terrain gets more interesting too. It marks the beginning of some tough climbing although much worse was to come. I had to walk most of the road which leads out of the harbour for a considerable distance. But not to worry, I was touring, not racing. I had a choice here, I could have continued on the road along the coast (R597) to the town of Leap which would take me back on to the N71 or there was a small bridge (Poulgorm Bridge) to cross the inlet which was a shorter, direct route to Union Hall. I took the bridge.These small bridges and causeway type roads across bays and inlets seems to be a feature of the coast of Co. Cork.
Union Hall is another fishing village, larger than Glandore. It is an important fishing port with it’s own ice and packaging plants. It has long connection with the sea and near the sea front, you can see a 23.5 foot long anchor which is 13 foot from point to point and weighs 5 tons. It was recovered from the sea bed in 1999. It is believed to be from an unknown French ship of the early 1700s and is the largest ever recovered from Irish waters.
The climb out of Union Hall was tough, very tough. I had to walk for at least two miles around endless sharp hairpin bends as the road continued to climb. I really don’t think I could have climbed this on my Viscount either. Going down the other side was a good test of brakes. The brakes on the Brompton are more than capable. I wish the brakes on my Viscount were as good! More minor coastal roads brought me to Castletownshend (Baile an Chaisleáin, literally “Town of the Castle”). The Wild Atlantic Way signs don’t take you into the village itself but I decided to have a look as it was very close. The main street has another killer climb leading from the harbour. It is a quaint little Irish village really with a time-warp post office, an old cast iron water pump and another old phone box. I didn’t know it until later but there are rescued relics from the Lusitania on display in the church. There is a very nice house dated 1907 called Sundial House on the main street with a sun dial on the outside of it but I have been unable to find no further information on it.
The next stop was Tragumna (Tráig na Móna in Irish, meaning Strand of the Turf) which is only a few miles although again I didn’t take the direct route. I did come across one of the old Irish signposts at a junction. There can’t be many left as they’ve mostly been replaced due to going metric. They still do turn up in remote areas. Many more seem to turn up in pubs as decorations. Tragumna has a small but nice beach and a nearby lake is apparently popular with birdwatchers. It is also quite close to a nature reserve.
The main route from here to Baltimore would take you via Skibbereen but I decided to keep to the minor roads and go direct. You pass the gatehouse to Liss Ard house. The direct route (I’m sure I could have gone much quicker via Skibbereen in hindsight) took me on to some really remote and very hilly roads, many of which were un-metalled and I had to walk again in places. I had strayed on to roads that weren’t on my map and I was concerned I had got it wrong but I asked a group of pedestrians who confirmed this road would eventually bring me out on the main Skibbereen to Baltimore road.
The coast road into Baltimore is very beautiful with views across several islands, some of which are accessible by bridge. It was especially so on this clear winter’s evening in the setting sun although it was now getting dark. I stopped to fit the battery lamps I had brought with me to cover this eventuality. I really should add dynamo lights as they are so much better but in this case it was more a case of being seen rather than the need to see.
I had a much needed meal in Baltimore before checking into the Rathmore House B&B which is about 1.5 miles out of town. I found it an excellent B&B and I was the only guest! I got washed and changed and relaxed for a while. Again I can’t put an exact figure on my day’s mileage but it was a decent length ride of perhaps 40+ miles in some very tough terrain. I was pleased with my fitness as I haven’t done many long rides recently. Lower gears would definitely have been useful today without a doubt but on a ride like this I don’t mind having to walk occasionally as it can be a nice change of pace. I walked back into town later and checked out a few pubs. Again I found the locals very friendly and welcoming.
The weather wasn’t quite so nice the following morning. It was a bit overcast but at least it remained dry. I cycled back into Baltimore to explore it a bit in daylight. It is a very beautiful without a doubt although I am probably fortunate to have seen it at it’s best as it will probably be ridiculously busy in the summer months. It is the main ferry port to Sherkin and Cape Clear islands. It was also the seat of one of the longest running Irish dynasties – Corcu Loígde – high kings of Munster. The population of Baltimore was decimated in the 1631 “sack of Baltimore” when over a hundred villagers were sold into slavery. It began a recovery in the 18th century only to be hit hard by the famines of the 1840s.
The two most notable man-made landmarks in Baltimore are Dún na Séad (or Baltimore Castle) which dates from the 17th century and was built on the site of early fortifications from Norman times. Dún na Séad translates as “fort of the jewels” is the proper traditional Irish name for the town. Baltimore is an anglicisation of the Irish Baile an Tí Mhóir meaning “town of the big house” and has been become the common name.
The other noteworthy construction and probably the most associated with Baltimore is the “Baltimore Beacon” which is a large beacon about 17 yards tall and 5 yards in diameter at the widest point. It was built in the mid 1800s to mark the entrance to the harbour. It replaced an earlier, smaller beacon. I rode out to see it although you do have to climb the last few hundred yards up a rocky climb on foot the views are good and the beacon is an interesting structure and huge when you are close to it.
I made my way towards Skibbereen. The main road seem quiet so I decided to use it but made many scenic detours, exploring small islands, harbours and graveyards! I visited Inishbeg (literal Irish translation from Small Island) which is accessible by road over a small bridge and long causeway road. It has large gardens and a stately home which are open to the public. I didn’t visit the house but explored the best I could in the parts that were free to access! It is very nice really, although the island has some short sharp climbs on it’s small roads.
I also noted the steeple of a church not too far away on the mainland. I found the road down to it and what I found was quite a large graveyard which is still in use today and the ruins of the Church of Ireland parish church of Creagh which dates from 1810 and the information board says it was built at a cost of £1015. It was abandoned quite recently in 1990 but the building is in really poor repair and actually considered dangerous. A shame as it’s a nice church but obviously no longer required. The most noted burial in the graveyard is Canon Goodman, a church minister originally from Kerry and former rector of the church but also a noted musician and collector of traditional Irish music and also former professor of the Irish language in Trinity College, Dublin and taught both future president Douglas Hyde and also the noted Irish playwright J.M. Synge.
I eventually made my way to Skibbereen. The distance according to the signposts was only 15KM but I had made many detours. It wasn’t a great day’s riding in terms of distance but I thoroughly enjoyed taking the time to fully explore my surroundings. It was still only about half-past-three. I decided I didn’t like Skibbereen as much as the other towns I had visited. It seemed very busy and congested and one serious bottleneck for traffic. I had planned to ride a little further out to the west but I decided against it as the roads were so busy and congested. I just got something to eat and explored a little on foot.
The town dates back to the mid 1600s and the name originated from the Gaelic for harbour of the little boat. Skibbereen was seriously affected by An Gorta Mór, the great famine of the 1840s and it is thought that up to 10,000 people are buried in the mass grave for famine victims near the town which gave rise to the famous Irish folk song “Revenge for Skibbereen.” The song is thought to be written by poet Patrick Carpenter, a native of Skibbereen and it was first published in 1880. It takes the form of a conversation between a son and his father and the son asks his father why he had left his native Skibbereen – “They say it is a lovely land, wherein a prince might dwell, oh why did you abandon it, the reason to me tell?” and the father goes on to explain the hardships of the famine – “The rents and taxes were to pay and I could not them redeem.” Sibbereen is also closely related to foundation of the Fenian movement in the 1850s which in various forms fought for Irish independence.
After a night in Skibbereen it was time to go home. I caught the 9 o’ clock bus back to Cork for the connecting service to Galway. I had another half hour wait in Cork bus depot again. This time I would be breaking the journey up with a night in Galway as I had arranged to meet a friend there. I arrived in Galway in the early afternoon. This time I had been able to see part of Munster in daylight from the bus and I arrived in Galway with plenty of daylight left. My usual Galway curse struck again as I got lost – I also seem to do so every time I come here! No matter where I try to go I always seem to end up back in Eyre Square. I like Galway though, it is the most friendly of all the Irish cities in my opinion with a nice atmosphere and many nice pubs and live music venues. I also note that Galway now has a cycle hire scheme in operation (so does Cork). The bikes are interesting with Nuvinci rear hub and Shimano dynohubs on the front.
I didn’t actually try to ride my bike in Galway as there was little point. My hostel was only a few streets from the bus station. I do note that there is a cycling culture in Galway though with more cyclists than I’ve seen anywhere else in Ireland apart from possibly Dublin and it’s interesting to note the variety of bikes in use – old, new, cheap and expensive. I also noted a postman delivering post on Pashley Mailstar (the newer version than mine).
I later went for dinner with my friend and had a nice evening. In the morning it was time to complete the journey home by bus and then cycle the ten miles or so back to the house. My trip to West Cork was thoroughly enjoyable. There are many beautiful sea views, especially at Glandore and also around Baltimore. Of the towns I visited I think I liked Kinsale best.
I also think that a Brompton makes a very valid touring bike, even the three-speed model like mine. Other gear options are available if you really felt the need for more gears or fitting a smaller chainset would lower my gearing further though I don’t think I’d really want to do that as it would end up with a very low top gear. Just like when I’ve experimented with touring on my Record roadster, I’ve found three gears work fine the majority of the time, even when carrying a reasonable amount of luggage. I’d like to look into better luggage carrying options though as a rucksack works but it’s definitely better to let the bike carry the load. That’s what it’s there for.
Gel saddles get a lot of bad publicity from some but I actually found mine comfortable although I’d still prefer a Brooks. I’d definitely like to fit dynano lighting to mine too.
The huge adavantage to owning a Brompton is the ability to take it on a bus on a trip like this or to put it in the boot of car. It’s true I could have driven there with my car and a large wheeled bike but then I’d have had my car in Kinsale, probably clamped or towed away by Cork County Council by the time I got back to it and I would have been in Skibbereen. I can see myself making more trips like this in the future but I need to buy a Brompton T bag first!
You will also make a lot of new friends with a Brompton as people are always interested in it and I demonstrated “the fold” several times to many people and let a few people have a go on it!