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