Dunlewey – The Poisoned Glen

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

Dunlewey

What I consider one of the finest vantage points in the country is the view over The Poisoned Glen (or Dunlewey or Dún Lúiche – the fort of Lugh who was an ancient Irish god) in north west county Donegal. It is best viewed from the top of Mount Errigal which at around two and a half thousand feet is the highest mountain in the county. Errigal is actually part of chain of seven mountains which also include Mackoght, Aghla Mor, Ardloughnabrackbaddy, Aghla Beg, Crocknalaragagh and of course Muckish which make up the Derryveagh Mountain range and are known as the seven sisters. I climbed Errigal for the first time last year and it is well worth the effort and I was blessed with an unusually clear day which gave clear views of Lough Dunlewey and The Poisoned Glen. I hope to climb Muckish later in the year.

This photo was taken from the top of Mt. Errigal last October.

Mount Errigal

There was to be no mountaineering today however. Luckily, as it turned out, as despite the beautiful weather elsewhere the Derryveagh mountains were shrouded in a thick mist. Indeed there were times I could barely see my front wheel never mind the peaks of the Seven Sisters. Although it never rained I was aware of the moisture in the air I could see the dampness on the tread of my tyres despite cycling on what seemed to be a dry road.

I had long marked The Poisoned Glen out as a place for a day ride by bicycle but hadn’t got around to it until today. It’s only about twenty-five miles from Letterkenny via my preferred route but this is a mountainous region with some tough climbing involved. It’s definitely not an easy route as you are only a few miles from the coast and there are often strong headwinds to contend with as well. The return journey is easy however!

I would ride my hybrid-geared Kalkhoff, maybe slightly over-geared for this terrain but still perfectly manageable for me. It is sturdy and comfortable and I find it makes a good touring companion. From Letterkenny I would follow the R251 via Newmills, Lough Gartan and Churchill and this would also take me past the entrance to Glenveagh National Park, somewhere I have visited quite a few times by bike but had never went any further along this road  by bike. The journey from the National Park to The Poisoned Glen is only about ten miles but I had never done it by bike before.

This is actually one of my favourite routes, the scenery around Lough Gartan and Churchill is beautiful and the road is mostly very quiet. If you have time there are other places worth a visit en-route like the Glebe Gallery, house and garden and the area around the St. Columbkille heritage centre, both of which I have written about quite recently.

Lough Gartan

It had been a beautiful sunny morning with clear views of everything but as I entered the Derryveagh mountains the mist started to descend. It never actually rained but it got surprising cold for the time of year. I had to put on my jacket. Normally this road around the Gleneveagh area gives you beautiful views of the mountains but not today. Everything was shrouded in mist and fog, so much so that I was concerned at times of the possibility of someone driving into me from behind.

As I passed the car park at the base of Errigal I was surprised to see so many people preparing for their ascent of the mountain in these conditions. I was pleased though to see that to my left I had at least some visibility through the mist over The Poisoned Glen. The mist wasn’t as thick in the deep glen.

The Poisoned Glen

The question is often asked about how such a beautiful place became known as The Poisoned Glen. There are several stories – one mythology story and one more recently and possibly based on fact. One story goes that King of Tory, Balor, had a very beautiful daughter who he had kept closed away in a Tower out of the view of men. However, word of her beauty spread and she was kidnapped and brought to Magheroarty. Balor followed and got her and killed her kidnapper with a giant stone. The poisoned eye of Balor leaked it’s poison into the glen. At the entrance to The Poisoned Glen, a large stone stands, and it is said to be the poisoned eye of Balor.

Kalkhoff

Another story involves the first maps of the area made by English soldiers. The Glen was originally known as The Heavenly Glen. An English soldier had made a mistake with translation, confusing the Irish word the Irish for Heaven (neamh) and the Irish word for poison (neimhe) and so the name Poisoned Glen stuck. So a name given by an ancient Gaelic legend or by a confused cartologist – I guess we’ll never know the truth but it adds a sense of mystery.

Lough Dunlewey

The other feature of note of the glen is the ruins of the Dunlewey Church of Ireland Parish Church. Set near the lake-water’s edge, the church, built from locally quarried white marble and blue quartzite is instantly recognisable and features in just about every photo and postcard of this area. The church is a ruin with no roof, quite small and probably nothing very exciting from a architectural point of view but with it’s picturesque setting and coloured stone walls and steeple, it is an iconic, beautiful and enduring landmark when photographed either from the road or higher up the mountains with the lake in the background or photographed from below with the peak of Errigal in the background. I tried my best to create my versions of the more publicised photos but the mist blotted out the view of Errigal and the mist in the glen didn’t help much either.

Dunlewey Church

Dunlewey Church

Dunlewey Church

The church was built by Jane Smith-Russell as a monument to her late husband James Russell who was the landlord of the Dunlewey Estate. Russell died in 1848 and the church was consecrated in 1853. The remains of James Russell actually lie underneath the church floor. A two-story rectory was also built nearby but the church only ever had one full time Rector in the 1850s as the congregation was small and with the decline of the Dunlewey estate it was to decline further and the church fell into disuse as the cost of maintaining it was too much for the parish. The roof became unsafe and was removed in 1955 as a safety measure and the furniture and other items salvaged were distributed amongst other churches in the Dioceses of Raphoe and Derry. The church bell is actually installed in Cashel Church of Ireland near Doe Castle.

Dunlewey Church

Dunlewey Church

Apart from the church itself, I didn’t spend a huge amount of time exploring the glen. It would be better done on a clearer day I think. There are boat trips which can be taken on the lough which is also something that would interest me on a future trip. There are also mountains to climb and many side roads to explore. Today’s trip wasn’t ideal in some ways as I had procrastinated all morning with other things and I had a prior engagement later which meant I was late of leaving in the first place and had to be home again by a set time so didn’t have the time to fully explore the area. The mist and fog gave everything an eerie and mysterious feel but made photography difficult.

I enjoyed the ride though and pleased I’ve done it and given myself reasons to return. After leaving the ruined church, I had thought that the climb out of the glen back up to the main road might be problematical but was actually quite easy. It’s not as steep as it seems when viewed from the main road. I did find time for a very quick visit to Glenveagh on the return leg but made no further stops on the way home. The return journey was much quicker than outward leg as it’s mostly gradually going downhill and the wind was behind me now.

Lough Veagh

I really enjoyed the ride and I really need to make the time to do more day rides like this to explore my local surroundings more. This to me is what cycling is all about – the freedom of the wide open road, quiet lightly trafficked roads, scenic surroundings and a sense of adventure. Riding solo I could do as I pleased in terms of route, speed and scenery stops. There is no need to spend a fortune on bike or kit either. My old parts-bin special did the job just fine.

Dunlewey Church

Dunlewey Church

Lough Dunlewey

Wild Atlantic Way Part V – Murrisk to Galway

Tags

, , , , ,

It is now late in June – Irish summer time if you’re an optimist. I wanted to complete another little bit of my ambition to cycle the Wild Atlantic Way. I had finished in Westport in Co. Mayo last summer although on another previous trip to Westport I had cycled the few miles further south to the village of Murrisk. So it was to be Murrisk where I decided to start part five of my trip.

Murrisk Co. Mayo

This part would involve only two days of actual riding and although they’d be long days, the coastal route through Mayo and Galway isn’t too challenging and as I’d be travelling by bus it made sense to use my Brompton. I still haven’t invested in any Brompton specific luggage kit so I would strap my rucksack to the rear rack.

I was able to get the bus to Westport, the Letterkenny-Galway and Dublin-Westport service overlap in Charlestown so I had to change in bus in Charlestown after about a thirty minute wait for my connecting service. I’m sure I could have got another but to Murrisk but there was little point as the journey from Westport to Murrisk is only about six miles along a pleasant coastal route. Westport was very busy when I arrived, there was some sort of triathlon event on and also a parade of vintage cars so I was rummaging through my rucksack looking for my camera whilst a parade of Model T Fords and Morris Cowleys came down Peter Street with the drivers working hard to control speed and negotiate the sharp corner at the bottom. Modern cars require so little effort to drive in comparison. Sadly I was too late to get my camera out but it was nice to observe.

I went into a shop to buy some supplies before I was to leave civilisation. There was a Guard standing on the street corner directing traffic outside the shop. I asked him if I left my bike beside him would it still be there when I came out or should I lock it? I can’t guarantee anything was his gruff reply but it was still there when I came out.

Westport Quay, Co. Mayo

The weather had been very good all day but it started to drizzle as I made my way along the coast, using minor roads leading from Westport Quay before joining the R335. I had planned on taking the route which leads through the grounds of Westport House but that was closed off due to the other events taking place there.

Murrisk (or ‘Muir-Riasc’, meaning ‘sea marsh”) is a small village at the foot of Croagh Patrick mountain, one of Mayo’s most iconic landmarks and a popular destination for pilgrims over the centuries as they begin their climb of Ireland’s Holy Mountain. There isn’t very much else in Murrisk really, a small fishing pier and the ruins of Augustine Abbey which date from 1457 and more recently, the National Famine monument in memory of those who died during An Gorta Mór  – the great famine of the 1840s. The west of Mayo was one of the areas worst affected by the famine which is why it was chosen as the site for the National Monument. There is also Campbell’s Bar (Campbells at the Reek) at the bottom of Croagh Patrick which has been run by many generations of the same family, serving food and refreshments to the pilgrims for over a century.

Clew Bay, Co. Mayo

Croagh Patrick, Co. Mayo

National Famine Monument, Murrisk Co. Mayo

The peak of the iconic mountain was shrouded in mist when I arrived. I was to stay the night in the Croagh Patrick hostel which I can highly recommend. I ventured out and braved the rain for an exploration of the ruined abbey which is an imposing structure with a lot of history. It is said to be built on the site of an earlier church founded by St. Patrick himself. It did survive the Reformation and continued in use until 1577. I also stopped a while in Campbells and found it very welcoming with a lot of history. It was very busy, it would be nice to visit when it’s quiet to view all the old photographs and memorabilia which adorn the walls. They have an old Raleigh roadster as a sign too.

Campbell's Bar, Murrisk Co. Mayo

Connemara Whiskey keg

Raleigh Roadster, Campbell's Bar, Murrisk Co. Mayo

The rain had stopped by the morning but it was still very overcast and the mist still hung over the peak of Croagh Patrick. There were signs though that the mist would clear and brighten up to a nice sunny day. I went for a pre-breakfast walk with my camera. After breakfast, it was time to pack up and begin my journey down the Mayo coastline.

Murrisk Abbey, co. Mayo

Murrisk Abbey, co. Mayo

Murrisk Abbey, Co. Mayo

I continued on to the town of Louisburgh. This trip was arranged last minute and perhaps stupidly I hadn’t brought a map. I followed the signposts but missed the Lost Valley in the process which would have taken me towards Roonagh (where you can get the ferry to Clare Island) and Killadoon. What was to come next made up for it however.

Brompton on Wild Atlantic Way(S)

Louisburgh Co. Mayo

A recent conversation with someone who had cycled the entire Irish coastline suggested the Doolough Pass as one of the best places. I would be inclined to agree. The Doolough Pass goes through a deep valley along the shore of Doo Lough (Dubh Loch – literally the black lake) which is said to be one of the deepest lakes in Ireland before reaching Delphi and along the shores of the Killary Fjord. This road is stunning in it’s natural beauty and despite being a Sunday afternoon in Summer, I had it almost entirely to myself. I met a German couple on a BMW touring motorcycle at one of the vantage points. We would meet and pass and re-pass each other throughout the day. Their intended route was similar to mine but they were continuing on to Galway, their boxer engine having more stamina than my human version.

Doolough Valley, Co. Mayo

Doolough Valley, Co. Mayo

Fishing boats, Doolough Valley, Co. Mayo

The valley has a dark and tragic history however as hundreds of people perished here during the great famine while making the journey from Louisburgh to Delphi to seek help and admittance to Westport Workhouse from the Poor Law Official who refused to help and ordered them to return. Many didn’t make it, the journey would have been difficult anyway as it seems that the road I was travelling on was only created by the Congested Districts Board in the 1890s.

Doolough Valley, Co. Mayo

Today there is a monument to those who lost their lives and another monument to opening of the road, all of which stand as reminders to how much easier our lives are today (in the prosperous west at least). Sadly such events still happen in the third world.

Doolough Valley, Co. Mayo

Monument to famine dead, Doolough Valley, Co. Mayo

My next destination would be Leenaun (An Líonán, meaning “where the tide fills”) which is just across the county border in Co. Galway. To get there I had to cycle along the north shore of Killary Fjord to the crossing point at Aasleagh where I would say goodbye to Co. Mayo and then along the south shore in Co. Galway to Leenaun. There is a famous waterfall at Aasleagh, noted for seeing salmon leap against the flowing water on their journey inland to give birth.

Aashleigh Falls, Co. Mayo

Failte go Contae na Gaillimhe

Killary Fjord is the only true Fjord in Ireland (although Lough Swilly and Carlingford Lough could also be considered fjords). Killary Fjord is approximately ten miles long and is about one-hundred and forty feet deep in the centre. With Cnoc Maol Réidh (Connaught’s highest mountain at 2,600 feet) on the north shore and the Maamturk Mountain Range on the south, this really is an area of outstanding natural beauty.

Killary Fjord, Co. Mayo

Killary Fjord, Co. Galway

Failte go Conamara

Unfortunately from a cyclist’s point of view it is just after Aasleagh where I had to join the N59 for the journey along the south shore to Leenaun. After the peaceful mountain and bog roads of west Mayo I had to deal with traffic again, although the road wasn’t very busy and drivers were much more respectful than they’d be at home.

Leenaun is a small but beautiful village in the Connemara region of Galway. It was used in the filming of the 1990 film The Field which was based on a play of the same name by John B. Keane. It also recieved a Royal visit in 1903 by HM King Edward VII and Princess Alexandra when the Royal Yacht docked in Killary Fjord and the Royal couple visited locals in their cottages. Security was provided by the Royal Irish Constabulary who disguised themselves as cycle-tourists!

Killary Fjord, Co. Galway

I stopped and bought some food in a shop in Leenaun and sat watching the world go by for about half an hour. I was here purely as cycle-tourist, not an under-cover police officer and had no VIPs to guard so could make my way as I pleased. The advice of the hostel staff in Murrisk had been to follow the N59 all the way to Clifden as it would be quicker and also would take me past the famous Kylemore Abbey.

Killary Fjord, Co. Galway

I decided to ignore this and found some peaceful roads again which took me along the coast to Tully Cross and eventually back on to the N59 again at Letterfrack. I had definitely added a lot of miles to my journey but it was a nice afternoon and I was in no hurry. Yet again, the Brompton proved itself a pleasant bike to ride and I did not find the small wheels or only having three gears a hindrance in any way. It’s true that there were no major climbs and I wasn’t very heavily loaded but I’ve found over the years that a Sturmey Archer hub is all the gearing you will need 90% of the time and I love the simplicity of use and ease of maintenance that a hub gear gives in comparison to a derailleur.

When I re-joined the N59 at Letterfrack I realised from reading the signposts at the junction that I was only a few miles from Kylemore Abbey so decided to go back to it. Kylemore Castle was built by Mitchell Henry, a wealthy doctor from London in 1867 who moved here and actually served as a Member of Parliament for Galway County for a time. The castle covered forty-thousand square feet. In 1909 it was sold to the Duke and Duchess of Manchester who lived here until after WWI when they were forced to sell it to cover their gambling debts.

It was bought in the 1920 by a group of Benedictine Nuns who had been forced to flee Ypres during WWI. The nuns continued to offer boarding school accommodation for girls here. In the 1970s it and the grounds and walled gardens were opened to the public. It was just closing for the evening when I arrived. I probably could have had access to the gardens and grounds but I didn’t really have time. Judging by the scaffolding it is currently seeing some renovation. There is no doubt it is a magnificent building in a beautiful setting.

Kylemore Abbey Co. Galway

I still had quite a bit of ground to cover before I reached Clifden for the night. The final descent into Clifden along the Sky Road is very nice with lovely views. I somehow managed to miss the castle for which the town is famous, it is situated a few miles on the Letterfrack side of town.

Clifden was founded in the 1820s by John D’arcy who lived in the Castle. The town was constructed with help from the government and overseen by Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo who designed the quay and began the construction of the road to Galway city. The town prospered and grew quickly with marble, corn, fish and kelp being exported from the quay. The surging growth came to an abrupt end during the famine when many people died or went to America and landlords went bankrupt from lack of tenants and rent monies.

In the early part of the twentieth century Clifden became famous for very different reasons which I will mention later. Clifden was also involved in the War of Independence and also the Civil War. Clifden native Thomas Wheelan was arrested and executed in Dublin in March 1921 for the murder of Captain Bagelly. Wheelan had protested his innocence and following his execution two RIC officers were shot in Clifden in retaliation. In response, a train load of Black and Tan officers arrived from Galway and went on a rampage killing one civilian, injuring others and burning fourteen houses. Today a monument in the form of a Celtic cross to Thomas Wheelan stands on the Sky Road in Clifden.

Thomas Whelan Monument Clifden

Thomas Whelan Monument Clifden

Much bitter fighting was to happen during the Civil War in Clifden and the surrounding areas with control of the town passing between the Free State Army and the Irregulars on several occasions before the Irregulars finally surrendered the town in December 1922.

Market Square, Cliften Co. Galway

Cliften Co. Galway

Today the town is a major centre of tourism and considered the capital of Connemara. I was to spend the night in the Clifden Town Hostel which I can highly recommend. I had a pleasant evening and Clifden is definitely one of the nicest towns I’ve stayed in with a nice friendly atmosphere and many nice pubs with excellent food and live music. There are also some lovely walks along the quayside but I did feel quite tired and went to bed early. I don’t have a cycle computer on this bike but from tracing my route on a map later I discovered I had ridden in excess of sixty miles and although the terrain wasn’t particularly difficult there was a noticeable headwind most of the time. The preferred option for cycling the Wild Atlantic Way is apparently to start in Cork and cycle north as the prevailing winds will mostly be behind you. I can see why people say to do it like that. I’ve often experienced strong headwinds on these trips that I’ve made but as I live in the north of the country it made sense to start there.

After a good night’s sleep I felt refreshed in the morning and ready for another day. The morning was bright and sunny with clear blue skies but that was to change. I had options but not that many – I could take the direct route to Galway city via the N59 which didn’t really appeal or the much longer coastal route. I opted for the coastal route. It would be big miles but mostly pretty flat.

Cliften Co. Galway

Cliften Co. Galway

About four miles after leaving Clifden on the coast road you come to Derrygimlagh bog which contains the other reasons Clifden became famous in the early years of the twentieth century. Guglielmo Marconi built the first high power long wave radio transmitter here to communicate with it’s sister station in Nova Scotia and the first wireless communications across the Atlantic began. It went into operation in 1907 and at it’s peak employed up to two-hundred people and transmitted ten-thousand words per day. One of the people who worked here was to later meet his end as chief radio operator on board HMS Titanic. I also learned whilst in Clifden that Marconi was actually half-Irish and his mother was the daughter of the famous Dublin-based Jameson Whiskey distillers and it was probably the wealthy Jameson family who bank-rolled a lot of his early experiments in wireless transmission.

The Derrygimlagh bog was also the place where Alcock and Brown crash landed close to the Marconi station following their record breaking Transatlantic flight in 1919. It is thought that they saw what looked like a green meadow and attempted to land but it was actually a peat bog and their Vickers biplane’s landing gear sunk into the soft ground. Alcock and Brown had to walk into Clifden to get assistance. Today there are monuments and information boards to both Marconi and Alcock and Brown and there is also a hotel in Clifton called the Alcock and Brown.

Derrigimlagh Co. Galway

As I left the Derrygimlagh vantage point and information centre the sky was clouding over and it was starting to spit rain. I had committed to the coastal route so was determined to complete it even if it did rain. I passed through many little villages such as Ballyconneely and Roundstone. It was really overcast but so far the rain had remained very light and barely noticeable. Roundstone or Cloch na Rón, (meaning “seal’s rock”) has a nice little harbour area which was also the work of the Scottish engineer Alexander Nimmo. There has been a working fishing port here for centuries. It has also been a popular destination with artists and many world renowned artists including Paul Henry, Jack B. Yeats (brother of Nobel prize winning poet W.B Yeats), Gerard Dillon and Nano Reid have painted here.

Brompton on the Wild Atlantic Way (S)

Roundstone, Co. Galway

Roundstone Harbour Co. Galway

The weather worsened as I left Roundstone. I continued along the coast road following the Wild Atlantic Way signs. It was now really wet and quite windy but I didn’t mind too much. It wasn’t cold and although I had a long way to go I had all day to do it. I had to join the R336 for the final twenty-five or so miles into Galway which became a much less pleasant experience. I guess I was on it during the rush hour as it was very busy and the rain which I didn’t mind on the quiet roads now meant I kept getting splashed by passing cars. I didn’t stop for any photos as it was it was quite misty and overcast and there wasn’t much point. I did stop at a shop in Spiddal but otherwise it was non-stop riding. Spiddal I had been too before and it is a very nice coastal town but not in this weather.

I had booked into Snoozles Hostel near Eyre Square and was very pleased to be there and get washed and a change of clothes and to get out of the rain. It is a very good place to stay really and again I’d recommend it. The torrential rain continued all evening when I went for a walk around the city centre in search of a warm dinner.

I was pleased with myself really, the coastal route from Clifden to Galway is about eighty miles, and again, although quite flat it was windy (and mostly very wet). I struggled more mentally with last twenty miles than I did physically. Getting constantly splashed with water by passing cars gets tiresome and reminded me why I prefer to avoid busy roads but I had little choice and again I have no complaints with the drivers I encountered. Being dangerously over-taken by camper vans on the bóithríní of west Connemara earlier in the day gave me much more cause for concern. The Brompton is perfectly capable and I found it enjoyable to ride and it can be ridden at a decent pace when required. I really should invest in some Brompton specific luggage set though as strapping a rucksack to the rear carrier isn’t ideal. I kept hitting it with my heels for a start. It is such a convenient bike to have as it can be easily taken on buses or in the boot of a car.

In the morning I got the bus home. I had packed a lot into two days riding and as always I wished I had more time. I enjoyed the Murrisk to Clifden ride much more than the final day to Galway and it wasn’t entirely due to the weather. I just found Mayo nicer in terms of scenery and the roads were much quieter and seemed less hectic – a much more relaxing experience all round. The Doolough Valley is probably the nicest place I’ve been to so far on my coastal journey. Clare and Kerry to follow at a later date but I will use my touring bike for that.

Killary Fjord, Co. Galway

Killary Fjord, Co. Galway

Doolough Valley, Co. Mayo

Doolough Valley, Co. Mayo

Old Head, Co. Mayo

Connemara Ponies

Glencolumbkille – Far from the madding crowd

Tags

, , , , ,

Glencolumbkille stones of Ireland

With all the good weather recently it was time for a little tour. Something that could be fitted into a weekend. A nice relaxing cycle break. I decided to return to Glencolumbkille, surely one of the most beautiful places in the entire country. Most of my tours have been longer multi-day events but this was to be a there-and-back ride. I wanted to experiment with this – the overnight stay extends your range as on a long day ride there is only so far you can go before you need to return home. This way I could go much further as I’d be spending the night and cycling home again the next day.

The advantage of just a purely overnight trip like this is the need to take less luggage. I only really needed to have a set of civilian clothes for the evening. Everything I would need would easily fit into my Carradice saddle bag. Panniers would not be required. A lightweight tour…is there ever such a thing?

In reality the distance to Glencolumbkille from home isn’t huge – probably around fifty-five miles but the hills I would be climbing are amongst the toughest Donegal has to offer a weary cyclist. With work and other commitments I haven’t done huge mileage this either so fifty-five would be enough. A nice little test of where my fitness was at before planning further tours during the summer.

I also feel that fifty or sixty miles is more than enough to aim for when touring. The idea is to enjoy the scenery, take your time and relax. If you aim to ride further than this I find it feels rushed and you lose the sense of relaxation. It also removes the time for the scenic stops and detours I often make and defeats the whole purpose of cycle-touring – the relaxation and freedom.

Another reason for doing a over-night ride on this particular weekend was that it was Donegal Rally weekend and the town becomes crazily busy and congested and the roads get taken over by people who think they are rally drivers. I can no longer be bothered with it. The rally stages are in the north of the county – Glencolumbkille is in the south and offered me a peaceful haven.

Bridge on R230, Glencolumbkille

I was going to be going over the top of An Malaidh Ghleann Gheis or Glengesh – literally the Glen of The Swans – an area of outstanding natural beauty but seriously tough on a bike. It climbs to around nine hundred feet above sea level over a few miles and the steepest part is 1/4 climb it is a good test of man and machine. So I elected to ride a bike with just six gears…

The truth is that none of my bikes have sort of gearing which would make this type of climb straight forward. I did climb it before on my Viscount with loaded panniers but I swore I would never do that again. I have been mostly riding my hybrid gear experiment Kalkhoff lately. I like riding this bike and the gear range is more than adequate for anything resembling normal terrain. This ride would involve a lot of undulation but apart from Ghleann Geis, none of it would offer any problems with a forty inch bottom gear. I’d just walk the toughest part. The bike wouldn’t be too heavily loaded to push and walking occasionally can be a nice break and change of pace. I had all day to do the ride.

I left Letterkenny late morning making my way to Fintown along mostly minor roads. The Fintown area of Donegal is some ways a hidden gem and I’ve written a little about it recently. The views across Lough Finn were stunning as always and this time the railway was operating. I didn’t ride the train but did stop and watch the 1920s diesel powered railcar pass by – a little gimpse into the past and a slower, gentler pace of life.

Fintown Railway

From Fintown I continued along the practically deserted main road to Glenties. Glenties (from Na Gleannta, meaning “the glens”) is situated on the northwest side of the Bluestack mountains where two glens meet. Evidence of settlements dating back to the bronze age exist and the modern town developed on the stopping place between the established towns of Killybegs and Ballybofey. The courthouse and market house were built in the 1840s and the Bank of Ireland building dates from 1880. It also became the summer home for the Marquess Conyngham who was attracted by the many fishing and hunting opportunities. I really like a large fountain which has been created in Glenties and it provided me with a nice relaxing place to eat my lunch.

Glenties

From Glenties I joined the N56 which is the main route to Ardara. Despite being a national primary route I’ve never found it busy or dangerous as some N-roads in more populated areas can be. As someone who cycles mostly on poorly surfaced minor roads it is amazing how effortlessly the bike glides a long on a smooth surface.

Ardara ( Ard an Rátha, meaning “height of the fort”) is another old settlement which offers views out to the Atlantic over Loughros point. As the Atlantic got closer, the headwind got stronger! I didn’t stop in Ardara this time but continued through it. About a mile or so outside Ardara on the N56 you turn left on to the R230 for Glencolumbkille and you slowly begin the climb up Gleann Geis. This is where the fun starts. It is gradual at first before you come to the really steep part after a few miles.

Glengesh Pass, co. Donegal

Eventually I arrived at the vantage point and layby at the top. It wasn’t that bad, I only got off and pushed on the steepest parts. The view across the Glen of the Swans make it well worth the effort (although I have never seen a swan here!). If you drive up it in a car you just don’t take in the stunning views on offer. It is always changing too as the light changes. There are few places more beautiful. Despite the heat it wasn’t particularly clear or sunny with overhanging mist but I find mist adds to the mystique and beauty of places like this.

Glengesh Pass, co. Donegal

Glengesh Pass, co. Donegal

From there it should have been reasonably straightforward to Glencolumbkille but the road is still climbing for the most part and now out of the shelter of the mountains I picked up a very strong headwind. I was getting good use from my two lowest gears today…

Glencolumbkille came into sight at last. It’s only a small town but it is in a particularly beautiful setting and is a great base for a hking trip to climb Sliabh Liag, the highest sea cliffs in Europe which rise to a height of 1971 feet above sea level. I wouldn’t be doing it this weekend as there simply wasn’t enough time but have done it in the past and would recommend it. St Columbkille lived in this area for a time and the ruins of four ancient churches and a holy well can be seen.

Glencolumbkille folk village

I checked into the wonderful Doey Hostel about a mile out of town, a place of real character and run by the lovely Mary, one of the few remaining real old Irish characters who on my previous cycle trip here told me that I must have committed some terrible sin in a previous life to have been given the penance of cycling over Gleann Geis!

After getting washed and changed I had something to eat in the cafe and took a walk along the beach and headland before going to the pub in search of live music. I did feel my day’s exertions in my legs though.

Glencolumbkille

I woke at about 7:30 the following morning. It was damp and misty with a gentle smur of rain. It was also very hot and sticky. I had breakfast and went for a walk along the beach and through the deserted village before picking up some supplies in the shop.

Standing stone, Glencolumbkille

I began my return journey at around 10:30 AM. The wind had died down over night, a shame as it would now have been behind me. It was still drizzling rain but far too hot to wear water proofs. The climb to the top of Gleann Geis is much easier and more gradual from the Glencolumbkille side. I stopped again at the vantage point at the top. Unlike the previous evening, it now seemed to have turned into a congrgation point for drivers, a few other cyclists and a group of hill walkers and we all talked and compared notes on our journey here and where we were going next. A coach load of German tourists stopped and added to the party. The mist really did restrict the view this time, but the mist on mountains add to the mystique for me. I forgot to take a photo this time.

The rest of the ride home was relatively uneventful. Ardara welcomed me with clear blue skies and sunshine as I left the mountains and the mist and rain behind. I felt much fitter and better on the bike than I did the day before.

It was a very relaxing and pleasant weekend but left me with the sense of being cheated! I wouldn’t have minded a few extra days to potter around the area at my leisure. On the plus side I have had a weekend away, a nice meal out, a few drinks, seen some amazing scenery and still had change from a €50 note. Touring doesn’t need to be expensive and indeed it could be done much cheaper.

The bike worked well too. The extra sprocket on the Sturmey Archer hub does usefully expand the gear range and it goes low enough for most purposes. In terms of it’s specification and gearing this isn’t hugely different from what a 1930s tourist would have considered state of the art and it still works fine today and is an interesting conversation point with other cyclists if they understand what I’ve done.

Even riding down a steep mountain pass with hairpin bends in the rain with chrome rims and long reach Altenberger brake callipers didn’t cause any undue concern as I controlled my speed from the top rather than let it get out of hand. The rims were very hot at the bottom!

Kalkhoff

Loch Finne agus An Mhuc Dhubh

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Lough Finn

For once it didn’t rain on a bank holiday weekend. The May Day bank holiday provided a nice temporary “ticket of leave” from gainful employment and glorious sunshine and cloudless skies made it prudent to spend it out and about on two wheels. Another day trip into the Donegal hills beckoned.

Fintown

I decided to go slightly further south this time, into the “midlands.” I had long meant to make a trip to Lough Finn, surely one of the most picturesque parts of the country. This lough is set deep in a valley and is the starting point of the River Finn which flows through the twin towns and on to Lifford before becoming part of the River Foyle on it’s way to the sea. Lough Finn or Loch Finne is named after a young woman in Irish mythology called Finngeal who is said to have drowned in the lake while trying to save her wounded brother Feargamhain. There was to be no such drama today, the lough waters were crystal clear and reflecting the afternoon sun of it’s mirror-like tranquil surface.

Lough Finn

The small traditional Irish village of Baile na Finne or Fintown in English is situated on the lough shore and is in part of the Donegal Gaeltacht with about 60% of the population said to be fluent in the Irish language. Being a bank holiday, the shop/post office in the village was closed and as I wasn’t in need of any alcoholic refreshments I didn’t actually speak to a single local in any language. It was to be a very quiet day with not many people to be found anywhere.

Fintown

My journey started in Letterkenny, leaving on the back roads through Old Town and passing the Newmills flax mill before joining the R250 main route to Fintown. The main roads in the west of Donegal are for the most part lightly trafficked and make excellent cycle routes. I had expected at least some traffic for the bank holiday but it was eerily quiet. I enjoyed this road very much, there are a lot hills to climb as you are riding through mountains but nothing too difficult as the road-builders of yesteryear had clearly found the flatest route through the mountains. It is therefore quite a winding road and you are either going up or down a hill at all times – there are no level parts. One or two of the hills are very long drags but there was nothing to cause me any problems.

I was riding my Kalkhoff with it’s hybrid derailleur/Sturmey Archer hub gear combination for the first time in quite a while and it worked very well in this terrain. The larger 22 tooth sprocket gives a bottom gear of around 40 gear inches which is low enough for anything resembling normal terrain and the smaller 19 tooth sprocket gives a top gear of around 83 inches which in my opinion is high enough for anyone not racing. It works like a sort of half-step gear system in practice and you can use the derailleur to split the difference between the wide ratio Sturmey gears. It sounds complicated but is actually very intuitive to use. I keep threatening to fit a 42/52 double chainset that I have in my box of bits to give twelve gears as a continuation of this experiment which would a much greater gear range but you’d almost need a degree in mathenatics to work out the gear change sequence. It works fine as it but I still feel like experimenting with it…

Fintown

The R250 winds it way through ever-changing scenery taking in mountain views, forests, rivers and boglands. I had never actually travelled on this road before but I will do so again. After the junction with R252 a few miles before you reach Fintown the shoreline of Lough Finn comes into view. This part of the road I had travelled before by car but never by bike. At slower speeds and out in the open, it is possible to fully appreciate the beauty of this region in a way that isn’t possible from behind the wheel. The internationally acclaimed playwright, Brian Friel commented that “What is on offer is a unique journey along the shores of a lake as grand as any in Switzerland or Minnesota.”

Lough Finn

In 1895, the Finn Valley Company opened a 24 mile stretch of narrow guage railway from Stranorlar to Glenties and the first train was to pass through Fintown station. The locals christened it An Mhuc Dhubh (the black pig). The name originated in a prophecy by St. Columbkille that there would never be peace in Ireland until the wild boars were to return to the shores of Lough Finn.

The journey took one hour and the service ran four times daily. It sounds slow today and indeed I could comfortably complete it in a lot less than two hours on a lightweight bike if I was willing to put the effort in but it revolutionised travel in the region when it took almost a full day by horse and cart and brough great employment both on and off the railway.

This line was to be one of the pioneering users of diesel power in the 1920s and played an important part during “The Emergency” as 18 wagon load of turf left Glenties daily to be used during the coal shortages of the war years. It went into decline after the war and the final passenger train ran in 1947 with the final freight train in 1952 as Donegal’s 200 mile rail network gradually ceased to exist as the motor car combined with an almost mass exodus of the population from the poorer regions in the extremities of the county made the rail network economically unviable.

That was the end of rail travel in Donegal but a small but new beginning started in Fintown in the early 1990s. Locals began work on re-opening and restoring a small section of line along the lough shore, gaining the support of various government, cross-border and EU agencies as work progressed. The first train ran in 1995 on the centennary of the opening if the original line. The finished result is about 5 KM in length and has now become a major tourist attraction. I understand the plan is to eventually continue the track to Glenties. The locomotive used is a diesel Simplex railcar dating from the 1920s. I understand that a further 500 metres of track has been added recently.

Fintown railway

It doesn’t open until June though so the station was locked and deserted with no-one to be seen anywhere. It is easy to cycle or walk the route though as it mostly runs parallel to the road so that’s what I did. It is definitely very scenic and peaceful as sheep graze the grass on the edge of the track and the views across the lake are excellent. Strong sunlight stopped me photographing it as I would have liked. The large “STAD” sign signifies the end of the line a few miles out of town on the road to Glenties. I can see why this section of track was re-opened and I’d love to see it continued to Glenties. It has brought a lot of tourists into the area and I’m pleased it has received the support and recognition. I must return during the summer months to make the journey by railcar.

Fintown railway

It was time to make the return journey which was mostly just a repeat of how I got here in the first place with a few small variations and detours. An estimated 50 miles completed, the outward leg completed in leisurely sight-seeing fashion, the return journey at a much brisker pace. I actually quite pleased as the terrain definitely isn’t easy and I made good time coming back so I haven’t lost too much fitness despite only cycling sporadically in the past few months.

Fintown railway
It was a very enjoyable afternoon, made even better by the beautiful weather and this route opens up potential for an overnight weekend ride as the Bluestack Mountains, Glencolumbkille and Donegal Town via minor roads aren’t that far from Glenties and all need further exploration. I hope to do this soon during the summer.

I’m pleased with the bike too. It might look like it was dredged out of a river but it rides well and the gear system works well and is something a little different to the norm. It really is a “bitsa” bike but none the worse for it. The frame is really a size too small for me but I can still get comfortable on it.

Kalkhoff

old track and sleepers

 

In the footsteps of Saints

Tags

, , , , , ,

After last week’s trip to Glenveagh I had mentally filed it’s near neighbour, the Lough Gartan area as an area that needed further exploration. The beautiful spring weather has continued this weekend and there seemed no time like the present.

Lough Gartan

Lough Gartan is another very picturesque part of Donegal just off the R251 road which links Letterkenny to Gweedore. The Parish of Gartan is probably best known as the birthplace of Naomh Colm Cille, usually Anglicised to St. Colmcille or St. Columbkille. In Scotland he is known as St. Columba. He is one of the most prominent church figures and founded several monasteries. He was born in the parish of Gartan in 521AD and is thought to be the great, great grandson of Niall of the Nine Hostages, a fifth century Irish King. According to Scottish Legends he also banished a terrible monster to the depth of Loch Ness. People are still looking for it…

Colmcille's Birthplace

He moved around a lot and is known to have studied at the Clonard Abbey in the Boyne Valley which was one of the main centres of learning in sixth century Ireland. It is thought that he had a row with Saint Finnian in 560 over a copy of the book of Psalms which he made and tried to keep but St. Finnian laid claim to it. This led to the 561 Battle of Cúl Dreimhne in what is modern day Co. Sligo in which many people were killed. This and his part in a dispute with King Diarmait brought the threat of excommunication from the church. Following advice from his elders, he accepted to go into exile. He went to the Isle of Iona on the west coast of Scotland where he founded a monastery and played a major role in converting the Picts to Christianity. According to Scottish legend he also banished a terrible to the depths of Loch Ness. People have been trying to find it ever since!

He died on Iona in 597 and is buried there and made a lasting contribution to Christianity in both Ireland and Scotland. Today if you follow the signposts a few miles of unmetalled road take you to what is supposed to have been his place of birth. A Celtic Cross and stone monument mark the spot.

Colmcille's Birthplace

A few miles further on is the ruins of an Abbey associated with him. I think the existing building (or what’s left of it) dates from the tenth century. I suspect the nearby cross is much older. There is also a holy well on the site. This is a delightful area to cycle in as the roads are deserted and you have beautiful lakeside views across the many small lakes. It was also nice in this fine spring afternoon to see the new lambs out on the hillside.

Columcille's Abbey

Columcille's Abbey

There is some tough climbing involved though and the gravel road surfaces could could cause problems for anyone riding on high pressure narrow racing tyres. I had no such problems on 26 x 1 3/8″ tyres. I guess this is what cycling must have been like before the second world war before cyclist began to get engineered out of the road network as motorised traffic was prioritised. You can’t ride fast on this type of road but it is a pleasant experience, much more so than the main roads. You have freedom of the open countryside with no diesel fumes or noise from fast moving traffic. You are at peace with your thoughts and surroundings and the silence is only broken by bleating lambs and the gentle tick of the Sturmey Archer hub. Even if you do meet a car it won’t be going fast enough to pose a danger.  Increasingly I like to find places like this and explore them on my three speed roadsters.

Lough Gartan

The other thing of note in the parish of Gartan is the Glebe Art Gallery. It is centred around Glebe House (or St. Columb’s Rectory as it was called originally) which was built in the regency style near the shoreline of Lough Gartan in the 1820s. It was the home of the Rev. Maturin from 1831 until his death in 1880. The Rev Maturin (along with Father Kerr, his RC counterpart in the area) was to play a major role in the events that brought infamy to this quiet, remote part of Co. Donegal in 1861 when he and Fr. Kerr appealed to Captain Adair for clemency for the tenants of the nearby Glenveagh estate during the Derryveagh evictions but their appeals and letters fell on deaf ears. They did help to raise money to assist the evicted families.

The house and gardens had become too expensive for the church to keep so following Maturin’s death in 1880 it was leased to tenants for a few years before being sold. It opened as St. Columb’s Hotel in 1898; housing guests for spring and salmon fishing in spring and summer and hunting in the autumn. It was to remain open as a hotel until 1953 although there were periods during 1916-1922 where it had been commandeered by the Royal Irish Constabulary, the IRA and the Free State Army at different stages of the independence struggle.

St. Columb's Rectory

The old rectory was to find a new and very distinguished owner in 1953. The famous landscape painter, Derek Hill was born in England in 1916. He was to spend a year painting in Mayo in 1946. In 1949 on a visit to Italy he was to meet Henry McIlhinney who owned Glenveagh castle at that time. McIlhinney invited him to come to Ireland to stay at Glenveagh Castle. He was to stay at Glenveagh on two occasions in 1949 and in 1951 and very much fell in love with the area. He bought St. Columbs Hotel in 1953 when it came up for sale and returned it to a private residence. He converted the stable block into an artist’s studio, modernised the house with the addition of central heating and electric light and turned the previously working garden into an informal woodland area and renamed St. Columb’s as Glebe House. He was to live there until 1981 when he decided to return to England.

Glebe Gallery

He donated the house, it’s entire contents and the land to the Irish Nation. For his contribution and unwavering support of the arts in Ireland he was awarded a doctorate from Trinity College and in 1998 was given Honorary Irish Citizenship. He died in London in 2000. His studio and guesthouse was turned into an art gallery giving a home to the Derek Hill collection and also as a location for travelling art exhibitions.

Today the Glebe is a beautiful place to visit. The gallery is open to the public with free admittance (normally! I managed to pick the one day they were closed to prepare for a major exhibition. I always seem to pick a bad day to visit these places) and the house is open to the public during the summer months. The gardens are magnificent and you could spend a very long time just walking around admiring the many different species of trees. You can walk right down to the water’s edge and during my visit on a calm sunny day the tranquil mirror-like surface of Lough Garten reflected the afternoon sun. The daffodils were nice to see as one of the signs of springtime.

Glebe Gallery Gardens

I had never before explored this area in any great detail but had passed close to it on many occasions.  I’m pleased I took the time to do so. It is an area of stunning natural beauty and treasure trove of historical interests. There is much more I could have done with more planning and research and there will be another time.

The roads in the area lend themselves to leisurely cycling and I thoroughly enjoyed the ride. I spent a lot of time and covered a lot of extra mileage just by making endless detours down minor roads to see what I found there! This is the best way to go touring really. I never like to be too regimented in my plans.

Record 3 speed

Again I found my humble three speed bike adequate. The upright riding position lends itself well to leisurely sight-seeing rides and the wider, lower pressure tyres take unmetalled roads in their stride. I would not like to have attempted this ride on a singlespeed but the Sturmey provides a low enough gear to make is easy most of the time and is a very practical and low maintenance gearing solution.

Glebe Gallery Gardens

As mentioned, once you stray off the R251, this area is many ways a timewarp back to what cycling must have been like in the first half of the twentieth century. The bike I was riding was (I think) built in Slovakia in the 1980s but it’s not hugely different in terms of frame geometry and in the way it rides to the classic Raleigh Sports bikes of the 1950s. I fitted alloy rims to mine so it stops in the rain and a larger rear sprocket to bring the gearing down to something more usable in the Donegal hills. Both then and now, the humble roadster is a very nice and pleasant way to explore the countryside on a Sunday afternoon. Proof that you don’t need to spend thousands on the latest carbon bike to enjoy cycling. I covered the best part of sixty miles taking in all sorts of terrain while wearing normal clothes.  Traditional cycle touring at it’s best.

Lough Gartan

Lough Gartan

Record 3 speed

Glebe Gallery

Gleann Bheatha – The Glen of the Birch Trees

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Lough Beagh
The Glenveagh Estate is located near the village of Churchill in northwest county Donegal and covers a vast area of around forty-two thousand acres in a very picturesque setting amidst the Derryveagh mountains. It’s the second largest national park in the country and it’s centrepiece is the castle and gardens which attract thousands of visitors each year. The castle is actually a relatively modern construction having been built c1870 in the Scottish Baronial style. It’s setting on the shore of Lough Beagh (or Lough Veagh) is a magnificent one giving a wonderful sense of peace and tranquillity and the gardens contain many different species of plants and flowers as well as artistic decorations.

Glenveagh Garden

It is a perfect place to escape the stresses of modern life and immense oneself in the beauty of nature with the many nature and lakeside walks. The castle is also open to the public. It is a place I have visited many times over the years, mostly to explore the grounds and to take photographs. It was a while since my last visit and I had marked it down as a destination for a day trip by bike for a while but had been waiting for the stretch in the evenings and nicer weather. The time had come.

Despite the tranquillity today the estate holds a dark and turbulent past.

Lough Beagh

The estate was created in the 1860s by County Laois born Captain John George Adair who had made his fortune in land speculation in the United States. After his return to Ireland he bought up huge tracts of land in north County Donegal. Along with his American wife (Cornelia Wadsworth Ritchie – the wealthy widowed daughter of a Union Army general) they set about their dream of a creating a retreat to match or surpass Queen Victoria’s Balmoral Estate in Scotland. Adair has passed into Donegal history, heritage, folklore and songbook as a cruel and heartless landlord, infamously evicting 244 tenants from their homes into the snow of April 1861 purely to clear the land to create a hunting retreat in what became known as the Derryveagh evictions. The evictions were overseen by a posse of over 200 RIC police constables as well as the resident magistrate and sheriff from Letterkenny. Many of those evicted were sent to the Letterkenny workhouse. Many others were forced to emigrate with the help of a relief fund raised by the local clergy. It was said that a curse was placed on the castle due to the cruel evictions which resulted in Adair and the subsequent owners being unable to bear any heirs to the family name.

Glenveagh Castle

Adair was never to realise his dream as he died suddenly in 1885. His widow continued to run the estate and carried out many changes and improvements. She became a noted society hostess and continued to spend her summers in Glenveagh until 1916 when declining health made travel difficult and she died in London in 1921.

After the death of Cornelia Adair the castle was to fall into disrepair and was occupied at different times during the Civil War by both the Free State Army and the irregular forces.

Glenveagh Castle

Eventually the estate was to find a new owner in 1929 when it was bought by Professor Arthur Kingsley-Porter of Harvard University who came to Ireland to study Irish archaeology and culture. The Kingsley-Porters entertained many Irish literacy and artistic figures during their time there including A.E. Russell whose paintings still adorn the walls of the castle. Their tenure was to be a short one however as the Professor was to mysteriously disappear during a stay on Inishbofin Island in 1933 when he went out for a walk and never returned and his body was never found.

The estate was bought by Mr Henry McIlhenny of Philadelphia who bought the estate in 1937. He was to be the final private owner. He was a wealthy Irish-American whose family had originated in nearby Milford. He devoted a lot of time to restoring and improving the castle and the gardens and visited frequently. Eventually as he grew older, he found travelling from the USA to Ireland too tiresome and the upkeep of the estate was becoming a financial burden so in 1975 he sold the estate to the Office of Public Works to be opened as a National Park. In 1983, he bestowed the castle, it’s gardens and most of it’s contents to the Irish Nation.

Glenveagh Castle

Glenveagh National Park was opened to the public in 1984 and the castle was opened to the public in 1987 and both have become a major tourist attraction in the intervening years. Today it is a very pleasant day out. The roads in the surrounding area are also a cyclist’s paradise, being mostly winding and undulating in nature and for the most part, very lightly trafficked outside of peak tourist periods.

Travelling from Letterkenny, my preferred route is to go via Newmills and Chruchill on the R251 rather than follow the signposted route on the N56 vis Kilmecrennan. Kilmacrennan
is worthy of a visit in itself and I’ve written about it in the past as well as the stunning Lough Salt Drive but it’s a high speed national primary route and Churchill route is even more beautiful in my opinion. It takes you past the Newmills flax mill which I’ve also written about before and then the terrain starts to get interesting as you reach the foothills of the Derryveagh mountains.

First of all Lough Gartan hovers into view. This area is the birthplace of St. Columbkille and there is a history centre you can visit and also the Glebe Art Gallery situated on a beautiful lakeside location but I’ll keep those for another day. Glenveagh was my intended destination today.

Lough Gartan

The road starts to get steeper after that as you near the village of Churchill. It is only a very small village with predictably a church but also some old pubs which date back over a century, an old courthouse and what I suspect (judging by the architecture) was originally a Royal Irish Constabulary barracks which has now been renovated into a dwelling house. The roads around Churchill are tough but manageable on bike. I had planned a leisurely ride so had took an old three speed and found the gearing was perfectly adequate.

After you leave Churchill the road starts to level out as you pass through bog land. The flat topped Muckish Mountain (An Mhucais – the pig’s back) starts to come into view. I was blessed with an unusually clear view of it. A very high quality grade of quartz sand was mined on Muckish mountains for many years and was exported for use in manufacture of optical instruments and other high quality glass.

Muckish Mountain (An Mhucais)

You do need to join the main N56 for the final few miles to the National Park. Traffic was light enough and it’s not bad to ride on, a little hilly perhaps but the scenery is second to none. Once you arrive at the National park there is a comprehensive visitors centre with cafe, shop, etc as well as historical exhibits. Admittance is free. I didn’t visit it on this occasion.

It is possible to get a bus from the car park to the castle (a journey of 4KM according to the signposts) but there is now a shared use path which you can cycle on and keep out of the way of the buses and other estate traffic. There is also a company offering cycle hire nowadays.
The journey to the castle is a pleasant one, but needs to be done at a leisurely pace due to sharing with pedestrians and a bell is definitely recommended. You pass along the shore of the lake and also through wooded areas. The final few hundred yards is through the castle gardens and cyclists need to dismount for this part. You do need to pay an admittance charge to see the castle but I didn’t. I’ve been before and seeing around stately homes is not really my thing. There is also a nice cafe at the castle if you are in need of refreshments and an outdoor music and dance event takes place annually during the Errigal Arts Festival and it is worth of attending.

Lough Beagh

You could spend many hours exploring the gardens although it is better in Summer when everything is in full bloom. From behind the castle you can go down steps to the water’s edge where there is a small boathouse and oddly enough in an area not renowned for it’s warm, dry climate there is an outdoor swimming pool. I note a change since my last visit. One of my favourite photo spots used to be right on the edge of the water at the bottom of the steps that lead into it but clearly the health and safety people have been and you can no longer access it due to a fence. There is also a tower you can climb to get a better view of the Lough.

Lough Beagh

I continued on the lakeside path for another few miles beyond the castle. It isn’t as well surfaced from the castle onwards but is almost entirely devoid of people. You pass a large waterfall down the mountainside and into the lake. Eventually you find yourself riding along the River Owenacoo into which Lough Beagh empties. You will pass a number of small estate cottages/buildings on this route and also the old disused sawmill which was powered by a Lister diesel engine. The machinery and the engine are still in place.

Glenveagh National Park

Eventually I turned and made my way back to civilisation. This was definitely not an exhaustive tour of the Glenveagh estate as there are thousands of acres with many paths and possibilities but I had limited time as I had to cycle home again, preferably in daylight. I like it best along the lake, the views are stunning and ever-changing depending on the lighting. I was there on a very clear day but on misty overcast days the lough and the mountains that enclose it can look completely different from one moment to the next as the mist lifts and descends.

It was time to make my way home again. If I’d had time I’d have liked to have ridden the further ten miles or so on the N56 past Mt. Errigal to the vantage point which over-looks Dún Lúiche and The Poisoned Glen, one of the best views in the entire country in my opinion. It is even better from the top of Errigal which is well worth of climbing.

The return journey was uneventful, peaceful really and the roads almost completely devoid of traffic until I reached Letterkenny. With recently changing circumstances I haven’t had much opportunity for long bike rides recently and it was great to experience the freedom of the open road again, and I was really lucky with the weather. In fact I got slightly sunburned on this glorious March afternoon and I had set off with too much clothing. There is so much in the northwest of Donegal which needs further exploration and I must make time to do it. We sometimes overlook what is on our own doorstep.

Leannan River

I have started to favour upright bikes for these types of rides. It’s not about speed but about taking in the surroundings and enjoying the moment. Three gears are enough!

Lough Beagh

Record 3 speed

Record 3 speed

 

 

Wild Atlantic Way Part IV – Kinsale and West Cork

Tags

, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Old Head of Kinsale

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.

Kinsale Harbour

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.

Brompton packed for travel

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.

Kinsale Harbour, co. Cork

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.

Old Head of Kinsale

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.

Old Head of Kinsale

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.

Memorial to HMS Lusitiania

Memorial to HMS Lusitiania

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.

Lookout Tower, Old Head of Kinsale

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.

Anne Bonney memorial

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.

Timoleague Abbey on Wild Atlantic Way

Timoleague Abbey

Old Post and Telegraph phone box, Timoleague

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.

Noel Redding Memorial

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.

Gun from HMS Migonette

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.

Red Strand, Clonakilty

Galley Head Lighthouse, Co. Cork

O' Suilleabhain's Pub, Ardfield

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.

Old OS Mile Post on the N71, West Cork

West Cork Coastal route

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!

Drombeg Stone Circle, Co. Cork

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.

Glandore, Co. Cork

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, 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.

Union Hall, Co. Cork

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.

Castletownshend Main Street, Co. Cork

Sundial House, Castletownshend, Co. Cork

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.

Brompton on Wild Atlantic Way

Old Irish signpost, Castletownshend

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.

Liss Ard Gatehouse, Co. Cork

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.

Baltimore, Co. Cork

Baltimore, Co. Cork

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.

Baltimore, Co. Cork

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.

Dún na Séad Castle

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.

Beacon, Baltimore, Co. Cork

Baltimore, Co. Cork

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.

Inishbeg, Co. Cork

Inishbeg Bridge, Co. Cork

Inishbeg, Co. Cork

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.

Creagh Parish Church, Co. Cork

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.

Galway City Hire bikes

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).

Raleigh Merlin

Post Office bike, Galway city

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!

Inishbeg, Co. Cork

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!

Brompton on Wild Atlantic Way

Rosscarberry, Co. Cork

Baltimore, Co. Cork

Kinsale Beach

Beltany Stone Circle

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Not far from where I live there is a neolithic stone circle dating from perhaps 1400BC and is located on a hill top approximately two kilometres from the town of Raphoe. It (and the surrounding townland) is known as Beltany from the Gaelic Lá Bealtaine  which is one of the four traditional seasonal festivals in the Gaelic/Celtic calendar. It is usually held on the first of May and relates to the halfway point between the Spring Equinox and the Summer Solstice.

1977 Carlton & Beltany Stone Circle

Lá Bealtaine is mentioned in the earliest Irish literature and marked the beginning of summer when cattle were led into summer pastures and bonfires were held and the ashes and the smoke from the bonfires were considered to have protective powers and rituals were performed to protect the cattle, crops and the people.

It’s not clear today exactly what the purpose of the stone circle would have been but it probably had religious and ceremonial importance and was in use for many centuries. A stone head found at the circle has been dated from anywhere between 400BC to 400AD which proves the long use that this site had. I have also seen suggestions that it was originally a passage tomb type grave similar to the famous ones of the Boyne Valley but had collapsed internally leaving just the perimeter stones. I don’t know if this is true. Today, sixty-four stones remain. It’s thought there would have been eighty originally. There is a single stone out on it’s own which stands two metres high to the southeast of the main circle and it is believed that this had ceremonial importance.

Beltany Stone Circle

Beltany Stone Circle

I guess we will never know the true purpose of the monument but it must have been considered important enough to erect such a structure using very heavy blocks of stone when tools and methods were primitive and labour intensive. Today, it is in the care of the Office of Public Works and what remains is an impressive monument and like all neolithic monuments leaves the sense of wonder of how the stones were put into position and what the true purpose was. Due to it’s location it also offers an incredible panoramic view of the surrounding area although the view across Raphoe has been blocked by a conifer plantation.

Beltany Stone Circle

It is well worth a visit, especially on a clear day where you can see the clear views of the surrounding countryside. It is also worth visiting on foggy days to experience the mystique of it all. Today was a nice clear winter’s day. I went out for a ride and on a whim and sudden change of plan I decided to pay a visit. The climb up to it is a long drag with a really sharp hairpin type corner which makes it difficult as you almost need to stop to negotiate the bend and there is a sudden sharp climb as you do so so it is difficult to maintain enough momentum to keep riding. I noted that yet again this year I see another road sign in Donegal with an incorrectly spelled place name!

1977 Carlton

I hadn’t planned to go here when I left the house or I wouldn’t have chosen a fixed wheel bike but it was still manageable and I actually enjoyed the climb, although it was definitely tough in places. I’m actually pleased with my fitness as I fully expected to have to have to get off and walk but I made it. The last half mile or so is on a narrow un-metalled piece of road which is closed to vehicular traffic but can be cycled and is also a popular route for horse riders and mountain bikers as the path extends through the forest. My 28mm slick tyres were less than ideal on this surface though. You come to a gate just before the path enters the forest and you can enter at the gate and walk the final few hundred yards to the stone circle.

1977 Carlton

I expected to be the only visitor but there was a car load of Polish people taking photos. I took a few photos myself before leaving again. I wish I had brought binoculars to fully take in the views. If you come here in the right lighting conditions just as sun sets below the horizon, there are some amazing photo opportunities for anyone skilled in the use of filters to really show up the different colours.

I continued on my way towards Raphoe. There is a long descent in this direction. I haven’t rode a fixed wheel bike regularly for a few years now so there was to be no thirty miles-per-hour crazy cadence descending today. I realised I need to work myself back up to that again, I found myself feathering the rear brake to keep things sensible.

1977 Carlton

I re-joined my usual route to Raphoe at what has always been known as the railway gates adjacent to where the old County Donegal Railway station once stood. The line crossed the road here on it’s way to Strabane from Letterkenny and there was a level crossing, hence the name railway gates. The railway line closed in January 1960 and the station yard and buildings were used by a local hardware shop for storage of timber and grain until quite recently but sadly it has all been demolished in the past few years.

My route took me past Raphoe Castle (or Bishop’s Palace). The castle was built by Reverend John Leslie (a royalist and Bishop of Raphoe) in the 1630s using stones from an earlier round tower. The castle has had turbulent history. It was besieged during the 1641 Rebellion and again during the 1650 Cromwellian Rebellion when it was surrendered to the Cromwellian Army. Unlike most bishops in Ireland, Leslie did survive and regain his seat during the restoration of 1660. It was attacked again by supporters of King James II in 1689 prior to the Siege of Derry and in 1798  it was again under siege from the United Irishmen during the 1798 Rebellion. It was burned to the ground by an accidental fire in 1838. An eye-witness account of this fire can be read in a 1905 book called “The Laggan and it’s Presbyterianism” by the Rev. Lecky. The thing that always interested me about the ruins of the castle is the almost total absence of interior walls but they were apparently built from sods of peat which burned during the fire. This building technique wasn’t unusual at the time as it saved stone.

Raphoe Castle (Bishop Leslie's Palace)

The Royal School House is located quite close to the castle in Sheep’s Lane. This building dates from 1608 and the formation of the Royal School (one of 5 in the province of Ulster which were built by Royal Charter from King James I). The school is still in operation today although now in a newer, larger building located on the Derry Road which was built in 1971 when the Royal School amalgamated with the Prior School in Lifford which has seen many extensions over the years. The old Royal School House is now used as accommodation for boarders.

Royal School House Raphoe

From there I cycled past the Deanery at Oakfield Demesne. The Deanery was built in 1739 for the Dean of Raphoe and remained in use as a Deanery until 1869. It was then sold to Captain Stoney of the Donegal Militia who added to the estate over the years by buying more property including the ruins of the Bishop’s Palace and Oakfield remained the property of the Stoney family into the 1930s. After changing hands a number of times and slowly falling into disrepair, it was bought by Sir Gerry Robinson in 1996 who commenced an intensive restoration programme carrying out much work to the house, the estate and the gardens. The gardens are now open to the public during the summer months and there is now a small railway of almost five kilometres in length which passes through the gardens and a miniature steam locomotive to pull the train. The train and the track need an annual inspection from CIÉ as they are used for fare paying passengers. The Robinsons also created a man-made lake and built a tower to resemble one corner of the Bishop’s Palace on it’s shoreline.

Oakfield Park

Oakfield Park

I continued from there doing a loop which took me through the townlands of Lettergull and Feedyglass before returning home via Raphoe and Convoy. Lettergull was the home of Sarah Leech (1809-1830), a noted poet in Ulster-Scots dialect – one of the weaver poets. Sadly she passed away at a tragically young age.

leech2

leech1

My mileage total for today only ran to about twenty-five miles. Not a huge distance but it took in a lot of climbing, some walking and I had over three millennia  of history to ponder. Sometimes in our haste to explore faraway fields, we overlook what is on our own doorstep and there is plenty more that would have been worthy of a mention. The oldest part of the Church of Ireland cathedral in Raphoe dates from the twelfth century. The Volt House in Raphoe was built in 1732 as a home for the widows of deceased clergymen and also has a long history. The Ordnance Survey report of 1835 suggests it received it’s name from a vault beneath it which contains the remains of dead friars. As the town of Raphoe is also the seat of the diocese for both the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches (although the RC cathedral is actually in nearby Letterkenny) it is officially in the eyes of the churches a cathedral city so is actually the smallest city in Europe with a population of around 1,100 people.

My bike for the day was my 1977 Carlton Reynolds 531 frame. The frame actually looks older to me but the frame number suggests May 1977. I bought this bike at a car boot sale many years ago now and it was my first lightweight and a revelation compared to the cheap mountain bike I was riding at the time. It was also my first experience of fixed wheel riding. I rode it for thousands of miles but like most of my bikes it’s received some modifications!

1977 Carlton

1977 Carlton

I did a lot of riding in the dark over the winter in those days so invested in German dynamo lights and bottle dynamo and they were a revelation compared to any previous cycle light I had tried. Time moves on and the Lumotec + Halogen headlamp is not state of the art (it wasn’t when I bought it either but LED lamps were very expensive then) but still perfectly adequate. I love the fit and forget nature of dynamo lighting. I covered thousands of miles of night riding on this bike, the dynamo roller is now almost worn out and will soon need to be replaced and in all that time I only once had to replace the headlamp bulb. Compare that to the cost of replacing/recharging batteries and the lights are always there and always work as there is no battery to go flat.

Busch & Muller Lumotec+ Halogen

I replaced the original cottered chainset for a modern replacement with square taper bottom bracket. This was mainly a necessity upgrade as the threads were very poor on the bottom bracket shell and the bottom bracket cups kept coming loose so I fitted a threadless cartridge bottom bracket. It has never needed any attention and still spins smoothly.

Apex Inflator Company

The frame was quite tatty when I got it and winter riding had taken it’s toll leading me to carry out a repaint c2010. I sort of retired the bike from front line service then to keep as a good bike! The other issue that had come to light was the tyres. The bike has quite tight clearances and short reach Weinmann brakes with 27″ tyres. To keep the mudguards it needs 27 x 1 1/8″ tyres, now a more or less obsolete size. The only tyre I could get in that size for many years were Continental Ultrasports which I found constantly punctured and I basically got bored with fixing punctures every time I went for a ride so I stopped using the bike. The bike now has cheap tyres in that size which I got from German Ebay and although heavier than the Continental tyres they at least seem to have decent puncture protection.

1977 Carlton

The oddity with the bike is that it came to me with a set of North Road bars fitted. I would hazard a guess that it would have had drop bars when it left the factory. I can only imagine that a previous owner changed them. I have at times considered getting a set of period drop bars for it but haven’t done so. I find it comfortable as it is so if it isn’t broke – don’t fix it. The bike had a Wrights leather saddle originally which gave up the ghost a few years ago so it was replaced with a Spa Cycles leather saddle. As I haven’t ridden the bike that much recently it is still in the process of being broken in but it is comfortable enough and substantially cheaper than a Brooks.

Spa Cycles Saddle

Today was actually the first time in 2016 that I actually rode my Carlton. I now realise it was an oversight! It rides great, maybe I just suddenly appreciate it’s light weight and responsive ride quality after doing a lot of miles on an old mountain bike recently but I remembered today why I loved this bike so much and fixed wheel is much more useable than many realise if you ride with a sensible gear ratio. This bike actually has a double sided hub with freewheel on the other side but I have never actually tried riding it in freewheel mode.

Carradice Of Nelson

I plan on doing more fixed miles in the current month. I’m happy to ride the Carlton now as there is no salt on the roads but I think I will look out and service my winter fixed wheeler as fixed wheel is a lot of fun and great for fitness.

1977 Carlton

1977 Carlton

1977 Carlton

A voyage into the unknown: Shimano 8 speed service

Tags

, , , ,

My Shimano Alfine 8 speed hub is my first modern hub gear. I have built it into a Muddy Fox Courier as detailed in previous blog entries. I have used this bike a lot in the past year for short distance utility riding and sporadically for the occasional weekend tour or long day ride. The more I’ve used it (and ironed out a few other bugs with the bike itself) the more I’ve come to appreciate it as an excellent and very practical piece of kit. The gear range is adequate for most purposes and it is so much easier to maintain than a derailleur equipped bike as all you really need to do is to oil the chain. I’ve always found chains on single speed/hub geared bikes stay cleaner and last longer which is a further advantage. Hub gears do need to be periodically stripped for service and inspection though. This scares people. I’ve done it with Sturmey Archer AW3 hubs without problems. I had now exceeded the recommended 2,000KM interval for my Shimano hub’s first service. It was time to find out what was inside this box of mystery!

Shimano use grease lubrication (as do modern Sturmey 3 speeders) which is unfortunate in my opinion as old hub gears with oil ports to a large extent were self-servicing as the the oil level was always being replenished and the leaking excess probably takes any dirt or grindings out with it. Grease, on the other hand, goes hard and loses it’s lubricating properties with age. Opinions vary and there are many recommendations and theories out there on the internet about how best to maintain a Shimano hub gear. It seems as if all Shimano themselves recommend is a simple oil bath for the internals – the fresh oil replenishes the lubricating properties of the grease and should flush out any dirt that has found it’s way in. The hub was still running smoothly and working as it should so I admit I had been putting it off but hedge cuttings had punctured the tyre (the first on my Continental tyre in 1,800 miles – not too bad) so the wheel had to be removed anyway so it seemed like a good time to service the hub.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Like any hub geared bike, wheel removal is more time consuming than with a derailleur. The gear change cable needs to be unclipped – there is a small hole where you can insert a 2mm Allen key or similar to twist the cassette joint around to release the tension and pop the anchor bolt out of place and then unclip the cable outer from it’s support. Then the axle nuts can be unscrewed to slide the wheel out of the forward facing drop outs (frame design varies). As I have a huge 2″ tyre, it is necessary with my frame to deflate the tyre to get the wheel out but as the tyre was punctured, it was more straightforward! Mine has ccantilever brakes which have an easy quick release to make it easier to get the tyre past the brake pads. As with any hub gear, there are anti-rotation washers and if working on a bike you aren’t familiar with, pay attention to how they fit. Shimano make a range of different types to cater for different drop-out angles and they can be identified by their colour.

With the wheel now removed, it was time to start work on the hub. Start by removing the axle nuts and washers, etc and as mentioned, pay attention to how they were fitted to avoid problems later. The “cassette joint” which controls the gear selection needs to be removed. It is a simple procedure, just twist the lockring to unclip it and then lift it off, followed by the sealing ring. It is considered a bad idea to get oil or grease inside the cassette joint as it may attract dirt which will interfere with it’s operation. You can then remove the sprocket. Like a Sturmey hub, it is held on with a spring clip which can be popped off with a small flat bladed screwdriver. Hold your hand over it when taking it off as it could spring into oblivion, never to be seen again! The sprocket can then be lifted off. Most will have a dish to aid chainline adjustment – again make a note of how it is fitted. There is another sealing ring to lift off beneath the sprocket.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Now that the external parts are removed it is time to start on the interesting part. First unscrew the non-driveside bearing cone. It is the standard cycle hub arrangement with a cone and locknut. Use a cone spanner on the thin flat on the cone and the locknut is very thick so easily accepts a standard spanner. These hubs come in mountain bike 135mm spacing which is convenient as I was using an old mountain bike frame but you could potentially replace the thick locknuts with thin ones to reduce the spacing for a road frame. Not sure how this would work in practice but it should work in theory!

Once the  non-driveside cone is removed you can prepare to remove the hub internals. A large plastic cover is screwed on to keep it in place and this needs to be unscrewed to slide the mechanism out. This has a left-hand thread so needs to be unscrewed clockwise. There are directional arrows on it to indicate this. Shimano sell a special tool to fit it but I just gripped it with a large pair of waterpump pliers. It shouldn’t be tight and being plastic it cannot corrode in place.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

You can then slide the gearing mechanism out into the open. Initial impressions were good. The inside was clean and corrosion free so the seals had done their job. The bearing races were all shiny and unworn. There was no signs of wear or damage on any of the visible cogwheels and no grindings to be seen. This bike has been used in all weather conditions and ridden in many muddy pathways. The grease had a slightly milky appearance, I’m unsure whether this is due to some small amount of water contamination or just the natural colour of the very thin grease used at the factory.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

The main gear cluster can be slid from the axle once a spring washer is removed. I cleaned the inside of the hub shell and it was then time for the oil bath. Shimano sell a special but expensive “dunking” oil for this purpose but it is quite expensive and I’m not sure where I could source it. The majority of people just use automatic transmission or power steering fluid which is easily and cheaply available and many people will already have it in their garage. Since none of my cars or tractors have either auto transmission or power steering I had to buy a one-litre bottle of it.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

A cut-down large plastic bottle is fine for the oil bath. Just ensure it is dirt and moisture free before using. I set the gear cluster into the base of the bottle and poured in enough of the ATF to submerge it and left it too soak for a while. I then suspended it above the bottle to allow the excess to drain in accordance with Shimano’s instructions. I poured a little of the ATF on to the gear selecting mechanism which remains as part of the axle and allowed it to soak.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

I applied fresh grease to all bearings as outlined in the maintenance schedule. This is important, partly for lubrication but also the grease in the outer bearings on which the wheel turns helps to seal it and keep moisture out of the hub shell.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Re-assembly can then begin. The gear cluster is put back on to the axle and secured with the spring washer and then the whole mechanism can be slid back into the hub shell. The large plastic cover is then tightened in an anti-clockwise direction to keep it in place and to keep dirt out. You can then refit the non-driveside cone and locknut, taking care to get the bearing adjustment correct. I cleaned the sprocket before refitting it along with the seal which fits beneath it.

It was then time to fit the cassette joint again. The seal goes on first, the inner part of the cassette joint is then fitted, taking care to line it up with the red mark to ensure it is in the correct position. This is critical as it would seriously affect gear selection if it is wrong.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

The lockring can then be fitted, align it with the yellow dot and then twist it a quarter turn clockwise to lock it into position. Then replace all washers, ensuring the anti-rotation washers are positioned correctly and finally the wheel nuts.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

The wheel would be ready to install but I had a puncture to repair first. I also removed the chain from the bike as it was very dirty and washed it in diesel before allowing to soak in car engine oil for lubrication. I also had a link to remove and a half-link to add to the chain as it had always been slightly too loose previously.

With the puncture repaired and the freshly oiled chain re-fitted to the bike, the wheel could then be put back in the bike.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

Unlike the AW3 hubs, removing the wheel should not interfere with gear cable adjustment but it is prudent to double check it anyway in my opinion as correct cable adjustment is highly critical for any hub gear as having it out of adjustment could cause gears to slip and drastically shorten the lifespan of the hub gear. On the Alfine 8, you shift down to first, then shift up to fifth gear and then shift down to fourth gear. With the shifter in fourth gear, the yellow lines on the cassette joint should be in complete alignment. If not, use the barrel adjuster on the shifter to adjust.

Shimano  Alfine 8 Service

After seeing inside my hub, I was unsure whether or no the oil bath was actually necessary but now having ridden the bike, it does seem to feel smoother and that should be all the maintenance my gear system needs until next year. I definitely think that for normal utility riding, hub gearing is definitely preferable to derailleur and the wide range of this hub makes it a perfectly viable touring bike too. I think it is a great piece of kit and does everything it is supposed to do.

 

Brompton: A new toy!

Tags

, , , , , , ,

Brompton

There are many advantages to owning a folding bike – ease of storage, ease of putting in car boot or carrying on buses, etc. Small wheeled bikes are pretty decent as utility bikes too as the small wheels mean you can carry heavy loads without having too much effect on the centre of gravity and if you regularly ride in city traffic (I don’t) they are more nimble and should accelerate faster than their large wheeled counterparts (I’m talking about other large wheeled three speeds and not carbon racing bikes here). Small wheels will also be stronger and lighter for the same spoke count.

A small wheel in theory will give an inferior ride quality as it won’t roll over bumps as well (some people dispute this but try going over a cattlegrid on roller skates) and have higher rolling resistance. However I already own two twenty inch wheeled bikes (a Raleigh Twenty mentioned in this blog previously) and also Puch Pic-Nic and have never found either particularly harsh except in extreme conditions. A large wheeled bike does roll better though, you notice it when freewheeling downhill.

Small Wheel Ride 2014 -1974 Puch Picn-nic

Raleigh Twenty and Errigal

The Raleigh Twenty is a lovely bike to ride by any standards but it is a very poor effort at a folding bike. The folded bike is heavy and cumbersome. The Puch Pic-Nic is a bit better in this regard but I don’t find it particularly nice to ride. It is fine and actually very comfortable on reasonably level terrain but it is very hard work on hills despite me lowering the gearing. The frame seems really flexible. It would be fine for around town or short journeys but definitely not something you’d want to cover any more than a few miles on at a time.

One of the most highly regarded folding bike – both in terms of ride quality and the compactness of the folded item is the Brompton. I have ridden Bromptons belonging to other people and they do ride really well. They are also very high quality machines and pretty durable and superbly engineered. Unlike the majority of today’s bikes (which mostly originate from the far East due to production costs), they are still manufactured in England. All this comes at a cost of course: a Brompton is not cheap. A very quick online search suggests prices start at around €1,500 for a basic two speed version. It’s not as expensive as it seems in reality as it a practical commuter bike kitted out with rack, mudguards etc and it should last a very long time with care; certainly it is more usable to most people and will last longer than a similarly priced carbon racing bike.

It is more than I would be willing to pay however. I have always fancied owning a Brompton but could never justify spending that sort of money on it as I own many bikes already. I have often watched Ebay closely looking for a second-hand one at a reasonable cost. I have the skills and equipment to refurbish one if necessary so it didn’t need to be in tip-top condition if the price was right. After many years I found such a Brompton. The add suggested it hadn’t covered any serious mileage but had sat unused for a long period of time and needed a service to recommission it.

Brompton service

There is always a risk when buying a second-hand bike unseen but the bike arrived and had been accurately described by the vendor which possibly makes a nice change. The cables were a bit sticky, the bolts which hold the hinges together were dry and rusty, the Sturmey Archer three speed hub seemed to be a bit sluggish to change gear (other gear systems are available but I think three gears should be enough for most purposes). The headset was very loose. There were some chips in the paint and a little rust breaking out but nothing to worry about. On the plus side the tyres appear to be original with plenty of life left in them and the brake pads are also like brand new. I was happy with my purchase, it just needed a little TLC.

I have never worked on a Brompton before and wasn’t really sure what to expect but it’s all pretty straightforward. The headset was first on my agenda. It looks like a standard quill stem and threaded headset. The trick is that the expander bolt is hidden when the bars are in the riding position, you need to fold them to unscrew the expander bold to remove the stem. The stem proved to be stuck in the steerer tube, not unusual on a neglected bike but here it was steel on steel so easily dealt with. The alloy stems on road bikes can be a much bigger problem due to galvanic corrosion between steel and aluminium.

Brompton service

After the stem was removed it was easy to open the headset by unscrewing the locknut, removing the tabbed washer and then unscrewing the bearing race. I could probably have got by with just tightening the loose headset but I decided to have a look and replace the grease. The headset is the caged ball bearing type and the grease was hardened up and also there wasn’t very much of it. I would normally have replaced the caged bearings with loose balls at this point as I believe it is better but an oversight meant I didn’t have any 3/32“ bearings in stock so I washed the originals, they looked okay and I rebuilt the headset with fresh grease and adjusted it properly this time. I found it tricky to re-install the stem as normally I’d straddle the frame and line the bars up with the front tyre but it wasn’t possible as the stem had to be folded to access the expander bolt. A few attempts were necessary.

Brompton service - headset

The other thing I had noted from my brief exploratory test ride was the usual old problem with three speed bikes – ridiculous gearing. I live in a hilly area and prefer to gear my Sturmey bikes lower than the factory provided ratios. I needed to do it to this bike too. I’m not used to dealing with 16“ wheels so had to do some maths. The original gearing was 50/13. I would liked to have fitted a 16 tooth sprocket but apparently there isn’t room on the frame for one. 15 is the maximum so I had sourced one of these online before I had started my service. I now have a bottom gear of forty gear-inches. In fairness the original gearing isn’t as high as some I’d come across and would have worked fine on a lightweight but not on a small wheeled utility bike.

When removing the rear wheel of Brompton you need to deal with the chain tensioner which some people say is difficult but I didn’t find any real problem with it. It just means you have an extra nut to remove when taking the wheel off. The sprocket change is very straightforward on any Sturmey built from the early 1950s onwards – just pop of the sprung clip and replace the sprocket – paying attention to the shims and dish on the sprocket which adjust the chainline. The smaller Sturmey sprockets as used on the Brompton only come in undished anyway so it’s one less thing to think about.

Brompton service

Brompton service

I mentioned that the hub seemed a bit sluggish but apparently operational in other ways. This is the later grease lubricated Sturmey Archer hub (a bad idea in my opinion – the oil ported versions might be a bit messy but are easy to lubricate) and it is also the upgraded type with no neutral between second and third gear (this is a good thing). I suspected the grease inside the hub had gone hard with age which was causing the sluggishness when changing gear. I had also noted the absence of the traditional Sturmey “tick” which convinced me the grease was too thick/hard. The correct course of action is of course to dismantle the hub, wash it out and refill with the appropriate Sturmey Archer approved grease. I did the lazy version and set the wheel on it’s side and pumped some motor oil through the toggle chain hole and left it to sit for a while. The oil will soften and replenish the grease. An extra link had to be added to the chain to accommodate the larger sprocket. The original chain wasn’t worn so should mesh fine with the new sprocket. The additional link was robbed from a spare chain.

Brompton service

The bike has a sealed cartidge bottom bracket so that needed no attention. The front hub seemed okay so I left it for now. The pedal bearings also seemed okay. The other thing I had noted was that I found the seat post slightly too short for someone of my height. Extended and telescopic seatposts are available but are expensive. As I only needed to raise it about an inch I decided to get creative. The original saddle was the type with built in saddle clamp so offered no adjustment. I had a cheap mountain bike saddle with built in springs underneath which raise the saddle higher above the rails and I turned the clamp upside down and found the extra extension I needed in the process.

Brompton

After a twenty mile test ride I confirm it all works fine. It is really very good actually. It is a lot of fun to ride although like all small wheeled bikes I’ve tried the steering is a little twitchy but you quickly get used to it. I understand a load on the front makes them steer better but I don’t have any suitable luggage accessories at the moment. I found it better than I thought on the hills and with a high gear of 72“ I can stay in the high gear most of the time. There is no need for anything higher on a utility bike in my opinion. It is actually pretty responsive and can be ridden at decent speed and I didn’t find the ride quality harsh. There is built in suspension on the rear of course and I have a sprung saddle. The suspension means these bikes respond best to smooth pedal strokes but that is something I have developed over the years from riding fixed wheel bikes.

Brompton test ride

Only two minor problems showed up on my test ride. Incorrect gear adjustment – I set it using the recommended method of setting it so that the shoulder on the indicator rod was flush with the end of the axle but it wasn’t working properly despite stopping to check it. It would appear that the bike is fitted with an incorrect indicator rod. I set it so the cable was tight in first and the loosened it slightly to allow a little free play and it works fine now. I also had a strange noise on each pedal stroke that I couldn’t identify until I realised my slightly flared jeans were rubbing on the castor on the rear rack and making them rotate!

Brompton

I am very happy with this bike and it has the added bonus of fitting easily in the boot of my car. I intend to add a bottle dynamo and some lights – I just need to work out the best place to put the dynamo so it doesn’t get in the way of folding and I will probably need to make a bracket to fit it. I will also possibly swap the horrible plastic Brompton gear shifter for a traditional Sturmey Archer trigger shifter. I’m not a huge fan of straight handlebars either but I’m unlikely to be doing many all rides on this bike. Otherwise I found the riding position very comfortable.

Brompton

Not only does it fit in the car easily, it also fits in the front basket of my Pashley so why bother with a puncture repair kit when I can have a spare bike!

Brompton & Pasley