Winter Riding

Muddy Fox Courier

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

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

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

Icy Roads

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

Busch & Muller headlamp

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

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

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

Winter ride

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

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

Muddy Fox Courier

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

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

Hebie Chainglider

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

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

Shiamno Alfine dynamo hub

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

Muddy Fox Courier

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

Lough Gartan

Lough Gartan

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

River Lennan

Muddy Fox Courier

River Lennan

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The Fanad Peninsula

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Fanad Drive

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

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

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

Lough Swilly

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

Killydonnell Friary

Celtic Cross, Killydonnell Friary

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

River Lennon

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

Ramelton Quay

River Lennon, Ramelton

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

Lough Swilly

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

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

Rathmullan Fort

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

Ballymastocker Strand

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

Fanad Head

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

Fanad Head

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

Spiral Staircase, Fanad Lighthouse

Semaphore flags, Fanad Lighthouse

view from Fanad Lighthouse

Fanad Lighthouse art cabinet

Fanad Lighthouse

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

Fanad Head

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

Ballyhiernan bay

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

Kindrum Lake

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

Fanad Patriots Memorial

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

Mulroy Bay

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

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

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

Mulroy Bay

Thatched Cottage, Fanad head

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

Lough Fern

 

Former LD&LS Railway Bridge

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

Lough Fern

Fanad Head

Ramelton

Wild Atlantic Way Part VI – Tír na nÓg!

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

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

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

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

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

Rose of Tralee Statue

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

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

Blennerville Windmill

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

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

Monument to Camp train crash

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry

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

Dingle Harbour, Co. Kerry

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

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

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

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

Inch Strand, Co. Kerry

Inch Strand, Co. Kerry

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

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

Slí Cheann Sléibhe

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Ring Of Kerry

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

Rossbeigh Strand, Co. Kerry

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

ruins of "The Sunbeam" Rossbeigh, co. Kerry

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

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

"The Mountain Stage" The Ring Of Kerry

The Ring Of Kerry

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

Gleesk Viaduct, Co. Kerry

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

Valentia Harbour, Co. Kerry

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

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

1902 Rocket Car, Valentia Island

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

The Town Clock, Knightstown, Valentia Island

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

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

Crompton Anchor, Valentia Island

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

Valentia Island, Co. Kerry

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

Alan Hall Artwork, Valentia Island, Co. Kerry

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

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

Old Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks, Cahirciveen. Co. Kerry

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

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

Ballycarbery Castle, Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry

Cahergall Stone fort, Co. Kerry

Ballycarbery Castle, Cahirciveen, Co. Kerry

Cahergall Stone fort, Co. Kerry

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

Railway Bridge, Cahirsiveen, Co. Kerry

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

Skellig Ring, Co. Kerry

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

Baile na Sceilge

Baile na Sceilge priory

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

 

Com an Chiste

Com an Chiste

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

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

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

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

The Ring of Beara, Co. Cork

The Ring of Beara, Co. Cork

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

The Ring of Beara, Co. Cork

Dursey Island/Garinish, Co. Cork

Dursey Island Cable Car

Dursey Island/Garinish, Co. Cork

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

The Ring of Beara, Co. Cork

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

Castletownbere Harbpur

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

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

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

Ballylickey, Co. Cork

Ballylickey, Co. Cork

Ballylickey, Co. Cork

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

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

Bantry, Co. Cork

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

The Goat's Pass, Co. Cork

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

Seefin View (North), Co. Cork

The Goat's Pass, Co. Cork

Seefin View

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

Kilcrohane, Co. Cork

Sheep's Head drive, Co. Cork

Sheep's Head, Co. Cork

Sheep's Head, Co. Cork

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

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

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

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

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

The Butter Road, Ballydehob, Co. Cork

Schull Harbour, Co. Cork

18th Century French Anchor, Schull, Co. Cork

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

Altar, Co. Cork

Altar Wedge Tomb, Co. Cork

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

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

Goleen, Co. Cork

Crookhaven, Co. Cork

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

Barley Cove Beach, Co. Cork

Barley Cove, Co. Cork

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

Mizen Head, Co. Cork

Propeller from the steamship Irada

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

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

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

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

Mizen Drive, Co. Cork

The Ring of Kerry

Dooneen, Co. Kerry

Gour, Co. Cork

Enjoying the dying embers of summer…

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August and September in these parts have mostly been very wet and it looked like summer was over for another (did it even start?). The forecast for today had been for a dry day. It was too good an opportunity to miss. I set a day aside for a long day ride. As it turned out it was more than just a dry day, it was warm and sunny and I was able to ride in shorts for the first time this month.

River Barra

I am also planning a little tour towards the end of the month and it was a chance to test out my recently resuscitated touring bike which has been languishing unused in the garage since last autumn and to make sure everything was working as it should. The bike in question is a Viscount Aerospace dating from 1975 and the bike I usually use for longer distance tours. It came to me via friend in England as a bare frame. In it’s second incarnation in my ownership it has been much modified from original specification. I built it with modern wheels sourced from Germany with Shimano cassette hub on the rear running a wide range 12-32 7 speed cassette and a Shimano dynohub on the front.

A 36/50 Stronglight chainset provides an adequetely wide range of gears for my needs. I’ve found I’ve been able to climb almost anything on this gearing, even when riding with two full panniers. In reality the bike is a twelve speed rather than fourteen as there isn’t quite enough frame clearance to use the smallest sprocket but I’ve found 50-14 a high enough gear for my needs. Changing is done with Suntour downtube friction levers and Shimano Exage Sport derailleurs which have provided reliable gear shifting for thousands of miles now. When I originally built the bike I did consider going with modern indexed shifters but decided the cost wasn’t justified. I’ve never had a problem using friction shifters.

Braking is done with Dia-Compe brakes and Simano Exage brake levers. I do have the matching Shimano Exage brake callipers but the reach isn’t long enough to suit this bike. Braking is good compared to some of my other bikes but there is no doubt in my mind that calliper brakes are just about adequete for loaded touring. Cantilever would be preferable on a touring bike.

The saddle is a cheap copy of a Brooks B17. I favour leather saddles. I find them much more comfortable than any of the modern saddles I’ve tried and with care it will last many years. I know people object to their weight but it’s largely irrelevent on a touring bike anyway. Comfort come first.

Newmills, Letterkenny

I left home without any real plan, often the beginning of the best day rides in my experience. I had a vague plan to ride westwards towards the coast. After leaving Letterkenny on back roads through old town and past Newmills and reaching Churchill I made a change of plan and decided to go inland. I turned off towards An Dúcharaidh (or Doochary), a small remote village in the Rosses region of Co. Donegal. I’ve only ridden this road once before earlier in the summer on my Kalkhoff but it was a horrible wet day at the time.

Viscount

The road from Churchill to An Dúcharaidh (the R254) is a little lumpy but an absolute delight for cycling. It is mostly very lightly trafficked and offers mountain, river and lakeside scenery all in a distance of about twenty miles. It mostly runs alongside the River Barra and passes Lough Barra and there are countless small but picturesque waterfalls as the water runs from higher up the mountains into the river. The weather today was perfect for sightseeing.

Lough Barra

River Barra

Eventually you reach An Dúcharaidh, a small village situated on the Gweebara River. The name “An Dúcharaidh” translates as “the black weir” and is situated on a very nice part of the Gweebara River. There are riverside paths which can be explored on foot and offer very nice views and lovely tranquility. I cycled along one of them for a bit but I suspect I’m not supposed to do that and the loose, deep gravel surface is not conducive to easy cycling.

Gweebara River

Gweebara River

The village itself, a Gaelic speaking region, is tiny by most standards but has a long history as a settlement, there is St. Sarah’s well, with waters which are said to cure skin problems and the ruins of an old fort and of a seventeenth century ice house, used by a local landlord to preserve salmon caught in the river. The river is traditionally rich in salmon. I didn’t visit any of these atrraction today though. Instead I bought and enjoyed an ice cream in the quaint little village shop and Post Office which is a real time warp inside and out with beautiful bay windows.

Viscount

An Dúcharaidh is also situated on a junction with options for the “old Letterkenny road” which I had just travelled on and also to Dungloe and the coast (I’ll save that option for another day) and to Fintown and on to Ballybofey or Glenties. I had planned to return the road I’d come but it was a nice day so I decided to make a loop of it. I’d go on the R252 to Fintown and then turn off the Ballybofey road onto the R250 and back to Letterkenny.

I’d never rode the R252 before. I found the R252 is a challenging road to ride with some short but tough climbs but I had low enough gearing for them. There is only five miles of it though before you reach Fintown. It is worth the effort though as you are rewarded with much natural beauty as you pass through the beginnings of the Bluestack (or na Cruacha Gorma) mountain range including a small lake (Lough Nambradden) before Lough Finn itself comes into view.

Lough Nambraddan

The terrain gets a lot easier when you reach Fintown but is still lumpy and undulating. Just as on my last cycle trip to Fintown, the calm, tranquil waters of the lough reflected the sunlight like a mirror. I have always been naturally drawn to coastal scenery but this inland area of Donegal has much to recommend it too. I did stop at the small preserved narrow gauge railway station but the trains had stopped for the day and it was all locked up.

Lough Finn

Lough Finn

The trip along the R250 back to Letterkenny was rich in scenic natural beauty as always but otherwise fairly uneventful. With the few small detours added in, the round trip was probably around sixty miles, but with many feet of climbing added in. You do make good use of your low gears around here. The bike performed perfectly too. The only slight niggle being a rattling front mudguard caused by the quick release safey clips which no longer grip the stays as they should. I’m not sure why this should have happened as they’ve never been unclipped and as they shouldn’t move they shouldn’t have worn but it appears they did. I must engineer a fix for this as it gets annoying as the bike is otherwise very quiet. There is no doubt Shimano build a very quiet freehub compared to others I have encountered.

In some ways this was my most enjoyable ride this year. Some of the route was new me, the weather was perfect – dry, clear and sunny but not too hot, the scenery amazing and it was all very relaxing as I was in no hurry whatsoever which is always the most important thing when travelling!

Viscount

River Barra

Dunlewey – The Poisoned Glen

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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