Ireland Cycling Tour

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April 30th 2011
Published: July 1st 2011
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The late Easter holiday, royal wedding and may bank holiday combined together nicely to give us an 11 day holiday for the price of 3 days off work, so we waved goodbye to London and set off on our first ever cycling tour. Cycling 35 km to and from work 3 times a week for 3 months may have made us think we were fit, but I had a feeling the hills of Kerry might make us think again...

Like all great cycle trips, our tour around Ireland started in a different country. We started from Ruth's parents hours in Porthcawl on a fine Good Friday afternoon and biked all the way to Swansea to board the overnight ferry to Ireland. Good Friday is the only day of the year when shops and pubs must close by law in Ireland, but there were no such restrictions on the ferry!

This route between Swansea and Cork re-opened in 2009 after a 3 year closure. It's operated by Fastnet with the aim of encouraging tourism to Cork and South Wales and I have to say it was a far nicer ferry than those I've taken previously from Wales to Ireland. The decor in the bar reminded me of old man's pubs in Dublin while the cabins were comfortable enough to give us a good night's sleep before the cycling began for real in the morning.

Day 1: Cork harbour to Killarney: 110 km

Neither of us had previously cycled more than 50km in a day so today's trip to Killarney would be a good test of whether or not long distance cycling was for us. We were off the ferry by 8am and reached Cork about an hour later after the 20km journey from the harbour in Ringaskiddy. We were carrying roughly 10kg each in our panniers, which made a noticeable difference to our speed and controlling of the bike.

Cork is Ireland's second largest city, but beyond a quick coffee and sausage sandwich we didn't see too much of it. I had been here a few times over the years and it always struck me as a big enough place, but after only 5 minutes cycling west from Patrick's Street and we had cleared the city and reached the Lee Valley. Our route went via the old road to Macroom, along the north side of the River Lee. It took most of the morning to reach Macroom but it was a very pleasant cycle along quite roads in fine weather.

The great thing about cycling trips is you can eat as much as you want and still work it off in about 20 minutes. So despite two breakfasts we still needed frequent food stops to keep our bodies fuelled. We reached Macroom for a late lunch and had a delicious meal of toasted sandwiched, chips and apple tart in Lynch's Bakery in the centre of the village.

We then set off on the busier N22 to Killarney. There was a noticeable change in the landscape at the top of the pass through the Derrynasaggart mountains as we approached Co. Kerry, with the scenery becoming more dramatic, the mountains taller and the views better. We reached Killarney by 5pm, making an impressive total of 110 km in 7 hrs on our first full day of cycling. Much to out surprise we didn't feel too bad despite such a long first day.

We stayed in Larkinley B&B on Lewes St. run by the friendly Toni who made us feel right at home. That evening we made our way around the pubs of Killarney. After a full day of exercise you need to keep the refuelling going in the evening, though I'm not sure pints of Guinness and packets of Tayto crisps are the best energy source.

Day 2: Ring of Kerry, Killarney - Gap of Dunloe - Cahirciveeen: 90 km

The real adventure began today as we cycled along the famous Ring of Kerry, a 170 km loop around the Iveragh Peninsula through some of the most spectacular scenery in Ireland. The ring is one of the most popular routes in Ireland and is especially busy in summer with tour buses - we were hoping the roads would be a little quieter in April. As yesterday had been our first full day on the bikes we had managed the long distance without too much pain - but today was a different matter though as we woke with tired legs and a little less enthusiasm for cycling than 24 hours previously.

After 7km we diverted off the ring to see the Gap of Dunloe, a famous glacial valley which cuts through the Magillacuddy Reeks mountain range. Even in the drizzle with mist blanketing the peaks the scenery was stunning.

Our target for today was Cahirciveen, a town in western Kerry about 2/5ths of the way around the ring. By the time we left the Gap of Dunloe it was 2pm so we needed to speed up for the rest of the day. Killorglin we passed very quickly, but on the next section between Glenbeigh and Kells we took more time to enjoy the spectacular scenery. The path wound down towards the sea and provided superb views out to the Dingle Peninsula and back to the bay. 10km of undulating up and down roads lead us into Cahirciveen.

We could almost taste the sea salt as we entered Caherciveen, it has a lovely fresh smell about it. My grandmother was born in Caherciveen though this was my first visit to the area.

On first appearances Caherciveen has a slightly run-down air about it, almost like it's best days are behind it. Much to out surprise we found a fantastic spot that evening for dinner, a seafood restaurant called QC's that wouldn't be out of place in Paris or London.

Day 3: Cahirciveen to Parknasilla via Valentia Island: 92km

We took another diversion from the ring this morning to see Valentia Island and the Skellig Ring, part of the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking) community in Kerry. From Caherciveen a ferry runs regularly to Valentia, which feels like a different world to the rest of Kerry. It's a place of crashing waves, soaring cliffs and quiet country lanes, somewhere to go when you want to escape from it all.

We biked to the top of Fogher cliffs, the island's highest point, from where there is an excellent view of Valentia and of many of the other well known parts of Kerry such as the Skelligs, western Blasket islands and Dingle Peninsula.

We continued to Porthmagee and across the peninsula above St. Finian's Bay on what was to prove the toughest climb of the trip. Certainly I was cursing our panniers by the end. People shouted encouragement to us from cars passing in the other direction as we struggled up the hill, despite being in granny gear! But once at the top all was fine and we had an easy long downhill section which was over far too quick. That's one of the interesting quirks about cycling: the ascent's seem never ending while the downhills are never long enough!

I remember there was a 10km diversion to a nice viewpoint about halfway up the previous climb. In a car this is the type of think you would of course go to see, but on a bike you have to pick and choose carefully what you see especially when you're on a tight schedule.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere around St. Finian's Bay our problems started. Our map seemed to contradict what we were seeing on the road and it wasn't at all obvious which direction or road we needed to take. We were hoping to reach Ballinskellig and then hop across to Waterville but we ended up back on the main road only 6km out of Cahirciveen, our starting point that morning. So we had spent almost 7 hours on bikes to end up only 6km from our starting point!

It was now 3pm and we needed to step on it to have any hope of reaching Parknasilla, our hotel, for dinner! If ever there's a time when cycling is not fun, it's when you've spent half a day cycling 40km but the hard work is still to be done. Though we were about to pass some of the most famous places in Kerry it was difficult to enjoy it when you know there is a long, relentless slog ahead of you.

We pedalled fast to Waterville, stopped there for a late lunch, then left Waterville just as quick and cycled a long tough 10km uphill to the top of the pass. Much to our surprise we managed the ascent without too much pain, there's clearly a lot to be said for a coffee and cheese toastie.

Once over the pass we had a long, fun descent into Caherdaniel and reached speeds of more than 50km an hour in places as we raced down the road along the coast. We would have been faster too if we hadn't to watch out for potholes and sheep.

I was keeping a close eye on my odometer so I was pleasantly surprised when we reached Caherdaniel and saw a sign saying "Sneem 21km". Less pleasant was the next sign 8km or so further down the road saying "Sneem 23km". It might seem like a little thing but there is a certain psychology to cycling. You can give yourself a target and plan to reach it but if that target changes it is not a nice feeling. So please sort your signs out Kerry Co. Council!

Day 3 and 4: Parknasilla

Parknasilla is one of Ireland's grandest and most famous hotels. Over the years it has hosted famous names like George Bernard Shaw and Princess Grace. So quite what they made of us as we cycled up to the front gate after a day on the bikes is hard to say!

This was my Dad's favourite hotel and we spent many family holidays here as children though I hadn't been here for many years. It was Ruth's first ever visit and I think she was very impressed. We went straight for the outdoor Jacuzzis - hoping they'd breathe some life back into our jelly like legs. Parknasila is a great place to escape the world or even the roads of the Ring of Kerry for a couple of days, exactly what we planned to do.

That evening we had a delicious meal in the Pygmalion restaurant and looked forward to our day off. We did no cycling the next day other than a quick trip into the nearby village of Sneem for lunch. Most of the day was spent in and around the hotel, enjoying the walks nearby, playing snooker against Ruth or just swimming and jacuzziing it up!

Day 5: Parknasilla to Killarney via Kenmare: 56km

We were reluctant to leave Parknasilla but finally at 12 noon we had no option but to depart. However, my bike had somehow picked up a puncture so our start was delayed 30 minutes while we changed tyres. I think like me, it was reluctant to get back on the roads.

The 25km stretch from Parknasilla to Kenmare took us past some stunning scenery with the Beara peninsula in view for much of the trip. Kenmare was our lunch stop and we needed plenty of refuelling to take us up Moll's Gap, a mountain pass between Kenmare and Killarney. We stopped at the top of the pass to take in the stunning views of the Magillacuddy reeks and Gap of Dunloe. Truly, on a fine day, there is nowhere to beat Co. Kerry!

The other side of Moll's Gap was a long downhill stretch which lasted most of the way to Killarney. The scenery all around the Ring had been spectacular but between Moll's Gap and Killarney was possibly the best of all. I had one eye on the road and one on the surrounding landscape. We made plenty of stops for the famous views, especially as we got closer to the lakes.

Returning to Toni's B&B in Killarney that evening felt like a homecoming of sorts! We went to our favourite pub - Courtney's - and our favourite restaurant - Smoke Room - and celebrated in style a successful trip around the ring.

Day 6: Carrauntoohil - 40 km cycling

We awoke today to another day of sunshine; six days in a row in Kerry is surely some sort of record.

Our original plan had been to cycle all the way from Killarney to Kilkenny over the next two days, but given how good the weather was we both fancied a day of hiking, so off we set to attempt Carrauntoohil, Ireland's highest peak. Though it's a tough hike, the prospect of a climb was more enticing than another long cycle, though we still had to cycle 20km to get there. Carrauntoohil I will cover in a separate blog entry.

Day 7: Thurles

to Kilkenny: 50km
Today was our last day of cycling of the trip and for that I think we were very grateful. We had to take two trains to reach Thurles from Killarney but we got there by lunchtime. From here to Kilkenny was 50km but after the cumulative effort level of the last few days that wasn't going to be easy. We had a quick wander round Thurles and I showed Ruth the famous Hayes Hotel, where the GAA was founded in 1884.

We took a wrong turn on the outskirts of Thurles and almost ended up on the Dublin-Cork motorway. A quick diversion at TwoMileBorris had us back on track and it wasn't long until we reached Urlingford on the Kilkenny-Tipperary border. From there it was plain sailing all the way home, as we cycled through some lovely Co. Kilkenny scenery.

We reached my home in Kilkenny at 5pm, after an impressive 450 km in 8 days. We had done it and more importantly we had realized we could make it as long distance cyclists after all. And we were still smiling! Rest and recuperation lay ahead of us for the next few days as we caught up with family and friends over the next few days. For once we had really earned our beers!

Additional photos below
Photos: 26, Displayed: 26


2nd July 2011

This makes me miss home. Very well done both of you, this is quite an achievement, Glad you had a great time.
11th December 2012

nice shot
i like your photo of killarney lakes, the black and white one.

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