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Cyclotouring Southern Ireland
Guinness, Wind, Rain and Guinness
 

 
Tour Summary

 

A 2 week tour through Southern Ireland in September 2006 from Rosslare across to County Clare and then South to the Dingle and Kerry Peninsulas. We covered 1009km, climbed 10,900m in 2 weeks cycling.

 

 
Map

 

 

 
Commentary & Photos
 

We started our trip at the Irish port of Rosslare after taking a train from Bristol to Fishguard and then a ferry. The trip takes the best part of one day but costs only £36 return per person. The ferry crossing was 3 ½ hours and is a notoriously rough crossing. Unfortunately the last 2 hours saw the approach of an old hurricane so it lived up to its reputation.

Our 14 days cycling  led us from Rosslare to the Burren, the Dingle Peninsula and the Ring of Kerry on the South West coast. All were fantastic sights and good cycling grounds despite the fickle weather. We sadly lacked time to make it back to Rosslare on time and had to take the bus from Killarney to Waterford.

 


One of the typical small rural lanes in Ireland. A good map is required to make the most of the maze of choices

 
 


A high energy activity such as cyclo touring needs a good source of refuelling, preferably high in iron. Fortunately Guinness fits the bill perfectly!

 

Overall we rode 1009 km and climbed 10,280 m. We only had a snippet of what Ireland has to offer and there is much more left to explore.

We used the Complete Road Atlas of Ireland by the Ordnance Survey. It shows the different elevations using colour and also indicates area of interest. It covers at least 99% of the tiny little Irish roads – no mean feat.

The national roads are generally too busy for cycling, the local roads are acceptable - the best (but hilliest) are the huge number of unclassified lanes. Whatever you do - do not rely on local sign posts!

 
 

Be prepared for…

- Sudden downpours and foul windy wet weather

- Bungalow blight and ribbon development in the most beautiful places

- A lot of tourists and touring buses, especially during the summer period

Had enough of cycling, try these…

Well, there is plenty to distract you from cycling:

- There are beautiful mountains to climb in the Kerry Peninsula (The Mackillycuddy Reeks are the highest in Ireland), but be prepared for cloud shrouded peaks

-  many boats trip to beautiful islands (The Aran Islands, The Skelligs)

- Beautiful, quiet, sandy beaches

- Great pubs with foot tapping traditional music
 


A round tower and high cross (or Celtic Cross) in Cashel. Round towers, or there crumbling remains can be seen dotted all over ireland

 
 


The first time we have seen green post boxes, this one harking back to the days when Ireland was ruled/occupied by the British. The "VR" indicating "Victoria Regina"

 

Fuel for the cyclists…

A pint or two of Guinness have provided an invaluable comfort during the rainy evenings (and it also works in dry weather).

Soda bread was the essential basic of our lunch, often topped with a slice of Cashel Blue cheese.

 
 


A very pleasant (but damp) campsite in Cashel

 

 


We guessed this sign meant "Give Way" in Gaelic

 

 
 

21st to 24th September 2006 – Rosslare to Tuamgraney – 284 km

It took us four days to cross the South of Ireland from Rosslare to the big lake Lough Derg. Ireland really lived up to our expectations. It certainly is the “Emerald Isle ”. The fields are lush and greener than green. Perfect for wild camping if the weather holds up a little and does not turn the ground into a soggy sponge.

The Irish are extremely friendly and spontaneous. On our first day, Isa was asked by a granny to read her stars in Hello magazine. Not convinced by the week forecast of “feeling wild and smelling of your new boyfriend’s aftershave”, the old lady said “Jesus, I don’t feel wild and I don’t understand you, but I like you anyway”. She followed this with another dozen exclamations of “Jesus” when we told her that we were travelling with bicycles.

The same openness, friendliness and inquisitiveness can be found in the pubs. People are approachable and seem to enjoy taking time to chat with strangers. Some locals really have the “gift of the gab” and can keep going seemingly without taking a breath. If you are the kind of individual who is a bit shy and lost for words, you can go to Blarney, near to Cork, and kiss the famous stone which is supposed to give you turbo charged talking abilities.

A nice surprise for us was the gradient of the hills. In Ireland, there is nothing like the short and steep killer uphills of England and Wales. The roads are usually nicely graded, normally only reaching 12% maximum gradient.

 

 


(above) Sun and limestone walls in the Burren
(below) Dolmen in the Burren

 
 

Not so nice was the proliferation of bungalows, or more accurately, of two storey mansion houses. Most of them are built in a similar fashion, with a wooden fence, a bare garden and a tarmac drive leading straight up to the house. Unfortunately most of the mansions also had a horde of dogs waiting to run through the fence and chase the tired cyclists up the hills (for some unexplained reason, dogs always chase you when going uphill). To us, Ireland was strangely similar to Poland, which is the only other country we know presenting a combination of huge new houses and nasty chasing dogs.

The highlights of these first few days were Cashel castle, the lovely City of Killkenny and the huge Lough Derg on the river Shannon.

 
 


The rocky, barren limestone landscape of the Burren

 

 
 


The precipitous cliffs on the South coast of Inishmore (Aran Islands)

 

 

25th to 27th September 2006 – Around the Burren – 192 km

Our first stop was in Tuamgraney by Lough Derg. We sought refuge from the rain in the oldest church constantly in use in the British Isles (and France). Its history can be traced back to 952 around the time when Brian Boru, the only King who has managed to unite the whole of the island of Ireland, came to it. A retired English man told us a great deal about the Irish history and architecture, clearly his two pet subjects. He told us about the round and square towers in Ireland, initially constructed to resist invasions by the Vikings. He attempted to explain to us why most of the churches have been left to decay. According to him, it is because of the religious changes, but also because of family rivalries. One family would rather build its own church than using one built by another clan. This however does not explain another common sight of Ireland, which is the numerous decaying old farmhouses and cottages while new mansions are springing up like mushrooms.

We had a delightful tea stop at Killanena, a tiny village on top of a hill. We were rather surprised when the lady told us that the tea and scones were free! She was doing it all for charity to help children with AIDS in Kenya. We had a great time conversing with her and some ladies from Dublin. They were all complaining about how fast Ireland has recently changed. Their main worry was the loss of the Irish friendliness because of money and the influx of foreigners. However, they could not agree on the bungalow blight problem: the tea lady wanted the countryside to stay untouched, the Dublin ladies wanted to get planning permission on some of the land they owned in order to sell it!

 

 
 


Doolin in County Clare is a rathery touristy spot

 
 

Our favourite part of the ride was the Burren, County Clare. The region appears without any warning. One moment, we were cycling in the midst of green fields, the next we were going through an absolutely desolate landscape of limestone rocks crossed by loosely constructed stone walls. It was one of the strangest landscapes we have cycled through. It presented all that a high limestone plateau has to offer: collapsed caves, strangely eroded rocks, clints, grykes, disappearing rivers, intermittent lakes and in addition Neolithic walls and dolmens.

After crossing the Burren, we reached the coast at Ballyvaghan. Though the place was not busy, it had the clear feel of a touristy spot. For the first time we saw some old thatched cottages restored, each one of them ready for renting. As the weather was bright and clear  we decided to cycle on around the Burren to Doolin.

From Ballyvaghan, we could see across the Galway bay over to the Connemara Mountains. The views towards the Aran islands, as well as the views back towards the Burren mountains, were unbelievable. This was most definitely one of our favourite days riding; the lack of rain and copious sunshine obviously helped a lot.

 

 

 

(above) A busy road and time to make a cup of tea on the Kerry Peninsula
(below) Sun and sand on the Dingle peninsula, but Brandon Mountain was still in the cloud



 
 
We spent a couple of nights in Doolin, where we enjoyed some live music in the numerous pubs. If you are fond of Irish folk music, pipe and fiddle, this village (and County Clare) is the one for you. However, Doolin seems too popular for its own good and some tourists who have been coming to this tiny place for years start complaining about the pace of development. In the pubs the bulk of the crowd was made up of Australians, Americans and Canadians searching for their family roots.
 


The highest road in Ireland, across the Conair Pass

 
 

(above) A pub in dingle (irrestible for Terry)
(below) The blue sky and islands of the atlantic coast around the Dingle peninsula

 

We took our bikes on the boat to the Aran Islands. We only had five hours to visit the main island and we wished we could have stayed longer because there is so much to see, but unfortunately the weather forecast meant that the ferry was to be cancelled the following day. The most impressive sight is the Neolithic castle (500 BC) with its amazing cliffs. We were also lucky to spot some dolphins and seals. The cliffs of Moher in comparison were a real disappointment. The new visitor centre was under construction but a path along the cliffs had already been built. It stood more than 10 meters from the cliffs and was bordered by an earth wall, which does not allow any visitor smaller than a ten year old kid to see a thing. This path is supposed to be part, together with the future visitor centre, of the “Cliff of Moher experience”. And off course you will have to pay for it. This aberration set both of us winging for the day. For the time being it is free and if you go up to the “do not go beyond this sign” board, you will be able to see right at the bottom of the cliffs. At more than 200m high, they are a sight to be seen.

From Doolin, we went on to Tralee. Quick, wasn’t it? Well, we must confess that after two hours spent fighting strong adverse winds in the pouring rain, we diverted towards Ennis where we took the train to Tralee. In retrospect, it would have been faster and maybe cheaper to take the bus. We changed train three times, paid 70€ and caught a cold. It was one of those miserable days you get when cyclotouring in Ireland.

 
 

28th to 29th September 2006 – The Dingle Peninsula – 162 km

Two days allowed us to see the whole of the Dingle Peninsula. We were lucky to have clear views towards the Blasket islands and the Kerry peninsula. The mountainous and cloudy landscape reminded us of Scotland. We also climbed the Conair Pass, the highest pass in Ireland at 450 m high. It was not much of a challenge and the road is much wider and straighter than we would have liked, but the view was nonetheless fantastic.

Tralee and Dingle are two lovely towns. We recommend you go and see “Danny the singing chef” in Tralee (we unfortunately forgot the name of the pub. Blame it on the Guinness.). We popped in for an early pint and ended up staying all night listening to a medley of Cash, Dylan with some pretty gifted American tourists joining in on the singing.

 

Even with the heavy rain the Gap of Dunloe was spectacular
 
 


 


 
 

A huge downpour arriving at our beachside campsite on the Kerry Peninsula


 

30th September to 3rd October 2006 – The Ring of Kerry – 273 km

The ring of Kerry is a real tourist attraction and we nearly avoided it totally, which would have been to our loss. We cycled around the peninsula clockwise, which gives you the best views on the coast and the sea. There are also flocks and flocks of buses driving around the Kerry Ring daily but they all go around anti-clockwise.

We rode along the South coast and Valencia Island before going back to Killarney via the inland route. Some of the seascape was beautiful, but there were also some straight and unexciting sections (despite one killer of a uphill after a lovely beach at Ballynahow). The road up the centre of the peninsula was splendidly quiet and scenic, with its moorland and mountain vistas. The roads were small, quiet and the area seemed to have escaped unbridled development. We felt like we had a real insight of Ireland like it used to be. Once back at Killarney, we did a day ride taking in Lough Leane, Lady’s view, Moll’s Gap, the Black Valley and the Gap of Dunloe. These were some of the best sights of the Kerry Ring.


The mountains on the Kerry Peninsula

 
 

4th October 2006 – Waterford to Rosslare – 72 km

Time was running short to go back to our ferry in Rosslare and we took the bus to Waterford. We rode the last few kilometres of our trip in a much flatter landscape and also much drier. We got used to the deep green of the west coast. There are plenty of villages and pretty beaches to visit, such as Lady’s Island, but being driven by time, we failed to check them out properly. It was a pity because we would have liked to have a proper look around some strangely named town such as Bastardstown. After a night wild camping in a field close to the ferry port, we embarked at 9.00 for Fishguard. Bye bye Ireland!


 
 
 
(above left) For £36 return per person the train and ferry can take you from Bristol to Rosslare. The tickets can be purchased from the train station. Unfortunatley you will need to allow an hour for the 16 tickets to print out and the time and frustation in sorting them into some sort of order

(above right) Derelict churches are dotted all over Ireland, often an ugly modern Catholic church is built on the same grounds
 

 

 

 
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