We struggled to sleep last night as the wind was very noisy. We had a sheltered site, due in part to a row of trees which held up well in what turned out to be 85km/hour wind gusts. This storm has travelled from the West Coast of Ireland where it clocked wind gusts of 150km/hour. They called it Hannah. If a storm has a name, you know it is bad. Hopefully it will have truly blown out by the time we get there. We had a relaxing start to the day and headed in to town around 10:00 to shop for food and then down to the ferry terminal. It was still breezy, but no rain which was good. The ferry trip with Stena line was a bit bumpy and we arrived in Rosslare, Ireland just before 17:00. As we disembarked it immediately felt warmer than Wales and the sun was out! We shopped again en route to our campsite; piping hot shepherds pie for dinner from the local supermarket. Rosslare is pretty and flat and we had a short ride to our campsite. The cycle route is immediately sign posted from the ferry. It is Euro Velo Route 1, or cycle route 3 - The Norman Way.
The campsite had good facilities, including a good kitchen and sitting area indoors. We walked down to the beach that evening and the weather was lovely. Beautiful Irish setting with cows grazing at pastures right down to the sea. Then in to bed and ready for some Irish cycling which means no crazy Welsh hills! First night since the first since we haven't slept in eye-sight of sheep!
The day started overcast and soon turned to drizzle, rain and then back to mist and drizzle. No heavy rain though. We got away early and were happy to be on the Norman Way with all its interesting features clearly marked out. We stopped at ruined castles, old abbey's, an historic windmill and an ancient graveyard. Benches/picnic tables abound and the informative signage is brilliant. The riding was also brilliant. No more crazy hills! In fact, sometimes you would be going along and see a hill coming up and then the cycle route would just turn off before it started!
We stopped to buy lunch and chatted to a local cyclist who told us that they usually get easterly winds in spring which is good news for us! As it was, there was no wind today.
We had an early finish to our day around 13:30 and pulled into our beach camping ground. Many of the campsites here are mainly static vans for purchase so they are full of "buildings" but no people. The reception was unmanned so we called and left a message and the manager arrived. We have pitched up behind the kitchen and shower blocks so we have access to everything, including a kettle which we are using to brew many cups of Barry's Tea. We got hooked on Barry's last time we were in Ireland. I think it has medicinal benefits! It's delicious anyway. The weather was still overcast this afternoon, but it is dry and not cold. We are doing washing for the first time since we arrived - 14 days of riding so long overdue!
Another misty morning. Ever the optimists we left in rain jackets for warmth, hoping it would clear. Of course it did not and we were in various forms of dampness all day, from mist to drizzle to rain and back again. The riding however was wonderful. We had 20km to Waterford via the Ballyhack ferry. This was cool as we caught this same ferry on our last trip to Ireland, but went in a different direction afterwards. It was a cold day but the ride to Waterford went quickly. The roads are really good. Waterford had good cycleways in and out, and is a nice city to visit. We went into the display rooms of Waterford Crystal and were very impressed by the large crystal items on display and for sale. Amazing workmanship to a degree you would never see in usual retails stores. We went to an outdoor store and Mike bought some gaiters to add to his wet weather gear. Ireland is surely the place to do (need) it!
We left Waterford on the Waterford Greenway. This is an exceptional piece of cycling infrastructure and can only be described as the King of Railtrails. We have used many such trails on cycle tours but this one reigns supreme. 50km long, stretching from Waterford to Dungarvan, it is fully bitumen-sealed and makes use of old rail tunnels or new culverts to cross roads. Other minor road crossings have easily navigable gateways. The beauty of a railtrail is that it will lift you 100 m or more at such a gentle gradient you almost don't know it is happening. This trail was a pleasure from start to finish. As we rode we looked out over green fields of cows. There is a functioning train line for the first part of the route, complete with a little train that we passed on the way. The old rail tunnels were beautiful, a highlight being one fairly long tunnel which took us through the hill just before Dungarvan, which had the original little alcoves in the walls, but now fitted with electric lights. Just before and after this tunnel you rode through a forest of green ferns and moss, and these walls were filled with little fairy doors made by children/families. So cute!
Our campsite is on the beach (we won't be whipping out any swimming gear yet through) and big. We are the only campers tonight!
The rain came in around midnight. We got up and got going as usual, packing up the tent, and the bikes in pouring rain. We weren't really upset by the weather. It is Ireland after all and this is day 7 of bad weather for us so we are bound to hit a good streak sometime soon! On our bikes by 08:00 we stopped to buy lunch makings at Dungarvan Spar. Then the route tweaking started. Mike plans the route with a purist approach, but if the day presents itself and it makes sense to try another option, we make the change on the fly, especially if the weather is crapola. So we stuck to a busier B road to start. When I say busy, I mean a normal road that you would find joining two small villages. These sorts of roads though are always better graded and never go over the highest point using farm tracks. They were still cycle routes, so safe to ride. We stopped for our flask coffee and a bun in a children's playpark (no children but a bench was available) and then decided to continue on this route and then rejoin our route later on.
The weather began to improve and as our route climbed up on quieter farm roads we took off all our wet weather gear and did not have to put it back on for the rest of the day! We enjoy Irish farmland, the farm houses are beautifully kept and interesting and the stone walls are intricately made. We passed a stone mason's studio and there were amazing examples of his work in the garden, including the car made of stone which you can see in the picture below. Amazing!
We passed through Midleton and did some shopping for the evening meal. As we left town and with 5km to ride, we encountered roadworks on this teeny road which was being resurfaced. My rear end is all in favour of this, anything to stop the jolting caused by the copious potholes. Generally though, the road surfaces are good. Anyhow, the stop-go was more stop than go, but eventually we could continue. Our campsite is sort of like a certified site; small and quiet. It is quite close to Cork so there is a bit of road noise though. We have had a wonderful sunny afternoon. We can hardly believe it!
We woke to - can you believe it - CLEAR BLUE skies! Also very cold, just over 1 degree C. Brrr! Anyway, we were very happy with the clear skies! We had a great run through to the ferry crossing at Glenbrook, the route went all along the coast, around picturesque little harbours. We stopped to buy a hot brunch and then continued to Carrigaline to shop at a big supermarket. We were enjoying the sunshine though. After this we had a bit of a climb and then a long downhill through a beautiful fern-lined valley. By now however, we had had the odd shower but not enough to warrant rain gear. I started to feel the cold and should probabl have put on more warm gear but it's amazing when you see blue skies you just think it is going to warm up!
At one point we got onto a road with a little cycle path which swapped to the other side of the road. It turned to gravel and the road looked the better choice, but the barrier had us stuck so we continued. After a few kilometers along a river suddenly the path stopped, but here is the clincher, the barrier was unbroken! So we were stuck on the path with no way of getting over the barrier with laden bikes. We had to take off part of our luggage and lift the bikes over the barrier one by one. We were quite hacked off.
As we drew into Kinsale, we saw the sign advising the start of the Wild Atlantic Way. This was quite exciting as we rode on part of this route last time we were in Ireland, but are now going to do more of it (the southern part). Kinsale itself fits into the usual mould of "if you build it they will come". Anywhere that you can entice tourists to that is EASY to get to will be a crazy success. We see this time and again on tours. The real gems are those places off the beaten track that no one bothers about. Anyway, we took shelter from a rain shower at the info centre and I spied a row of little felt sheep through a shop window. I bought one to add to our little sheep collection at home as they play such a big part of our trip. His legs are little wooden pegs and I hope they don't get broken along the way.
We were keen to get to the Head of Kinsale which is a headland of historic significance. Part of this is the sinking of the Lusitania out to sea here by a U boat in 1915. It was a bit of a climb to get out there but the views were beautiful and panaromic. We could not believe how far you could see in every direction, especially after all the misty days we have had! A couple of campervans had stopped up there too, with the people not even bothering to get out of their vans! We spent some time out there and then headed back, ending along the water's edge again as the Wild Atlantic Way hugged the water's edge. We had quite a headwind (westerly) but it was ok. I had been very tired all day with various aches and pains so our progress was slow. We ended up at the campsite at 16:15 which was a long day, but not bad considering all the things we did during the day. The campsite is great, hot showers (included in the price) and cows live over the road.
We knew that there would be rain showers about today but it was just a little overcast when we set out and certainly warmer than yesterday. We stopped after a few kilometers at Clonakilty to pick up something for brunch. As it was just after 08:00 everything was shut bar a bakery but we got something good there. Clonakilty is a well known town, by me for their black pudding. Although I love black and white pudding, after eating it more or less every day since arriving in Ireland, I think I have had my fill for a bit! I confess to not knowing much about the birth of Ireland as a Republic beyond a few detaiils, but this south west area seems to have been very active politically and some famous names like Michael Collins feature. Mike had found a beautiful spot on the GPS for tea just at Rathbarry. We turned off the main road and into the woods of Castlefreke. There was a picnic area and trees with leaves of the most amazing bright green all lacey in the morning light and banks of bluebells. A lady came for her morning walk and had a chat to us. The thing about Irish people is that they always seems genuinely thrilled to see you and are absolutely engaged when they talk to you. There is no air of social etiquette or forced politeness, they are interested in one another. Our route was supposed to contune past the castle, but the road was closed due to roadworks. We tried to follow along a walking track which did not help us, but did bring us out at a wonderful ruined Abbey which was interesting. In the end we abandoned the road and went back to the main road. We do however haate to back-track, but sometimes it can't be helped.
The Wild Atlantic Way actually follows the main road but our cycle route took some small farm roads as usual. Some had steep climbs, also as usual. The benefit of the small roads is that they often take you past things you wouldn't usually see. We saw a working water wheel at one point which seemed to be acting as a pump to drive a small mill or for irrgation. We then past a sign to Drombeg Standing Stones, just off our route. Although we had just had a long climb, it was only 650m or so down the road (and also down a hill) but we had not seen any standing stones on this trip and this was a wonderful stone circle with nearby remains of living areas. The people here had a kitchen where you could still see the massive trough which they would put stones in made hot by fire to boil meat. It was definitely worth the small detour. We had a couple of rain showers before stopping for lunch at another forestry picnic area. After Skibereen we decided to stay on the main road as we had had enough of the steep climbs and then the rain hit. We had only 22km to go to our campsite at Schull and stopped to put on rain jackets but decided against booties or rain pants, which was a silly mistake. We ended up cycling through heavy rain and so arrived at Schull with very wet boots. Our campsite is the same sort of thing as a certified site. It is in someone's garden so nice and small with only one stand for a campervan. We had stopped at the supermarket about 200m aways and bought cooked lamb dinner and lasagna for supper, which was delicious and we ate before showering. After this the sun came out! We will have a rest day here tomorrow as the good weather is due to last 'till Tuesday and this is a good spot.
I'll let the photo's tell most of the story today (view below). We had an early and COLD start. Glorious, clear day. We stopped first at the supermarket for fresh buns to take along our 25km ride out to Mizen Head. This is the most south-westerley point of Ireland. We were so happy with the clear weather as the views were spectacular. We would highly recommend this corner of West Cork. It is very beautiful - especially on a great day! We stopped at a stone altar which has been there for thousands of years. The road to Mizen Head was quiet this early in the morning. As we turned around after our tea break there, we were hit by a strong headwind, but it did lessen as the day went on.
We came back via a more direct route and were a bit imaginative in turning off it onto a minor farm road after seeing two small donkeys. These are the first donkeys we have seen on trip, standing so seriously by the roadside. I took this as a good omen and it worked out well. We came out at a castle and a beautiful beach. Amazing to have a sunny day! The Wild Atlantic Way continued gently winding it's way along its picturesque route. We stopped briefly at Durrus which is the jump off point for the Sheeps Head Drive, which we weren't doing. Next stop was Bantry which is large enough to have a SupaValue and a Lidl, but still a lovely little harbour town. A few km's further on was our campsite. It is a large site but beautifully laid out around the shores of a bay. Very popular with families for this long weekend in the sun! We are camping WAY WAY AWAY from the action all on our own with lovely views of the hills. See the last pic for the view from our tent.
Cold start to the day as usual, zero degree C. We got going at 08:00, stopping first at the convenient Centra Supermarket over the road for fresh buns for the day. Terrific ride today! Scenery has changed to very rocky, the folded rocky hills are beautiful. There was no wind at all, we tripped along for 30km before stopping to eat at a roadside bench. The Wild Atlantic Way varied greatly from small and narrow to very wide. We had decided not to go to the tip of the Beara Peninsula but had a great ride through it and struck out into higher country as well with a couple of little well-graded climbs.
This area of West Cork is very interesting as you do see sub-tropical type forests, massed with ferns and flowering shrubs in the woodland areas and little gullies. It is very pretty. At one point we took a side road to the most delightful village of Eyeries with its teeny main street, colourfully painted houses and even a campsite for tents only! Along this road we met a man on a bicycle who made suggestions about our route based on local knowledge. The whole day was great, no wind at all and even warm enough to warrant short sleeves! It is so much easier when the weather is good.
Just after Kilmakilloge Harbour we came across the perfect bush camp. Everything is fences here in Ireland, but along this road there was a stone wall and there was a gap in the wall through which you could access this tiny flat grass clifftop. We just didn't have quite enough water. We headed back to the cemetary a couple of km further back and asked the man who was mowing if there was any water (our experience is that there often is in churchyards). There wasn't, but he kindly told us about a friend's bore a little way back that we could get water from. The thing was, we found it very difficult to understand him. He spoke English but with a very strong regional Irish accent. So we kept repeating everything he said, "Go down the road here", "go right over a bridge" , "go to the end of the road" he must have thought I was a little slow! Water successfully retrieved (with only minor disturbance to cows sleeping in barn), we backtracked, thanking the man, Frank(?), as we passed him at the cemetary. We set up camp and couldn't believe our luck in this weather we are enjoying on the West Irish "Toes". If we were to expect brutal conditions anywhere, it would be here. We are Happy Campers!
We had a very peaceful night and a slightly overcast start to the day, not quite as cold as yesterday. We had a quick 25km ride to Kelmare as our first small town of the day. It is a pretty town with miserable inhabitants. This was so contrary to our experience of Ireland over the last week where everyone we had come across was so friendly. We passed a few weekend cyclists and said "Hi" as usual only to be met with stoney expressions. Kelmare does have a Stone Circle and off we went to have a look. Imagine our amazement when there was a little entry gate and kiosk and a 2EU payment per person was required? We did an about turn back to the town as we have seen quite a few stone circles on our travels (for free). We bought some lovely baguettes at an artisan's bakery for the day and strapped them to the back of Mike's bike. At the visitor's centre we saw a photo of said circle and maybe it wasn't taken from the best aspect, but it looked quite rubbish. Anyway, the experience was soon behind us and we left the tourist trap. We stopped for brunch before leaving town at a bench in a carpark.
Kenmare is the start or end point of the famous Ring of Kerry and we would ride the southern sweep of it, up to Waterville in the west. We expected this road to at least match what we have seen so far scenery-wise, but were disappointed when the first 25km up to Sneem was narrrow and lined with bush and hedge and no view at all. There were many posters and flags alerting us to the triumph of the Templenoe Football Team (Gaelic footie we assume) making it to the Intermediate Final this year. Go Blues and Whites!
We stopped briefly at Sneem which is a pretty village, very much the tourist drawcard. I chatted to the lady in the info centre about the route. She told me that between 14:00 and 16:00, 20 tour buses come along the road which creates something of a traffic backlog for the cars that sit behind. This gave us added motivation to get on with the ride and get off the road! The route improved after this, a couple of climbs, beautiful coastal scenery. At one point we past a sign at a pub claiming this to be the most famous view in Ireland? Certainly it seems to be the most frequented. The road was busy as people were packing up after the long weekend. We had picked a bush camp option along the Ring of Kerry Walking track just near a view site. This meant filling up with water and also filling a water bag for showering. We found a fast flowing stream on a farming property with gate access from the road and collected the water we needed about 3km before our campsite. It was windy and cold when we arrived but the wind has dropped completely now. We should have a quiet night.
As we made breakfast and packed up, we were observed from up high by two rogue sheep on the clifftop. Mike reckoned they were gathering forces to stage a quick attack. We managed to set off unscathed and were provided with magnificent views of the coastline as we descended into Waterville. It is a lovely village, makes great use of it's position. We bought some food and some petrol for the stove and set off towards the dizzy heights of Balaghisheen Pass (I spell it differently each time I need to write it). As we were going along the narrow little road after Waterville, we passed a lady walking who asked us where we were from and told us her daughter lived in Perth for a year and she went for a visit and loved it. She especially loved King's Park and they had cycled round it on a tandem they had hired. It is great to be able to tell people that we live on it's doorstep.
The little road rose gently and you just knew that it was going to bite later as the height we had to reach on the pass remains the same, just the distance to get there gets shorter. The result is: STEEP! Anyway, we eventually left the paddocks and woodland behind us and started to reach the bare slopes of the mountains. The climb up was steepbut manageable (very steep in small bits) then you popped out on the top. There we met a Polish man who is a a keen hiker, taking time off as we do to hike in countries around the world. He made some great suggestions about cycle touring in Poland which is definitely on our "to do" list. The view was wonderful up top and the descent was quick and cold! We saw some peat being harvested. We stopped for a toasted sandwich at Glencar and then continued on to Fossa and our campsite. We stopped before at a small shop/post office that you get in all villages in UK and Ireland for an apple pie. Our campsite has good facilities such as a fully equipped kitchen and laundry so we have done washing. The weather has turned a little wet and windy this afternoon.
The weather forecast here is pretty accurate and so we were snug in the very well-equipped camper's kitchen until the evening as the rain fell. It rained all night until about 08:00. We had a short day planned anyway, which fitted in well with a late start. We left around 09:30 and had a climb out of the valley and then down into Tralee where we pulled in to the first pizza restuarant we saw and demolished two large wood fired pizzas. Yum! Tummies full, we set off again. Although the day was dry, it was a little breezy and in Tralee even the locals were walking about with down jackets on, tut-tutting about the weather.
We only had around 20km to go to our campsite on Tralee Bay, named after a British revolutionary/Irish Nationalist who came ashore here on a dingy after being dropped off by a German U-Boat in 1916, Sir Roger Casement. We drew down to the coast and cycled along mainly dunescape and estuarine lowlands. There were cows walking about the place, on the road and so on. We snuck past under their noses as there was a calf with them. They seemed unworried. In the distance in the water of the estuary we could see a cow and four calves walking about. Perhaps an ill-timed trip down to the seaside? We stopped just before the campsite at Banna Beach, where Sir Roger came ashore after his dingy capsized. Not a jolly thought. The sea was quite calm and the beach stretched for miles. A few brave souls about.
The campsite has a cosy lounge and a campers kitchen. Campsites vary so much. Last night the camper's kitchen was pristine with table clothes, crockery, wash-up liquid laid on, hot water and all sorts of appliances. The manager at Sir Roger's told us we needed 1 EU tokens to use the hot water and microwave but (magical words to my ears) "The kettle is free". When I opened the kitchen door and walked in I nearly stepped into a congealed frying pan with shrivelled up mushrooms in it. Anyway... we are warm after a hot shower and a couple of mugs of Barry's Tea. Let's hope the roof holds.
After I finished writing yesterday, another cycle tourist arrived at Sir Roger's Campsite. He was French and had started his tour in Lisbon 6 weeks ago. He told us of his adventures on the Camino de Santiago in Spain and the crazy Spanish dogs that want to eat cycle tourists. He got the ferry from France to Cork and is following a pretty similar route to us, also getting the ferry from Newcastle to Ijmuiden (the Netherlands) later on. He is thinking of cycling to Nordkapp but will see how Norway goes. The wind dropped last night and only the bellows of a nearby cow continued throughout the night. We were up early and on the road by 07:30, our earliest start yet. The ride today had one main stop in the form of the town of Listowel after about 30km. It was a great ride, mainly sunny, gentle gradients and even a bit of a tail wind!
We stuck to small farm roads which were almost all in great condition and made for easy riding. We passed through the small village of Lixnaw and were amused by the sign on the wall of the pharmacy "Prescriptions/Veterinary Medicine/Beauty Products/Toiletries. No wonder the cows have such great definition around the eyes! We arrived in Listowel by 09:00 and were eating our hot breakfast on a sunny bench when a local came by for a chat. He was very interested in our bikes, being a keen cyclist and having toured before. We chatted for a while and commented to him on how friendly Irish people are. "With the exception," we said, "of KENMARE!!" He had a laugh and agreed. It seems they are known for this. He was so funny as he said they are only after your money and if there's not much they are not interested. He told a funny story about how you could ask the guy in the bike store about a particular bike's specs. and he would just say "Oh, the green one is lovely!". He said that there wouldn't be a farmer who would deny us a campspot on their land if we needed it. We had thought of it once before passing a great field with a wonderful view, but as Mike said, when you get down to it and start looking around it's pretty confusing to know which farmhouse to approach. The man said that over the last few decades, Irish farmers have become more affluent and so if you are looking for the farmhouse it's the big one down the end of the long drive. We often coomment that every house we pass is absolutely pristine and so well looked after. Many new houses are being built all the time as well. After this interlude we went into the main town square to see the castle. We walked right up to the big wooden door and tried the handle. "Stengt" as they say in Sweden (or closed in Ireland). We enquired at the tourism centre and it only opened for visit's on 22 May. Still, we got a good photo. Then we set off for the rest of the day. A few gentle climbs and gentle descents and one small Irish shower.
As when we took the Ballyhack Ferry, we had a small overlap today with our route from 4 years ago. We were on the lookout for this and we started to feel the road was familiar. When we were last here it was bitterly cold and wet and we always talk about standing in the dooor overhang of a closed community hall we found to have breakfast with the rain sheeting down. I had an inkling we might see it again, and sure enough we cycled right past it! We could not resist a photo op! We've included it below. A MUCH better weather day today!
We were looking at an early finish, before 14:00, but actually we were feeling quite tired as our only break had been in Listowel some hours ago. Anyway, we had no other towns to pass through and arrived at our campsite quite hungry. By the time we had set up and showered etc. it was after 15:00 so no wonder when we had eaten last at 09:30. It is a wonderful spot, in a large old country house estate forested with trees of all kinds. The facilities were great with a good campers kitchen again. We went for a walk to see the Arboretum and the ruins of the old country pile.
Another beautiful Irish spring day! Can't believe our luck! First stop this morning was Adare which has the reputation of the loveliest or most picturesque village in Ireland. We did stop here briefly on that rainy day 4 years ago, but lacked the motivation to look around. The tourist information office was still closed as we arrived 08:30 but we had a look around at some lovely grey stone buildings. We were keen to see the castle, but it was closed too. We did see two tourist buses spit out their cargo who promptly took photos of the first building they saw, which appeared to be just a house being renovated. Time to hotfoot it out of there!
As usual, small farm roads with little traffic made up the fabric of our ride today. Many cows to see, some donkeys. Pretty farm houses. When you start getting used this sort of view, you are really spoilt. Next stop, Limerick city. This is the biggest town we have seen since London. It had a great cycle way going in. First city we've seen wiith a 24 hour shared bus/bike lane. Usually they are only during peak times. No buses to speak of anyway! We had seen a place called the Milk Market advertised for all sorts of meals etc., a food market. Unfortunately it was not open yet at 10:00. We bought a warm meal elsewhere and sat outside to eat. The weather was good and the views of King John's Castle over the River Shannon were great. Limerick though, not so great. The place had a bit of a sad atmosphere. Or maybe that is just my memories of Frank McCourt's Limerick (there is a museum for him housed in the old schoolhouse he taught at). There seems to be a lot of people, men actually just hanging around. We left as soon as we could, now towards our end point at Lough Derg.
Our planned campsite was on the shores of the Lough, but we thought we would try to wild camp at one of two places before the campsite. They did not work out as they were on forestry land and camping was not allowed. It is so different to the forestry set ups in Scotland and Scandinavia where these organisations actively encourage use of the forest for camping and recreation. In Ireland there is no "free land" I guess. Our campsite was just after Mountshannon which is a lovely village with some great features, like a marina on the lake and a stone maze which we walked through. The campsite itself did not compare favourably to many others we have used. We chose to camp on the lakeshore as the view was lovely and we wanted to have a swim, but the closest toilets were closed for construction. The guy who checked us in did not tell us that. There were clouds of midges at the lake and worst of all a horrible little man in a hat (they always wear a hat don't they?) and his long suffering wife drove up to where we were sitting admiring the view and proceeded to pitch a monstrous tent not 10m from us when of course the rest of the area was completely empty. They were staying for 5 nights and we can only assume they wanted to have the whole swimming hole to themselves as they effectively blocked access to it as well with the tent. We decided to move up to the midge free, conveniently positioned next to toilets, camping field. People can drive you crazy in campsites, no respect for your space at all. Luckily our set up is easily moved on.
So after we moved ourselves to the other camping area last night, all was peaceful and serene. Until children started to arrive and form a group. We were in the tent and speculated what was going on. There was a "playground" nearby consisting of one swing where they congregated loudly. I poked my head out the tent and noted some adults in the distance that looked like they were in Scout uniforms. This was about 20:00. It soon became clear that this was a group on a Scout camp or meeting. Would our luck never improve? Around 21:00 they moved off towards the other end of the camping field and there was much activity with the sound of tent pegs being hammered in. Clearly they were being tested on their tent pitching ability. We sited a big old school A-frame tent going up with many ropes and massive pegs. This went on for at least an hour. Anyway, they weren't too noisy and sleep beckoned. We were overall very disappointed with this campsite as the condition of everything was pretty poor and the cost was the same as other recent campsites.
This morning was cold, only a couple of degrees and the kiddies had not surfaced by the time we left at 08:00. We had a perfect ride today, there was a slight headwind but not enough to bother and the route was great. We had 30km before stopping for coffee from our flasks at Killmore and then another 25km to Ballisloe where we bought a warm lunch and ate it on the hurling pitch. This is a game similar to Lacross but with solid wood sticks and the players wear helmets. After this we had a beautiful route along narrow farm tracks with views of the typical Irish grey stone walls made by piling round stones one on another. The rural landscape is really beautiful. We had one heart stopping moment when a cow came running at us from a paddock. Rationally we knew we were safe but at the last minute judging by its speed rushing to the fence we thought "Crap, what if it jumps the fence" but it put the breaks on.
We stopped in a small village with a lovely canal marina and also a baby donkey (see pic). We could have camped at the marina on the field but wanted to get on to our campsite. It was not that much further and well-signposted. As we pulled in we could see renovation works taking place to the amenity block. A lady came out for the house on the property and said they were closed. She wanted to make suggestions of alternate campsites, but there weren't any unless one wanted to ride an extra 40km or so to the next town. We hit on a compromise, we could camp there as there was a toilet we could use and drinking water, and it would be free of charge. Bonus! The whole place is perfectly manicured and all ours! We hung our shower bag in the tree for a cold sprinkle, in this sunny weather it did not worry us. We spent the afternoon relaxing and lying in the sun. The camp site is on a lake and there is a ruined castle on the lakeshore.
First stop today was at the end of our road where we spoke to two donkeys. They were expecting treats I think and we had none so that was disappointing for them. We had a 25km ride up a slight hill to Strokestown where we would need to do a lot of food shopping as we planned a rest day tomorrow at Lough Arrow. We were pedalling along when an older man came riding his bike towards us, wearing his wellingtons. As he drew near and we were about to greet him, we noticed he had picked a bunch of wildflowers which he made as if to offer to me. I said, "For me?" and we both laughed. "Top of the morning!" he yelled with a smile. The Irish are a treat! The little farm roads were great condition and continued to Strokestown. We stopped to shop and ate brunch while sitting at a table with some stools on the main interesection of the town; it felt very European. I suppose that's because it is European! I love cycle touring on a Sunday, when the roads are quiet and there is no one about. We packed all the food away and headed off.
We went through a few more villages after Strokestown, none with a shop but there is always a big church and usually a pub. The villages make such an effort displaying information boards about their heritage and they present themselves well. We crossed a busier road and then continued down towards the Lough. There was a marina and a forested area and restuarant. Suddenly the place had a different feel, not so rural anymore but very pretty still. The riding today was easy overall but we were feeling the effects of 9 days riding without rest and were thrilled to arrive at the campsite which is perfect for a rest day as it has brilliant facilities and even an indoor lounge room. Everything is immaculate. The couple who own it live on site and there is a B&B as well. We are the only tenters. There was a trout fishing competition on the lough today. We look forward to a day off here tomorrow.
We had a relaxing day off yesterday and decided to amend our route slightly from Sligo to Donegal. We set off at 07:30 and had a quick 35km to Sligo. Just before the town we joined the cycle route and were on it again after the town. We quickly learned once again that cycle routes are for the birds. 14% gradient climb. I ask you? Especially when there is a perfectly good, albeit busier road with a proper shoulder to ride in? We made some changes on the fly and smoothed out some of these crazy climbs. We stopped in Sligo to eat and I bought a hat. The landscape is once again different, with steep mountain slopes and the famous hills around Sligo. Then we were back on the coast with dunescapes and sea views once again.
The day passed fairly quickly and before long we were shopping again for the evening meal just before Ballyshannon. As we were aiming for a bush camp along the coast we needed to fill up with water for showering and drinking. From just after Ballyshannon we were looking for options eg. tap at Community Building or graveyard, stream running near road, etc. Then Mike spotted a sign for historic point of interest Abbey and Water Wheels. It was down a hill but off we went and there was a beautiful stream flowing through the Abbey grounds with a water wheel mill. We filtered nearly 10L which Mike strapped to the back of his bike and we were off to complete our last 17km. I carried all the food we had bought so between us we looked like pack animals. A donkey would have come in handy but none were about. The last stretch was a bit uppy/downy but it was a good ride. Today we tried a combination of keeping to the main road where it seemed good for riding and then also using the farm roads, avoiding the cycle route where we could because it is ridiculous. At one point our route crossed the main road and we could see what we took for a local on a bike coming along the busy road. Our route took us along a wetland stretch and over some water and back again to the main road. As we approached it we saw same person on bike crossing our route on the same road! Nevertheless, the main drag is never our preference but a mixture is good.
Our bush camp was on a stretch of access road leading to a beach. There were a few options and we picked a little spot under some pine trees along a walking path. It is a lovely spot. We quickly showered and dressed to try to avoid being plagued by midges. The fact that they are here at all is a good sign, spring has come to Ireland!
First plan for the day was to try to outsmart the midges, but they woke up when we did and made our lives a little challenging as we made breakfast and ate it and broke camp. A "nice" introduction as they may be present in numbers on the Scottish Islands and of course later on in Scandinavia. First stop was Donegal which we reached on a busier road which had a wide shoulder. We stopped to eat (as usual). Donegal looked a pretty town. We stayed on the same busy road after Donegal, choosing to abandon the cycle route as it did a crazy dance through some hillls. On the main road there was a stop-go for some road improvements and we nearly missed our turn off to Ardara. This was a beautiful stretch of road, gradually uphill though some beautiful country. Next stop was Ardara where we had lunch on the Gaelic Football Club field. The two guys busy attending to the fields were impressed with our progress. Even the smallest of towns and villages have a GAA club with its well advertised lotto draw up for grabs. Some places will say "This week's jackpot EU 24300. Others say "This week's jackpot EU 1200. The fields and clubs are always in tip top shape. After Ardara we headed for the hills through some beautiful bog country with some short sharp hills.
Then something amazing happened, we came across a stretch of main road, also under repair, where a brand new cycle way had been laid alongside the roadway. See pic below. We voiced our appreciation to the roadworkers. We took a beautiful detour around a small peninsula that was very scenic with lovely bays and dunescape and of course sheep and cows scattered about. The views were so beautiful and the weather so good you just drank it all in. The road was dodgy in parts too with rough chip seal recently placed.
Had we known what lay ahead we might have foregone the previously mentioned detour, which just gores to show sometimes it's best not to know what's going to unfold! After joining the main road again, we stopped alongside the cycleway at a river to collect water for showering/water tonight at our bush camp. We scoop it out the river in my collapsible sea-to-summit bucket and then Mike filters out of it into a water bag which he pops on the back of his bike. It's an extra 10kg weight so you want to do it as late in the day as possible, but obviously you won't always have a river to do it from. Funny thing was that about 10km further on we found a tap at a community centre. Anyhow, by now we had only 7km of riding left and what a ride it became! A lot of climbing up steep inclines on a farily ropey narrow road. Mike with his extra 10kg weight and my bike heavy too with food, etc. Sections of the road were very difficult to get up. This was all to get to the most beautiful bush camp we have ever found in Ireland. Mike had planned the day to end there, just at the top of the climb opposite a picnic area. The views are magnificent and there are even three groups of whales in the bay below. It was completely worth the effort getting here and of course the perfect weather helps! It was a warm day today and the evening was warm too. We are exhausted! We had our shower and ate dinner and then spent the evening admiring the view before getting into bed.
We loved that bush camp last night and it was lovely this morning too. The whales were still in the bay which was very calm. We had a rollacking downhill ride to Marghery settlement. So picturesque. It felt remote out there. Imagine our suprise when the first little village we came to had an Aldi and a Lidl. Always in tandem; we shop either at Lidl or Supavalu. After this we had a choice of three roads, very busy, less busy and cycleway (which could kill us). We chose less busy after seeing a lady cyclist almost taken out a few meters to our right when a car turned across her to get to Aldi. Or Lidl. She said "feckin eejit" which is an Irish expression. The less busy road took us round the corner and then the cycleway looked inviting so we took that. After a few kilometers of it being quite welll-behaved, it took a turn for the worse with a crap surface and crazy hills. We took a turn off to the less busy road which added a few kilometres but was great, a bit uppy downy but through some great coastal scenery and also farmland.
We stopped for a warm lunch which we ate when we came across a bench. After this we were back to busy road (which was in fact the cycle way) for a few kilomteres until we took the turn off to the Glenveagh National Park. This road was very beautiful. The first thing we noticed was Mount Errigal towering over everything with its scree slopes. Then we were into bogland and peat mining country. The road surface had been redone in parts and so the riding was great. A gentle uphill gradient to a height of 280m. We had planned to camp at a Lough about 20km further on, but when a bush camp presented itself along this road we could not resist. It even has a small mound of dried peat should we decide to make a fire (which we won't of course).
Beautiful views of the bog landscape as we dropped down to the National Park Visitor's Centre. We had some climbing through rural landscape and then shot straight down to Letterkenny where we shopped for food. After this our route took us on some crazy cycleway roads. The cycle route here is called the Donegal Way and we stopped to read the information board about it. They say that they choose level 2 and 3 county roads and are looking at expanding the route. We think it would be a better idea if they just stuck the cycleway on the National Road instead of looking all over for more challenging prospects. Shouldn't be unfair here as clearly if you are only going to do a 200 km cycle tour then you want the views of the farm landscape. We prefer to mix it up a bit.
Our route was sort of crossing back and forwards across the National Road sticking to the cycleway and after the last plummeting downhill and steep uphill we decided "Next time we hit the national road we are sticking to it". As we drew up to it we saw an older man on a bike plodding along said road, which had a shoulder as wide as a truck. So on we hopped and suddenly the kilometers shunted by as we hit speeds of 25km an hour plus. So good to give the legs an even run. In total number of cyclists seen along this road (including a child): 6. Number of cyclists seen on the cycle route: zero.
With 12 km to go to Derry we turned off and there was a slight climb to our campsite. There was also a rough rocky dirt track that we had to take to get to it. Talk about comnig in the arse end. Mike got to the top first of course and as I came up to reach him I was heard to comment "Route planner has a crazy sense of humour". As we turned the corner we crossed the Irish/UK border. We are camping about 30m from it. The site is small, like a certified site with good facilities. Our host is Paul and he is very amusing. He gave us the run down on everything from the Brexit situation which everyone has lost interest in now, to the state of the Northern Irish civil service. He pointed to the ditch which runs alongside the ridiculous dirt road we rode along and said that this is what is causing the whole Brexit breakdown. A ditch which has been there for a couple of hundred years and will be there for a hundred more. It was very interesting to hear him describe this little area before 1994. You could walk over the border to Ireland whenever, but the road that runs in front of the campsite was barricaded with concrete blocks, and motorists had to use the border crossing elsewhere. Crazy land! We were here early at 13:00, and it rained from 15:00 to 17:00 so that worked out well. First rains for 2 weeks! Looks like we missed the rain in Ireland!
We had not planned to have a rest day in Derry, but a few things aligned which made it a good idea. We have to have a rest day in the next three days as we can only get the ferry to Scotland from Ballycastle on Monday, it was forecast to rain for most of the day today, and there is a big street motorbike racing event "North West 200" on in Coleraine today, which we would be camping short of but that might impact camp spots available and traffic on the road. We woke to steady rain which hung about, and had pretty much decided a day in Derry would be just the thing.
A taxi from here to town only cost GBP6 and it's about 10km away so that was brilliant. We waited about 2 min for the taxi and the driver was very helpful, dropping us off at a good spot to access the City Wall which you walk. He explained about Bogside (the Catholic neighbourhood of murals, riots and Bloody Sunday fame) and the Fountain on the other side of the wall, the Protestant domain. The wall around the old town of Derry is in excellent condition although centuries old and a great asset for the town as it makes the place so easy to navigate. You can just walk the wall and then go down some stairs when you are in the area you want to be. There are information boards along the way with the history of the wall and the town. There are 4 gates in the wall and all were constructed for a certain purpose when it was built. There are also great views of Bogside and its murals as well as Free Derry Corner. It is amazing being up high like this and looking down. Physically this could not have helped the feeling in the place during the Troubles. The whole thing is difficult for us to understand, but we appreciated the way it has all been preserved as a livivng history.
It rained quite a bit so we tried to be indoors as well as out, having a good meal inside, visiting the immense and important-looking guildhall and also I got a haircut. It is First Holy Communion Weekend in Derry this weekend so every hair salon was full of little girls having cute hairstyles with flower wreaths or fancy updo's for mums. Mine was a bit simpler I imagine. I chose a walk-in salon and had only a 15 min wait. As always after 5 weeks riding it's a little scary to be confronted with your face in the mirror, but I got used to the "outdoors" complexion by the end of it. We then finished walking the Wall and did some grocery shopping and withdrew pounds. We ended our time in the town with a walk around Bogside appreciating the murals and Free Derry corner. This was particularly interesting as the Free Derry painted sign is actually the gable end of a row of terraced houses that formed a street which was demolished in 1975. The gable end remained due to the significance of the sign and it's proximity to the Bloody Sunday events. We found it strange as of course you are taking photos of the murals and so on, and they are painted on the sides of regular suburban housing terraces. Take away the art and the explanatory signage and boards and this could be almost anywhere in the UK. It felt a little like an invasion of privacy for the people who live here, being observed by groups on walking tours all the time. But as a local assured me, they have a sense of pride about it all so they don't mind and are used to it.
Once we had seen enough we waited for a taxi at a taxi rank for a few minutes and then paid another GBP6 to get back to the campsite. Who would have a car when taxi's are this cheap? Considering that petrol in Ireland was EU 1.46 per liter and appparently is more expensive here in the UK! Anyway, great convenience for us!
The rain continued off and on all night and even when we woke up this morning it was still raining lightly; just a typical Irish shower. We wore rainpants and booties but it was really too warm for rain jackets and anyway, by the time we set off the rain had stopped and it was just heavily overcast. One of the campers came to have a chat, he was from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Ireland seems a popular holiday destination for older Dutch couples who come over with their campervans from France (Cherbourg - Rosslare usually). We have met quite a few. They tend to spend a long time in Ireland, certainly over a month, slowly travelling round to all the places they want to see. We also met an Anglican minister who was in Derry for a conference of all clergy in Ireland - about 600 from all the teeny tiny places we have been too. His colleague had lived and worked in Cape Town for sometime but we did not meet him. Anyway, we set off at 08:00 as usual and as it was Sunday there was no traffic. Derry is the first town that we have come across of any size with very restricted shopping hours on Sundays, nothing is open before 13:00. This was the case even in Coleraine, our destination town.
Derry does have a very good network of cycle routes which we used to get down to the River Foyle and then crossed the Peace Bridge to climb out of the city. Our route was pretty with new forest growth and slightly uppy-downey. As we approached the first village of the day our thoughts turned to whether we should have a hotel stay tonight. We aren't going soft or anything, but the rain was predicted to worsen this afternoon and we were headed for a small campsite about 10km short of Coleraine with trout fishing ponds. It looked as if we would have an early finish and so may just be tent-bound for the afternoon if it was raininig. We stopped at the Spar with a view to getting some hot food but they did not cook on Sundays. We kept going to the next town where we put on our rain gear again (we took it off cllimbing out of Derry, too hot). Just before the town we came to a petrol station with a small Centra Supermarket with hot food so we decided to buy some eats. The way this always goes is that I go up to the deli counter and start asking for food. At some point the staff member will look a little bemused and then I have to explain that we are cycling so we always need food. As an example, today I got 6 battered chicken fillets, three pork sausages wrapped in bacon and stuffed with herb something, and three hashbrowns. We found a bench a couple of km's down the road and ate it all. Then we checked out hotels online in Coleraine and found the Lodge Hotel that looked good and was cheap. We decided to book a room to get some luxury in the tank before hitting the western isles of Scotland tomorrow.
Going to Coleraine would make the route today a little longer but we reworked it to stay on a busier road (turned out not to be busy at all) and so it wouldn't impact too much distance wise. This was a great route as it took us up a climb which was part of a cycle route called Eagles Glen, into the hills and then sweeping down the other side into Coleraine. We arrived at the hotel at 14:00 and had an hour wait for our room which is lovely and spacious. It had a bath which is a treat so I filled it with water up to my ears.
We woke after a sound night's sleep. You forget how silent a hotel room can be. We had a restful morning and left at check out time, 11:00. It was only a 38km ride to our ferry at Ballycastle. The weather was good and the ride out of town was along a good cycleway that our hotel happened to be adjacent to. After only a few kilometers we reached Bushmills, a famous whiskey distillery and then the short rail trail along a heritage railway to Giant's Causeway. There were quite a few tour buses and people were intent on scurrying up over the hiil to inspect the feature. It's a confusing place as there are quite serious signs up telling you to pay GBP 12.50 per person for admission to the Giant's Causeway Experience and Visitor's Centre and that your admission evidence would be checked on the way out, but then you can also walk up the hill before the visitor's centre to view it all free of charge.
The road from the Causeway to Ballycastle is a great ride and we really enjoyed it and would recommend it. The views are absolutely beautiful and we were lucky as we had it on the perfect day. The headland after Ballycastle was completely clear and you could see the Scottish mainland from the Irish coast. We got to Ballycastle quite early and went for a fish and chip lunch at the Golden Chip. Delicious! The harbour area is very pretty and has lots of benches about. The main ferry to use the harbour is the ferry to Rathlin Island which is a car ferry, although many people seem to go for the day, leaving their car behind. A few people were interested in our travels and asked where we were off to. They all looked suprised that you could catch a pedestrian ferry from here to Campbelltown. This made us a little apprehensive, particurarly when Kintyre Express messaged us to say that their boat was undergoing maintenance today so Aquaholics was taking over the ferry service. Also there was no information at the little harbour about where the boat leaves from or anything. I asked at the tourist office and the lady confirmed the map we had which showed the pick up point at the marina.
The boat arrived at 16:30 as scheduled. I am going to stop calling it a ferry as it only takes 12 pedestrians at a maximum. This little boat dropped of 4 passengers and picked up 3 - us and a local man going to visit his daughter in Campbelltown. He was so excited to hear we were from Perth as his son lives in Innaloo. He was very enthusiastic about Perth. We all sat in the cabin with the captain and it was a fabulous experience crossing over to Campbelltown. It took 2 hours due to a strong tide that we had to sail against and although we were told the crossing was calm today, it was quite bouncy. We really enjoyed it and the views as we left Ireland and arrived in Kintyre (via the famous Mull of Kintyre) were tremendous.
Arriving in Campbelltown, we packed our panniers etc. onto our now very wet and salty bicycles (thank goodness for our Rohloffs and Gates drives!) and stopped to buy some supplies for dinner. We had an 11km ride along the very pretty coastline of Kintyre, the coastal landscape is stunning and there are views of the islands all around. We found a camp spot and were then introduced to Scotland's midges that descended in a swarm. We escaped into the tent relatively unscathed.