Cycling in Ireland

Cycling Feedback # 1

Ireland by Bike
1,000 Miles around Republic of Ireland
June 1995


By Roberta Grapperhaus ( grapbike@aol.com), Wed, 17 Apr 1996 20:28:35 -0400


Bikes we used & quality of roads

This is an outline of a 1,000 trip around perimeter of the Republic of Ireland that my boyfriend and I took. We flew our bikes from Los Angeles, CA to Dublin, where there is a bicycle assembly area right in the airport. We each own inexpensive Trek hybrids - mine’s the Trek 700 and Bill bought the 730, which is basically the same bike but $150 more and quite a bit lighter. We found out American Airlines luggage dimension requirements, had the bikes boxed at a local LA bike store, and checked them as regular luggage at no extra charge. ALWAYS check with the airline about their luggage dimension requirements - if you stay within these, there is no extra charge. But if you don’t know that, they’ll charge you anywhere from $40 to $70 US (based on our experiences) per bike each way. These bikes proved to be perfect for touring Ireland. Most of the roads are quite good...we noticed there were more potholes and some stretches of gravel on the west side of the country, in areas like the Dingle Peninsula and the Connemara, but even those roads weren’t too bad.

Maps

We bought the North (which we didn’t use), South, East and West Ordnance Survey Maps of Ireland 1:250,000. These are quite detailed. Last summer (1995) Ireland was in the midst of changing road numbers, as well as changing over from miles to kms, so some signs were confusing. But the great thing about Ireland is that there always seems to be someone around the corner who is more than willing to help out if you are at all confused or lost. We had also joined Cyclists Touring Club (based in London, England) and they sent us a detailed description of cycling around the perimeter of the island. We contacted the Irish Tourist Board in New York City, and they sent us a cycling map, which included some bike shops, which was very helpful. They also sent detailed bed & breakfast and hostel information. Once we were in Ireland, there were Information kiosks throughout the country, but they were much less informative than local Irish folk.

Lodging

We were more than pleasantly surprised by the number and quality of bed & breakfasts throughout the entire country. We had sleeping bags, a tent and other camping equipment and never once used it, because we never seemed to be more than a few miles away from a b & b, no matter what part of the country we were in. Most b & b’s we stayed at cost between 13 - 16 Irish pounds per person, which includes a wonderful, huge homecooked breakfast consisting of orange juice, homemade brown bread, a choice of cereals, white bread and toast, pot of tea or coffee, eggs, bacon, sausage, and sometimes black and white pudding, and a fried tomato. Some B & B’s we stayed at were simply bedrooms in people’s houses, but the great part was that for that night we were treated like long-lost friends and felt like part of the family. We never stayed at a hostel, but heard good things about them from other cyclists, and the Tourist Board will send you a list of them. Since we traveled in June, we usually found a nice room with very little trouble, but I understand B & B’s can get pretty crowded in July and August.

Weather

Based on everything we heard, we were prepared for rain, rain and more rain. In thirty days, we only had two full days of rain, and a few other light showers. By the last week of June, the weather was in the 70s -80s (F), which I guess is rather unusual for Ireland, and the Irish were ecstatic.

Miscellaneous Observations

Had always heard about “poor” Irish - to me this country seems to be doing fine economically...most of the homes we stayed in were extremely nice and comparable to your solid middle class American homes. We were surprised by the amount of litter in some towns, but the Irish do have a campaign called “Tidy Towns” to reduce litter.
Our intent was to circle the Republic of Ireland and ride 1,000 miles. This was our route:

Dublin south to the Wicklow Mountain range

there are a couple different routes - the hardest (R 115) going directly through the mts. R117 to R755 is easier and still very pretty. We only made it as far as Eniskerry, a quaint village near the tourist site of Powerscourt estate and Gardens and Ireland’s highest waterfall.

From Eniskerry we continued south to Glendalaugh, which is a popular tourist site (almost too popular!)...it is the remains of a church and Round Tower from the 6th century situated by a beautiful lake. After visiting, we continued south through Rathdrum and spent the night at the tiny mill town of Avoca, famous for its wool products.

Avoca to Wexford

The route became much flatter as we left the Wicklows. We were back on main highway - N11, a lot of traffic, but we had our own lane most the time. All the B & B’s were packed because it was a 3-day holiday weekend, but we found a wonderful couple on the outskirts of Wexford who we stayed with.

Next day, we were tired of riding on main highway, so after riding to Rossalare Harbour, we took small Irish lanes and ended up, not exactly on purpose, at Kilmore Quay, a picturesque little village on the Southeastern tip of the country.

Kilmore Quay to Waterford

a pastoral, somewhat hilly ride that includes a ferry crossing through Waterford Harbour. We stayed at a beautiful home on outskirts of Waterford (famous for its crystal.)

Waterford to Ardmore

We were recommended to visit this tiny, tiny village on the south coast by a bicycle store owner in Dungarvin. It was one of the highlights of our trip. Ardmore is known for its Round Tower, which we explored as night fell, completely alone. If you’re in Ardmore, try to stay at Mr. Colbert’s B & B. He was a very charming, older gentleman who had that “old world” dignity that is so rapidly disappearing.

Ardmore - (Ballycotton) - Cork

fairly uneventful ride, but quite pretty along coast and through farmland. We took a side trip to Ballycotton because they were going to begin filming a movie with Marlon Brando there and we wanted to check it out. (The production ended abruptly a month later.) We pedaled to the outskirts of Cork and stayed at a b & b that caters to golfers (There are about five regulation courses in Cork, which is also a major Irish harbor.

Cork - Clonakilty

After getting slightly lost in Cork and deciding to stay on our mission of circling the island rather than taking side trip to see the Blarney Castle (about 5 -10 miles north of Cork), we rode on to Clonakilty, a very colorful town with some very nice B & Bs. We bypassed Kinsale but heard later that that town is a lot of fun. We enjoyed Clonakilty for its uniqueness and friendly people and again recommend the b&b we stayed at called Bay View on Old Timoleague Rd.

Clonakilty - Ballydehob

From Clonakilty we followed the N71 about 40 miles to Ballydehob, my least favorite stopover of the trip. Again, we rode through gently rolling hills and farmland to get there...it wasn’t difficult, but I was looking forward to heading north and enjoying the West Coast.

Ballydehob - Bantry - Kenmare

One of the most beautiful rides of the trip was between Bantry and Kenmare on N 71 - absolutely spectacular pass where you’re literally riding with the mountain goats and sheep up a craggy landscape with beautiful views and a wonderfully long descent into the town of Kenmare. About a 40-mile day over 2 passes, but it was exhilarating. (We had considered going from Ballydehob to Mizen Head at very SouthWest tip of Ireland before heading north and are kind of sorry we didn’t - other cyclists recommended it very highly).

Kenmare - “The Forge” (the tip of Ring of Kerry)

One Irishman told us, “you can’t go to Ireland without seeing the Ring of Kerry.” Though Bill was unimpressed at first part of Ring of Kerry, be both agreed by end it was definitely worth the ride. It gets quite desolate out on end, where we spent the night at “The Forge” (an oceanfront b&b near a campground) which I recommend for its ocean views and homemade dinner (no other restaurants around here).

“The Forge” - Glenbeigh

The first few miles from The Forge were spectacular, the incredible green Irish cliffs where the movie Ryan’s Daughter was filmed were beautiful. From there we curved around the ring, with our next major destination in mind being the Dingle Peninsula. After a full day of riding, we came across a nice village named Glenbeigh. The town pub had excellent dinners at a low price, and music til the wee hours. We ended up staying in Glenbeigh an extra day...there’s a beautiful beach there that reminded me of California beaches, we liked the “pub grub” and we liked our B & B.

Glenbeigh - Dingle

This was a good, exerting 35 mile ride. Our route: N70 to Castlemain then east on R561 - first time we noticed the road, with its potholes and less smooth surface, was starting to slow us down a little. Some nice hills before dropping down into the beautiful harbor town of Dingle. We were told by other bicyclists not to miss the Connor Pass, so we stayed an extra day in Dingle, and did a “day ride” (without our panniers and camping stuff) around the end of the peninsula, which again had the great cliffs and crashing water. There are a lot of great little restaurants and shopping in Dingle - really a good place to spend several days if you have the time.

Dingle - Ballybunnion

This was our longest ride yet, about 51 miles, and most of it was done in pouring rain - our first full day of rain the entire trip. We took the Connor Pass, which I understand to be the highest pass in Ireland, a little grueling, but once on top there should be incredible views. It was very cloudy and getting ready to rain, so we missed much of the views, but really enjoyed sailing down other side. From there we continued north through Tralee, then got off the main highway and on a smaller road (R556) which many miles further connected with R551 and Ballybunnion. We were soaked by the time we arrived, but still spent over an hour turning down unsuitable b & b’s in this odd little beach town that we understand to be in the midst of a renovation...it’s famous for its golf courses, and if you go up into hills, that’s where the good b& b’s are. Unfortunately most of them were full, but we finally found a nice home called “The Links” where the proprietess gave us a ride back to town that evening for dinner, and she washed & dried all of our soaking wet clothes, which we very much appreciated. Very modern homes on the hill, as compared to very small, old and dreary homes down by the “Castle” which dates back to early 1100s.

Ballybunnion - Doonbeg

Our next main goal was to see the cliffs of Moher and then catch a ferry to the Aran Islands. From Ballybunnion we headed Northeast on R551 towards Talbert, where we caught a small ferry across the Shannon River. At that point, we got back on main highway, N67 through Kilrush and Kilkee. Not a particularly memorable ride, but not difficult either. We were getting tired by the time we went through the very small village of Doonbeg, at which point we decided to stay at Paddy and Maise’s b & b, a very nice older couple who sent us down the road to a pub whose owner whipped up two beautiful meals for us even though the kitchen had closed. We stayed several hours and joined in a sing-along with the Irish locals, a wonderful experience to say the least. The next day as rode further north, we were glad we had stayed in Doonbeg because for us it was a very “real” Irish experience, and because there really was no other villages for miles.

Doonbeg - Doolin

We stayed on N67 north until we reached R478 (about 20 miles), which took us to the famous Cliffs of Moher, which were as strikingly beautiful as we had heard. Right at the cliffs, you climb a very steep hill. We chose to go past the official tourist center, parked our bikes climbed through a wire fence and walked through a field just north of the tourist center. It was quite spectacular as we had the whole area virtually to ourselves while the tourist center was swarming with people. After a few hours of walking around and taking pictures, we continued about another 5 miles north to Doolin, where the ferry leaves for the Aran Islands (ferries also leave from Galway and Rossaveal Harbor both further north). The pubs in this village are bustling; we enjoyed another good pub meal and a good night’s sleep at the “Atlantic View” b & b, just a few blocks from the ferry landing, and very inexpensive.

Doolin - Kilmurvey (Aran Islands)

In the morning we awoke to high winds, choppy seas and very cloudy skies. By the time our ferry, entitled “the Happy Hooker,” arrived, it was pouring rain and absolutely miserable. Plus, we had a flat tire. I barely made the hour and-a-half ride to the big island of Inishmore in one piece, and when we got there it was raining even harder. After spending a few hours changing the tire and looking for a suitable b & b, we decided we didn’t like the little port town, and since we were drenched anyway, decided to ride about 10 miles toward Dun Angues, the ancient Irish Fort built on cliffs as beautiful as Moher. We lucked out - just down the road from the fort is a wonderful, very old bed & breakfast called the Kilmurvey House - probably our favorite b & b the entire trip. The proprietress made a beautiful dinner, and we spent the evening in the “library” reading books about the island and talking to new friends we had made over dinner. We spent the whole next day as well - which was sunny and about 70 degrees F, exploring the small island and Dun Aengus. This was one of the most enjoyable days of the entire trip.

Aran Islands - Doolin - Ballyvaughan

After two nights on the island, we took the 4:00 p.m. ferry back to Doolin, had dinner at the pub, and began our ride around 6:00 p.m. It was now June 21, the longest day of the year, and this was for me the most beautiful ride of the trip. We took R479 to R477, along the coast through the famous Irish Burren, miles of pale gray limestone rock punctuated by wildflowers in County Clare. It seemed as if the sun was setting forever, and we rode effortlessly until dark (about 11:00 p.m.) when we arrived in Ballyvaughan, where we stayed at the first b & b we spotted, “Oceanville.” We lucked out and got the whole front cottage to ourselves for the price of a single room. I was sorry we had to leave the next morning, but we had less than a week left of our trip and still about 300 miles to go to reach our goal of 1,000 miles.

Ballyvaughan - Rossaveal Harbor

From Ballyvaughan we headed east and north on the N67 to the N18 north which took us into the large port town of Galway. There we caught the R336, which goes west along the north side of Galway Bay, not nearly as pretty as our ride the day before. After more than 60 miles, we finally called it a day, stopping at a b & b in the odd little area of Rossaveal Harbor, our last stop before the Connemara.

Rossaveal - Clifden

We were now in the Connemara,, distinguished by its many lakes and the mountains called the Twelve Pins. It’s a very desolate area and very popular for bicyclists. We could have taken R339 straight north to the main highway of N59, but chose instead to stay on R340 which winds around the coast. By now the temperature was in the high 80s (F), very unusual for Ireland, and by the time we finally reached N59 we were very hot and tired, but the scenery was, as they say, “haunting” and quite different than anything I had seen. This area is not lush and green like most of Ireland, but this is where you see the Irish peat bogs. On N59, we went west to Clifden, a very popular town filled with pubs, music and b&b’s.

Clifden - Westport

We continued on N59, now seeing the other side of the Twelve Pins, and heading towards Killary Harbor. The more scenic ride at that point would be to continue north on R335 where you eventually come to Croagh Patrick, the Irish “holy mountain.” But we were running out of time and energy, so we stayed on N59 north to Westport (about 50 miles), where we stayed on the outskirts of town. It was in Westport on Sunday, June 25 we had to make our final decision - continue heading north to County Sligo, then take the train back to Dublin to catch our flight at 6:00 a.m. on Weds, June 28, or skip the scenery (which was by now all starting to blur together anyway), and do the entire trip via bicycle, and head 150 miles straight for Dublin. We opted to finish our circle and stay off the trains.

Westport - Termonberry

We call the next two days “the run.” We took N 60 out of Westport to Castlebar, where we picked up the N5 which cuts across the country toward Dublin. Traffic on this road was quite heavy due to a Sunday Gaelic Football game. The road was good, though, and not very hilly, and we rode hard with very stops all day, about 80 miles until we reached a rowdy fishing village called Termonberry (about ten miles before Longford), where we spent the night in a horrible little room above a saloon. We were sunburn and sore, and were not looking forward to the next day, where we had at least 70 more miles to cover in order to get within a reasonable distance of the airport by Monday night.

Termonberry - Maynooth

At Longford, the N5 turns into the N4 - still the same type of road - a main highway running through farmland and the occasional town. Just before the next main town of Mullingar, we hit 1,000 miles for the trip, with at least 70 to 80 miles to go to reach the Dublin Airport, which we knew was doable by Tuesday night, but not easy. But throughout the trip, we kept meeting people we would call our “guardian angels” who would either direct us to a good b & b, or a nice town, or the best route, and just when I thought our luck had run out, this happened again. My mother’s friend’s daughter and her husband Kevin lived just east of Dublin near Maynooth, a small, upscale university town. I had never spoken to them, but had left one message for them when we first arrived in Ireland. About 10 miles before Maynooth, I called them up and said I’d phone again from Maynooth. When Kevin heard we were on bicycles, he jumped in his car, and found us just as we arrived in Maynooth. He piled our bikes on his car, took us to his house, where we stayed and relaxed for the whole next day, then took us to the airport first thing Wednesday morning! We had gone 1,050 miles in total, and we had circled much of the Republic of Ireland, just as we had set out to do, and our trip couldn’t have had a happier ending!

 

Cycling Feedback # 2 - diary of a 550km trip around the Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula by Mag. Gabriele Rau

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