The Wild Atlantic Way

22 May 2023

17 & 18 May. Kildorrey/Mitchelstown. 16km local cycling.

Two days off the bikes, chilling out and catching up with old friends was just what we needed at this stage – and I had some work to do as well so our stop here was well timed. Mitchelstown is where I had my first job after university (a whole 30 years ago!) and the 2 days were a whirlwind of catching up with different groups of friends I haven’t seen in a long long time, with non-stop chatting, laughing and eating for the 2 days. We were hosted by Linda and John for 3 nights on their farm and we were so well looked after we needed to get back on our bikes to lose the extra pounds we put on with all the food we ate…

Another friend Bronagh, who lives in Mallow, invited us for dinner one night and as well as a lovely home-cooked meal we had lots of laughs and great conversation with her, her husband and kids – both very grown up from the last time I saw them!

And finally I had a girls night out in The Bodhran in Mitchelstown – an old regular pub of mine when I lived there – with Linda and another friend Caroline.

Caroline summed up the entire 2 days there when she said “they could have locked us in overnight and we would still be talking!”

Fri 19 May. Kildorrery to Ballybunion. 119 km.

We were back on the bikes bright and early on Fri morning for a big day towards Ballybunion in Kerry (which according to Nigel sounds like a type of foot fungus!). This is the first day we set off in a direction rather than with a specific destination in mind. We didn’t have accommodation booked and only real plan was to stay off main roads as much as possible with the likelihood of us camping for the night. The sun was shining and it was a lovely route through Counties Cork, Limerick and then into Kerry, but it definitely wasn’t flat and we had a strong headwind for most of the day. On the plus side the scenery was fantastic. Travelling by car it probably wouldn’t look particularly remarkable, but on bikes you can see, smell and hear so much on quiet rural roads so it really was lovely cycling. One of the things I have noticed since I got to Ireland (and never really noticed when I lived here) is the smell of the fresh air. Hard to explain but it definitely has a unique smell of fresh air from the minute you arrive and the only other place I have ever experienced that is New Zealand.

We came across Glenquin castle – built mid 1500s and home to a medieval landlord – which was a perfect stop for lunch and a bit of exploring.

About 6km before we got to Abbeyfeale we joined the Limerick Greenway – another cycle/pedestrian-only path. We actually wondered whether or not to join it as we thought it would finish in Abbeyfeale and Nigel happened to say “wouldn’t it be great if this took us on to Listowel”. As if by magic 2 mins later we passed a sign that said “next stop Listowel”. Bonus! 22km of empty Greenway ….

We arrived in Listowel around 430pm, which is a lovely old market town with an impressive castle as well as being the birthplace of Irish poet John B Keane and the proud host of 14 All-Ireland Fleadhs (traditional Irish music competitions). We went to the local tourist office to see if there was anywhere to camp in the area but despite her friendliness, the lady in the tourist office was completely useless….couldn’t recommend anywhere local to camp or even stay and told us Ballybunion, 15 km away, had 4 campsites but to avoid travelling there until later because the road would be too busy. We decided to take that chance and were glad we did because the road was actually quiet..which maybe should have told us that her information was not entirely accurate! When we got to Ballybunion we discovered that the “campsites” were not for tents, but vans and mobile homes only..which is what we had found on Google ourselves, but wanted to believe that Mrs Tourist Office in Listowel knew better. Plan A had always been to wild camp so on recommendation from a local we ended up camping along the cliffs of the beach.

That was definitely the place to be in Ballybunion as we didn’t think much of the town itself – a typical seaside town of amusement arcades, pubs and fast food places. We even managed to get our water bottles refilled by a friendly mobile home owner who wasn’t too far away from our camp spot!

Our biggest day on the bikes so far at 119km so we were in our sleeping bags by 9pm absolutely knackered.

Other point to include here was Nigel’s lovely interaction with a local kid (probably about 8 yrs old) while I was in the supermarket. He saw Nigel waiting outside and shouted out from the back seat of his car how they had driven past us earlier and wanted to know where we had come from…so a big long conversation ensued with his eyes nearly popping out of his head when Nigel told him about our New Zealand trip.

Sat May 29th. Ballybunion to Doonaha/Kilkee. 59km.

We were rudely awakened by someone cutting the grass at 6am on the golf course beside us but as wild campers I guess we can’t really complain! It rained in the night but we thought we would get packed up before more rain started, but just as I was making our sarnies for lunch and Nigel was packing up the tent the rain started, so it it was a bit of a frantic get away. It was muggy and warm on the road this morning but the scenery was fantastic – our first time on the Wild Atlantic Way along some very remote and picturesque roads.

We were heading for Tarbert to cross the Shannon estuary by ferry into Co. Clare before making our way round the coast to continue our coastal journey. No hiccups with the ferry this time other than we had a couple of different people almost hijack us to find out where we were going and what we were doing. Normally we love chatting to people but I was trying to deal with an accommodation issue and we also wanted to have a sandwich so they weren’t the most welcome conversations. The planning and constantly looking for future accommodation is definitely one of the hardest parts of the trip which I had forgotten about. You have to be “always on” and thinking ahead – and our accommodation needs are quite specific as we need somewhere safe to leave our bikes overnight and somewhere to cook an evening meal because we are too tired/lazy to go looking for food at the end of a cycling day. Having a tent on the journey has definitely allows us to more flexible and we really couldn’t do the journey without it!

But it was still an exciting ferry trip as we saw lots of bottle-nosed dolphins swim and jump quite close alongside the ferry, with cheers and lots of “oohs” and “aahs” from the passengers. We eventually had our sandwich when we reached Killimer on the other side and then we were back on the Wild Atlantic Way towards Kilrush. Nigel had an incident when the bags on the back of his bike just dropped off while going up a hill. No idea why, but thankfully we had somewhere to pull in to sort it out and there was nothing behind us. We made a supermarket stop in Kulrush as decent supermarkets will be limited over the next few days – and the town itself from what we saw seemed quite nice.

The next 15 km from there was on a pretty busy road. I have started to cycle a few metres out from the edge when it’s like this to make sure that drivers behind us slow down before they pass…I was finding that when cycling close to the edge a few drivers just whizz pass, even when there is oncoming traffic so this does seem to work….although Nigel does think I am too far out! The last 7km to our campsite was on a lovely quiet country road and as we only covered half yesterday’s distance we arrived at 330pm to a lovely campsite in Doonaha with lovely estuary views. And managed to pitch the tent before the rain came on..

(Can you spot our green tent?)

Having not being able to shower yesterday the 1€ for a 10-minute shower definitely felt like the best €1 either of us have ever spent!

Sun 21 May. Doonaha to Doolin. 79km.

Probably our toughest day yet with relentless hills and headwinds for the entire journey. As we are going north now we expected the prevailing south westerly wind to blow us along, but it was a northerly in our faces for the day. After packing up a wet tend we started out covering a bit of Loop Head Penninsula, taking in some stunning coastal views as we headed towards Kilkee…

We came across St. Kees holy well, 1 of 3000 holy wells in Ireland.

We then went inland through some peaty bogs, passing a very photographic cemetery…

We stopped in the tiny village of Doonbeg in desperate need of a tea break. We are trying not to use disposable cups on this trip so I took our camping cups to a shop where Google had indicated there was coffee available. No such luck, but the lady in the shop said “sure I can boil the kettle”, and when I went to buy some teabags she wouldn’t take my money and made the cups of tea for us from her own kitchen. What a gem! Fed and watered on a bench at the side of the road we decided to go back onto the main road as it wasn’t too busy. The headwind and the constant hills were zapping our energy so the main road would be faster and it was still on the Wild Atlantic Way. After Milltown Malbay the road got narrower AND busier as we were starting to get into tourist-central with a procession of camper vans and hire cars…most of this where thankfully coming in the opposite direction. A quick photo stop at Lahinch beach which was stunning and full of surfers despite the threatening rain clouds…..

From then on the journey became really tough. The cars and tourist buses were not the most courteous to bikes and the road was busy. And we had a couple of monster hills right into the wind – especially Moher Hill, just before the Cliffs of Moher. It seemed to go on forever and as the sun had come out we sweated our way to the top, hoping that the cars and buses wouldn’t take us out on their way past. We had a short break at the top by another holy well (St Bridget’s) and we turned up and down a few more hills before the final descent into Doolin. I had a little cry when I saw it was inky 4km away as it was the first time that day that I felt we would actually make it. Our accommodation for the next 2 nights is a hostel by the river ….

….where we have the luxury of bed and breakfast and an en-suite so we got in, settled, had dinner and then out for a Guinness or two. It’s my first time in Doolin and it’s really unique in that it is one village made up mostly of pubs that are spread out over a long stretch of road. Every pub was heaving with tourists with Irish music going on, but we were a bit too tired to really get into it. But we did manage a couple of hours before returning to the hostel for an early night – glad we weren’t camping because the midgies had come out in force!

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