Joyous Cycling!

26 May 2023

So it’s probably worth saying something about our planning process so far. As we have found in the past, our plans never survive past the first few hours and this trip is no exception. Initially, when we arrived in Rosslare, we’d planned to go to Cork, but the accommodation in the city proved, at first, difficult to get and then it was very expensive. We’ve been told that some of the lack of the tourist accommodation in Ireland is due to the influx of Ukrainian migrants fleeing the conflict in their own country (more on this a little later). We’d actually been enquiring about a place in Cork and were let down by the owners.  Either way, our experience so far is that accommodation is difficult to find and expensive when we do.

So, our journey has somewhat been dictated by the above observations and we have not been disappointed by the path that our travelling life has taken us.

22 May 23 – Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher (day off the bikes)

A day off! But blimey, didn’t we ache after the epic hills and headwind of yesterday! It’s been a constant thing today that we’ve been comparing which muscles are complaining! We decided to take the local bus from Doolin back to the Cliff of Moher, which we’d gurned past yesterday. Even the bus journey was a bit of an event and we were like two children gawping out the window at scenery we’d already seen on our bike yesterday. It was still beautiful.

Up at the visitor’s centre there was the buzz of a few tourists and after paying our fee to get in we set off for the cliffs. A woman at the ferry across the Shannon Estuary had said that it was very touristy and not that impressive, but we beg to differ. We headed up to the main viewing area, took the obligatory pictures and then headed off for a walk along the cliff top. Beautiful, and amazing views. At one point we found the perfect place to sit and eat an apple and just look.

Amazing! Further down the cliff we found yet another perfect place to sit and so we sat and took it all in. In slow time.

It’s difficult to describe the scene, so I’m not going to try!

It was like this and better…

It was a bit tough climbing back up the cliffs and it really showed us how much our muscles were aching.

By the time we’d climbed back up to the highest part of the cliffs the tourist buses had arrived! And boy, had they arrived in numbers – at least 30 by our count. There were LOTS of people and considering this is outside of the main tourist season we can’t imagine what it must be like at the height of the season. It was difficult to see past the throng to be honest and the numbers did definitely mar the experience, but I suppose beautiful sights and sites will always attract people.

Back on the bus and we were back in Doolin by 2pm and time for a snooze.  We are creatures of habit and will always resort to sleep when we can! An hour later we decided to walk the 2km to Doolin Pier, which was nice in its own way, and we had another opportunity to sit and take in the Atlantic before retiring to a local pub for a couple of pints of Guinness and then back for dinner and bed.

23 May 23 – Doolin to Cappaghmore – 58km

Firstly, a note from our time in Doolin. Since about Lahinch it has became very obvious that we are now on the tourist trail as there are lots of tour buses, camper vans and hire cars.  In the hostel and at the Cliffs of Moher there were lots of Americans and Europeans, mainly German, French and a few Dutch and English. We now know that when we were struggling up the Hill of Moher that we, by accident, got to this bottleneck of tourist vehicles at the right time as we didn’t hold up much traffic as we slowly made our way up the hill. Lucky really as if we’d been any earlier we’d probably annoyed a load of drivers!

The pubs in Doolin also cater for tourists.  In or experience not many Irish pubs cater for children or have food available.  The pubs in Doolin had both and they were absolutely packed with punters eating even at this early stage in the season. Though the insides of the pubs were packed and the outsides had a buzz of people, we always managed to find a good spot in the sun for a bit of serious people watching!

On the morning of the 23rd we had a monster breakfast of eggs on soda bread, plus our usual porridge.  There was a merry dance to be done in and around  the other hostel residents in the kitchen, but we were in there first and also out and packed before the staff noticed that we’d kept our bikes in our room!

The ride today was simply amazing! Northwest County Clare did us proud and it was stunning.  Everything about the day was great… not much on the roads, stunning scenery, warm sunshine, a bit of headwind to start with which, when we turned the corner at Black Head, became a tailwind (for the first time since we set out from London!). What’s not to like!?

As we had a fairly short day planned we stopped a lot to take it all in, firstly at a parking spot where we could see The Burren up close for the first time.  The Burren is an area of limestone which, although not unique, is pretty rare.  Cycling through it felt like we were on the moon, with big, jagged, bits of rock and huge rounded hills all around us. It’s difficult to take pictures of it as they just don’t do it justice.

In places the limestone has been dissolved by rainwater producing what look like paving slabs called Karren (clint and grikes in the U.K.).

We went through Ballyvaughan, where we’d hope to fine a cup of tea, but the tea shop was closed and the local restaurant had been given over to Ukrainian refugees.  We did have our first lunch there and it was interesting to see the refugees walking along the picturesque sea front.  Ballyvaughan is very small and it’s difficult to see what the refugees have to do there and to be honest they looked like they were just hanging around, which must be very boring for them. A kindly tourist gave us some of her hot water so that we could make ourselves a cup to tea, which was very nice of her.

We stopped in Finavarra, a very small village, to have lunch number 2 and noticed a community shed where fruit and veg was available.  Of course we had a nose around and decided to buy a punnet of strawberries, which we then ate straight away sitting on a wall outside. And very tasty they were too!

We continued east and were passed by a bunch of cyclists who were attempting the Mizen to Malin challenge and wished them good luck as they passed us. The rest of the ride continued uneventfully all the way to our destination campsite, which was in the eastern foothills of the Burren. Turned out that other than 3 French walkers who were glamping we were the only ones there. Or at least that’s what we thought, until another long-distance cyclist, Philippe also from France arrived, who’d been on the same route as us. The site had an amazing communal area which we commandeered for dinner and a showing of our latest TV show before bed.

Thank you Co Clare, this goes down in our top ten best rides ever and considering the amount of cycling we have done that’s some accolade!

24 May 23 – Cappaghmore to Spiddal – 62km

As per our dinner last night we commandeered the communal area again for breakfast , though to be honest we were the only ones up at that point.  A really nice and easy get-up and we were packed and on the road, having said our goodbyes to Philippe, by 8:30, destination Galway.

The ride to Kinvarra was pleasant enough and we managed to avoid the main road for most of the way into Oranmore, where we stopped for a resupply of food and a cake stop.

Galway is where Martina went to university many moons ago and so it was a trip down memory lane for her. The city has changed so much that she didn’t recognise much except some of the pubs of course! Oh, how times have changed! The centre of the city was thronged with tourists and we did a bit people watching whilst having lunch number one. It’s a really pretty place and it is easy to see why folk want to visit here. As it was still early we wandered around and ended up at the Spanish Arch beside the River Corrib. From the information board there was absolutely nothing to indicate any Spanish connection – it is in fact just the buttress of an old wall! Anyway, the sun was out by this point and the people watching was good, so we took it all in for a good hour-or-so. (Spot Martina and the bikes through the arch…)

The ride from the city centre, westward, to Spiddal wasn’t the most pleasant as there was a procession of cars on the same road. When this happens we tend to concentrate on the road rather than any view we might otherwise see. From what I can tell that piece of coast isn’t that spectacular, though we did get some nice views of the Burren in the distance, all the way across Galway Bay.

The further west we went the more we went into an Irish, Gaeltacht, speaking area.  The road signs definitely started to lose the English portion and the signs above shop doors were all in Gaelic.  There is a definite curved style to that writing style, which is very different from the more angular English. Our destination campsite was just outside Spiddal and although it was fairly basic it still had warm showers and a flat spot for our tent.  The midges, however, obviously had prior notice of our arrival and were out in force, a first on this trip.  One oversight on our part is that we have neglected to bring midge/mozzie spray which we’ll sort out in Clifden, our next stop.

As we were being nibbled pretty badly we were in our tent early for another episode of our TV series, a bit of reading and bed.

25 May 23 -Spiddal to Clifden – 90km

Outside the tent the midges were circling in anticipation of two tasty humans needing to get up, and they weren’t disappointed! It’s probably the fastest that we have ever got up, had breakfast, packed and got on the road all because of the smallest and nastiest little feckers (to use the Irish vernacular!) on the planet! We didn’t get away unscathed either, but it’s probably the best we could expect as they were clouds of literally thousands of them.  Initially we took all of our stuff up to the camp kitchen, but as it was open to the elements the midges just followed us and got us there!

Anyway, we were on the road by 7:45 nursing our wounds, but on the road nonetheless and the roads were, for the first hour or so, pretty busy, even going away from Galway. At Costelloe we stopped for a scone and coffee as we’d been deprived of half our breakfast due to the attack of the midges.  What was nice to hear was the gossip of three ladies in the cafe who were talking in Gaelic mixed with a bit of English.

The road out of Costelloe towards Screebe quietened down and our cycling day looked brighter, both literally as the sun stared to come out, and also the scenery got more spectacular with moorland, bogs and small lakes on either side of the road.

In the distance we started to get glimpses of the magnificent mountains of the Connemara National Park.

We turned off the ‘main’ road onto a smaller one where the moorland continued and the mountains got closer.  We saw some guys in the peat bogs cutting turfs which they’ll dry and burn later in the year – an activity not seen as much now and it is a dying tradition.

So having used up all the superlatives on our ride around the Burren, it’s difficult to describe our ride today without sounding repetitive! We’d not expected to have another fantastic ride like we did 2 days ago, but Connemara was pulling out the stops in order to usurp the Burren as one of our favourite rides of all time. The weather remained amazing, the roads we quiet and around every corner the views fantastic.

We stopped in the small village of Roundstone for our second lunch and found it to be a lovely wee place with an excellent spot for us to eat and take in the sea lough and the mountains in the distance.

The final 20km were pretty hard as the headwind was back making things difficult for us.  But we made it to Clifden, did a quick supermarket pit stop and found out digs, which turned out to have amazing views of an inlet from the sea. We watched the tide come in and listened to some trad music for free from the bar downstairs.

Connemara has also worked its way into our top 10 best rides ever, so now the rest of the west coast of Ireland has a lot to live up to!

Of note, Martina laughed at me when I packed factor 50 suncream before we left and I said it was more for windburn than sunburn.  As it turns out it’s as much for sunburn as it is windburn as Martina’s knees show…

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