The Wild and Wonderful West

1 June 2023

Fri 26 May – Sat 27 May. Clifden.

A day off in Clifden where we did very little other than walk round the town (which is a lovely little place), take a trip to the supermarket and stock up on midgie repellent and headnets as our experience at the campsite in Spiddal had left us both emotionally and physically scarred with multiple bites! Our apartment had fantastic views over a sea inlet so we were happy to sit on the balcony and chill and take in the changing view as the tide changed. “Tide TV” Nigel called it.

The highlight of our day was meeting up with Anita, our friend Bairbre’s sister, who had been in London when we stayed with her husband in Dungarvan at the start of our trip. There was a sportive cycling event around Connemara on Saturday 27th and Anita was taking part. So our timings worked that we actually got a chance to meet in person, have a drink, and thank her for her hospitality.

Needless to say we could have chatted all evening, but we all had a cycling day ahead of us so took the sensible option of an early night.

Saturday 27th. Clifden to Lettergesh beach. 52km.

We had planned to have a late start as we didn’t have a big day ahead but we were up and on the road by 9:45am after a visit to Aldi where we managed to find a few tubes of Paw Paw – the best insect bite lotion EVER which we initially discovered in New Zealand, and have used since. We hadn’t packed it for this trip but remembered that Aldi sold it….so we stocked up…

…..slathered ourselves in it to stop us scratching ourselves to death, and headed off in the opposite direction to the 2000 other cyclists heading out on their cycle of Connemara.

And it was yet another day of spectacular cycling for us, from the off. Connemara just keeps giving! We headed out on the Sky Loop Road, which is an elevated road around the peninsula that gives really stunning coastal views.

It was a bit of a climb but worth every pedal push – and we had the road almost to ourselves.

We then took a remote route out on another peninsula, stopping for a tea break to take in the amazing views onto Omey island.

The only place that served tea or coffee was a pub that was already full of jolly Welsh visitors already tucking into multiple pints of Guinness at 11:30am!

The next part of the route took us right along the water’s edge towards a lovely little fishing village of Cleggan and around Cleggan pier. We had our first sandwich in a graveyard overlooking Ballynakill Lough, which might sound like a morbid or weird location but it had bench, a great view and it was very tranquil so what was not to like?!

Back on the bikes past Garraunbaun Lough and then back on the main road at Moyard where we met the Clifden cyclists coming in the opposite direction….looking much less relaxed and less able to take in the scenery than us it has to be said.

We turned off the main road at Letterfrack, passing the huge mountain range in Connemara National Park and joined the Connemara loop where we found a bench spot for our second sandwich of the day.

Then we were on the home run to our campsite which was just on Lettergesh beach. A stunning location …

…and we set up camp …..

…before taking a walk on the almost deserted mile-long beach…

Lettergesh beach was the location for the horse racing scene in The Quiet Man apparently, not that either of us have ever seen the film! The evening activity took our usual campsite routine of dinner, a bit of reading and an early night.

Sunday 28th May. Lettergesh beach to Westport. 70km.

Headed off into a fairly strong headwind and hills. And despite what I said earlier about Paw Paw being the remedy for curing insect bites, it hasn’t worked on Irish midges as I scratched all night! But this was all compensated by the stunning views of coast, lakes and mountains along quiet roads that we were treated to once again. The wild flowers are all out in bloom so there are so many different colours and smells that add to the whole experience. And this time we were right alongside some fantastic mountains that we could see really close up.

It wasn’t long before we were alongside Killary Fjord, which is a 16km long fjord – one of only three in Ireland. (Lough Swilly, where Buncrana in located and where we are heading as our final destination is one of the others).

From there we crossed into Co Mayo where we turned off the main road towards Delphi where we had came across a coffee van which meant we just had to stop and take it all in. We have had the best 2.5 days in Connemara so the rest of Ireland has a lot to live up to we think. But we weren’t disappointed as a bit of a climb shortly after that out of Doolough Valley gave some more stunning views … (you can just about see me gurning up that hill in that photo!)

Heading towards Louisburgh we met a few local residents ….

Our final 22km into Westport wasn’t as bad as we feared in terms of the headwind and traffic on the road, and we skirted round Croagh Patrick, Ireland’s holy mountain where St Patrick is said to have fasted there for 40 days. We climbed it last year and drove this route from Westport, so it was lovely to cycle it in the opposite direction in fantastic weather conditions.

We arrived into Westport to find our accommodation for the next 5 nights where we have decided to treat ourselves to a bit of a mini break. Last year when we came to Westport we commented that it would be a nice place for a break, so we decided to factor it into this tour. And it started with dinner with my sister Tracy and her family who live in the nearby town of Ballinrobe.

28 May – 2 June. Resting in Westport and a 80 trip to Achill Island.

On our first day in Westport we bumped in Philippe, the French cyclist that we met on the outskirts of Galway last week. That was a lovely exchange and we shared stories and photos of where we had been since we last left him making tea outside his tent near Kinvarra in Co. Galway! We also had some repairs done on our bikes as well as the usual rota of chores, cleaning our burner for camp cooking and washing. But we also did some exploring in Westport which we love. It’s an old market town with an octagon-shaped plaza at its centre with 2 main roads coming in, which means it’s rather busy with traffic.

But even that didn’t put us off and we spent quite a few hours happily people-watching during our time there, just taking it all in and enjoying the buzz of tourists and locals going about their business.

We took a walk through the stunning grounds of Westport house and spent about 30 minutes watching an otter frolicking about in the lake right in front of us, which other walkers seemed to miss.

On Wed 31st we cycled Ireland’s first Greenway from Westport to Achill Island, the location for the filming of The Banshees of Inisherin. We had heard how amazing Achill was and were both quite excited to go there, but we both left a bit disappointed. The journey there was stunning in places ….

….but the Greenway was a bit gravelly which always makes me a bit nervous on a bike.

It definitely had some stunning mountain views and beaches ….

But maybe it’s because were spoiled with our brilliant experience in The Burren and Connemara so our expectations were too high but the whole island felt very populated and built-up and not the remote rural setting we were expecting.

There was also a vicious cross wind that we had to navigate and as we were on empty bikes it meant for some wobbly cycling at times. We had planned to go to Keem beach at the furthest point, but after our first sandwich we decided that batting a mega-steep hill in the wind to get there was not going to be fun and could take more time than we actually had if we wanted to take the shuttle bus back to Westport. So we decided against it and turned back. The right decision as it turns out because the bus arrived early. So although we enjoyed the day it definitely wasn’t the wow day we had expected….but maybe we are just getting greedy now because we have had so many of them in this trip!

PS My midgie bites have definitely improved but they are still there. Seems like very little works to cure those once they have taken hold!

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