Sept 28, to Westport
Cold and pretty clear as I climbed the hill heading out of Clifden, near the outer-end of Connemara. The hostel hostess had made a full breakfast for me, much beyond the normal continental style offered in most hostels. Like the road into Connemara from Galway yesterday there were quite a few lakes and even more hills, as I would spend the day riding north through and eventually out of Connemara. With the clear skies I was able to take a few pictures. The hills are quite barren of trees, much the same as I have seen whenever close to the sea on the west side of Ireland. But they still have their beauty and beckon the walker in me. But I am headed north, still under the notion that I have to keep going while the weather permits.
The road dropped from the hills down to a long fjord where I stopped in Leenane for soup and bread. I had an option here to take a quieter road through the mountains, but as it would more than double my remaining riding for the day I gave it a miss. The road I chose rose steadily from the fjord to a high flat area again; and it wasn’t very busy anyways. As I was approaching the end of the day I noticed a high bald peak with a predominant trail leading up to its summit. In town I would confirm that this is Croagh Patrick. In less windy times or when I was more moved to take a day off rather than moving on I would be stopping to do this pilgrimage to celebrate Ireland’s Patron Saint.
I naturally arrived in Westport a couple of hours before the hostel would open. But it is a nice town with a good information centre and a quiet scenic river at the bottom of the main streets. This hostel, 35E up from the normal 20E or so I have been paying is in a lovely old historic mill. The girl at the reception desk was French and helped me into a nice room with a bottom bunk. There were three other young French girls supposedly helping. Two lounged around the common room busy with their cells not connecting with people at all. In the morning I stood outside for about ten minutes before one of them sullenly came out of an adjoining room, opened the common room and the room where my bike had been stored and then resumed her cell phone work.
I had some nice bread and jam and hit the road. The first real negative experience on this trip.
Sept 29, to Ballina
My route to Ballina was not very direct. It started on a 12 km section of the Westport Greenway. I had so much enjoyment on my Waterford Greenway experience I decided to redo part of that at any rate. Much of this Greenway was away from the road as at Waterford but here the trail was mostly fine black cinder, which still ran well on my moderately skinny tires. Unfortunately it wasn’t much of a ride for me. I think the full Greenway is about 40 km, but only 12 were in the direction I wanted.
The rest of the day’s ride was on very quiet R and L roads. At times I was so isolated, sometimes heading in quite the wrong direction that I wondered if the road was correct. But as usual just before noon about 12 km short of my destination I popped out into Crossmolina where I was able to find a supermarket with a sit down deli where I could have my mid-day soup and a break.
It was Saturday and the streets of Ballina were packed as I came into town. I had had no luck finding a reasonable place online, the information office was closed until 2:00, and a hotel told me only one hotel had any room left and the quote I got from them was 149E. I decided there was no use waiting for the Information people to tell me the same thing. I went back online and booked an 80E B&B. When I have been riding all day and then stop I start to get cold. The sun never seems to be out but the wind is always at work and even the little sweat that I generate chills when I stop. So I want to get out of my wet stuff into a hot shower as soon as possible.
As it turned out, the place I booked was 4km out of town, which means that if I was unable to get in I would have to ride back into town to find a pub to sit in. Often hostels and B&B don’t let you in until 3:00 or 4:00. As it turned out, just as I pulled into the B&B yard at about 2:00 Breege (Bridy), as it turned out my hostess was called, pulled up in her car and was more than happy to let me into my room. She only took cash and so she drove me back into town to find an ATM and then later she took me about 4km in the other direction for a wonderful roast lamb in a pub and picked me up again when I was through. To top it all off, as if this was not enough, she washed all of my clothes and then reduced the price to 70E for everything. Every now and then it is great to use a B&B, especially one as nice as the Breege’s place.
Sept 30, to Sligo
A full Irish breakfast with all the coffee I can drink. Another benefit of using B&Bs. Joining me for breakfast were four members of a ten person group from PEI on a ten day adventure tour of the north. Their guide was a young extreme adventure racer who lived in Ballina and who one of the group had met on a business trip. They were travelling by bus to locations where they would bike, hike or kayak. The four I saw would be in their fifties and for them it had been a very rewarding trip. They had one day left.
The cold west wind was in full force as I hit the road and I was going east appreciating the reward from so many days of fighting against it. After too short a time I turned north so it did not help as much. When I stopped for my soup I had already gone 50 km and it was still only 11:00. Often I just need to get out of the cold for a while.
A little later as I neared Sligo I turned west off of my route into the wind for a while. I was heading to Carrowmore Megalithic Cemetery. A lovely farmyard type setting for a number of Dolmen, burial mounds and stone circles. They date from about 3000 BC. It is hard to make much sense of them or to imagine why people at that time put so much effort into creating these structures. They exist all over N. Europe and seem to have a high degree of consistency. For me it was a nice hour walk through the fields.
In Sligo I had my most basic hostel yet. It was a rough place but the owner who I had contacted by phone was nice enough to let me in early. This was the final Ryder Cup day, so I found the downtown section and spent a couple of hours in a pub watching the shellacking Europe laid on the US.
The only time in Sligo until I was in bed that I was warm was when I was in the pub. If I lived in Ireland I guess I might become addicted to sitting in the pubs; they are always warm. It is interesting that when I have a very good evening experience like in Ballina I have a poor one the next night and it works the other way as well.
Oct 1, to Donegal Town
Leaving Sligo Hostel without breakfast it took 20 km before I found supermarket in hopes of something hot to eat and especially to drink. This one did not have a sit-down section so I had a fruit drink and coffee sitting outside. This was not helping to warm me much. In Ballyshannon a further 25km along I had a small Irish breakfast and sat for an hour.
I am not describing the country much as I roll along these days because there is a sameness to the rolling hills, the often busy roads and the grey cold days. I love the physical act of riding, even when fighting the winds but the only birds I see are Crows and sometimes seagulls. I enjoy the little towns where I stop to eat or drink, but mostly I just sail through them.
As usual I pulled into Donegal, my destination town far too early (1:00) to expect the hostel to be open. The central square (diamond they are often called) was very busy with tour bus visitors and I did a slow walk around before settling on a coffee shop for a rest and read. In my e-guide to Ireland they mentioned a river walk that took part of an hour, but I couldn’t get into the foreboding castle. The hostel is 1.5 km out and again I was lucky; at about 2:45 the hostess was there and she let me into my room. This in contrast to the Sligo hostel was a lovely place.
Oct 2&3, Derry
I had a full Irish breakfast that I was unable to finish in a service station on the way out of town. My first 30 km to Ballyboffey (love the names) were on a wide busy highway that had a generous shoulder most of the way. It had rained all night but the day began to clear as I was riding. The morning took me over a fairly high pass on the nice road but then as I came down at high speeds the roadwork began and all that early work did not return a fast down-hill.
The rest of the day after Ballyboffey were spent on quiet roads. At 11:00 I stopped at Raphoe for lunch and was given a tip on a nice side road. But when I tried to find it I must have missed my turn and it added a few extra kms. Still it was lovely riding.
I came into Derry (Londonderry) along the River Foyle, which becomes a tidal estuary as it enters the city. It is quite wide and the first thing of note as I approached the centre of the city was a new meandering foot bridge called the Peace Bridge. I had pushed quite hard on this day not real certain how far I had to go and I noted that it was only 1:15. So again I had coffee and a treat for a while and then phoned the hostel and the young guy running it gracefully agreed to let me in early.
By this time I had already decided that I would take an extra day here. There are quite a few things that I was interested in and it had been eight days since my last break. I would get to quite a few things on my first afternoon and then I cleaned up on my interest list the next day.
There is still a non-violent resistance to the British in parts of Northern Ireland and some of that resides in Derry. To begin with there is an on-going issue about the name. London was added to the Derry some two hundred years ago by the British occupiers. In road signage the London part will often be scratched out. I was most interested in a district called Bogside. At one time this was where the poor Catholics lived and it became the centre of the resistance. There are about twenty paintings on buildings reflecting the struggles. They were initially done during “the Troubles” as they were called. The British army would remove them and they would reappear. Today they represent a history of that period. A critical period was about 1971 when people were killed in the streets and some of the murals represent those events. One painful one is the painting of a 14 year old girl who was out with friends collecting things for a school project when she was shot. The painting has a butterfly symbolizing the need for peace and at her feet were a few small stones which she had collected for her project.
The inner city is surrounded by a 17th century wall that is still intact. The nicest parts of the city are within the walls. I walked the walls twice.
Oct 4, to Portrush
Leaving the big city I was on another big busy road with periodic shoulder for a couple of hours. After my morning coffee break I moved onto a likely looking minor road B201. It turned out to be famous with local cyclists I found out a few days later. I never did have to push my bike up any of the many big long hills but I was very close on more than one occasion. This road was probably about 5km shorter than an alternative but it probably took me an extra hour because of the climbing. Still it was great. The views were not that impressive but the riding was.
Portrush is a seaport town famous for its Golf Course, for its surfing and as the beginning of the Giant’s Causeway road. I didn’t get to see much there because as I pulled in it began to rain, so I sat in a coffee shop until 3:00 when the hostel began to take registrations.
This hostel has been named the best hostel in N.Ireland on more than one occasion. Everything about it was well thought out, and so it was a nice stay.
Oct 5, to Ballycastle
I was off as usual about 8:30 on a cold and brilliantly sunny morning. On this day I would ride 40 km and get to my next stop at 4:00. Obviously a very different kind of day.
I was barely out of Portrush when I stopped first to have a look at the Royal Portrush Golf Course. I had read that summer fees are 190L (pounds), dropping to 100 in Oct and 60 in Nov. It is the site of the 2019 British Open. A links style course running along the white sand beach. I couldn’t see much, but it looked immaculate. There were already golfers out, dressed in their winter garb.
Next I stopped at Dunluce Castle. It was not open but I just wanted to see the setting anyways. It sits on the edge of a cliff. Apparently it was last in use in 1639 when seven servants who were preparing the evening meal and the kitchen they were in plunged down to the sea. I’m not sure when the gentry noticed that the meal wasn’t coming, but as there weren’t take-outs in those days they had to move to town.
I went through Bushmills the site of the oldest licensed distillery in the world, dating back to 1608. There are tours but it was a little early in the day for me.
So, on to the Giant’s Causeway. I spent about two hours walking along the trails to the different areas where the polygonal basalt columns are found. I had been to two similar locations with these kinds of formations: On the John Muir Trail in California and at Svartifoss in Iceland. There are many places around the world where they occur. They are formed when water pours into molten lava with certain characteristics. But the story here is different. They were formed here by a Giant, Finn McCool who was making a pathway to Scotland to take on another Giant over there. When he saw how big the Scot Giant was he beat a hasty retreat and destroyed most of the Causeway. I may not have the whole story but it seems plausible..
Heading back onto the road I was caught by a local cyclist and we rode together for about half an hour. He was the one who told me about the nature of B201 that I stumbled on. He, interestingly, was able to identify my as Canadian more or less immediately and passed on more local knowledge.
I had a steak and kidney pie early in the afternoon at Ballintoy and then stopped occasionally to take pictures of the sea coast and then again at an overview of Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge. For 7.5L you can walk across this bridge to prove how brave you are. I had already paid 10L for parking and entry to Giants Causeway when I didn’t have a car and where the walk doesn’t actually cost anything, thus proving I am not very bright. I also decided that riding a bike on busy highways is enough of a bravery test for me, I didn’t need another.
All told, while this has been my shortest riding day of this trip it has also been one of the best. In part the weather was superb but the scenery along the Antrim coast is spectacular. As I said there was no need to sit around and wait for the hostel to open today. Oh, and today I did have to push my bike up one hill, the first time since the first day.
At Ballycastle I had fish and chips made right on the wharf ostensibly caught that day. On the way back to my hostel I was struck by the Geese heading into the sky.
Oct 6, to Whitehead
Off on another cold but sunny morning. I was taking highway A2, the Coastal Highway. It began with some long climbs and drops into the headlands. It was lovely country and great riding. After a final drop to the sea and a morning coffee the road stuck to the sea the rest of the day. Normally sea coast riding is a lot of up and down but for about 60 km the highway was literally a few meters above tide line. And the wind was with me except when in the many bays where the wind bounced back by the cliffs made me work a little harder. But most of the time I was sailing along on a nice smooth road over 30 kph. Heaven must be like this.
These last two days along then Antrim Coast have certainly been the nicest for me on this trip so far. Today I rode more than twice as far as yesterday and took two hours less time to do it. Both days were lovely. The one because of all the neat places to visit the other because of the exhilaration of flying down the scenic coastline.
My B&B hosts in Whitehead were great, good visiting and great facility. Whitehead is a funny town with the train station cutting through town with most track crossings being pedestrian. There are also some great painted houses here.
Tomorrow I will head into Belfast for one night and then on to my last leg to Dublin. Since my last post I have had almost no rain and most of the wind was tailwind. I wonder if someone was listening to all of the complaining I was doing for the first two weeks.