Cycling the Wild Atlantic
In my last post, we joined the Wild Atlantic Way at Killarney National Park and started our journey following the Irish coast north. We got repeatedly soaked, became the first (maybe?) bicycle tourers to camp as far West as physically possible in Ireland and saw many beautiful sunsets (the perk of the west coast!). It’s day 13 of 34, and now there are 21 days left until we need to be in Liverpool for a wedding!
The Wild Atlantic
The third week of the bicycle tour in Ireland consisted of gradually cycling up the Wild Atlantic Way and enjoying the sea views and constant supply of natural wonders.
The Irish supermarket chain ‘SuperValu’ is one of the constant delights we’ve discovered on this tour. It was our primary source of food and fulfills the Valu part in the name. We discovered it in Rosslare when first arriving and since then have nipped in whenever we see one. One such store is Garvey’s of Listowel who were very generous with the free samples. We arrived starving hungry and found sample stalls in a circle around the shop, a couple of laps later and we could concentrate on shopping.
It was late afternoon when we cycled in Doonbeg, a tiny village surrounded by dramatic scenery and unfortunately also a Trump Golf Course. The weather was wet and windy as per usual and we saw a football stadium on our way through. It was easily accessible and had sheltered seating so we thought why not camp there for the night. The facilities were all locked up but we found an outside tap and sheltered in the seating area to cook.
About half way through cooking a car turned up, we were pretty well spread out by this point so we decided to stay where we were and hope for the best. A guy comes onto the football field and starts laying out cones, he glances at us but doesn’t intrude. Then another car arrives, and another, until about 20 kids are running around and 40 completely bemused parents are glancing at us. Of course, it decides to start raining at this point and all the adults troop into the sheltered seating, with us at one end and then a big open space and them all at the other end. A couple of them said hello and no one seemed to be too bothered by us, so we cracked on and ate supper.
A few hours later, they tidied the gear away and the parents gradually left. As the last car motored away we decided to investigate the facilities again on the off chance they had forgotten to lock them up. Low and behold, they were unlocked! So we took in turns to shower and then pitched the tent in a smaller field around the back.
But the tale doesn’t end there. We had a restful nights sleep until about 7.30am when I wake up:
“Thomas, what’s that sound?”
“Ooourgh, I’m sleeping.”
“No, listen its getting closer… Sounds like a lawnmower”.
We couldn’t believe it, the probability of us camping on a football stadium, having the local football club turn up, and then to top it off being woken up by a lawnmower mowing the little field we were on seemed well… highly improbable.
I stuck my head out and indeed, there was a large sit on lawnmower bearing down upon us. I shook Thomas properly awake and we quickly moved back to the seating area, ate breakfast and left before someone decided they had had enough of our shenanigans.
The whole Doonbeg experience reinforces my 2nd bicycle touring tip from my earlier post: ‘If you camp in a public place, expect someone to come and use it for it’s intended purpose.’
We never figured out if the club leader had accidentally left it unlocked or deliberately left it open to be kind to us. I’m more convinced by the second, if so I’m very grateful!
I’ve always enjoyed stopping at local tourist offices to see what they recommend visiting and whether there are any hidden spots to know about. However my experience in Ireland is that they tend to big up their immediate local area and aren’t much use narrowing down to what the really ‘must see’ spots are. In the end we picked out the cliffs of Loop Head Peninsula and discovered it was definitely a worthwhile visit.
We then carried on towards the Cliffs of Moher, which were honestly a disappointment. I strongly recommend visiting Loop Head cliffs instead, there are a lot less tourists and much more wild feeling.
We cycled up a large hill to the Cliffs of Moher only to find the whole place was a tourist trap and flooded with people and buses. Dingle Peninsula mentioned in the earlier post and The Burren that we cycled through the following day completely eclipsed Moher in terms of atmosphere. However, my observations may just be because I dislike large crowds of noisy people and it was a murky day when we visited. If you really really want to see towering cliffs then consider Loop Head Peninsula instead.
What is astounding about the Wild Atlantic Way is the quantity of incredible things to see, from numerous ruined castles to towering cliffs and geological wonders.
The Burren was our next stop and one of my favourite places in Ireland. It’s a national park stretching for miles along the coast before Galway, made from cracked slabs of large limestone cliffs from the glacial era.
The flat slabs made the perfect spot for a nap when the sun appeared for a rare moment. There were only a couple of other people around and it was nice to relax for a moment after the hectic activity of the Cliffs of Moher.
We whizzed by Dunguaire Castle in Galway, the name of which comes from the Dun (medieval Fort) of King Guaire, the legendary King of Connacht.
At this point we reviewed how far we have come and how far we have left and decided to shortcut straight from Galway to Westport and camp beside either Lough Corrib or Lough Mask. At Westport we joined the Great Western Greenway, a 26 mile long cycle track stretching from Westport to Achill Island. It’s all offroad along a paved cycle track, and meanders through moorland so we wild camped about half way along next to a river that reminded me of Dartmoor back home.
Then the following morning we carried on to Achill Island, it was blindingly windy but we were keen to see the island so fought on towards it. You’re probably wondering why we were worried about the wind when going to an island. Achill Island is connected to the mainland by a bridge, and so no sailing involved.
Throughout the holiday we repeatedly heard about how nice Achill Island was. We got there and it was blowing a gale in the opposite direction to us. We ended up doing a loop along the Southern coast of the island which has earned most of the islands reputation for being beautiful. We camped beside a lake with a narrow bank separating it from the sea. I checked it wasn’t salty and found a sheltered spot in a nearby abandoned quarry.
We stopped by Ashleam Bay on the way back off the island. A kind tourist offered to take a photo of us both.
Coming off the island we were once again faced with a bitter wind blowing us in the opposite direction.
The following evening we camped back on the mainland up the coast. We followed an old track into the woods and found a river in a silver birch forest. The ground was very soggy but we could see a lovely patch of grass amongst the birch trees so decided to slog our way through. As the sun set we discovered it was midge central and decided to light a fire, which partly helped. In the end we abandoned it and hid in the tent whilst the midges barraged the outside. I could see hundreds settling on the tent.
Another look at the calendar and we decided to shortcut from Ardara to Glenveagh National Park.
We encountered a trio of French cyclists who overtook us, so we made a point of overtaking them, they then overtook us again. This carried on for about half an hour and then we formulated a plan to sprint past them and out of sight around the corner then take a small road marked on the map. We gave them a friendly wave and pelted past, quickly getting out of sight and discovering that the small road was in fact a mountain track. We decided to take it anyway as it looked interesting and was more direct. Those French cyclists probably still think we’re just ahead of them.
From Glenveagh it was a quick descent back to the coast and then we decided to tick off the most northerly point in Ireland: Malin Head.
And then we reached the end of the Wild Atlantic Way! We stopped to take a photo of the sign and met two motorcyclists doing the same. They couldn’t believe that we had cycled it in a month whilst they had just squeezed it into a week.
That brings us to the end of day 29 of 34, only four days left to get from Londonderry to Belfast and across to Liverpool. Plenty of time to pop in and see the Giant’s Causeway!