Unlike our previous rides is France, where we charted out routes that followed canals and rivers and generally avoided much significant elevation change, we decided that this ride would be most interesting if we followed the rugged coastline for bits and charged into the mountains for other bits.
Heide's saddle sack, 'Overhill', has been our mascot for this ride as we took it slow and steady across this hilly country. Although the riding was significantly more tiring than in France we were rewarded with stunning scenery the entire way.
Along the southwest coast of Ireland, in West Cork and Co. Kerry, the land juts out into the Atlantic Ocean in a series of peninsulas, the most famous being the Iveragh Peninsula or the 'Ring of Kerry'. The tourist buses on this ring road are so numerous that they are required to all proceed counter clockwise to avoid passing one another on the smaller roads.
We opted to circumnavigate the much less visited yet equally stunning Beara Peninsulla before making our way to the next farm. In the distance to the north you can see the mountains along the Iveragh Peninsula.
We found camping accomadations for our first night out on the Beara at a picturesque golf course just outside of Castletownbere.
As well as golfing and camping the site boasted a great fishing pier.
Just before dinner the clouds rolled in bringing heavy rain.
The next day we saw plenty of rain which isn't conducive to having the camera out, but we made sure to get at least one shot in full rain gear lest you think it was all sunny skies (which it was most of the time).
Ireland's primary agricultural exports are beef and dairy and we saw plenty of evidence for this with loads of cows in this rural part of the country.
Along the northern coast of the Beara sits the colorful little town Eyeries.
The detail on our 1:50,000 OSi maps are serving us well as we wind along little country roads in an attempt to stay off the main roads as much as possible. We often deviate a little from our planned route as we go and this night we headed for a campground listed on the map that turned out to have closed several years ago. Oh well, we squeezed past the gate and made ourselves at home, doing without bathroom facilities or even water for the night. We chalked it up as a win avoiding the typical €20+ a night charge to pitch a tent at most camping sites.
The following day was our most elevation gain in a single day so far as we headed through Macgillycuddy's Reeks, containing the tallest peaks in Ireland.
At the top of Moll's Gap we treated ourselves to a coffee and a slice of pie.
Showing up as just a black speck in this grand landscape, Heide coasts down into the Black Valley. From Moll's Gap we were able to leave the main road staying on nearly carless roads for the remainder of the day.
The Black Valley is a quiet little stretch that still retains that beauty and hard to express magic of such bucolic landscapes.
Headed up out of the Black Valley to the Gap of Dunloe, we passed many horse drawn carts, a popular way for tourists to access this remote landscape without ruining it with loads of automobiles.
Cresting the Gap of Dunloe we get the first glimpse of just how spectacular our ride down will be. In the absence of cars we took a break from wearing our helmets for a bit.
The road descends, winding back and forth, offing ideal biking conditions.
A series of lakes spill into one another as the decent levels out a bit. Although the slow descent was lovely, the especially beautiful views were behind us as we continued along the valley, causing us to stop often to try and capture this truly inspiring landscape.
The following day we left the mountains behind us and headed for flatter landscapes. Here the mountains on the Dingle Peninsula can be seen on the southern horizon.
We finished our day at Banna Strand, where we cooled our toes in the Atlantic.
Leaving the coast we spent the entire day on small county roads through cow country as we made our way to the River Shannon.
Along the River Shannon, just outside of Ballylongford, we passed Lislaughtin Abbey. Built by John O'Connor in 1478 this Franciscan Abbey was destroyed when Cromwell's forces moved through this area in 1580.
Today the abbey ruins have been repurposed into a cemetery, a unique and appropriate reuse of this sacred space.
We saw one grave stone with the Coughlin name: "Mary Coughlin- Died October 1898." The most prevalent surnames present were: O'Connor, O'Sullivan, Scanlon, and Keane.
The Shannon Dolphin ferried us across the river into Co. Clare.
'Third times the charm' was the case this evening as our planned campsite outside of Kilrush was seemingly nonexistent, and our second pick, Purecamping, an eco-campsite, was full for a yoga retreat. So we ended up biking an extra 15km in the wrong direction to land at a crappy mobil home campsite, where we found a patch of grass to call home for the night. Fortunately it provided a stunning view of the Shannon.
On top of the campsite debacle, we haven't been able to find methylated spirits for our Trangia stove at the grocery stores in Ireland, because its sales are regulated to avoid people using it for drinking purposes! We were down to our last drops and had to skip the spuds for dinner so that we would have enough fuel to cook the sausages and have a bit left over for coffee in the morning; a necessary little pleasure to start a day on the road.
The next morning we passed this home for sale with a stunning view of the River Shannon. Heide immediately fell in love with the property, it didn't hurt that there was a donkey in the front yard.
On the whole we have seen relatively little desirable property in Ireland for sale or otherwise. Unfortunately many older homes had the roofs removed in the middle of the last century in order to avoid paying tax on the property. The newer block houses have little in the way of distinguishing architecture features, looking as though they were picked out of a catalogue. Many suburban style developments, like this one, set in a rural area look entirely vacant.
The sunshine continues and Heide uses the opportunity to soak up some rays, an uncommon sight I'm guessing for this old timer on the tractor.
Back to the coast, Lahinch Beach is one of the most popular in Ireland for its long sandy shores and its good surf conditions.
A nice grassy spot to have a bite and review the map.
Our route brought us by the Cliffs of Moher, one of the most visited tourist sites in all Ireland. Our generation was first introduced to this natural splendor as the Cliffs of Insanity from 'Princess Bride.'
We were impressed with how well the site had been developed with natural stone barriers allowing safe access to the very edge of the cliffs and a tourism center built into the hillside. €32 million was spend on the facility opening in 2007. We were able to avoid the €6 entrance fee because we arrived by bicycle.
Just north of the cliffs is the small town of Doolin where we stayed the night and had the opportunity to catch the USA vs. Belgium match in a pub. Disappointed to see the US out but happy to experience some of the football excitement of the moment.
Day 7 took us through yet another stunning landscape: The Burren. This dramatic karst landscapes is crisscrossed with amazing dry stone walls, seemingly defying gravity as they run up and down the hillsides.
No picnic tables in sight we settle for a patch of grass to plunk down for our lunch break.
Heide looking good as usual in her bike getup.
For our last night of camping we were lucky to come across Kity's Camping, a unique camp ground offering bell tents and camping wagons, as well as space to pitch your own tent . Geared much more towards bikers and hikers without all the uniform, sterile camper van stalls with their electrical and water hookups, the space was much more organic and inviting than most of the camp grounds we have been to. Kity was very welcoming and happy to chat about our adventures and her development of the campgrounds last summer with the help of WWOOFers.
The site offered kitchen facilities providing the basics like milk, coffee, and farm fresh eggs from their chickens. After a week on the road it felt like a luxury to not cook dinner spread out on the ground with only one burner.
From Kity's it was a short day on the bikes into the city of Galway, the cultural heart of Ireland, renowned for it many festivals and celebrations, including the annual Galway Arts Festival in July.
Buskers: street musicians and performance artists, line the pedestrian streets that make up the tourist hub of downtown.
Much of the Galway's natural beauty is derived from it being situated on the mouth of the River Corrib.
Fly fishermen along the Salmon Weir in the heart of the city. The River Corrib and adjoining Eglinton Canal provide pleasant pedestrian area in the midst of it all.
The River Corrib emptying out into Galway Bay. This part of town known as The Claddagh, set outside the old city walls, was home to an Irish speaking enclave with a rich history as fisher folk.
The Galway City Museum commissioned the building of a traditional fishing boat, a Galway Hooker, now on display in the museums stair well.
A short promenade along Salthill, the shores of Galway Bay west of town, brought us to the Galway Bay Brewery where we sampled our first Irish micro brews. It was a pleasant change from the usual bar offerings of Heineken and Guinness. Their specialty beer at the moment, the Saison IPA with the big three 'C' American hops (Cascade, Centennial, Chinook) was especially notable.
As well as six of their own beers on tap, the bar has over 100 beers available from Ireland, the rest of Europe and the USA. If you are indecisive about what to try, throw a dart at 'The Board of Incertitude' and let fate decide. The bar manager was happy to talk shop with what he understood to be two beer aficionados from an area of the world renowned for its micro brews (PNW!). He took us on a mini tour of the facilities. These guys are brewing some good stuff.
While in Galway we treated ourselves to an extraordinary meal at the Michelin star restaurant, Anair. The entire meal was exceptional and we were please to see a slice of Durrus Farmhouse Cheese on the cheese plate at the end of the meal. This was the cheese maker we visited in West Cork and featured in our last blog post.
After a few days of city life we were back on the bikes headed 65km east to our next host in Ireland, Sunny Meadow Farm, situated on the shores of Lough Derg.
Putting the bikes away for another few weeks, we are excited to get plugged in at Sunny Meadows as it will be our first true farm, selling vegetables and naturally grown beef at market.