Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Four go wild in Ireland, or, more correctly, four get wet in Ireland...

Time out for the senior team once again, this time riding sections of the Wild Atlantic Way in south west Ireland. Heyddie, Jan, Alberto and The President crossed the Irish Sea from Fishguard to Rosslare, and enjoyed a comfortable night at the very hospitable Granville Hotel in Waterford, a lovely welcome to Ireland for us all. 

The following day we abandoned thoughts of cycling from Kinsale to our base in Bantry, County Cork, because of intermittent heavy showers and a strong winds, but after reaching our hotel, the modern Maritime Hotel overlooking the sea, we managed to get out for a quick 50km, completing an enjoyable circuit of the Sheep's Head Peninsula just to the west of Bantry. A ride of rolling hills into a blustery wind on the north side, with good views across Bantry Bay to the Beara Peninsula, before a proper  climb on 'Goats Track Peak' (as named on Strava) and over to the southern side of the peninsula, with a speedy return aided by a strong tailwind. Just over two hours with an ascent of 689m in total, so just enough to get the legs working again after the 100 mile Prudential Ride London.

Our second day followed a slightly different pattern, however. We had been warned about the weather.
Did we listen?
Four old farts.
Don't do listening...
So, today, awoken by the wind and rain lashing down on the windows, our plans required a bit of rethinking.
No biking today. Pointless and dangerous, especially when we saw the 11 km diesel slick on the road north from Bantry. Our objective? To get the cable car to Dursey Island, and try to walk 12km or so during a potential window between frontal systems. 
A 65km journey to the north east brought us to Dursey, where we immediately felt the full force of an Atlantic front. Wisdom and experience won the day, despite Heyddie's futile efforts to persuade us to take the cable car over to the island, and we returned to Bantry in time for a pie and a couple of pints in the very traditional Ma Murphy's, very basic but proper pub. Happy days :-)

Our third day in West Cork dawned a lot brighter, and we had a superb ride out to Mizen Head, the most south-westerly point in Ireland. Setting off from the village of Durrus on generally good road surfaces we were soon enjoying splendid views, initially northwards to the Sheeps Head Peninsula and later, on the south coast out towards Fastnet Rock. On rolling hills without excessive traffic we moved steadily past beautiful bays and empty beaches, the roadsides festooned with red fuscia and orange mombretia, and palm trees a regular sight. 

Mizen Head was a little busier with tourists, but after a quick sandwich we headed back through Schull, the breeze on our backs again, and ready to tackle the Cat4 climb to the Mount Gabriel Gap. It was here that Alberto's recent training showed some results, powering up to the summit and giving Heyddie a run for his money. 

The final run in back to Durrus was lead by Jan, who, with the thought of a pint waiting for him in the village, demolished the last 9km in good style.
A great day out, properly celebrated in the Club tradition, with generous amounts of beer and a great dinner at the Fish Kitchen, the best of the restaurants in Bantry, by far.

Our third day's cycling took us back to the Beara Peninsula, and fortunately we could actually see it this time. A perfect day weather wise, and, at our start point in Adrigole, the sea was mirror-like in the bay. Fighting varying degrees of hangover, we headed west for a quick coffee stop in the little port of Castletownbere, then west again before turning north and over a little pass to Allihies. A pleasant lunch was enjoyed in hot sunshine, before heading uphill to tackle the northern aspect of the Ring of Beara.

Now with a fresh cross wind off the sea, we enjoyed some steeply undulating coastal road, culminating in the Cat4 Knockagarrane Climb. Wondrous views across the inlet to the Ring of Kerry to the north, and, once again, the roadside resplendent with fuscia, mombretia, and the rocky terrain blanketed in purple heather. Great riding country.
Eventually we had to cross the mountains to get back to our van, and this led us up and over the Healy Pass. With an ascent of 5.6km at an average gradient of 4.8%, this is a Cat3 climb, and was easily despatched by the team. Our times were a little modest compared to the pros, Heyddie the fastest at around 28 minutes compared to the Strava KOM at 11:16. More training required (and less booze)...
It's a great route, with huge views into the mountains, across to the north coast and down to a beautiful lake nestling in a hidden valley. The road surface is generally good, and there is only one steep ramp, at about 11% just before the top. The descent is relatively technical, averaging 5.2% over the first 3km through a series of hairpins, and with good visibility this was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, one car having to pull over to allow the Club Maniacs, Heyddie and Jan, to whizz past them.

As always, the team excelled during the rehydration phase, having our last drink in the 'office,' the hospitable Quays bar, followed by more 'most acceptable' seafood at the Fish Kitchen.
This completes seven days of team GRAC rides, and our cumulative distance over the week has been 420km including the London 100-miler. A good effort chaps!
The next stage of our Irish adventure took us northwards to Oughterard in the Connemara region (north and west of Galway), but with the first full day there compromised by a slow moving front which produced waves of drenching drizzle on our intended route. 

However, Team Captain Heyddie, film buff extraordinaire, persuaded us to visit Cong, location for the 1951 film, 'The Quiet Man,' starring John Wayne. He insisted on a personal appearance on the Quiet Man Bridge, and we were all enthusiastically led through the Quiet Man Museum. Riveting stuff...

And now readers, it's time for a caption competition... ;-)
After a day of sightseeing (and over consumption of local food and beverages) detailed consultations with our Director of Meteorology, Johan, led us to drive to the popular town of Clifden, about as far west as you can get in Ireland. We passed under the front we were trying to avoid, drenching rain producing stunning rainbows as we drove past the lonely mountains of the Maumturks and the Twelve Bens. This is wild country, with a myriad of loughs and huge areas of bog, but hauntingly attractive.
Leaving the busy little town of Clifden, we were quickly into a strong westerly wind when we joined the Sky Road Loop, a pretty headland to the northwest of the town. This was quickly despatched, and we then joined the Cleggan Loop, with an excellent sandwich stop in the hamlet of Claddaghduff. There is enormous variety of both coastal and inland featured here, coloured by stands of heather, gorse, meadowstreet, and the ubiquitous fuscia and mombretia, with distant views to the mountains to the east and north. Hidden bays revealed beautiful sandy beaches. Wonderful stuff, especially when we turned eastwards with the wind on our backs. An easy day, but good to stretch the legs again!

And then, suddenly, it's our final cycling day in Ireland. The weather has been a bit of a challenge for us in Connemara, but, undeterred by an initial shower just as we set off on our bikes from Cong, we did a sprightly 57 km through undulating terrain to finish our legs off and earn another Guinness (or five...).
Our route took us west from Cong into 'Joyce Country' on a circuit which led along the northern edge of Lough Corrib with views to its many islands. 

Then from An Mám up to the lonely Lough Nafooey and eventually to reach the shores of Lough Mask, before returning back to Cong. 

A relatively easy ride although somehow we managed to pack in 572m of ascent which we hardly noticed.
So, our last evening in Oughterard beckons. We're all getting a bit predictable these days though, and it'll be Powers Thatched Pub for the nth time again then lads?

Trip stats: this was a relatively moderate adventure in terms of the distance travelled, a total of 310km over five rides, an average of just 62km/day. But then factor in strong winds, some very rough roads, and our total ascent of 4,036m (average 807m/day) I think we earned all the beer that was consumed...

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