Day One – Brighton to Galway
On leaving our train from Brighton we were immediately confused by the signs and it took us a while to work out which terminal we wanted. We checked in and headed through departures – here they took digital photos of us which they later referred to when going into the departure lounge. Very cool use of technology.
We left Gatwick about an hour late and had a fairly uneventful flight to Dublin. From the airport we took one of the airlink buses through Dublin and to Heuston station. We got our tickets to Galway sorted very efficiently and then sat around the station for an hour – stations are so dull! A note for future explorers, don’t join the queue for the train, there’s really no point unless you’re there early. We were quite near the back and realised that there were actually 2 queues – ours and one that seemed to be full of later arrivals and ours was the slowest. Bah!
The train journey was ok, some of the scenery was very pretty. One minor annoyance though – there was no announcements or signs at the station when we arrived in Galway, it was only the fact that the train was emptying that prompted us to get off! We couldn’t find a taxi rank but did find a cab office (left out of the station to the end of the road and left again) and got a cab to take us to our accommodation – the Brook Lodge in Upper Newcastle (and not on Newcastle Road as I’d been told – big thanks to the cab driver from Cara Cabs (091 563939) for finding the place for us)
After sorting our stuff out we went for a bit of an explore and walked into town, through the University campus and past the cathedral. We took a walk along Shop Street towards Quay Street in search of food. We decided to try Kirwan’s Lane Creative Cuisine as it sounded intriguing in the Lonely Planet (it’s a place that could happily sit in the most stylish areas of New York or London). We were fortunate to get one of the last tables. The restaurant is very stylish, and the service is excellent. The menu was extensive and full of interesting choices but unfortunately didn’t quite deliver. After our dinner we headed over the road to The Quays for a pint of Smithwicks each – a very pleasant ale. The Quays reminded me of a particular Irish theme pub in Picadilly or Leicester Square – I don’t know whether this means that it was a really authentic theme pub in London, or that the Quays is a English Irish theme pub – hopefully I’ll see more pubs during the week and can then decide. It was full of young (under 30 – strange how my definition of young changes as I get older!) people having a good time.
Day Two – In Galway
We headed downstairs for breakfast and our landlady introduced us to 2 ladies who are also doing the cycle trip – Vic and Kaye.
After an irish breakfast (with black and white pudding) we walked into Galway, this time taking the path by the side of the River Corrib. We walked right along to the Wolfe tone bridge and then decided to walk along the edge of the Quays and we stood for a while looking out to sea. We headed back into town and stopped off at The Kenny Gallery and walked around both the Manus Walsh exhibition and then the adjoining bookshop. We decided it was time for a break and so bought a newspaper and a couple of drinks and sat for a while in Kennedy Park.
After our break, and a quick recap of the Lonely Planet, we went and took a look at the outside of Lynch’s Castle (most of the present building, said to be the finest town castle in Ireland, dates from around 1600) which is now a branch of the AIB, and then the Spanish Arch (1584).
We decided that we’d walk along the coast path to Salthill, a seaside resort. We walked along one part of the path and seemed to gain a dog who proceeded to follow us for quite some distance. We had a rest, a bottle of water and an ice cream at Cafe Mauds before deciding to take a ride on the “Giant Wheel” which was part of the fair ground. From the top we got some good views out to sea and back over to Galway. We also spotted a set of skateboard ramps and after our ride we wandered over to take a look. There was a skate contest going on, and they’d arranged the competition into Under 9’s, 10 – 11 and 12 and over. There were some pretty good kids there, and they were all really supportive and encouraging of each other which was good to see. We got talking to one of the organisers who was saying that it’s part of a church mission – one of the Galway churches is joined to a group of 100 or so US churches and so the Americans had come over for a week and had organised this, a soccer camp and some face painting and bouncy castles. The kids all seemed to be having a great time.
We decided to head off back to Galway, and back to the Brook Lodge, both of us feeling somewhat sunburnt. We’d not been back in our room long when John, our guide, knocked on the door to say Hi.
We met up with John again at 6:20 and he drove us down to the Jurys Inn to meet up with the others. We had a beer in the bar, and had our introduction before going into the restaurant for a 3 course dinner. A couple of minibus taxis came to pick us up and took us back to the Brook Lodge, dropping the others off with their luggage. After a short time we headed of in another minibus to The Cottage Bar in Salthill for a few beers with our cycling group – there was some live Irish music paying and we both sampled our first pints of Guiness. We only stayed for a pint before getting a cab back to the B&B.
Day Three – Galway to Westport
We had a good breakfast, changed into our cycling gear, packed our bags and got onto the coach. We left Galway (about an hour late) and were driven to Cong. Here we got off the coach and claimed a bike each. We spent some time adjusting the bikes (I put my own saddle on mine), filled up our water bottles and started off on our 22 mile morning cycle. We cycled through Clonbur, along a bit of the Joyce Country Drive and through the village of Finny. Some of the scenery and views were wonderful, and generally about 9 of us cycled together. We had a tough hill to climb before we headed alongside Lough Mask.
Our lunch stop was at Paddy’s which is right on the side of the Lake. There was a bit of a mix up about food – apparently John had ordered sandwiches for us all, but he forgot to tell us. We ordered some food, and drank a couple of pints of orange and lemonade and rested for a while. One couple had had a problem with a flat tyre and so we called John to get him to come back and assist Bob who was, by this point, pushing his bike towards Paddy’s but was about 8 miles away.
We headed off on a tough afternoon cycle. There was supposed to be an easy option but John told us that the roads were going to be too busy for us, and so we should to the hillier climb. We had a bit of confusion with our instructions as we’d eaten at a different place but after checking it out we started the slow 2 mile climb. This was really, really hard work. Once we’d got to the top we had a photo opportunity with the 10 or 11 of us who were there at the same time before starting the 13 mile ride to Westport. This was billed as “nice downhills and a couple more uphills” but it was pretty tough going. Finally we got to Westport and arrived at the Cilcomman Lodge. We put our bikes in the garage, got shown to our room and had a long, very much deserved, shower.
We were picked up by John in the van at 7.30ish and joined some of the others squashed into the back as he drove us to the Asgard for dinner. As we all piled out of the back of the van some people in the pub were watching on amused as 10 or so of us climbed out. We had a pleasant dinner and then 8 of us (Randy, Vic, Kay, Shannon, Roar and Emilie plus us) went with John to Campbells about 4 miles away. This was a small pub and grocers and had a group of Irish musicians – it seems that Sunday night is a bit of an irish jamming session there. We’d planned to just go for one drink but the taxi couldn’t pick us up for another couple of hours. The music was great, but it’s been a tiring day.
Day Four – Westport to Leenaun
We had a good breakfast, packed up our stuff and got the bikes out and then waited for John. Eventually we gave up waiting and called him. He claimed he’d told us to meet at another B&B but that was the first we’d heard of it!
Anyway we headed off and followed the road on before stopping at a famine memorial “Coffin Ship” and going to take a cook at the remains of Murrisk Abbey. We then pressed on and arrived in Louisburgh (our lunch stop) after a fairly easy 12 miles. We discovered that the place we were supposed to have lunch at was closed so lots of us congregated at a pub and waited for them to start serving food. We’d just ordered when John appeared so he joined us for a while.
We headed off on our 18 mile afternoon ride. It was a really lovely ride and as the afternoon wore on the weather got more pleasant. We cycled through some beautiful scenery going along the DooLough Pass, through the Delphi Valley and towards Killary Harbour. We still had enough energy left (just) when we got to the Ashley falls to go for a walk to get a closer view.
Then we just had a couple of miles te go before arriving at Leenane and our accommodation for the night – Killary house. We had our showers before going for a quick look around Leenane.
We had a pre-dinner drink in the pub before moving on to the Blackberry for a lovely dinner. They only have a licence for wines so we had to get beer from the pub and bring it in. After dinner we went to another of the pubs (the Field – as seen in the film of the same name) for a drink before giving up and going to sleep.
Day Five – Leenaun to Roundstone
Last night John told us that today’s cycle was hard and more like 42 miles than the 36 mentioned in the tour details. He told us that there was a shorter route available.
After breakfast we went to reclaim our bikes to go down to Leenane’s main car park. My rear tyre had gone down overnight so I walked down with it. Because of problem with the gears and the flat I just took a spare bike out of the van before starting our revised route (most of the group opted for the short option). We headed off and caught up with DeeDee who seemed to be having rear brake problems (the wheel was catching a lot) and so we tried to help and made it a little bit better for her. Our first scheduled stop was at Kylemore Abbey. This was originally built for a wealthy English businessman. During the first wcrld war some Benedictine nuns left Ypres and set up the Abbey. The grounds are lovely and the neo-Gothic memorial church was interesting (and small). The Abbey is in beautiful surroundings with the Lake in front and mountains behind it. John replaced DeeDee’s bike as the front brake was catching too – she’d had a really hard time.
We cycled off again through the Lough Inagh Valley with the Twelve Bens mountains above us and lakes next to us. Some beautiful scenery. Not far after this we had a head wind for a while which may cycling somewhat harder. We arrived at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel and had lunch with Jeremy and Rachel, Tessa and Diana and Roar and Emilie.
Then back on the road for the last 6 miles of the day. It seemed to have cooled down quite a bit but we just peddaled a bit harder for a little while to warm ourselves up. We arrived in Roundstone at around 3:30pm and were met by John with the room keys. We all stay at the Eldons Hotel for the next 2 evenings – this is the first time we’re all in the same accommodation.
We had showers, then a quick stroll the nearest shop for biscuits and juice and then did the domestic chores (washing cycling gear).
We went down to the hotel bar for a pint and it wasn’t long before the others joined us. We ate dinner in the Beola restaurant (which is attached to the hotel) and the fish dishes were excellent. John persuaded us to try a Black Velvet (Guiness and champagne) which was, er, interesting. We finished the day off with a pint in Ryan’s pub.
Day Six – In and Around Roundstone
This is our rest day, although almost all of the group were at breakfast by 8:45. There were plenty of options for the day – John’s tour, cycle rides, walks. We decided to join John’ tour.
We met him, and the others (Jeremy, Rachel, Tessa, Diana, DeeDee, Vic and Kay) outside the hotel and then collected a couple of benches from the hall to go in the back of the van. We headed off and our first stop was overlooking Gurteen Bay and Dog’s Bay. Then on again and a stop at John’s house in Ballyconneely where we met his wife and their lively springer spaniel. He got his clay pigeon gun out and let some of us have a shot with it – I had a go, but I don’t think I got anywhere near the target (a football on a fence post). We moved on to the harbour and to take a look at John’s boat. Our next stop was at Frank Clarke’s mobile home. Frank is an artist who John really rates. Jeremy does some painting and exhibiting and so they had a lot to chat about. The site overlooks a beautiful bay and we sat and watched the sea for quite some time. John managed to get one of the van’s wheels stuck so we had to push it out a bit!
We moved on and stopped for coffee at the shop/bar/restaurant near John’s place before continuing on to the Alcock and Brown memorial (the 2 men who made the first crossing of the Atlantic by car). And off again, this time along the Sky road – this was one of the extensions to the long route yesterday, and Pat and Randy did that ride today (no way was I getting on a bike!). The scenery along the road was beautiful, and we stopped at the top to admire the view.
We took a lunch break in Clifden giving an opportunity for some light shopping as well as eating some very nice open crab sandwiches. After lunch we headed back to Roundstone.
As there was still 4 hours before dinner Rich and I decided to take a wander to the beaches, but stopped off at the Roundstone Musical Instruments shop where they make and sell bodhr·ns. One of the assistants told us all about them. They sell many other types of instruments as well – from tin whistles to tamberines – definitely a stopping point for the musical minded.
We headed off to Gurteen Bay and Dog’s Bay and spent a pleasant half an hour sitting there eating an ice cream before heading back to the hotel.
We had a lovely dinner before watching (and participating in) an evening of Irish music, dancing and singing. Good fun but tiring.
Day Seven – Roundstone to Carraroe
We had some breakfast and packed our bags and prepared to go cycing again.
There were 2 options for the morning cycle, and we chose the shorter one. This took us out of Roundstone, through Toombeola and Cashel before we cycled along the bog road. There were some guys cutting peat blocks along the roadside.
John had told us not to bother stopping at the recommended lunch stop – which was just as well as we didn’t see it! We stopped for lunch in a little Coffee shop in the middle of nowhere!
After lunch Rich and I, and Pippa decided that we’d do the “slightly more scenic option”. It was a pretty big hill but there were some lovely views. It was very rural’ and must be very bleak in winter. There were quite a lot of dogs around as well as the odd donkey and cow.
We rejoined the usual route and passed through Castla before arriving in Carraroe. We cycled through the village and beyond until we arrived at Lennafion Guest house. We showered before walking to the Coral beach with Vic and Kay. There were a load of rock pools around and we spent quite a bit of time watching the sea creatures. There seemed to be quite a fewjellyfish around as well. We saw most of our group down there at some point or another before we headed back to our accommodation.
We walked into the village and bought some snacks for tomorrow as well as a copy of the Irish Independent and headed over to An CistÌn for a pint before dinner. Roar and Emilie were there when we arrived so we sat and chatted with them for a while. The others all arrived and we went into the restaurant to eat what ended up being a very rushed dinner. There was going to be some Irish Country and Western music later but we were just way too full after dinner to stay any longer and so Rich and I and Kay and Vic wandered back to the B&B – slowly!
Day Eight – Carraroe to Galway
An earlier start today. We had breakfast, packed our bags and cycled up to O’Donahughes to meet up with the others. We headed out of Carraroe and followed the signposts to the ferry to Aran. John and Kaye met us there (Kaye wasn’t cycling today because she was going to meet up with some friends in Galway). We took the 10am ferry over to Inishmor and used the 40 minutes of the journey to read up on the island.
It had started raining on our journey to the ferry and so we decided to only do a little bit of cycling. We headed off to D˙n Aengus – a hill fort – with Vic, Shannon, Diana and Tessa and cycled along the main road, getting wetter and wetter. This really made us appreciate how lucky we’d been for the rest of our trip. Apparently the view from the fort is amazing but we were basically in cloud so I wouldn’t know. We cycled back to Kilronan and headed in search of beer and food. There seemed to be plenty of places offering one or the other but then we found the Aran Fisherman and had guiness and fish and chips. We still had a bit of time before the return ferry and so had a look at the shops and Shannon, Rich and I “helped” Vic choose an Aran jumper for her bloke – actually I’m not sure we helped that much as we all had very different opinions. She bought one anyway.
We caught the 4pm ferry back and reflected on how touristy Inishmor was. We’ve stayed in some very remote places, and it was quite strange to see so many people touring the island by minibus, cycle or foot. The ferry was fine and we were met by John and the van, and a minibus. We said goodbye to our bikes and were driven back to Brook Lodge in Galway.
John arranged for 2 minibuses to take us to the Jamesons Hotel in Salthill for our dinner. We had a more relaxed dinner than last night, but they still needed to move us on. We all wrote our names and contact details down and John got us all photocopies. Jeremy did a short speech and the presentation of the card and collection to John. He then spoke about all of us.
We headed on to the Cottage Bar for beer and more Irish music. Patricia (the Brook Lodge landlady) and her friend Rita came to join us, and Marian and her Mother were still with us after coming to dinner with us earlier. It was another good evening and many drinks were consumed.
Day Nine – Galway to Brighton
So this is Goodbye. The first people left at around 9am and for the next hour or so we said our Goodbyes until it was our turn. John called the remaining people into the lounge as Frank Clarke (the artist we’d met earlier in the week) was on. Jeremy brought his sketches down to show John, and they were really very good.
Rich and I shared a taxi with Diana and Tessa and they headed off to get a coach whilst we went to the train station and joined the queue again. Galway seems to be a one platform station. We saw Shannon there so she came and joined us and then sat opposite us on the train which was really nice.
We said Goodbye to Shannon at Heuston station and headed off to find the Dublin City Tour bus. A full circuit of the tour takes arout one and a half hours, and we just stayed on the bus all the way around to get an idea of what Dublin was all about. The guide was pretty good, although they only seem to cater for English speaking visitors. It started to rain on a couple of occasions but not sufficently to make us leave the open top deck. We left the bus on O Connell street and went in search of food. We found a pizza place and had our last pints of Guiness there.
We headed off to the bus station and caught an AirLink bus back to the airport. Check in was pretty efficient. The flight was on time and we arrived safely at Gatwick, bought a train ticket and headed back to Brighton.
Thoughts and Reflections
Would I do a cycling holiday again?
Yes, definitely. It was good fun, and made for a really good way of feeling at one with the countryside
Would I go with Irish Cycling Safaris again?
Yes I would. The Mayo tour has been recommended as being another flatter option – not sure I’m really for the really big hills yet
What would I take with me?
A basic tool kit, there weren’t many tools to share between us, so I’d probably take a basic puncture repair kit, and spanner set
I’d also definitely take my saddle again, it was worth adding into my luggage allowance. I’d also try and find an Ordnance Survey map or similar as that would have been useful – the map and directions provided were ok, but an OS would have been reassuring at times.
Would I visit Ireland again?
Yes, there were some really peaceful and rural parts. I’d like to explore more at some point, and I’d make a point of trying to avoid the overly touristy bits (like