Well, almost Sligo. This was a long trip, and the description is long. There are loads of photos, so the rest is under the cut.
Micky dropped me and Ronan off at Connolly Station in Dublin at 7am on Friday morning. We got on the train for Sligo, which was only three carriages long. I wish I’d taken a photograph of that, it looked so sweet. What I did manage to catch, was Ronan’s comfortable perch in the train.
I’d been a tad worried about the distance for my first day. Because I first had to make my way to Sligo, I would start quite late. I was quite happy, then, to discover the train stopped at one of the towns I was due to cycle through that day. It cut 20km off my journey to disembark at Ballymote, so I did. There was a lovely park right next to the station.
After a quick breakfast, I set off at about noon. I saw these caves just outside of Tulsk, I think.
This is what Ronan looks like when he’s fully loaded.
View along the road.
I took this photo outside the place where I stopped for lunch.
I’d managed 45 km with an average of 20km/h, on a loaded rig, which I thought rocked. The second half of the day was very rainy, though, and I got really cold. This was just stupidity, I should have stopped and changed into dry clothes. I found Brideswell in the end, but then I had to first go get dinner. That added about 14km to my day’s distance.
Here is the rather dreadful conclusion I came to as I cycled along: Ireland is a beautiful island, it’s lovely everywhere. However, we live in the most beautiful part of it. I cycled thorugh such gorgeous country…
…but the truth is that I could have taken any of these photos in the more mundane parts of where I live. It just gets more beautiful the further north you go.
The guesthouse was fantastic, very luxurious.
I loved these little cat statues on the windowsill of the bathroom.
And the gardens I looked out on from the bedroom window were gorgeous.
Stats for Friday, 9 July 2010:
- Time (pedalling): 6:04:09
- Average: 18.0km/h
- Distance: 109.06km
- Maximum: 44.5km/h
I left for Athlone the next morning, only about twelve km from Brideswell. Two things made me feel as if I stepped on hallowed ground: there were still signs up for the European Triathlon Championships that had taken place the week before. Bryan McCrystal, one of the nicest guys I know, won gold in his age group in that one. The second thing which for some reason really touched me, was seeing the river Shannon up close for the first time.
And a castle! At least, I think it’s a castle.
At this time, it was still not raining, though it was very grey. What it was, however, was lovely warm. I really was impressed with the river, don’t know why.
I’d taken a chance and worked out a route that avoided main roads as much as possible, which was a bit of a risk as the maps are not always accurate with these backroads. However, it did mean some truly gorgeous cycling.
I took this photo to demonstrate that I was, in fact, stripped down to my sports bra and cycling shorts. It was that warm, even though it was raining. What I managed to do instead was to demonstrate the expression I wore most of the time when I looked at the map.
Ah, I love the cows. They’re always so curious. I wish I could have caught a group of them earlier, all white, who came from the middle of a field and all gathered at the fence to stare at something that interested them before I came past, and stayed to watch me pass. But these were adorable, too.
I stopped for lunch in a little town, I can’t for the life of me remember its name. However, this little place…
…served the most amazing toasted cheese and chips I’ve ever had. The cheese wasn’t just plain cheddar, it was something else which was rich and fragrant. The chips were home made, most likely freshly cut potatoes. Delicious.
While I was eating, the steady rain turned mean. It really poured down now. I’d been enjoying myself immensely up to then. As I often do when I’m pedalling along, I asked myself why I enjoy this so much. I also kept checking: surely now I must be not enjoying myself, now that the rain is missiling down so hard that it stings when it hits? The answer was yes. Yes, I was still having fun.
I think wind-powered generators are beautiful. I think they can become an idyllic part of the landscape, the way the windmills in Holland have. Remember, these old windmills were also once new technology.
This photo is specially for my friend Mike Stone, who seems to be more versatile than I’d thought!
I made it to Roscrea, where I stopped to change into dry clothes and have a meal. I thought the boys, especially Nicholas, would be interested in the drawbridge and portcullis of this castle.
I had a fantastic bowl of soup with soda bread, bought a few odds and ends at the Dunnes, then set off for Donaghmore. My route again wound its way along tiny backroads. One of the drawbacks of this is that these roads weren’t built to take the easiest route to wherever they’re going.
I had to go up the grandfather of all hills. It was truly steep.
I must mention here that a gift given to me by the most excellent Andy Taylor and Jax Taylor came in very, very handy on the trip. Andy, Jax, wow. Such a little thing, such a big difference. Thanks!
It was beautiful, and everything went according to plan, until I’d passed through Knock. They were building a new road along here, and like a huge pencil just scouring its way through everything, it simply cut lesser little roads in half, shoved others aside into diversions. I don’t think, however, that this was to blame for me taking a wrong turn at one place – thinking back, I know exactly where I went wrong. At one place, where I was supposed to turn left, instead of just one road left there was a kind of fork. So I was at the centre of a fan of roads. I chose the wrong one.
Either way, I got a lot of help from Micky by phone, cycled to and fro a lot, in the end took a very long way around to Donaghmore and only arrived at the guest house around half past nine. My body seemed to be fine with this very long day, except for one minor detail. My ankle became very, very sore, but of course I couldn’t stop. I simply had to keep going. I was very worried about this, but also kind of pragmatic about it all. It’s difficult to describe, but once I set out, I have my aim: reaching the guest house. And somehow, I get rather single-minded about it. I don’t get upset much when something goes wrong, it’s just an obstacle between me and my goal, and the overcoming of it is just another part of the adventure.
The farmhouse where I stayed was the oddest gueshouse room I’ve ever been in. I loved the view from the window: cows!
The room itself was a narrow little thing, but so charming, so comfortable, lovely and down to earth.
The hostess was wonderful. I asked if it would be okay for me to dry some stuff over the radiator (If I’d jumped into a river, then crawled out right to her door, I could not have been more wet), she offered to tumble dry my stuff instead. And when I was worried it would damage her machine to put dirty wet stuff into it, she briskly decided she’d wash all my sopping stuff as well. I’d stayed in fancier, more luxurious places, but I’ve never felt so welcomed and at home anywhere.
Stats for Saturday, 10 July 2010:
- Time (pedalling): 7:16:13 (I was on the road for twelve hours though)
- Average: 15.8km/h
- Distance: 114.71km
- Maximum: 44.0km/h
The next day was gorgeous, beautiful and sunny:
I made good time on a great road, this photo is looking back along the way I’d come.
I thought this was so beautiful, I stopped to walk back and take a photo of it.
This little house was so gorgeous, I loved it.
Beautiful, but as I said, no more beautiful than anything I can find within half an hour’s cycling here.
I decided to stop for lunch at this picnic area, seeing as I could do with a rest before tackling the rest of this hill…
…half of which I’d already cycled up.
How’s that for lunch with a view?
I needed something to stir with, and seeing as I didn’t have a spoon on me, I applied The Alan Gray Rule for Everything: “Does it work?” And if the answer is ‘yes’: “Well?” (as in, what’s the problem then?). When we talked of mittens, though, I doubt he ever considered that his few-words advice would lead to me using a tyre lever to stir my yoghurt.
Or, for that matter, using a tyre lever as a butter knife.
I have never in my life seen a rubbish bin with flowers growing on top of it. Until Sunday, that is.
From here, the cycling was again really pleasant. Again, I chose backroads, this time with better results. Even though again, I had to face a very steep climb. It was all good, though, and I saw these sheep grazing on that little weird hill thing and thought the kids would love to see that.
Just beyond the crest of that hill, I had this breathtaking view of where I was headed. I was mighty glad I hadn’t stuck to my original plan and headed straight east into the Wicklow mountains.
I surprised myself totally by arriving in Athy around lunchtime. I’d done only 50km.
There was no pharmacy open, so I couldn’t get anti-inflammatories for the ankle, although it didn’t really hurt much while I pedalled. Still, now and then I’d forget to be careful and realise it was indeed rather sore.
I decided to go on to the guesthouse and drop off my panniers before getting a hot meal. Another 28km later, I arrived at the lovely farmhouse. Julie, the hostess, told me I’d be better off cycling to Kildare village for dinner than going back to Athy. I did, and had a fantastic meal before heading back to the farmhouse.
Stats for Sunday, 11 July 2010:
- Time (pedalling): 5:25:29
- Average: 17.9km/h
- Distance: 97.4km (78.4km with luggage)
- Maximum: 46km/h
The guesthouse was lovely, and I had yet another beautiful view, this time of sweet, adorable chickens.
Today, I set off a bit later than I’d hoped. It was an easy day’s cycling, with only one stop – in Kilcullen, at the first open pharmacy. I’d noticed a visible bump on my ankle in the shower the night before, and I was worried it might be more than a spot of bother that would just need some anti-inflammatories and rest. However, they wanted me to see a doctor, which would take loads of time, which I didn’t have, so I just bought some Neurofen Plus and a tube bandage.
I travelled through Naas, then followed the canal from there.
I loved the barges.
The view from my saddle. (c:
Oh, this barge was just amazing. It had a hat tree in the ‘foyer’, and a garden on the roof.
This guy was mowing his lawn.
I stopped at a stage to make sure in a pub beside the canal, called ‘The Hatch’.
Bar lady: “Hello, can I help you?”
Me: “Yes, actually. Where am I?”
When I walked out, I saw this:
A guy who came into the pub as I spoke to the bar lady suggested I follow the path running alongside the canal. It was, he said, “a good footpath”. It started out okay, but got narrower and narrower, and eventually got completely overrun with brambles. I have the scratches on my legs to prove I managed to get us out of there and back on the road.
After a long, long detour, I got back on the canal path. There’s an ongoing project to get the whole path along the canal looking like this:
Unfortunately, the first section I cycled across was still being worked on. The workmen allowed me to cycle across the bit they were doing, which had just been covered with resin and had tiny beige stones shoveled over it. Though we were spared an enormous detour, Ronan and I were both covered in sticky little stones.
I took some photos of the locks I passed, as I’m fascinated with how the water level is high in one spot and then just drops down. I also thought the boys would love to see that.
And there, the odometer clicked past the 6 000km mark.
I kept having to pass through these gates. It was a bit of a mission, I had to back Ronan in, then swing that gate across with the front wheel turned sideways, then get out again.
I was soon in the city centre, and found my way to Connolly Station, from where I got a train to Dundalk. The train had loads of empty seats which nobody was allowed to sit on as they’d been reserved online. So myself and a few other people couldn’t sit down. We were ushered into the near empty first class carriages instead. A good end to a great journey.
Stats for Monday, 12 July 2010:
- Time (pedalling): 4:18:37
- Average: 16.7km/h
- Distance: 72.22km
- Odometer reading: 6014.8km
Total distance for the weekend: 393.39km. Yes, I’m now saddled with an injured ankle. I was a little worried about the distances, as my fitness has been more spread out between swimming, running and cycling recently. However, except for the ankle, my whole body held up great. I have little stiffness at the end of my trip. I think I was fit enough for the journey, and I really needed those distances for the good of my soul.
I just hope I can get the ankle to be fine for Saturday’s race, but I doubt it, somehow. Still holding thumbs, though. We’ll see how things go.