As part of my 2012 Europe micro adventures, I am just back from 6 days of bikepacking the SW coast of Ireland. Not enough time for sure, but enough to really wet my appetite for this amazing countryside. It had been over 10 years since I had last been to Ireland and that was all in the North. For this trip, I caught the ferry from Wales to Dublin and then the train from Dublin to Kilarney.
My trusty Salsa Fargo in tow, I was able to meet up with my good friends Jack & Ellen, owners of Cohills up in Lubec Maine. Ellen is a recent convert to biking, and with her new Surly Troll in tow, we set her up for the cheap and easy form of bikepacking. This setup is so simple that anyone can do it. The basic components are two 10L dry bags and a frame or tangle bag. We simply strapped one dry bag to the handlebars and the other to a Topeak quick release rear rack and she was ready to go.
We started by doing a warm up ride around the Dingle peninsula and then loaded up the bikes and headed out to the Beara the next day. I have to say, this stretch from Dingle to Beara was one of the most amazing stretches of land I have ever cycled. It was remote and rugged, challenging to ride, and awe inspiring to look at. The weather was a bit damp, but that is spring in Ireland. By and large I think we had more sun than rain.
After reaching the Beara, with many people questioning our decision to ride that peninsula over the Ring of Kerry, we finally found one person that thought it was a good idea, and thus our nerves were set to rest. Every other person that we spoke to told us how difficult the ride would be. After the day crossing from Dingle we were definitely on edge, just how difficult could this be.
Well, the first 10 miles or so were fine, and we were feeling quite confident, and then the Universe reached down and set us straight. The ride was one of those rides where you are either going straight up or straing down. Very little of the road was flat or even rolling. Some stretches were downright mean, clearly built by folks that don't like cyclists :-) On some of the outer farm roads the grade was so steep that I was pedaling no faster than Ellen was walking (sorry Ellen, had to throw that out there...).
The ride to the tip of the Beara was unlike anything I had ever experienced before. The ocean stretched far and wide, with the golden light of the setting sun reflected off of the barren cliffs. Our map showed a town, but at a certain point we began to doubt. It was so rugged and rolling that until we rounded a turn and crested a hill, there was absolutely no sign of civilization. We were doing the route counter clockwise and by the time we made the turn and began heading north and east, the roads became somewhat more manageable.
Having met a lovely gentleman the day before, we were pleasantly greeted by this same fellow the next day as he came with an offer of being our tour guide. One of the things I love the most about travel is when you are able to connect with the locals and get tours and information that you would have otherwise missed. In this case we were taken to a Buddhist retreat high up on the cliffs and shown a castle that had long ago been burned down and vandalized. Our tour ended as all good tours should, saying goodbye over coffee and pie.
Ireland is a special place and one that should most definitely be seen by bike. The ability to stop and look and explore whenever and wherever you want is one of the great benefits of travelling by bike. The people were amazing and incredibly friendly and we had zero issues with car drivers, even on the small and narrow country roads. I can't wait to go back and explore more on the bike and circumnavigate the island by Kayak.
A full gallery of images is available here.