Monday, 31 March 2008

Dublin to back home... eventually

Monday 31st March - the last day of the leave year, so the last day I wanted to take off work for now. Another rather long slog - up at 6am to get down to the Rosslare - Fishguard ferry (it leaves at 9am, but they start loading an hour before).

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Then back across Wales then down towards home. I should have been home by late afternoon... but my shoulders and wrists were in agony and I was tired and bored... so I decided to avoid the motorway and take a more interesting route home. Not wise when you're tired!

I stopped for petrol in Bath and my *£$((*&@%ing TomTom sent me up some stupid back road system to get out again. I dropped my bike going round a tiny residential corner avoiding the traffic, and broke off the clutch lever. Fortunately a friendly native told me where I could find a Honda garage in Bath; unfortunately they didn't have a spare VFR clutch lever, so I had to ride back up to Bristol using the stump of the lever to get a replacement from Fowlers. I've used them before, they have a huge warehouse of brand spares for everything, but at a price.

Then back down to Bath, only to find that the A36 is completely closed for months for major roadworks, so I have to take some godforsaken reroute. I eventually got home for about 10pm and dropped straight into bed! Not a particularly exciting route home and rather a dull end to my little Irish trip, but whining about it makes me feel better :-)

Sunday, 30 March 2008

Kerry to Dublin and all over the place

Another rainy day; I planned today as to get back across Ireland and have a quick look at Dublin. I was booked into a hostel in the Wicklow mountains just to the south of Dublin, as it was the next nearest to Rosslare apart from the one I stayed in on the first night. Somebody really needs to open a hostel in County Wexford!

I really can't remember the route I took, but it was mainly using the N roads, which seem to be the major arteries around Ireland. They are totally awesome for bikes, as overtaking is so easy; despite there only being one lane in either direction, the road is massively wide and cars seem ready to pull over into the hard shoulder to let you past. I'm not sure if this is required if you're going slowly or whether it's just people being polite, as some did, particularly lorries, and some didn't, particularly BMWs.

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I was going to have a nose at Dublin but the Wicklow mountains were beautiful so I ended up doing the mountain road thing again for the latter part of the afternoon.

The Glendalough youth hostel is really nice - I drove straight past it the first time as I thought it was a posh hotel. A bit busier than the previous two, as well - a whole shocking two other people in the dorm!

Saturday, 29 March 2008

Ring of Kerry and Dingle Peninsula

While yesterday was sunny with bits of rain, today was rainy with bits of sun... probably not the best of days to blast round the 'Ring of Kerry' on a motorbike. The only upside is that out of season, there are few other vehicles on the road; in particular, no coaches, and few cyclists.

The road surface is completely mangled by the tourist coaches; many of the more extreme bends had massive ripples in the tarmac, incredibly dangerous for a bike. Fortunately there seems to be fairly heavy investment in road mantainence - there were several lovely new smooth sections.

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I started from the youth hostel at Killarney and did most of the Ring of Kerry anticlockwise in the morning. I wasn't overwhelmed by the first half; it was only when I got up in the mountains that the scenery became as spectacular as promised. I'm not sure what the carpark marked as (B) on the map is called, but it's marked as Coomatloukane on Google Maps. It was extremely windy and was hailing when I got there... hard.

I was heading east along the southern side of the peninsula looking for somewhere to eat lunch (I say lunch, I mean a healthy packed meal of Doritos, Bounty and Diet Coke) and quite by chance found an incredible little peaceful deserted harbour. It wasn't signposted so I'm guessing it's not on the tourist route. It really is beautiful, although again I had the out of season advantage of being the only tourist around, so maybe it is used more in the summer. (The only person I saw was a stereotypical old local man with a white beard tending to his boat, who rambled about mackerel)

I'm not entirely sure where it was, so I've marked it as (C), but I'm sure the locals wouldn't want hoards of tourists finding it, anyway.

Rather than doing the full ring back to Killarney, I cut across the peninsula on some of the smaller roads, as they were marked as picturesque on my touristy map. A good choice too - although they're properly minor roads, the scenery is great.

There's something hugely fun about riding along mountain tracks in the rain - although an off-roader might be a little more suitable than the VFR! I did pass a group of properly kitted-up BMW adventure bikers who looked like they'd rolled off a BMW branded tour-the-world magazine spread, who looked on in astonishment as I revved my sports bike up a muddy mountain track in the pouring rain.

Passing a beach I had to grab a photo of this nutter. Granted, the wind conditions were perfect for windsurfing, but it was reassuring to know that there was someone probably colder than me.

Next up: the Dingle peninsula. It was really tipping down with rain at this point. I did stop to look at some Celtic fort around (D) somewhere but it was too wet to get good photos. I retired to a cafe instead to dry off.

There were some fun mountain roads around the end of the peninsula - some really hair-raising bends cut into the mountainside. Obviously I couldn't stop and take pictures at the dangerous bits, but I stopped at a passing space afterwards. I think it was around (E) somewhere, but looking at the map I'm not so sure - maybe I've confused the location.

As it was getting dark I headed back towards Killarney, and tried something new on my sat nav - getting it to tell me where restaurants were. After a few misses (the first was the pub next to the youth hostel, which I ate at last night and didn't think was up to much; the second turned out to be long closed; the third looked too posh) I headed for Kate Kearney's Cottage (F) at the head of the Gap of Dunloe. The pub itself looked like a major tourist hit in the summer, but at this time of year wasn't too busy except one coachload of Americans.

Food was fine, Guinness was fine, dessert was... well, interesting. I asked for the cheesecake, and it turned out to be Turkish Delight cheesecake. A new one for me... it wasn't so bad, but I got the impression they were running out of new flavours to try and turned to pot luck.

Oh and there were these guys - Irish folk musicians. They even had a couple of girls doing the Irish folk wiggly leg dancing thing. Not really my cup of tea but it was entertaining in its own way (I think the Guinness helped). The Americans loved it.

Friday, 28 March 2008

Kilkenny to Killarney

For the second day I wanted to end up in Killarney but had enough time to detour down through some picturesque routes... plus lunch in Cork (B). By the way, never believe sat-nav in Cork - it tried to send me the wrong way down every one-way street in the city, and I went round in many, many circles. Looks like a nice place, apart from the traffic.

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On the way I passed Carriganass Castle (C) - it says hi:

The Beara peninsula (D), by the way, is absolutely stunning - I kind of wish I'd gone round it properly instead of doing the Ring of Kerry. Hey ho. I can particularly recommend the twisty tunnelly mountain part of the N71 between Glengarriff and Kenmare.

Killarney National Park (E) is pretty nice too; I only went through it this once, on the way to Killarney while the light was failing, but it looks well worth a revisit.

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Isle of Wight to Kilkenny

I went to Ireland for a few days to use up some leave before the end of the financial year. It was a useful test of biking kit as I plan some more trips soon. These posts are tests of various ways of recording my traveling. I'm not one for lots of words and am well aware that most of my acquaintances have poor attention spans, so I'm concentrating on maps and photos if anything.

Anyway. Thursday: Home to Kilkenny (E), via the Cowes (A) to Southampton (B) ferry, a boring motorway drive, across South Wales and via the Fishguard (C) to Rosslare (D) Stena Lines ferry.

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Once in Ireland I stayed in the nearest Youth Hostel to Rosslare, Foulksrath Castle. Quite funky in that it's in a castle, apparently the oldest hostel in Ireland, but pretty basic (especially the loos and showers, a makeshift Heath Robinson affair in portacabins) and not particularly welcoming (although to be fair it's out of season and I was the only visitor apart from a group of despondent Germans who had their own room).

Disappointingly I only learnt afterwards that it's haunted - seeing as I was alone in the top room and the wind was howling all night, it would have been creepy if I knew... but if any ghosts were trying to hassle me, I slept through.