Day 25. Killarney to Annascaul

otter

The trip was now about to take a different turn, literally. From Killarney I would be taking the R536 northwest across an undulating pastoral landscape until I met the N70 again and, in less than two miles at Castlemaine, would turn west along the Dingle Peninsular until its end. Today I would see the end of fields full of cows, although I could now expect to see sheep on the slopes.

The peninsular consists of a string of mountains along its spine with three crossings to the road following the north coast. The Visitors’ Guide to the Dingle Peninsular says that there is no other landscape in Western Europe with the density and variety of archaeological monuments as the peninsula which has supported tribes and populations for almost 6,000 years. Moreover, because of its remote location and the lack of specialised agriculture, there is a remarkable preservation of over 2,000 monuments.

Heading out of town I saw the magnificent Cathedral on one side and on the other was the National Park and a stream running parallel with the road. Saw a notice by the stream about otters; the stream was crystal clear. The slightly peculiar goalposts in a sports field were for Gaelic football and schools I passed often had a set.

football posts

Turned off the main road to follow the country road to the N70 and, after a few miles, saw a sign down a road to the Kerry Woollen Mills: kerrywoollenmills.ie These mills were much larger than those I had visited in Wales as in the weaving shed two sets of cloth were being woven one on a very long loom. There was a large shop which had an extensive display ranging from very expensive Kerry Merino Wool blankets at over £100 to some attractive small presents for the less well-heeled tourists.

long loom shorter loom

Soon I was at Castlemaine, by the side of the road, and approaching the turn there was a very large notice warning coaches, caravans and other large vehicles that they must follow the road around the peninsular in a clockwise direction only as there was not room to pass similar vehicles coming the other way on the narrow road. This sounded interesting so headed down the road with increasing anticipation. With the Slieve Mish Mountains mostly covered with threatening clouds on my right, and a wide view over the water on my left, the nature of the ride had suddenly changed.

mish mountains

I had noticed in the travel agents in Killarney that a lot of trips to Dingle and the peninsular were advertised, and, indeed, increasing numbers of coaches started coming up behind me. At first they were mainly from Killarney but, as the day advanced, they were coming from places further away. They were an irritation but not as much an irritation as I was to them when I struggled slowly up a hill and they could not find a clear stretch to overtake me.

As the road climbed, it narrowed but occasionally a lay-by had been created where there was a particularly scenic view so that vehicles, including coaches, could stop and the passengers could get out to take photos. “We have five minutes,”one observed grumpily as they were being hustled back into the coach and, though it seemed to me it had been a generous five minutes, I could understand the reluctance to return to the coach as the views over Dingle Bay to the mountains beyond were now becoming breathtaking.

As I was about to move away from a lay-by, a car drew up and I was hailed by a familiar
Canadian voice: it was the Canadians from Murphy’s Bar that were driving the Wild Atlantic Way. This route starts from Cork and follows the west coast. I had been told a number of times how spectacular it was when planning my trip, including by Ita’s brother who had been in a group following much of it. The Canadians had been unlucky the previous day as they had been going around the Iveragh Peninsula, perhaps the most spectacular section of the Way and route of the Ring of Kerry, but the rain and mist meant they had seen little of it. I took their photographs on their cameras and we took our cheery leave not expecting to see each other again but when I arrived at the next viewpoint they were just leaving so we said a more cautious goodbye this time!

healthland heathland 2

Now all the hedgerow flowers I had been seeing crossing Ireland had gone and were replaced on the roadside banks by heathland. The coast had been rocky for some miles but eventually I reached a lane leading down to the bay at Inch. It has a renowned sandy beach along a headland and a centre for surfing and there were some surfers with old VW vans just packing up and, as it was now starting to rain and it seemed a long time since breakfast, I went inside the Tourist Centre for a ham and cheese panini. There was a large cafe with an even larger bar and games room. It was designed to have enough room for coach parties. There had been no places to stop except at the view points since Castlemaine so its toilets must have also been very welcome. When I left I took a photograph of the, now wet and deserted, beach with the mountains of the Iveragh Peninsular in the distance.

Inch Bay Inch Sands

From here it was a wet and hilly ride to Anascaul where I was staying at the Teac Seain B & B. It had been a hard few miles. On my way into the village I had passed the South Pole Inn with an intriguing notice outside. Tom Crean, the Antarctic Explorer who had been with Shackleton on his Discovery Expedition in 1901 and the Endurance Expedition which set off in 1914, had bought the Inn on his retirement. I went there, as recommended, for a meal, walking down a cold, dark, windy street into the warm packed Inn buzzing with conversation and laughter where I managed to find a corner to have a hearty meal over which I took my time before returning to the B & B to go straight to bed.

429px-Tom_Crean2b
Tom Crean

All the walls of the Inn had been covered with old photographs, notices and memorabilia which, as the nearby tables were occupied, were impossible to look at so I was determined to return next day to discover more.

Tom Crean

 

 

Day 24. Killarney

evening

When I mentioned to Irish friends that I was intended to go to the West of Ireland, I was told I must visit Killarney, and when I began crossing Ireland and told people of my plans the more that recommendation became insistent. It was sometimes added that there were a lot of American visitors and it was very touristy. Wikipedia mentions that 200 years of tourism were celebrated in 1947, also that the railway arrived in 1841 and Queen Victoria visited in 1861.

The previous evening I was very strongly recommended to go to Murphy’s Bar in College Street which described itself accurately as combining tradition and hospitality with its long bar, many Irish artifacts and mixed sized tables for groups. It was heaving but, as I was by myself, I was able to eat at a counter. Not surprisingly, the food was good and the portions large. I had a Thai Green Curry and it was not the overcooked mush you can sometimes get with this recipe, but with vegetables al dente and the spices perfect. The Irish music added to the atmosphere. Next to me was a table of American tourists who were swapping tales of the good time they were having there. They were not the brash
tourists you sometimes meet in capital cities but were really enjoying what Killarney and the Dingle Peninsular had to offer.

Afterwards, I wandered round the town centre and it was still busy, brightly lit, most of the shops were still open, and there were street musicians playing reels and ballads.

street musicians

Next morning I was up late and I had started to look forward to the rest day. As in Wales my legs had quickly settled into the cycling, but because I had kept stopping to look at so many interesting things on the way I tended to arrive late, go out for a leisurely meal and a beer and then hit the sack. A leisurely morning sounded attractive and I had planning to do.

From the beginning I had been concerned about the next stage. The obvious place to stay was Dingle. It was a stage of about 36 miles along the Ring of Kerry though some of it ran along the coast and it seemed that some could be very hilly. Before I set out I had not been sure how far I could reasonably do in a day with full panniers and was worried about reaching Killarney on the day I’d planned. It had been a needless concern so I now had the extra day in hand which could be used in exploring the Dingle Peninsular. However, I found that the delay in making the decision had meant that there was hardly any accommodation available in Dingle and what there was, was very expensive. There was little accommodation on the way to Dingle either but I was fortunate to book at the Teac Seain Inn at Annascaul for one night, and the Dingle Gate Hostel a couple of miles away for the next night and booked the Hide Out Hostel in Dingle for the way back.

I also did a little of the blog and then went out to explore Killarney in the daylight and returned to Murphy’s for an evening meal where I had a long interesting chat with two Canadians.They were following the Wild Atlantic Way which covers the rugged West Coast from Cork to Derry.

Killarney was like no other place in Ireland. I had seen in Wikipedia that in the 19th and 20th centuries it had become an international tourist centre with grand hotels and there were many historic sites in Kerry and on the peninsula to visit including Lough Leane and The Killarney National Park, close by the town itself. The first big hotel I came across was The Tan Yard, with Parisian touches. The Tourism Office proudly proclaimed that Trivago had voted the Killarney hotels the best in the world in 2016. Many coach tours were being advertised and the most popular seemed to be around the Peninsular for the views and prehistoric sites. This was where I was going.

tan yard

Planning the trip

planning

I had reserved the morning in Killarney to do further planning as my westward travel across the main body of Ireland would be completed after another 7 miles. The rest of my journey would be on the Dingle Peninsula to its end at Dunmore Head, the westernmost place on the Irish mainland.

The journey so far had been full of variety and travelling along the Blackwater Valley and I often felt a deep sense of peace as I passed field after green field with mostly Friesian cows contentedly feeding. Perhaps this was partly because this pastoral scenery was so similar to that in Leicestershire where I had spent my childhood. I could image myself still searching the hedgerows, playing in the streams, always exploring the next field to find what might be hidden there.

County Kerry purported to be the most scenic part of Ireland and when my satnav had guided me through the suburbs of Killarney it had finally deposited me on the main road near the B & B. This it described as the Ring of Kerry and my new adventures were starting as I followed the Ring all round Dingle Peninsular.

When planning the trip to Ireland, l had the experience of crossing Wales to help. My intention in Wales had been to give me as much flexibility as to where I would stay overnight and so I would book for only a night or so in advance. However, it quickly became clear that, even without the influence of Ed Sheeran, this would not work. If, and this was one of the main pleasures of the trip, I stopped too long looking at something interesting on the way I would have little spare time in the evening after a meal to book the next lodging. I could perhaps have bought some rations in shops on the way and forgone the evening meal but part of the journey’s enjoyment was visiting new places and having local things to eat and, when going across Ireland, perhaps finding some “crac”!

One of the best ways of discovering the availability of B & Bs was to use Google maps. Find the town on the map, insert “B & B” in the search box and the date you wanted to stay, and it would put up available accommodation and the price for that night. You could vary it to include hostels and hotels. In practice, there were other places available, simple B & Bs that were not registered with the local Tourist Board, for instance, but I found that if you phoned a B & B that was full, they would often know of others nearby.

A preliminary search before I left home, made it clear that I had to start from the end, not the beginning. Looking at the Google satellite map it was clear that it was not possible to cycle to the furthest place west, nor did it show a safe place to leave a bike. It was going to be necessary to stay somewhere as near as possible and search for it on foot as I had had to do in Wales. There was little accommodation nearby, the nearest being De Mordha B & B  at a small village called Dunquin. It had a 5 star rating with Trip Advisor and many other enthusiastic comments in other sources. Walkers following the Coast Path reported how very welcoming and helpful Angela, the proprietor, and her husband were which included providing a packed lunch. As a result, they were usually full at this time of the year and it was very necessary to book well in advance. They were the only place I met which required a small deposit which had to be sent by PayPal. They clearly did not want to have people booking unless they were serious and it became clear when I got there that they were not doing this for financial reasons but so they could accept the many serious walkers, walking the Coast Path, who needed to plan in advance where they would sleep in this remote area.

I was thus in the unusual position of having to book my furthest place first. I had to decide which day I would arrive, calculate how long it would take me to get there, book and then reserve seats on the trains and ferry. I needed also to book the first night at Rosslaire where I got off the ferry. It was difficult to predict with certainty how long it would take me to get to Dunquin so I had to make my best guess but to add in a spare day as a precaution.

On investigation, I found there was another problem on the route between Fermoy and
Killarney. Because of the lack of accommodation between them, Tom Cooper, the author of Cycle Touring in Ireland, had recommended doing the 64 miles (which he described as “Undulating – surprisingly tiring”) in one day. This I did not fancy, but eventually found the B & B at Millstreet. The final problem was Dingle, a tourist hotspot, where there was plenty of accommodation but very expensive. This I would have to put off until I was more certain I would arrive. I had allocated a Rest Day at Killarney when I would make my plans for the Dingle Peninsular, having safely accomplished all my long rides.

One of my concerns was that some unexpected problem would occur which could throw everything out as these complications are made more difficult to resolve when you are abroad by yourself. Fortunately, I had a lifeline. My son, Ian, and I belong to a small informal group of walkers which includes a lovely lady by the name of Ita. Ita was brought up on a farm in Ireland and we had had lots of chats about farming and our respective countrysides. Ita gave me the telephone number of her motorcyclist brother, John, in Ireland who would always be willing to help me out so I telephoned him before I left. As well as giving me lots of good advice, he told me that if I was in
any sort of trouble to ring him straight away and wherever he was he would come straight over. That was a huge comfort! I hoped I would not need to bother him.

Day 23. Part 2 – Millstreet to Killarney

640px-MacGillycuddy's_Reeks,_Ring_of_Kerry_(506619)_(28239522935)
MacGillycuddy’s Reeks*

After four 40+ days, including yesterday’s 45.25 miles, I woke with the knowledge that the distance to Killarney was potentially under 30 miles. There was about four miles down to Rathmore on the N72, which had previously been very unpleasant but would be a quick way to meet with the main N22 road from Cork, and then a short ride into Killarney. I did not fancy the N72 and I had started to miss the hills which I cursed as I rode through Wales. If, when I got to Rathmore, I went straight over the N72 I could instead take something of a diagonal to Killarney along potentially scenic Irish lanes.

When I did cross the N72 in Rathmore it seemed a normal road through a country town without heavy traffic but I pressed on wanting to take to the hills anyway but within a hundred yards was brought to a stop by level crossing gates and I was soon joined by more traffic. Most of the drivers seemed more relaxed than is usual in those circumstances in England and as they arrived some started using their mobiles and some got out of their cars. The crossing was by Rathmore Station and eventually a train arrived and stopped and gave no sign of moving so I got off my bike and walked up to the gate. The explanation was that the line was single track until it reached the Station where alongside the platforms it became two tracks and, as the locals presumably knew, the train was waiting for another train travelling in the opposite direction. It eventually
arrived, the passengers got off and we were away and I headed up a hill on a narrow lane.

trains

There is a certain pleasure of climbing a hill on a bike. There is the pleasure of anticipation , a sense of satisfaction as you plough along, nose down, making your legs grind up the steep slopes, making slight gear changes to keep the right cadence and, finally, the sense of satisfaction of reaching the top and, as a relaxed tourer, stopping to look at the view and take a drink of water.

The verges of the hills were interesting because the distribution of the flowers and grasses often subtly changed as you climbed. One reason, notably in Wales, had been because of an increase in height giving slightly cooler temperatures and stronger winds in the exposed sections. Another common reason was that the soil decreased in quality and depth. One bright orange flower 2/3 feet in height had been brightening up the verges in the sunshine, and it was also often in the cottage gardens. In fact, it had always been in the verge within a 100 yards of a cottage but for the first time I saw one that wasn’t and now, as the soil thinned, it became more common often covering
several yards.

orange juice

Also on the verge was a blue notice which I had frequently seen when nearing a village. It had been erected by the Garda and one I saw later had attached below a handwritten note from a parish confirming that they did text the Garda if they saw something suspicious.

sign

There was a confusing network of lanes to navigate through until I joined the long straight main street of Gneevgullia. There was a village shop which, by now I had discovered, would have a coffee machine and sandwiches. I sat down outside at a table in the sun with a feeling of satisfaction and watched the life of the village pass.

The route looked complicated through the lanes and, as I was looking at my map, a passing shopper asked me if I needed help. I said I was going to Killarney and told her I was looking for a route through the lanes but she did not think much of the idea and said the lanes were narrow and difficult. She suggested that I went to the end of the street and then downhill to the N72. This had already been suggested by someone who had sat down by me so I decided to take their advice and went to the end of the street. There was suddenly a spectacular and expansive view not only along my route but across the water to the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, which climbed to 1000 metres beyond.

I hadn’t realised how high I had climbed and with a couple of turns of the pedals, I was off down the road freewheeling all the way back to the outskirts of Rathmore. It was an exhilarating 10 minutes with enough sweeping corners to add to the excitement, challenging me to keep off the brakes to keep up the speed.

Hitting Rathmore, I found the main street flourishing with flags and placards on all the shops, commercial premises and houses, the most noticeable being at the entrance to the town.

team photo

The match was at the coming weekend. It was clear that the players came from Rathmore and what was striking was that all the notices were in red, the colour of the flag of Cork Country which Rathmore is in.

It interesting going along the road to see how cycle friendly it was. As soon as possible after coming to a built up area you would be taken off the road with a cycle path or a shared cycle/pedestrian path so you did not have to overtake parked cars. Otherwise there was a hard shoulder of varying width. In the few stretches where there was no hard shoulder there would be a white line a short distance from the kerb. Though not designated as a cycle path, you would be given a wide berth.

Entering Killarney and nearing the junction with the N 71 there were notices warning of potential queues and, at the roundabout, more warnings. The N 71 was the road from Cork and was carrying heavy traffic and lorries. There was a cycle path skirting around the outside but this did not keep me away from the real tangle: leading onto the roundabout from the far side was a wide roadway from the large area in front of a school. It was the afternoon pick up and there was the familiar chaos from a mixture of children, parents and cars trying to pick up the children and getting from and into the roundabout. One mother had even parked on the roundabout itself and was trying to scramble her child into the car despite a looming lorry. I got off and picked my way cautiously through the melee, and set up my route on Google maps through the suburbs to the Cherry Tree B & B.

There was a notice outside proclaiming “Fibre WiFi” and what was striking was its evident age. I never had any difficulties in finding WiFi whether in a lodging or eating place and the implementation of WiFi in Ireland is way ahead of England’s. The initiatives now from the local authorities is to have public hotspots. In Fermoy I had been told that the town centre and main street was all a hotspot. Later on in the journey in a town centre I went into one of those peculiarly Irish establishments with a deli
counter from which you could order take away food and that also had a modest traditional cafe behind and small bar at the back. When I was getting the food I asked if there was WiFi and, if so, what the password was and was told that it was better outside where I was sitting with my bike and I did not need a password.

The establishment attracted three different sets of customers: those wanting a quick take away which you could eat outside, a small cafe with no great pretensions but providing a good meeting place with coffee and cakes, and the small bar invariably at the back, which usually had a few veterans sitting down with a Guinness.

Places like this in England could flourish providing a local meeting place where cafes and licensed premises now fail. Unfortunately, the different types of regulations would make it almost impossible to set up.

The B & B was not far from the centre of Killarney and, after a short day of 34 miles, I went to the pub/restaurant, highly recommended by the proprietor, earlier than usual with the comforting thought that tomorrow was a rest day. It was a good recommendation.

 

* Photo of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks by Bob Linsdell at https://flickr.com/photos/92487715@N03/282395229

 

 

Day 23. Part 1 – Millstreet: a tidy town

10-Minor-Row

Ireland had been markedly litter free and one thing that helped was the absence of plastic bags as it has been many years since shopkeepers were allowed to give them out. If you need a bag then your shopping is put in a quite strong brown paper bag and I did not see plastic bags used generally at all. The only time I did see a plastic bag was in a hedgerow. Though the towns were litter free, not infrequently I had seen, thrown at the side of the road, a collection of items together: used coffee cups, sandwich packets and empty bottles and cans – Red Bull seemed popular. It is not usual to see the same thing in England but it was really noticeable in Ireland, perhaps because everywhere seems so tidy or perhaps it is more frequent in Ireland.

In the morning I asked Noreen why this happened and she said it was a problem as the litter was thrown out of cars from people who had been to a takeaway. She said that litter generally was an issue and I mentioned that I had seen, when coming into Millstreet, a display which said that the town had won three Bronze medals in the Tidy Town competition. She said she had been involved with the group trying to keep the town clear of litter. In 2016 Millstreet had won 1st in the Anti Litter competition and a Bronze Medal in the Tidy Town Competition. There was a further Bronze Medal in 2017. It was hard work for their group to keep on top of it, and she told me of a friend who always went out from 6am to 8am on Sunday mornings. The Tidy Town award went beyond litter and took into consideration more general improvement and conservation
including flower beds.

I had not realised that the freedom from litter I had noticed the previous day in Fermoy probably represented a lot of voluntary work, so I looked on the Internet and found a picture of very cheerful Fermoy volunteers with spades and hoes.

Fermoy Tidy Towns Web 1920px 1@11-04-2018-18_28_20

Day 22. Fermoy to Millstreet

Fermoy bridge

Today promised to be the longest ride of the Tour but, before I set off, I walked into the town after looking at the bridge over the River Blackwater.

When I arrived the previous evening I had ridden up and down the main street where I had expected the hotel to be but it had actually been on the Quay. What had struck me was the variety of shops and some of the magnificent old-fashioned fronts which had been designed to impress. I called at the stationers and, when I was being served, I mentioned this. The proprietor, who I guessed it was, picked up on my approval and came around the counter to tell me more. He was very proud of his town and explained that Fermoy had missed the boom when prices in Ireland had shot up to what proved to be ridiculous figures. Then the old heart of most towns had been destroyed by redevelopment of the aged properties but Fermoy had escaped and was now thriving. He told me something of the history of  Fermoy and, just as I was leaving, took a 70 page booklet published by the Fermoy Enterprise Board, tore off the price label and gave it to me. The origins of the Fermoy had been dated to the year 1170 when the Cistercians founded a monastery. The booklet said that an ambitious Scotsman bought the ruins in 1751 and turned its vicinity into one of the most prosperous modern towns in Ireland. Another factor was that, until the 19th century, the bridge was one of only four, or possibly five, that crossed the river which is the fourth longest river in Ireland.

I had noticed that there was a lot of traffic coming over the bridge from the N72. The main route from Dublin to Cork passed the outskirts of  Fermoy where there was a junction allowing the traffic to join. The lanes which I was following became less direct and, as I had a long ride, I had decided to travel a few miles along it before returning to the lanes. It would be interesting to see which of all the various descriptions of the hard shoulder was correct and, not surprisingly, there was some truth in all of them.

The road consisted of one wide lane in each direction separated by a yellow line with an equally bold line defining the outside of the lane leaving the “hard shoulder “ beyond it. Generally the hard shoulder’s surface was the same as the roadway but sometimes it dipped away badly towards a rough surface edge. Where there had been recent improvements to the road there was a good wide hard shoulder of a standard width wide enough for a small lorry to try to undertake a slower, larger one to a chorus of hooting, but other parts of the road had a variable width down to that of a handlebar. The rule about leaving 1.5 meters when passing a cyclist did not seem to apply so traffic could then be passing within inches and my most scary moment was where, opposite a right hand turning lane, a large lorry passed within inches with a great roar buffeting me with its passage. It was a relief to turn onto the lanes again.

Soon afterwards I came round a corner to see an interesting long bridge down a road on my right so I investigated and had a most intriguing sight of a tower peeping over some houses. I decided to check it out and cycled up the hill. At the top was Ballyhooly Castle and, from an information board, I discovered an Irish female warrior to compare with the female warrior I had discovered in Wales.

tower

In 1645 Ballyhooly Castle was occupied by Irish Royalists and was recaptured by the parliamentary army of Oliver Cromwell. In the absence of her husband, Ellen Lady Roche bravely commanded the defence of the family’s stronghold at neighbouring Castletownroche. After a siege, the Cromwellians captured the castle and Lady Ellen was executed in Cork in 1652.

Ballyhoo castle

Noticing some early fallen apples by my feet as I read the boards explaining the history, I discovered the tree had been planted by local schoolchildren years ago to commemorate a local tradition. The bridge I had crossed had been an important ford. An ancient manuscript stated that St Carthage, founder of the neighbouring town of Lismore, had picked up an apple from the water when he crossed the ford and, later that day, he had given it to the deformed daughter of a local chieftain and, on accepting it, the girl’s withered arm was immediately restored. The name Ballyhooly is derived from ancient Irish and means the ‘ford of the apples’. I walked into the castle gardens which seemed to be in private hands and took a photograph of what remained of the castle.

Not being very far into the day’s ride I resisted the temptation to visit Mallow Castle, a National Monument, when passing by the town and pressed on mostly remaining close to the river, and, after a day’s cycling of 45 miles, reached Millstreet. There had been little climbing except where the lanes had diverted from the valley near Nagles Mountains.

I was  staying at a B & B  that I had booked over the phone with a very friendly proprietor who called herself Noreen and who had given me very clear instructions on how to find her. Millstreet, l found out, was purported to have one of the longest high streets in Ireland. The welcome was just as friendly and the house and room were very comfortable. Noreen and her husband were good company and had a wealth of local information.

As it was getting late and, as the pub/restaurant they had recommended was closing soon,  Noreen drove me the three-quarters of a mile to the pub, where I had another excellent meal. Noreen and her husband were going for a walk so could not pick me up afterwards but I said I enjoyed a walk after a good meal and a beer. The beer was brewed locally and was delicious and a day’s cycling always improves the thirst quenching properties.

Afterwards, feeling in a good mood, I set off down the road and, after being crouched over the handlebars all day, it was good to straighten up so I set off with long strides and happy thoughts.  I then passed Noreen and her husband walking in the opposite  direction and  Noreen asked “Are you are going for a walk then?” It was only after some time it occurred to me that the road did not seem familiar. Noreen’s directions over the phone had included an instruction to pass by a cemetery and that they were further down on the left and I had carefully noted it near the bottom of a valley.  I had not noticed any cemetery but seem to have walked a long way so when I came across a male  contemporary by the side of the road I spoke to him and, after an exchange of usual Irish pleasantries, enquired as to the whereabouts of the cemetery. The exact situation I found difficult to explain with any success so we then each started to give descriptions of places in Millstreet, resulting in one of us starting to give details which the other failed to recognise. His descriptions were full of extra information and I started to find out a lot about Millstreet which was all very interesting but I had to confess and say I was looking for the B & B where I was staying. Then I described the B & B which had a very large ornamental sign saying ‘Bed and Breakfast’ and its name. He had no recollection of it. I had only taken a cursory glance at the name and my attempts to pronounce it failed to have effect and he could not remember any B & B. He then asked me who I was staying with and I said I could only remember the Christian name – Noreen. “ NOREEN!” he exclaimed loudly, “you are staying with Noreen!” with a very approving tone and it became clear that Noreen was someone notable.

Of course, it turned out I had continued up the road away from the B & B and had forgotten to u-turn and go back on myself. Later, when I got in, I told Noreen I had had a very good walk. The name of the B & B was Knockdrish.

 

Day 21. Dungarvan to Fermoy

 

First view of River Blackwater
First view of the River Blackwater

When I researched the route I was struck by a phrase in the Rough Guide about Dungarvan which it describes as “largely unscathed by the blight of chain-store similitude” which turned out to be apt. It was a pleasure to walk round such a variety of shops.

I woke early to look around in the daylight and make some small purchases but first walked along the Quay again. The previous night had been dark and raining but I had spotted some ancient looking walls which I guessed must be the Castle. It had been built in 1185 as an Anglo-Norman command base, like many of those castles I had visited in Wales. Inside there had been a barracks occupied during the IRA in the Civil War and burned by them when they abandoned it. The main parts of the old castle left were the walls.

Dungaven castle entrance and walls

As I walked down the Quay I was struck by the blueness of the Harbour, such a contrast to the Bay when I first saw it the previous night.

Dungarven harbour in morning sun

 

My route so far had been hugging the coast going though the towns which had grown up at the first crossing points of the rivers. Now I would cross to the River Blackwater, following its valley west along the lanes.  My next overnight stop would be at Fermoy, with the inland countryside to explore.

On leaving Dungarvan I saw a sign showing a cycle route which was named after a famous local cyclist Sean Kelly, and followed the lanes which were part of my own route.

sean kelly tour of waterford route sign

Sean had been one of the most successful road cyclists of the 80s, his most famous victory being the Vuelta a Espana in 1988. He had been born in Waterford in 1956 of a farming family. The inaugural Sean Kelly Tour of Waterford was in 2007 with 910 participants including Sean. The numbers rose to over 8,000 over two days with three distances. It was cancelled this year with a view to restructuring it including moving the date. The council Head of Enterprise said that “August does not work any more”. One of the problems was accommodation. I can relate to that.

Something struck me as being incongruous and I realised it was the metal pole that the sign was attached to. English practice is to put notices on metal poles which are often an  eyesore. Like many continental cities, Ireland uses them as little as possible and in an unobtrusive manner.

After a few miles of very quiet lanes through rolling countryside, I freewheeled downhill into the picturesque village of Villierstown, with a shop/delicatessen coming into view at just the right time.  Part was a shop and the other half something I saw at a number of places along the way: a counter laid out rather like a Subway with a motherly figure behind, waiting to have an Irish chat and prepare a sandwich. There was also a microwave to prepare toasted snacks. A sandwich was made up for me and I sat at a table outside, with coffee, in the sun, watching residents walking up the street to the shop exchanging banter and local news – all was good with the world. I finished and went to go when I saw a door marked “Library” so I went to walk in and met an engaging lady coming out with keys in her hand. It was one o’clock and she was leaving for lunch but was pleased to tell me about it and how it was run entirely by volunteers, now on a part-time basis.

I cycled off up the road and through some big ornamental gates. They were part of  an extensive park and gardens and I emerged at the other end through a startling minaret- topped archway with single-cell porters lodges on each side, I then passed over the Blackwater, for the first time, on a handsome bridge. It was called the Dromana Gate. It had been built in wood and papier-mâché to greet the owner of the estate, Henry Villiers -Stuart, and his wife Theresa on their return from their honeymoon in Brighton in 1826. The couple was so enchanted with the gate that they later had it reconstructed in stone.

Dromena Gate side 1 Dromena gate side 2

The first Duke of Buckingham was George Villiers, a favourite of King James I and from 1616 built up Irish estates.This had been a seat of the Villiers family, hence the name of the village. I then stopped to look at a very delicately coloured flower, so pretty that you can understand why the plant was brought into the country for ornamental damp areas but it was now rampant alongside this section of the Blackwater.

Flowers along river bank

I had found the rough patch repairs increasingly irritating as my unsprung bike rattled over them. They tended to be splotches of tar often laid over similar, worn splotches. The big plus was that I had not seen a pothole all day, admirable safety-comes-first in Ireland. I had wondered how the repairs were laid and the sign gave a clue.

How its done

I eventually arrived in Fermoy after a 42 mile ride but the lateness was mainly due the number of  times I had stopped in this very interesting section of the Blackwater Valley. Often, through a gateway, you would get a view of a meadow decorated with grazing cattle sloping down to the river with a longer, steeper slope with more meadows and an interesting  building.

I was, again, staying in a large hotel with a small cheap room and it was just after 8pm when I went out to find some food. I was starving as it was a very long time since the lunchtime sandwich. I saw that the hotel restaurant had closed at 8pm. I went into the town and could see nothing so enquired of a passer-by where she recommended but she said everything was closed except the chippy but there was a Chinese and an Indian near the hotel. I went in the Chinese, this time, and had a very filling meal. I was the only customer but there was a steady trade in takeaways.

It had been a good day with Ireland at its most pastoral.