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.

 

The Tour – first stage completed

The Tour of Ireland will have distinct stages and the one I have just completed could be described as the Tour of the Estuaries. I had followed the coastline passing the estuaries at their first crossing place. Because of the local fishing ports, this stage had unintentionally started to turn into a gastronomic tour as well but there is nothing like a good day’s ride to make you appreciate the local delicacies.

What had I discovered? The modest friendliness of the people, the calm pleasure of cycling though the pastoral countryside undisturbed by inappropriate development, roads in generally better condition than those of Essex, and very welcoming pubs in the evening.

The next stage will be to cross the mainland to Killarney near the west coast where I will have a rest day. Tom Cooper, the author of Cycle touring in Ireland*, had found that the problem of this section was the lack of accommodation.  When booking up, Fermoy was an obvious target for the first day but the next day was a problem until I found a B & B at Millstreet. This will be a long day’s ride but I was encouraged to find that on both the first two full days in Ireland I had cycled 43 miles.

The second stage is also mainly along the valley of the Blackwater River. The main road, the N72, runs along the north side of the valley but I will be able to avoid all of this, except a few miles, by taking lanes running along the southern side, usually close to the river. This could have been the cross-country route before motorised transport as it would be sheltered and the donkey trains would have easy access to water.

Pastures new ahead.

Day 20. Duncannon to Dungarvan

pe ferry

Woke to bright sunshine, first I had seen, up to then it was varieties of “Irish Mist”, never really raining but never sunny. I had been warned by Irish friends there would be plenty of days of this. I could now see the estuary properly. I looked around the small harbour and then followed the estuary until I reached the vehicle and foot ferry to Passage East. It was followed by a long climb over the hill to Waterford, made memorable by seeing my first pot hole.

pe on ferry

Waterford is a busy city and once an important shipbuilding port. The quays are now  deserted with some used as car parks, but behind the Quay there were bustling little lanes.

Its origins go back to the early tenth century when the Vikings built a settlement there and controlled much of that part of Ireland. It had city walls but most had been demolished, the Clifford Tower remains with a Viking boat displayed in front of it.

cliff tower

I sat down at a pavement cafe in the sun, had a snack and coffee and watched the congregation leave the cathedral, standing in groups chatting amiably, and tourists wandering by, a happy scene.

Waterford Crystal was founded in 1783 and has helped to create the town’s prosperity producing 45,000 pieces a year and I cycled by the recently built, and much larger, shop, easily accessible by coaches. The shop has beautiful displays of their crystal and the popular tours of the factory itself start from there.

I was heading for the Waterford Greenway, a 46k cycle and walking  trail opened last year between Waterford and my ultimate destination for the day of Dungarvan. There had once been a railway line which had closed and the area left derelict until a railway preservation company had opened about 7k of the route again. The trail was being heavily promoted by the Tourist Board as being spectacular and beautiful. Already, when mentioning my route, I had been told several times that I must take the trail. My host of the previous night had been one of these and she explained that not everyone had been in favour but it had been a great success. Along the way, access points had been created with car parks, and cafes had sprung up with activity areas and cycle hire.

The trail was very carefully designed with a tarmac surface wide enough for emergency vehicles. At first there were mainly a few walkers but the access points were very popular and the closer you approached one, the more cycling family parties there were. Near the access  I would usually come across several groups with very young children  learning how to cycle on the traffic-free way. There were many leisure cyclists and a few fast club cyclists but the family cyclists had claimed the territory for themselves. The families were arriving at the junction station from the small train running a shuttle service up and down the line. The platforms had displays and extra facilities for the families and walkers. I stopped and had a coffee and a couple of cereal bars, more sensible than the inviting ice cream.

station

The fields I came across were now mainly used for gazing. Many cattle were Friesians but there were Herefords, cross-breeds and a I saw a huge Charolais bull stalking round a field full of cows. Took a picture of yellow flowers which had been brightening up the verges, with a butterfly taking up the nectar.

butter 2

The landscape forms changed and the Greenway plunged downwards crossing increasingly steep valleys, eventually using viaducts. One is really impressive and much featured in the advertising. It seemed a long way down to the valley floor on the viaducts, which were matched by a couple of short tunnels and then a long lighted one. Through and outside this tunnel along the walls were colourful decorated stones and small slabs, each bearing a child’s name as part of the design. I was told that they had been put there by children from the local school.

waterford bay
Waterford Bay

For some time there had been an Irish mist and I was getting used to it; a sort of not quite rain with brighter intervals. I had started the day with it and it had cleared by the time I had reached Waterford Bay, which was a brilliant blue, but it returned about 10 miles along the route and then annoyingly turned into real rain and I put on my rain jacket. Just before the long tunnel it started coming down heavily and I waited for a couple of minutes on the exit for the heavy rain to clear. I then remembered a lesson my grandson Mikey, then aged 14, had taught me that for a few minutes heavy rain seems unpleasant but then you stop noticing it as it becomes the norm, so I set off again down increasingly  steep slopes. The rain eased, I shot round a corner and there was Dungarvan Bay with the rain clouds retreating.

d bay

After another 42 mile day I checked into a top quality hotel with another small, but cheap, room and, on advice, set off down to the quay to find a restaurant. The best seemed to be an Indian so I had a big meal, went back to the hotel and straight to sleep.

Day 19. Rosslare to Duncannon

memorial
Memorial at Kilmore Quay

There was a wide choice of continental breakfast set out in the lounge, electric kettle and tea and coffee-making facilities but no sign of staff at any time. It seemed that, like a Travelodge, that there was only one person on duty who set out the breakfast during the night. The bike was produced and was I quickly down the road to discover rural Ireland.

I was looking forward to seeing what the Irish countryside looked like and, on a bike, the first noticeable difference were the road side hedges: they were rampant and there was little apparent planned  planting. The rich variety of species made them very colourful and I was brought to a stop by a stretch of wild rose and fuchsia.

wild rose

The condition of the road surface matters more than every other aspect. In Essex, though the original road surface is good, potholes are allowed to develop which become dangerous enough to bring you off. You learn where they are and during a Club ride those in front continually look out for them and shout warnings to the following pack.

For some time before I came I had been enquiring of Irish acquaintances about the condition of the roads and could never get a clear answer. Their expressions were pained and there were references to subsidence at the side of the road, patching and variable surface and I now understood the reason. As a cycling tourist I would rather go for teeth rattling patches than dangerous potholes.

cob cottage

I was soon brought to a sudden stop by a glimpse though a gateway. It seemed like  something I had not seen for 50 years, we would call them a “Cob Cottage”, and you can sometimes still see the name in villages.  Everything was there, a thatched roof for lightness, thick walls, and only a few narrow windows to protect structural integrity and for longevity most important of all a sturdy outside coating. Where there is no stone the walls are formed from the local earths, baked. I wondered what they would use in this area but quickly discovered the answer from a derelict barn – a rubble earthy combination.

barn

I also came across a notice about the Japanese Knotweed which seems a remarkably good idea as the seed pods are forming now.

knotweed

I had seen lots of tourist/large traffic notices to Kilmore Quay so, intrigued, diverted to see what was there. On the way down I had been overtaken on a relatively narrow road by two large foreign refrigerated lorries. Found a busy little fishing port and could see a fishing trawler heading towards the harbour entrance.  A woman was by the dock was watching so I asked her about the trawlers and she suggested that I went through the dock to the harbour entrance so I headed that way rather expecting notices saying “No Admittance” but no one seemed surprised by my appearance.

truck

The trawler had docked and nearby was an empty van with its doors open so asked the driver and his mate if there was a market and he said most of the catch went direct to France and rather bitterly “the Irish don’t eat fish”. There were some large foreign refrigerated lorries nearby including the one which had passed close to me on the narrow road on the way down to the quay.

trawler

I spent some time looking around. Nearby there was a large memorial area dedicated to those lost at sea, either locals or others who had drowned in the waters off the coast including teenagers drowned off the nearby beach, locals in boat bombed by the Germans and locals drowned when a ship with over 300 migrants aboard went down on its way to America in the 1880s.

memorial stone

On the way back to return to my route I spotted this board. We could do with some in England where the same rule applies. I had already noticed that the vehicles in Ireland gave you more room.

notice

After a really enjoyable ride of 40+ miles I was given a good welcome when I arrived at the B&B in Duncannon called Harbour Lights. I was shown into a room where you could just see over the wall into a small  harbour.

room with view

Went on recommendation to what seemed to be the usual pub on the corner but found it was called the Strand Tavern Seafood Bar and Restaurant. Saw that on the Specials Menu was Pan Fried Hake. It had an exquisite taste and just crumbled under the fork. I asked where it came from and was told “Kilmore”: it was today’s catch.

Day 18. Into Ireland

ferry to ireland

The day started at about 2 am with a bang as when I sat down on the toilet seat there was a loud noise and the seat started sliding off the side. Examination in the morning showed that a plastic part attaching the seat had broken. It could be a good omen, a problem out of the way before I set off.

There was no hurry in the morning as the ferry left at 1.15pm, arriving at 4.30pm. It was a Stena Line Ferry and when my grandson Mikey and I went on our cycle tours of Holland, Stena regarded us as vehicles and we joined the vehicles embarkation, with the foot passengers loaded much later. I got down early to be one of the first but was told on arrival at the ferry that I was a foot passenger, and then, on passing through security, was told to wait to go on with any cyclists on the connecting ferry train which arrived after the waiting foot passengers had loaded. Waited until all the foot passengers were off the train and passed through but there were no cyclists. Then I was sent up the gangway to be met with mutual leg pulling by the four loaders. The boat was then able to set sail.

It was a good trip, the facilities on the Stena boats are good, it was not crowded and we were greeted by a harbour porpoise as we slid into Rosslare. I had a good idea where my overnight stay was but on the ground it never is quite as you imagine it from the map. I was looking at the map when I noticed a cyclist passed me but soon he returned alongside me asking if I needed help. Told him where I was going and he said it was just up the road, “Och,” he said, “just follow me!” and deposited me at the Lodge. It was like a Travelodge, large room, no formalities, paid in advance by card, just depart when you want. Asked receptionist about the bike storage and he told me to leave it with him and took it off. After some of the small rooms I had before on my trip, it seemed palatial. They provided a continental breakfast and the receptionist told me of two pubs 16 minutes walk up the road where there was good food.

Later, the man from the next room came out at the same time as I did and headed out and we did that English thing, he held the first door for me, I held the next door for him and he held the outside door for me. I set off up the road and then noticed he was a little way behind but not catching me up, a bit of that male politeness as I wobbled up the rough grass more slowly than he would have. I stopped and spoke to him; he had received the same advice from the receptionist so we went to choose the pub together. Saw chowder on the menu, had not had it for years as it is rarely available in England. It turned out to be very special, substantial portions of a wide variety of fish. It was a good evening as it turned out as we had much in common in seeing the development of computing from the early days of Acorn when my Civil Service son, Ian, was tasked with persuading schools to take up the Government’s offer of a free Acorn designed computers, a bit scary for some smaller schools.

The Irish Tour

Now I had cleared up some existing commitments I could start on the Irish section of the tour from Rosslare to the most westerly point of the Irish mainland at the end of the Kerry Peninsula.

Why was I doing the tour? Two main reasons, firstly the adventure of exploring – new places, new people, and secondly to try to obtain donations towards British Tumour Research for the reasons mentioned in the “Sponsorship” link.

The plan for this Diary had been that in the evening after a day’s ride I would settle comfortably on my bed in the B & B and write up the day’s events. However, I soon found out when crossing Wales that things did not quite work out that way.

Though I had a good idea roughly where I intended to stay, and always had the next three days booked, to provide flexibility I had only booked further ahead of this time if I wanted to be sure of staying somewhere specific, for instance, at de Mordha, the most westerly B & B In Ireland. Instead of writing the blog in the evenings, this time would need to be spent planning ahead, based on what mileage I was achieving.

In Wales I would set out in the morning determined to get a good start but soon would finding myself exploring interesting places until late morning when I would realise that I had only done a quarter of the day’s route. The second part of the afternoon would be spent driving myself forward to get to my destination in reasonable time to walk through the new town or village  before I found a place to satisfy an increasingly complaining stomach. After a necessarily large meal, it was back to the B & B where all I wanted to do was sleep. My blogs were being  published increasingly later than the events. Would I do better this time?

Day 17. Off to Ireland

off to ireland

With panniers all loaded up again, left home to discover new territory. I had only been to Irish cities so was looking forward to seeing what rural Ireland was like. On a bike you are part of the everyday world. I had gone to Wales with some preconceptions but had found it a more relaxed society than I had expected, particularly the further west I went.

First I had to get back to Fishguard again, a journey that would take most of the day, with clapped out trains at both ends and the most modern carriages between. Always enjoyed this part of the journey. I always pre-book a seat, the scenery is interesting and it is a chance to relax after the hectic attempts to clear up everything before leaving home. Now it was too late to do anything more and I could even have a glass of wine if I fancied it.

Went, as usual, to the back of the train at Braintree where there were seats that could be pushed back to accommodate a bike and pushchair – gone. Sudden realisation that, at last, there was new train stock. Every time the train franchise came up for offer there was a promise of new stock which never happened and it always the same foul toilets with never the full compliment of toilet flush/water/soap/dryer in operation. The biggest mistake was to take soap before checking that the water was working. (Perhaps you need to be of a certain age to be fixated about train toilets).

On the cycle for the inevitably eventful cycle across London. Found a way down through little lanes to super cycle highway along Embankment with some closed lanes near the station now open again. Went along opposite side of Serpentine this time and had close up view of The Mastaba looking magnificent in the sun (see Day 9 for more information).

Everything went well. I was allowed on the train from Paddington to Cardiff early giving me plenty of time to hang up the bike. The train connection at Cardiff was perfect and I put my bike in the cycle space where it was joined by several others. The train to Fishguard became busier as we passed through the towns that I had cycled through so  recently. A passenger sitting next to me was a regular commuter into Swansea. We talked about Wales and the castles. He said that the accents in S.W. Pembrokeshire were more English than anywhere else in Wales. It was, he explained, because that area had been colonised  by the Normans when the castles were built and they continued to bring in English labour. Just before he got off he asked where I was going. When I said Fishguard he paused and then said, sympathetically, that it takes a long time. I realised I still had 40 minutes on a train which travelled cautiously, with fewer and fewer passengers, through the farmlands but it been an easy event-free journey so far.

train to fishguard

The train suddenly braked and the driver hooted once and then with a succession of hoots, and there was the sound of the train hitting several objects. The conductor went into the drivers cab and returned walking down the carriage to the rear saying “dogs”. After several minutes’ delay, as he returned to the driver’s cab he told us that the vets were coming and, after an apology for the delay from the driver, we set off again. I usually get off last with my bike so as not to be an inconvenience and so spoke to the conductor who was coming from the driver’s cab. He explained that there had been a hunt and the pack had gone over the tracks too quickly for the driver to stop. I asked how the driver was and he said he had been shaken up but would be okay.

The hotel that night was in Goodwick, close to the train and ferry. Shown room and presented with key. It was in a small, single room on the top floor, somewhat sparse but with a very comfortable bed – better than camping. They did not do evening food so asked for recommendation and the barman pointed to a customer who recommended the Hope and Anchor across the road. The barman grinned and said the customer worked there. They had a grill restaurant in a basement, the food and presentation were high class, and I had good smokey bean chilli.