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.

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 8. Rest Day

bacteria-156869_960_720

I woke at 3am, stomach churning and took the first of many trips to the loo that week. I felt spaced out and wobbled all over the room. Woke in the morning with a not unpleasant  lethargy, went down to breakfast but had to go back to bed after half of bowl of cornflakes. I decided today was definitely a rest day and went down to reception to check that I could stay another night; it was a big hotel and had seemed half-empty the previous night. The receptionist apologised but said “no”. The entertainment industry had struck again – the whole hotel had been taken by a film company. Telephoned Juliet yet again and she found a Great Western Hotel nearby who would take me and the bike and had a good lounge and she gave me contact numbers for two taxi firms who had disabled transport and would be able to take the bike etc. Soon found myself there and, although it was still morning, they gave me the keys to the room and I was back in bed.

When I woke up next day, I felt no better and stayed in bed. Juliet was in touch to see how I was, she said that she would come over that evening after work. She arrived about 11pm – what a relief!

Next morning we went back to her home near Reading, where my friend, Jim MacTaggart, (who, incidentally has cycled across the USA three times) picked me up and took me home to Braintree.

So this is where what turned out to be the first part of my tour came to an undignified end. It took me a couple of weeks to get over what my Doctor tells me was food poisoning and I had been infected by campylobacter. The symptoms start within 2-5 days of eating contaminated food, often chicken, so the sandwiches from the petrol station on Day 6 may be the culprits.

This enforced hiatus gave me the opportunity to rethink my strategy for the next part of the tour. My reluctance to book accommodation before the trip started was partly because I had no idea how many cycling miles I could expect to do in hilly Welsh countryside on my new, heavier bike with four panniers and a tent; most of my cycle touring had been done with my grandson Mikey on my hybrid bike. We started with the Kennet and Avon canal, travelling from Reading to Bristol over two holidays staying at B & Bs. We then had a number of holidays in Holland, mostly staying at Stayokay hostels. We took two rear panniers and a rack bag each. However, those experiences would not compare to a heavily laden bike in Wales.

I now had some hard evidence; I had averaged 38 miles a day though Wales at a very modest 7 mph, too many miles spent pushing the bike up the hills, and can now plan the overnight stops on the route ahead booking in advance.

As anyone interested in fitness knows, a couple of weeks is enough to start to get out of condition, especially a fortnight of not being very interested in food. So I then had to get my fitness back to be able to attempt those Welsh mountains. But never fear, I am back on the bike and ready to finish Wales!