Louisburgh to Achill Island

Day 124, Friday 5 May

I’ve just tasted something even better than Helman’s Real Mayonnaise. It’s the garlic mayo at Alice’s Restaurant & Hotel, next to the Achill Island bridge County Mayo. If what Arlo Guthrie said/sung about this place is true, I’m not going to want to leave. So far, with great food, the good-for-you black stuff on draught, another stunning sunset over my left shoulder and the Giro d’Italia highlights on the bar telly, Arlo might be right. But I haven’t seen Alice yet.20170505_205526

What have I done to deserve this? Well, maybe another 50+ miles on the road, 30% of which was into the continuing brisk easterly wind? The hungry farm dog who fancied a nibble of my left ankle? The lady in a French registered camper who thought there was plenty of time and room to overtake before the next bend? (There wasn’t, but I survived to tell the tale). On balance, today’s was another great ride. The best bit being the Westport to Achill Great Western Greenway. Thanks John B, Clifden LOM, for the tip. I’d have missed it if not for you. The course of the historic 19th century railway, now possibly the most scenic cycle route in the universe. If there’s a better one, tell me. I’m definitely going there.

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Achill Island Lifeboat Station is on the east shore of the island, nestled in between the most beautifully sited final resting place (for many souls lost at sea, countless famine victims in unmarked graves and a good number of named locals who hopefully died of more natural causes) and on the other side, the remaining sturdy tower of one of the Castles loaned to the infamous Irish Lady Pirate, Ghràinne, who Queen Elizabeth 1st respected as another strong woman.

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All of the above, and many more pearls of wisdom are courtesy of David (Coxn) and Michael (Mechanic) here on Achill Island. See these fascinating links if you’d like to know more: The Achill Tragedies and The Kirkintilloch Tragedy. The victims of both tragedies are buried in the graveyard next door to the Lifeboat Station, the bodies from each being transported from Westport to Achill on the first and last trains along the long-since closed line (now the Greenway cycle route described above), as prophesied by Brian Ruan O’Ceabhain from Inver in Erris, in the 17th century.

Many thanks to you both for everything today, including allowing me to pretend I was driving the launch tractor, presenting me with a treasured souvenir, which I am proudly wearing right now AND finding a great place for me to eat and sleep. Once more I ask: What have I done to deserve all this?

I know I shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying this personal quest to raise funds by doing something challenging. But sometimes I do. Maybe the pain of the continuing brisk easterly headwind forecast again for tomorrow will make me feel better. 20170505_172717

Local hero Johnny Kilbane doesn’t seem bothered about a brisk easterly headwind.

Clifden to Louisburgh

Day 123, Thurs 4 May

Rest day over. Fond farewells to Claire and Rae. They can’t resist the temptation to stay another night with hosts John and Sue at the fantastic Sharamore House. Highly recommended for anyone heading for a break in the Clifden area. Stunning location and amazing breakfast menu. A particularly good place to stay if you fancy a bit of blue water deep sea angling. Take a look at Blue Water Fishing here. Thanks so much Sue & John for your support, encouragement and filling me with such a beautifully prepared, high octane breakfast.

So, it’s back on the road for me, heading north, while the ladies linger a little longer before heading south tomorrow, back to Shannon Airport and home.

The next Lifeboat Station to visit is on Achill Island. A mere 85 mile single day training ride for an aspiring young road racer on a carbon velo. But just a bit too far for an​ expiring old road rager on an overloaded Granfondo, so it’s a half way destination for me today. A steady cruise around the Connemara coast via some more awesome scenery. But first, 21 miles of battling into a very brisk easterly around Lough Fee and the south shore of Killary Harbour, a long fjord flanked by some mighty mean looking mountains.

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Next, relief and exhilaration​ for just a few miles of effortless speeding back westwards along the north side of the same fjord, now wind-assisted. Finally, about  15 miles heading north through the very dramatic and atmospheric Doonlough Pass, with a tragic tale to tell.

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I must thank the good people of Glen Keen Farm, today’s emergency fuel stop. The first sight of habitation and a possible energy re-charge opportunity for many miles, the pretty, attention seeking fresh lilac paintwork and a Restaurant sign was enough to reel me in. Alas, it was not as open as I first thought. They’re not opening until the holiday traffic picks up in June. But that didn’t stop them insisting I sit down and tuck in to a plate of fresh, warm scones with butter, jam and cream. No charge, because they’re not really open yet. And they like what I’m doing. 20170504_145345

No RNLI Lifeboat here in Louisville. Just the convenience of a good half-way-house stop-over point en route to Achill Island. And a pub that does food.

Rest day in Clifden

Weds 3 May

Apologies for the hiccups with Tuesday’s page. It was accidentally published when only half written, with no photos attached, then lost for many hours. Now sorted. Scroll down for the full version.

No cycling today. Just some slides of a another lovely day, this time in the good company of Claire and Rae.

Omy Island …

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…. and (photos courtesy of Rae) the evening Sky Road Loop, Clifden.

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Aran Islands to Clifden

Day 122, Tues 2 May

An early start. Breakfast at 7.30, in time for the 8.15 return ferry to Rossaveel. Thank you so much Alice for a very comfy night, great breakfast at Dormer House plus your kind & generous support of the RNLI.20170502_082136

Farewell to the Aran Islands on another perfect day.

Back on the long and winding road, keeping as close to the coast as possible, en route to the next Lifeboat Station at Clifden.20170502_10351920170502_10222720170503_160714

Oh for goodness sake! Is there no end to the constant, never-ending beauty of this coast? On and on, mile after mile…

No apologies for the umpteenth Fotondograph. We couldn’t have got here without each other. Fondo is indeed a fine Racelight thoroughbred, capable of most roles as a general workhorse, comfortable tourer and doesn’t even complain much about being used as pack-mule. With a name as long as KinesisUK Racelight Granfondo Ti, one would expect great things.  However, Fondo’s versatility does not extend to the ability to take photos of me spoiling idyllic views. Just as well. Perhaps I should practice the art of taking selfies of me, me, me. No, no. No danger. So, the Fotondographs will continue.

Two major highlights to report on this wonderful day of blissful cycling. The first, after just 24 miles, a strong desire for caffeine and sugar caused me to veer to the right at a petrol station/local shop just before the village of Carna. At first, I couldn’t understand why, in such a quiet spot, this place was so busy. Then I realised what an essential asset to this community it is. It had everything! From diesel for your tractor to the latest hi-tech, low energy light bulbs. More important to me, it had a great coffee machine and freshly baked blueberry muffins. Ronan, the man in charge, had the ability to serve and advise several customers at once, be in more than one place at a time whilst maintaining an engaging and informative conversation with a passing cyclist who was focused on filling his face with a giant blueberry muffin and dribbling coffee. Not only did Ronan know my name within ten seconds of dextrous use of thumb & iphone, he also refused to take my money. I later discovered that he had also made a hugely generous on-line RNLI donation via my VMG link. This man deserves a William Hillary Gold Medal for services to his community and to passing strangers.

The second highlight was another 24 miles along the road at the lovely Roundstone House Hotel where, quite coincidentally, Thelma & Louise had very recently stayed for a couple of nights and spread the word, telling me to call in when passing and say hello, or at least give them a wave. Seeing so many jolly, waving residents enjoying lunch on the front terrace was enough reason to stop and drool over their meals. What a fine bunch of supporters, whose kindness has been acknowledged, paid in, and can now be seen, along with O’Dowd’s Bar and Ronan’s on this VMG link. The basic total has now passed £5,000. With Gift Aid added (thanks to you tax payers donating directly on line) this takes the Grand total today to almost £6,000. A great fundraising day, but will I reach the £1 per mile target of £8,000 over the final 1,000 remaining Irish miles? Any help publicising this would be hugely appreciated.

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Meanwhile, another 20 miles of snaking, bobbing beauty all the way to Clifden, with rocky, tufted inlets and coral beaches to my left. Any danger of a stiff neck is alleviated by the need to keep an eye on the majestic Twelve Pins and Maumturk Mountains of Joyce’s Country, Connemara, to the right and a ahead, growing larger by the mile.

Clifden itself is worthy of greater praise than I have time to write. Simply a great destination with history, character and everything you need in the perfect location.

From my perspective, Clifden is unique for another reason. Its RNLI Station currently runs three very different Lifeboats. A ‘D’ Class ILB, a high speed ‘B’Class Atlantic 85 ILB and a Merseyside All-weather, ocean going Lifeboat. A fantastic range of kit, including the associated launch and recovery vehicles. All this, of course demands a big and versatile team of volunteer crew members, kitted out and fully trained, prepared to give lots of their time on regular, planned exercises and available 24/7 for the real thing, at the bleep of a pager. None of this is government funded. Most people would agree that the success of the RNLI is down to its complete independence from both UK and ROI government. As long as we continue to voluntarily drip-feed their income by regular donations (and the occasional huge legacy), the RNLI can continue to maintain and modernise it’s resources and procedures. The charity that saves lives at sea and (more discretely), prevents loss of life through education and public awareness campaigns.20170502_163629

Many thanks to Rob King, Clifden Lifeboat Station Mechanic, for the great welcome and very enjoyable and informative full tour of both boat houses. Thanks also to John Brittain, (Clifden LOM) and Sue for being such good hosts at their Sharamore House on my rescheduled day off with Claire and Rae (aka T&L). A real treat! Regards and best wishes to the rest of the crew, especially the cycling squad. We must get together on your stunning local road circuits one day. Preferably unladen.

Galway to the Aran Islands

Day 121, Monday 1 May

Mayday, Mayday… Deja vu? I’ve certainly written this before. It was Day 58. A whole year ago.

The wind has dropped. Pre-fuelled and ready to go with another good Full Irish at Pam’s tastefully modernised Frenchville B&B, overlooking Galway Bay. Thank you Pam for your kind and generous support for the RNLI.

A pretty straight, gently undulating coast road all the way to Rossaveel for the Ferry.

A surprisingly compact, modern looking boat off-loaded an even more surprising number of passengers. Some with lots of wheeled luggage, heading for the car park and many more with little or none, mostly heading for the waiting Galway bus. Very easy to separate the returning Bank Holiday visitors from the Islanders. The population of the Aran Islands is only around 1,300 but big enough to muster a Gaeltacht football team that’s currently riding high and good enough to win major games against bigger mainland teams.20170501_131937

A fast crossing with just enough rolling and pitching through a gentle sea swell to justify the lid jammed on to my coffee cup. 20170501_140029 The ferry’s cargo of about 45 passengers, one bicycle and several large trays of seedlings and plants, were soon at Kilronan quay on Inismor, the largest of the three inhabited Aran Islands, just yards from a mighty Severn Class Lifeboat.20170501_165809

Seamus O’Flaithearta, (aka O’Flaherty) ex LOM and original islander with a distinguished 49 year service with the RNLI was waiting to meet me. A great character with a great name.

For 175 years, the Aran Islands Lifeboat Station has covered the dramatic, rocky wilderness facing outwards to the Atlantic Ocean. Formerly known as Galway Bay until 1995, the lifeboat crews have been presented with over 20 awards for gallantry.  Take a look at more of this Lifeboat  History.

Time for a ride around Inismor before refuelling. 20170501_155948-120170501_16475020170501_16303220170501_155820-120170501_171139Probably a great sunset from the west side and still warm enough here on the SE side to sit outside to drink Guinness and eat chunky chowder and Irish Stew.20170501_18163420170501_19385920170501_202206

 

Lough Ree to Galway

Day 120,  Sunday 30 April

As already mentioned, the day started at Coosan Point on Lough Ree with the witnessing of some real Lifeboat action. Hence, a later start than planned. Fond farewells to my new friends here at this beautiful but currently overcast, chilly, windswept lakeside setting. There really is quite a choppy swell out there. Can today’s forecast be true? Ok, it’s going to be wet & windy. But the good news is that yesterday’s southerly wind has swung around to the East by Southeast! When did I last have two consecutive days of wind on my back? Not sure if I ever have. But first I must head South from Coosan Point into and through Athlone before turning West,

crossing the Shannon once more, unfurling Fondo’s spinnaker and returning to the west coast. Back to Galway Bay.

This 3 day, triangular inland detour has added another 189 miles, making a total of over 900 Irish miles cycled in 17 days on the road. Almost half way around the final phase.

Oh I do like to be back beside the seaside. Reaching the coast a few miles south of Galway City, I can end the day by turning right and resuming normal service by keeping the sea on my left as I approach Galway Lifeboat Station.20170430_162645Can you guess what’s behind the big blue door?20170430_162851

Thanks to Mike Swan, Galway’s Lifeboat Ops Manager, for the full tour of the Station, with its davit-launched high speed Atlantic 85 Lifeboat. With this system, and being in the heart of the harbour in busy Galway City,  this ILB can be (and usually is) on the water and away within very few minutes of the volunteer crew’s pagers bleeping. With regular weekly crew exercises and nine shouts already this season, this is another busy Station.

Time to soak up some Galway atmosphere, refill the empty carb-tank and re-charge the batteries.

Next stop, Rossaveel Ferry, for the Aran Islands.

Lough Derg to Lough Ree

Day 119, Saturday 29 April

It doesn’t happen often enough. But today it did. And when it does, my world is a different place. It makes me smile and sing aloud. I feel all conquering, powerful and so close to being able to fly. Above all, it makes me fast. So today, I arrived early. Yes, the wind was on my back!

Heading North, from Lough Derg to Lough Ree, through the soft and gentle Irish Midlands, through the well-managed peat bogs, on flat, straight roads, with the wind from the South.

Just when you think hospitality could not get any better, it does. The bar was set high right from the start. Maybe I’m just becoming more appreciative but I’m also beginning to remember what might be at the heart of the matter. As already found in the more remote coastal communities of Scotland, Wales and parts of England, there is usually a sense of community and belonging amongst those involved with the local Lifeboat, like having another family. In the small town or village where a Lifeboat Station exists, that connection extends to almost the whole community. More on this philosophy later….20170429_19463320170429_155138

Meanwhile, back in Lough Ree, thank you Tony McCarth (LOM) for being such a good host and introducing me to so many of your team, including Vincent (treasurer), Bernard (mech), Stan (helm), Eamon (shore crew) and Rachel June,  the two ILB crew who donned their full kit for the photos. Thank you all so much. A great atmosphere here today, coinciding with a major fundraising event this evening, including a hog roast and live music in the local Lough Ree Inn where it seems the entire Coosan Point community have gathered. A good time was certainly had by all and the funds raised are expected to be very generous. Not sure if anyone stayed up to count the cash. Well done to all you good people for showing your support for your local Lifeboat.

Sunday morning (too late to write last night). Lots to say about Lough Ree ILB Station at Coosan Point, just north of Athlone. You couldn’t be much further from the sea. To quote Tony, If you were asked to stick a pin in the dead centre of a map of Ireland, it would probably be stuck right here. Sixty miles inland from Galway bay this fresh water lake on the course of the Shannon can at times be more hazardous than the sea. The leisure boating season is already picking up. This is one of the busiest Lifeboat Stations in Ireland. The day before I arrived, they’d already had nine shouts (emergency launches/rescues) this season. By the time I left this morning they’d had two more. Nothing to do with me or any of the party revellers last night. Both incidents were similar cases of hired leisure craft running aground. Amazingly, anyone can hire a boat and head out into this vast open lake on a rough, windy day, with no previous experience. No licence needed. Thankfully, neither boat was holed and both situations were resolved by the skilled Lifeboat crew’s action. Many others each year are not so lucky.20170430_091710

Today, I was the lucky one, taking advantage of someone else’s misfortune or inexperience by witnessing and filming (I’ll try to upload from Garmin cam at some point) the return and recovery of the Lough Ree Lifeboat after another successful outcome.

Ballyvaughan to Lough Derg

Day 118, Friday 28 April

Fully rested and refuelled after a day off in Ballyvaughan, in the company of two good women (it’s OK, I’m married to at least one of them) it is time to re-load the mule (sorry Fondo) and set off, away from the Burren coast for three days.

Heading for the inland waters of Lough Derg today, Lough Ree tomorrow (each having an RNLI Inshore Lifeboat Station) then back to Galway on Sunday.

A new challenge: How do I find the next two Lifeboats by the usual method of just keeping the sea on my left, when they’re not anywhere near the sea? Easy. A good old paper map, a tiny Garmin and a pair of divining sticks. It seemed to work but I could swear the last 15 miles were via the lush rolling hills of Devon.

73 miles and 5hrs 30 mins of cycling later, I was greeted at Lough Derg Inshore Lifeboat Station by a great welcoming committee! Many thanks to Liam, (LOM) for mustering so many of his local RNLI team, including Laura, Niamh and Pat from the fundraising committee; Claire (Training co-ord) and Dean (ILB crew). Thank you all for turning out. In this idyllic setting it was easy to understand why so many people are drawn to the waters of this huge lough, and why each year a number of them underestimate the hazards and get into difficulties. Lough Derg Lifeboat Station was declared operational on 25 May 2004. Located at Dromineer on the eastern shore of Lough Derg, the largest lake on the Shannon, stretching for 22 miles from Portumna in the north to Killaloe in the South. But it’s not only those on yachts, cruisers and in kayaks that are rescued by these local Lifeboat volunteers. I heard some very interesting tales of animal rescue in recent years! This was the first fresh-water RNLI Station to be set up in Ireland. Surely, after 13 years of service, now deserving better accommodation and facilities than a Portacabin and a couple of small shipping containers.

Thanks once more to the good people of Dromineer, including Liam for sorting my accommodation at Declan’s perfectly sighted and very comfortable Lough Derg House on the lake shore, including a very full, Full Irish and porridge breakfast with great home made bread. Cheers also to the jolly Margaret & Pauline and Caleb at The Whiskey Still, another great food pub. Seafood Tagliatelle highly recommended.

Good luck with the Mayday fundraising events!

Spanish Point to Ballyvaughan

Day 117, Weds 26 April

Another day with no Lifeboat Station visit. They’re getting further apart, especially by way of the coast roads. With tomorrow a scheduled rest day I won’t reach the next one until late afternoon on Friday. Just a few landmarks to pass on my way around the Clare coastline to today’s destination at Ballyvaughan. Talking of Clare, the namesake of my good wife Claire, with one-too-many vowels and another Irish County (Monaghan) for a maiden name,  joined me here at Spanish Point last night, along with our old friend Rae. The latter-day Thelma & Louise have turned up on a road trip to explore the west coast of Ireland. Good job they’re​ not driving an open top convertible today. But they do have room for my panniers!

So, on a Full-Irish/Spanish Point breakfast (the best yet, thanks to our lovely hosts Phil and Sean at Cois Na Tra, highly recommended B&B), off we set. We three things were going quite far, one on a bicycle, two in a car. Northward leading, still proceeding, meeting later at Monk’s Bar.

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Another wonderful, scenic ride. This time around the dramatic coast of County Clare, via the gigantic, over-populated Cliffs of Moher and around the seaward edge of The Burren. A hare and tortoise affair. The ladies in the sporty Golf were beaten by the old guy on a bicycle.

Geologically speaking, the Burren really is a strange but fascinating place.  A day off with the ladies tomorrow then back on the road on Friday, when it will be time to head inland for the Lifeboats on two very big Loughs.

Kilrush to Spanish Point, via Loop Head

Day 117, Tues 25 April 

A couple of days ahead with no Lifeboat Station to visit until Galway. Just another “extreme” cycle out to the Loop Head Lighthouse at the end of another long peninsula. If I chose the shortest route between Lifeboat Stations, this would cut a much straighter line across country, saving many miles and hours of pedalling. However, my personal challenge and preference is to see not only every Lifeboat but also every interesting bit of the coastline of Ireland accessible on a safe road. Also, more miles cycled = more funds raised if I can achieve the £1 per mile target set. (Struggling a bit!)

So, today’s first 25 miles are in the “wrong” direction, heading out to the Lighthouse at the westerly tip of County Clare at Loop Head.

Another “exreme” factor in today’s ride is the weather. 20-30 mph cold north wind all day, heavy showers, stinging hail and a few lovely sunny spells.

One advantage of reaching the end of Loop Head is the 360° horizon. This means that you can see what’s about to hit you from the North. Enough time for a brief tour of this historic cafe-free zone offering no shelter? No. Hopefully, just enough time for a quick dash back to habitation at Kilbaha, where I’m sure I spotted a small café.

I was wrong about the timing. I could see what I thought was heavy rain reaching landfall a short distance to my left. A few seconds later, stinging hail was bouncing off my knees, head and face, only partly protected through an over-ventillated holey helmet.

But I was right about the café. A sight for sore eyes. What a haven. What a reception. What a find! I was spoiled rotten by the three wonderful young ladies running the show at Kilbaha Gallery, Crafts and Café. A comfortable seat was proffered, between a roaring peat-fired stove and a counter heavily laden with a large selection of locally baked cakes, pies and tarts. My jacket was taken and hung to dry by the stove. Steaming coffee and warm sticky toffee pudding appeared. The three angels seemed genuinely impressed and interested in my situation. Was I dreaming all this? There was even a basket full of emergency tools and spares for cyclists caught out at the remote end of this long peninsula, including the kind of high pressure track pump I needed for Fondo’s now marginally under-inflated tyres. Many thanks to Liz, Ailish and Rose for your very warm welcome, kindness and generous contribution to the RNLI. And for making the sun shine once more. 20170425_132442This place is well worth a visit, near the historic landmark of Loop Head Lighthouse. Kilbaha also has a long history of aiding shipping on the hazardous approaches to the Shannon estuary. The tragic loss of the Five Pilots of Kilbaha are movingly commemorated at their beautiful memorial on the sea front. On a thankfully much less tragic scale, there is still a desire in this community to offer shelter in a storm to passing travellers.20170425_13302220170425_133239

There still remained another 35 miles of stunning scenery and challenging conditions before reaching Spanish Point via Kilkee.

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With more references to great loss along this shoreline, from the wrecking of most of the ships of the Spanish Armada in 1588 to the acute loss of one of the young local Irish Coastguard crew called to service last summer, a sobering reminder that the cruel sea will never be tamed and we desperately need to support our brave Coastguard and Lifeboat voluteers.

If you haven’t recently helped already, please do. Regular, modest donations are needed to fund the training and equipment essential to RNLI crews. 

Click here. Thanks.