Cycling the Wild Atlantic Way on a wooden bike: Week #4
Mark Graham's epic adventure continues with a luxury lighthouse, infinity pool lakes, and a swim in Dog's Bay.
While bouncing over the swell towards Clare Island on the ferry from Roonagh Pier, I wished I’d lashed Ashling - my bike - to the deck.
I really didn’t want to find out if a wooden bicycle would float.
To distract myself, I began drawing parallels between this part of the Mayo coastline and Somalia. In the mid-16th century, you’d have been very foolish to sail these waters without a hefty armed force at your back - or at least a large bag of silver to offer the pirates who bothered boats all along our western seaboard.
At the helm of this salty syndicate was the Pirate Queen, Gráinne Mhaol. Grace O’Malley’s presence can still be felt on the island - her onetime stronghold.
One of the key points along its 10km looped cycle, in fact, is the Cistercian Abbey where her bones are believed to be interred. Up the hill from the Abbey is the beginning of a trailhead that can take serious walkers all the way the top of Cnoc Mhor, a perfect lookout point for pirates to survey the surrounding waters for unsuspecting punters.
Clare Island Lighthouse; one of 12 Great Lighthouses of Ireland. Photo/Copyright: Michael Mc Loughlin. See greatirishlighthouses.com.
Clare Island Lighthouse shone brightly for more than 150 years, but in 1965 the light was extinguished in favour of an automated beacon on Achillbeg.
The lighthouse (above) now operates as a stunning and incredibly well-positioned guesthouse. The views out over the Atlantic horizon have a greater calming affect than a whole sheet of Xanax. Inside the rooms and apartments, the scenery is set off by tasteful high quality décor and understated luxury. A night in the Sauna Suite is equivalent to a weeks wages for me, but if I ever win the lotto, this would be the perfect place to gather my thoughts and keep me off the meds.
Back on the mainland, I was looking forward to pedalling Ashling along the road from Louisburgh to Leenane via Doo Lough.
This is one of those roads where you unwittingly slow down, savouring every yard of asphalt, giving yourself time to take in the 360-degree show that Mother Nature has staged for anyone who cares to look.
For cyclists with tougher legs, you can turn off for Sheefry Pass and really get the heart pumping; but the road form Louisburgh to Leenane is manageable, even for the most leisurely of bicyclist. It's worth coming here in May to take part in the fundraising Famine Walk along the route, commemorating an 1849 event known as The Doo Lough Tragedy - there's lots of chat between locals and visitors along the way.
'Ashling' overlooking Doo Lough
I’ve been struck repeatedly on this trip by how much I’m learning about places I believed I was already familiar with; travelling by bicycle can have that effect.
After enjoying Aasleagh waterfall and passing through Leenane, for example, I’d never taken the right turn for Tullycross before, along the Wild Atlantic Way route. I was surprised to find it just as impressive, if not even more so, than the Doo Lough spin. The western lip of Lough Muck looks like an infinity pool meeting the horizon, something that Diarmuid Gavin and Dubai Hotel designers could only dream of.
From here, the river gurgles all the way down to Glassilaun Strand; a first introduction to one of Galway’s bevy of breathtaking beaches.
Sometimes, it can feel like the Connemara sky is a little closer to the earth. Cloud shadows move in herds across the landscape, constantly changing the colours and contours of the land. When the sun hits Diamond Hill after a shower of rain, the quartzite sparkles and sets the countryside a-spin to a mountainous mirrorball.
Shafts of sunlight dive through the depths and bounce back to the surface off the white coral sand seabed at Dog's Bay beach near Roundstone; reflected light shining up through the sea creating an enticing turquoise tide. When the waters calm here, and the sky is mirrored in the water, it feels like you are swimming through clouds.
The Sky Road
By now, my 2,500km journey was roughly half-complete.
Nearby, I stood outside Padraig Pearse’s cottage, on a hill over looking the scenery around Ros Muc, imagining that this place must have helped stoke the fires of his nationalist fervour. My thoughts were interrupted by one of the OPW Rangers working at the historic site.
“It's a wooden bike?” he enquired, giving Ashling a rub.
“Yeah. Made from ash by a fella in Drangan Co. Tipperary” I replied.
“An t-adhmad céanna le camáin” he murmured half to himself.
“I suppose” he said, “that’d make it a Hurley Davidson”.
Monday: Westport to Louisburgh via Clare Island: click here.
Tuesday: Louisburgh to Leenane: click here.
Wednesday: Leenane to Clifden: click here.
Thursday: Clifden to Inverin: click here.
Friday: Inverin to Galway: click here.
More info on The Famine Walk – afri.ie.
More info on Clare Island Lighthouse - clareislandlighthouse.com.
More info on Woodelo wooden bikes – woodelo.ie.
You can hear Mark talk about his adventures every weekend on RTE Radio One's Marian Finucane Show. See also wildatlanticway.com.