Friday 9 December 2016

Cycling the Wild Atlantic Way on a wooden bike: Week #6

My Kingdom for a bike

Mark Graham

Published 08/08/2015 | 11:14

Mark Graham (inset) is cycling the Wild Atlantic Way on a wooden bike. Slea Head features this week.
Mark Graham (inset) is cycling the Wild Atlantic Way on a wooden bike. Slea Head features this week.
Praying for better weather on Slea Head.

A sleeping giant, the cúpla focail and Tom Crean's pub await Mark Graham on the Dingle Peninsula leg of his 2,500km journey.

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Since beginning my Wild Atlantic Way cycle six weeks ago, I’ve been covering an average of about 70km a day.

On particularly taxing days that involve longer distances, hefty hills and headwinds, I can be a little woozy getting off the bike.

It was in this state that I entered a pub in the Kerry Gaeltacht. Grub ordered, I began composing a sentence in Irish, asking for a jug of water.

 “Crúiscín uisce le do thoil,” I asked the helpful barman.

An bhfuil gloine agat?” he asked, wanting to know if I had a glass.

Temporarily flummoxed by a question in response and still a little light-headed, I answered “”. Thankfully he understood. Some of his ancestors must have come in with The Spanish Armada.

To atone for the focail faux pas, I decided to pay my respects to the Bean an Tí of Irish literature, Peig Sayers, at her grave out on Slea Head.

The gun-metal grey skies and plaintive winds reflected the bleak and harsh world that Peig described in the book that bore her name.

Sheets of rain washed across the roads on the cliffside route that led to Dún Chaoin. As I stood by her graveside, I could hear the waves thunder onto the shoreline. A black shawl wouldn't provide much protection on a day like this.

MOG6 Praying for better weather on Slea Head.jpeg
Praying for better weather on Slea Head

Beneath the cliffs at Dún Chaoin, there is a path that snakes to the pier where Blasket Islanders used to arrive and depart the mainland. The kinks and turns of the path, surrounded by the heaving waters and rocky outcrops, create an effect that could easily lead one to believe Escher spent his summers in the Gaeltacht.

Just like the language, there is a stark, harsh and poetic beauty to the place. Out past the pier lies the Island of The Sleeping Giant; so called because it looks like a giant lying on his back. The literal translation is much more direct and evocative: An Fear Marbh (The Dead Man).  

Slea head is up there with the most scenic routes in the country, but when it comes to tourist traffic, it’s also one of the busiest. The hubbub and waiting around at minor traffic jams are a small admission price for the panoramic payoff, however. Forking out €9.50 for a bowl of chowder at Tí Kruger, not so much.

Annascaul is a welcome relief from Dingle's well-worn tourist trail. It has its own hotspot in the South Pole Inn; a pub formerly owned by Antarctic explorer Tom Crean. But there is more to Annascaul than the Creanery.

A couple of miles outside the village is Annascaul Lake. This body of water is surrounded by the Dromavally Hills, and they create an eerie walled fortress, the peaty lake beneath acting as a hypnotic, absorbing and unsettling black mirror. The echo of the rooks returning to their nests as dusk crept up the valley and the distant drone of a breeze across the hilltops adds to the other-worldliness of the place.

It seemed fitting to find a stream here that ran uphill.

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Mark's bike at Chorca Dhuibhne

The road that flanks the bank of the lake is an entry point to The Dingle Way, a 176km walking route along the Dingle Penninsula.

The beauty of taking this path through the hills and along the Wild Atlantic Way is that you can happily avoid the traffic and still soak up the jaw dropping scenery. The trail is broken into well-marked and mapped stages, with guided tours available for anyone not confident enough to tackle it over several days on their own.

Annascaul Hill Walking Club have a festival every October Bank Holiday Weekend - this would be a perfect time to get familiar with the area and its mountains.

This week started with some of the worst weather and the toughest climb of the trip, up and over Conor Pass. After an initial slog and a few stops to catch my breath, however, I eventually found a rhythm.

Tóg go bog e,” suggest road signs around the Kerry Gaeltacht.

Softly does seem the best way to take it. I’m savouring moments like the views back towards Maharees, and the dot of Dingle visible from Conor Pass, and the hint of rose-hip in a well earned bottle of Corcha Dhuibhne craft beer.

With only two weeks left, I'm in no hurry for this trip to be over.

Go mall is how I roll.

Follow Mark:

Tralee to Dingle via Conor Pass - click here.

Dingle to Annascaul via Slea Head - click here.

Annascaul to Killarney via Kilorglin  - click here.

For more info on The Dingle Way and Annascaul Walking Festival contact The Anchor Inn B&B on 066 915-7382 or annascaulwalks.org.

Corcha Dhuibhne Brewery runs daily tours at 2:30pm.

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.

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