Cycling the Wild Atlantic Way on a wooden bike: The Finish!
Week #9: An Críoch!
Mark Graham's 2,500km cycling adventure concludes with a postscript - a journey to his home in Waterford.
This journey has been so enjoyable I couldn’t bring myself to stop.
I'm serious. When I hit the end of my nine-week Wild Atlantic Way cycle in Kinsale last week, I decided to continue - through Cork and along the South East Coastal Drive to my front door in Tramore, Co. Waterford.
On the second day of my coastal extension, I had elevenses at the Jameson Distillery in Midleton, lunch at Ballymaloe House and dinner and digs were provided in the sumptuous Michelin-Starred Cliff House Hotel in Ardmore.
Is it any wonder I wanted to keep going?
If nothing else, cycling 2,700km is a great excuse for eating your way around the country. I’m amazed the bike has coped so well.
One advantage of making this trip on a bicycle grown in Ireland is that the Woodelo ash frame is more shock-absorbent than a steel or carbon-fibre frame bike; definitely an advantage when cycling long distances on Irish roads.
Only one puncture and one minor crash into a ditch is pretty good going for someone who isn't really a cyclist.
Mark's bike at Annestown, Co. Waterford
Looking back on my 2,500km journey, I think every day I spent on the road saw my appetite for what Ireland has to offer increase.
As I scanned the layers of rock in the stack of Dun Briste in Mayo, stood outside Padraig Pearse’s cottage in Connemara, entered a beehive hut atop Skellig Michael, chatted to a farmer over a gate or to a fisherman on a pier, my hunger for history, geography, sociology and philosophy exceeded any interest ever displayed in school.
Despite the weather, it seems, I’ve enrolled as a keen student in the coastal hedge school of Ireland.
The most edifying on this journey has been the realisation that the more I learn about Ireland, the more I discover how little I know. There will always be another bohareen, another hidden cove or nugget of local lore to be unearthed. If I spent a lifetime cycling our western seaboard, I still wouldn't experience it fully.
Just like fractal geometry, it seems that the closer you look at the Irish coast, the more there is to discover. Fractal geography!
Since setting out from Derry nine weeks ago, I've also become something of an expert on black pudding and craft beer - neither a staple in the diets of most performance cyclists, it has to be said.
Helpfully, the brewers along the Wild Atlantic Way have teamed up and brought out a guide, mapping out where you can call in for a guided tour and a pint along the route. The beer from Chorca Dhuine Brewery in Kerry was a particular favourite of mine, but I’m going to test each brewery’s offerings again in the comfort of my own home, purely in the interests of research.
It's inevitable that people will ask about my favourite part of the trip, but that's something I can’t nail down. The Cliffs of Moher, The Lakes of Killarney, Connemara, The Burren and the rugged Donegal coast made a lasting impression, but experiencing extraordinary things in ordinary moments is what has moved me most.
Ardmore, Co. Waterford
Towards the end of my trip I was cycling a quiet country lane on a morning with heavy mist and low blanket fog. I was flanked on either side by expansive golden cornfields sloping upwards, glowing in the damp and low light.
The weather was so heavy I could only see 30 yards or so into the fields. The further the fields went on, the more the golden colours were diffused by fog, until they gradually became a solid block of white. It was more beautiful than a Mark Rothko and Patrick Scott collaboration.
Not for the first time I was moved to exclaim a loud profanity.
There are occasions when this country would break your heart and drive you to despair, and maybe it’s the endorphins, craft beer or Roscarbery black pudding talking, but over the last two months Ireland has made my heart swell in my chest and caused me to well up continually. We live in an achingly beautiful place where good people abound, and I feel blessed to have been steeped in it for the past nine weeks.
Thanks for a wonderful summer Ireland. You f***ing rock!
Kinsale to Cork - click here
Cork to Ardmore - click here
Ardmore to Tramore – click here
More info on Woodelo wooden bikes - woodelo.ie
More info on the Wild Atlantic Way's craft brewers - click here.
More info on the Cliff House Hotel - cliffhousehotel.com.
You can hear Mark talk about his adventures every weekend on RTE Radio One's Marian Finucane Show. See also wildatlanticway.com.