Cycling the Wild Atlantic Way on a wooden bike: Week #3
The adventure continues
"Where Donegal has the buck lep darma of a Sean Nós Flamenco dancer, Mayo moves all fluid and graceful to an old time waltz," says Mark Graham.
Over a beer at Ballina Salmon Festival, two Mayo football supporters explained the similarities between flying the flag for their beloved county and being heart-strung to an ambivalent beau.
Maybe it will be different this time round, you say to yourself.
Things can change.
We’ve had some great times together, surely we can have them again?
Sentiments that are all too familiar to me, and not just because I’m a Waterford hurling supporter. Not for the first time, I’ve willingly given myself over whole heartedly to the Irish summer, optimistically tethering myself to it, making a genuine and lasting commitment.
But last Saturday afternoon as I pedalled against the driving wind and rain, I began composing a letter in my head, asking the Pope for an annulment.
The wise members of the Mayo supporters support group told me not to miss Downpatrick Head, a scenic spot out on the cliffs just passed Kilala. Legend has it that a Pagan Chief by the name of Crom Dubh and Saint Patrick himself had a spat on these cliffs. Pat struck the ground with his crozier and the cliff split, leaving Crom Dubh stuck out on a sea stack that became known as Dun Briste; he was then eaten alive by midgies.
As I waited at road works on the expansive and breathtaking bogland between Bangor Erris and Mulranny, the young lad holding the stop sign smacked himself on the back of the neck repeatedly, reliably informing me that there are midgies in these parts that are the size of golf balls. Living proof of the Crom Dubh legend.
At Downpatrick Head, the perspective that the varying horizontal layers of sedimentary stone in the pillar of Dun Briste lend to how we measure time are mind-boggling. Each successive slab of rock mark out a tick and tock measured in millenia. Part of a barely perceivable game of Jenga played out over eons by the wind and sea.
I want to revisit this place to get a look at the Downpatrick Head blowholes from the bottom up. Dave Horkan runs the attractively named company Paddle and Pedal; among other things, he takes kayak trips into the caves that run through the cliffs at Downpatrick.
The adventure tour business is booming along the Wild Atlantic Way. I met a group cycling The Great Western Greenway who were travelling on an Irish Adventure Tour booked through National Geographic. They paid almost $6,000 a head to come here to experience our western coast.
It made me appreciate it all a little more, even in the rain.
The Great Western Greenway buzzes with cyclists of all ages and abilities, it’s a success story that started well before the Wild Atlantic Way signs went up.
Renting bikes along the way is easy, with companies dropping off and picking up at key points all along the 43km route. Westport, Newport and Mulranny are key points along the way and good places to base yourself. The Greenway offers a safe environment for cyclists to enjoy a jaunt through the countryside, but consider continuing on the Wild Atlantic Way loop around Achill. It is a bit more challenging, with a few tough hills, but you will be richly rewarded for your efforts.
The cliff road around the south-west of the island and Keem Strand are highlights. Prepare to be blown away.
The Mayo landscape isn’t dominated by the beacon of Mount Earagail’s glistening quartzite catching the eye, or the imposing shadow of Ben Bulben moving across the county. The blanket bog extending out to the horizon near Ballycroy National Park has a different effect altogether. Every time the slane is pushed into the earth, it digs into the past that’s layered in the turf.
As each sod is turned, history is unearthed and stacked in small piles to be dried by the wind. The scent of it is on the breeze and time moves differently here, and this is reflected in the gentle and majestic sweep of the land. Lines move smoothly and slowly towards the horizon.
Where Donegal has the buck lep darma of a Sean Nos Flamenco dancer, Mayo moves all fluid and graceful to an old time waltz.
Just as I crested a hill at the edge of Ballycroy National Park to have the complete melody and full orchestration of the waltz revealed to me, the sun made a return, bringing brilliance to the pointillism of the purple heather blossoms and yellow buttercups and daisies peppering the edge of the bog.
The heat returned to the air, and summer extended her hand to me once more, smiling along the length of her arm, her eyes asking me for a dance.
How could I resist?
More info on Paddle and Pedal - paddleandpedal.ie.
More info on Great Western Greenway bike hire clewbaybikehire.ie.
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.