Tuesday 20 March 2018

Cycling the Wild Atlantic Way on a wooden bike: Week #8

West Cork wonders

Mark Graham, award-winning travel writer, pictured in Kinsale after completing his epic Wild Atlantic Way adventure by wooden bike. Photo: Gerard McCarthy
Mark Graham, award-winning travel writer, pictured in Kinsale after completing his epic Wild Atlantic Way adventure by wooden bike. Photo: Gerard McCarthy
Dursey Island Cable Car
Allihies sunset
Mizen Head
Garnish Island, Co. Cork

Mark Graham

Mark Graham's 2,500km cycle draws towards its close with a meteor shower and a ride on Ireland's only cable car.

On a well-earned day off the bike, I stuck my towel and togs under my arm and started hitching around Cork's Beara Peninsula.

My destination? A swim and a couple of pints.

“I usually don't pick up hitch-hikers,” said the first driver to pass after I stuck out my thumb. “But my son has a beard like yours."

Her name was Anne and, as coincidence would have it, I'd passed her front door on Dursey Island a few days earlier, having risked a spin in Ireland's only off-shore cable-car. When we reached our destination, she joined me in the pub for a pint.

That's how Beara folk roll.

“You never see anyone hitching the roads here,” my next driver said. “Except for the odd straggler heading for the Buddhist centre, and you can tell where they’re goin’ by the cut o’ them."

His name was Pat, and he was referring to Dzogchen Beara Buddhist Retreat, a spot well worth a visit either for lunch or a shot of enlightenment.

Perched high on the edge of a cliff with the expanse of the Atlantic thrown wide open before it, prayer flags fluttering in the breeze at the edge of an immaculate garden, it's easy to appreciate why a 'straggler' might take shelter and solace here.

For now, I’m content with my crank-shafted prayer wheel, but my profanity ridden hill-climbing mantra could use some work.

Video by Velocity Lens

Pat’s surname was Power, a common name on the coast I call home.

“My grandfather was from Waterford," Pat explained. “He came here to work in the copper mines."

On the day he gave me a lift, a group of walkers set out on the annual A to B walk from West Cork to Waterford - a 144-mile coastal trek from Allihies to Bonmahon, celebrating the links and mining heritage of the two communities.

I relished the connections. It felt like I was getting closer to home.

I’d arrived in Allihies a few nights earlier on the bike, leaving time to hike up the hill above the old mining ruins and watch the sunset ooze slow light over the land. It was pretty sweet. The beach was dotted with campfires, bag-o'-cans astronomers sitting out to catch streaks of astral light sketchING arcs across the night sky.

The Perseid Meteor shower peaked before our eyes.

After my day of rest, I pedalled towards Sheep's Head, another peninsula of distinction on the West Cork coast. The Tin Roof Pub in Ahakista is a new entry in my Top 5 Favourite Pubs in Ireland. This corrugated-iron-sheeted shack belies a cosy and homely interior, with a backyard wooded haven that doubles as a beer garden, sweeping scenically towards the sea.

It's like a buzzer's version of the Buddhist retreat.

As for the young landlord: Cormac poured me a pint while I told him about my cycle. He put the glass on the counter and refused payment.

“I'm very impressed,” he told me, “and I kind of fancy you."

Both pint and compliment were gratefully received.

As we chatted, it transpired that Cormac cycled Land's End to John O’Groats last year, and his brother is currently cycling from Ireland to Turkey.

It was my turn to be impressed.

8MG Dursey Cable-Car.jpeg
Dursey Island Cable Car

Dursey Island: Ireland's only cable car

The slow tempo and laid back air of West Cork's peninsulas upped a notch on Sherkin Island. There, I soaked in the calm of peaceful country lanes, with cockscomb flowers shooting out from the ditch, fireball orange on green traces.

On the road back to Skibereen I swam in Lough Hyne, recalling summer nights striking out into the bio-phosphorescent waters, a trail of tiny stars in the wake of every stroke. The midnight kayak trips here, led by Jim Kennedy of Atlantic Sea Kayaking, are deservedly rated as one of the best activities in the country.

I'd been worried that my journey had peaked in Kerry, but I should have known that West Cork would deliver a little bit of heaven on earth.

Eight weeks ago, I began this trip, concerned that I might not be able to cycle all 2,500km of the Wild Atlantic Way. As I rolled into Kinsale, about to reach the end of the route, having been steeped in stunning scenery and salty elements for two months, I was gripped by a new and much stronger anxiety.

I didn't want the journey to stop.

Follow Mark:

Glengariff to Bantry  - click here

Bantry to Schull - click here

Schull to Skibereen – click here

Skibereen to Clonakilty – click here

Clonakilty to Kinsale - click here

More info on Dzogchen Beara Buddhist Centre - dzogchenbeara.org

More info on Atlantic Sea Kayaking - atlanticseakayaking.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.

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