‘I feel more and more the time wasted that is not spent in Ireland’ – Lady Gregory
The Sally Gap, I have no idea what my pillion is doing with the throttle, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
My third year back in Ireland and it gets better every time. The scenery, the roads, the people, the food…I could go on forever. Just go if you haven’t been, its a stunning stunning place.
In previous years I had covered the entire ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ in one trip and most of it with a pillion in another trip. I say ‘most’ because I had avoided the more gnarly lanes and tracks on the Southern Coast. This year I would be introducing my pillion to the joys of lanes and tracks, Irish style. I wanted to pick up a few places I had missed in the South. I struggled on my first visit a few years ago with the savage switchbacks up slopes with gravel on and now I was going to try and do it 2 up on a GSA. Why? 2 reasons…firstly, because the most beautiful remote spots are at the end of these tracks and secondly, it’s a challenge. Controlling 400Kg of bike on those lanes isn’t for the faint of heart. My pillion will attest to that 🙂
Old Man of Kinsale, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
It was a relatively relaxed joinery down to Kinsale compared with previous years. Taking the chance to stop overnight in Holyhead and catch the morning ferry meant we were well rested. The long monotonous slog of motorway to get to the South of Ireland was uneventful save for the whine and weave of the TKC-70 tyres and the confusing sight of a man arguing with a urinal in a service station. These tyres have been a love-hate relationship for me. Classed as a 70-30 on-road/off-road tyre, they have been amazing on country lanes, enabling me to keep speed and leave road tyre based bikes standing. Wet performance is superb and they can do mild off-road on green lanes and gravel tracks and inspire confidence. However, they wear unevenly on the front and after about 4k miles, I started to get a weave at motorway speeds which was un-nerving to say the least. They don’t handle cross winds well at all. I was close to replacing them before Ireland but knowing how gnarly some of those tracks and lanes are, I left them on. They handled it but they will be coming off in the next few weeks and I will go back to a more road based tyre for my next tour to Scotland.
We arrived at the Old Man of Kinsale in the glorious sunshine. This was good for me – when I was last here, it had been very grey and overcast and the photos suffered as a result. A bit of a walk around, a long look at the sea and then on to Kilbritain for a stay over at a converted farmhouse. No camping this trip – all B+B and we stayed in some great places. I’ve yet to see a poor B+B in Ireland…I guess they don’t survive if they’re no good. A glorious evening meal at a small restaurant in the local village and an early night to prepare for the next day – 248 miles of tracks, trails and peninsulas from Kilbritain to Mizen head and then on to Killarney.
Caher Conree, the Dingle, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
A full Irish, breakfast bars in the tank bag, water pack on the pillions back and we set off at just after 0800. Within a few miles we had left the relative security of the main road and disappeared on to the single tracks and as a few more miles passed, the grass started appearing in the middle along with the hefty coatings of gravel and shale. A few kick outs of the rear tyre reminded me of the first time I was here and realised that rear tyre grip was somewhat random. I eased back on the throttle, reminding myself that I had a pillion who was a lot more fragile than me and hadn’t experienced this before. I’d altered part of the route to avoid the cliff edge where I had almost come to a nasty end a few years prior (see previous posts) but I had completely forgotten about some of the other roads that had caused me palpitations on the smaller bike. Wouldn’t be long until I was staring back at them with that sinking feeling of knowing what is coming.
Skipping past the beaches, we stopped at Drombeg stone circle. It had been tough going, slow clutch control was tricky with the extra weight on the rear. It’s bad enough when you’re on a good road and gets rapidly worse on tracks. The bike felt lazy in the corners as the rear seemed to lag a few seconds behind and I began to question whether this was really going to be doable. I took a wrong turn after leaving the circle, ended up down a track and had to get off the bike to turn it around. With every track being on an incline, covered in gravel and only a few feet wide apart from passing points, getting off is the only realistic safe option. I could see the strain in my pillions face and I got it…I wasn’t exactly feeling comfortable either. Still, nothing ventured, nothing gained. We decided to carry on a little farther to Glandore harbour and see how we felt there. If it was no good then we would skip back to the main roads and chalk it up to experience.
Glendalough, Wicklow, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
I knew it as soon as I saw it. The track had narrowed to less than a car width. The centre strip was grass and there were more potholes than road. With hedges on either side we were climbing steadily and then climbing rapidly. I knew this road and I knew that at the top there was an awful turn where I had almost come off on the Hornet. No way of going back so we ploughed on, I cricked my neck and dropped to second to take the left hand bend and there it was. A 45 degree uphill slope for 10 metres and then a 120 degree switch back to the right on to a 45 degree down slope. It has an adverse camber with the track falling towards you, multiple deep potholes and gravel all over. It didn’t have landmines although it felt it was the only thing missing! First gear, up the slope, telling myself to loosen up my grip, looking for the right hand turn, revving at the top, turn the bike, avoid the big hole, slip the clutch out as the bike began to tip, weight the outside peg and then back on the brakes for the deep descent. To say I was relieved would be an understatement. That is probably the toughest thing I have ever had to do on a bike. My pillions knees were clamped to my thighs. I went slowly down the slope, regaining my composure. There were many more of these over the next half an hour – none as bad as this one but tricky none the less. The bike still didn’t feel right – I was struggling to control the rear and she felt sluggish at low speeds.
It took some time to get to Toehead and by then I had reached my limit. I had been playing about with the bike, trying to figure out why it was so unresponsive and then it dawned on me. Getting off the bike, my pillion was ashen faced – no colour at all and trembling. We spent an hour at Toehead, talking through the difficulties we were facing and the importance of relaxing and going with the flow rather than tensing up which would cause the bike to handle poorly. I suppose you would call it a low point in some ways but we were both learning and this wasn’t exactly easy. A chocolate bar, some slugs of water and agreement on how to grip the bike and how to relax and we set off…slowly… once more. (and agreement on how to move back after you’ve slid right into the riders back!) Things improved almost immediately and I relaxed my grip too which improved the handling even more. Big learning point for me – its one thing to ride with a pillion on tarmac and quite another when the going gets tough on tracks.
Lough Leane, view from Ross Castle towards the Gap of Dunloe, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
With both of us focussing more on relaxing, the ride was a joy. Through woods, across a beach and down rocky tracks that would have scared the life out of me 2 years ago. Bouncing, jiggling, sliding…….and grinning! It was after lunch before we arrived at Mizen head and a well deserved cup of tea and sandwich. Mizen head is equally as spectacular the second time round and it was good to stretch our legs as we walked down to the radio station and climbed to the sea view. I should probably mention the comments from my pillion at this point :
‘That was much better! But you turned up that track. We were going along a nice road with lines and tarmac and then you indicated to turn off and in my helmet I said ‘you must be $%£$@£ joking’. That wasn’t a road, beaches aren’t a road, woods aren’t a road, roads have lines Rob’
With time pressing on, we changed the itinerary to ride the northern shore of the Mizen peninsula, miss out the Sheeps head and go straight for Killarney. I hadn’t ridden the Northern portion of the Mizen before and what a ride it is – the high road above glorious coastline
Start of the Black Valley, Kerry, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
Now, I had told my passenger that it was ‘about 20 minutes’ to ride the Northern Mizen and, in my defence, I didn’t know it would take a bit longer and be a bit of a gnarly ride. I also didn’t appreciate that my pillion had a fear of heights. Turns out gravel single lane tracks with no barriers and a several hundred foot drop to the Atlantic isn’t an ideal environment for acrophobia. On the plus side, the views were stunning. Stopping at a petrol station somewhere north of pantry, I dismounted, my pillion looked at me and then punched me twice in the stomach (gently I might add).
’20 minutes you said before normal roads and then there’s gravel and a sheer drop. I’m going to look up the definition of a road when we get back.’
I remember spitting out my tea when my pillion described the comments she had been making in the helmet. Good job I wear ear plugs 🙂
With a stunning evening sun, warm air and faster roads (with lines on and everything) we climbed the Caha pass into the Kingdom of Kerry and headed for Molls Gap. Unfortunately the gap was closed and we had to detour around the mountains leading to a late arrival at the B+B. Pizza delivered, devoured in seconds, shower and asleep before head hit the pillow. End of a great day.
Black Valley, Kerry, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
We spent the following few days riding the Dingle to see Caher Conree (which I had missed on the previous trips due to bad weather), the Black Valley and Gap of Dunloe. It was great to see Caher Conree and the Black Valley – both are wonderfully remote places where you can just stand and see the world stretch out before you with nothing but the wind for company. It’s a tricky ride through the Gap of Dunloe – narrow roads, full of cyclists and pedestrians with some nasty bends. The Gap, despite being touristy, is a stunning place however. I couldn’t take much of it in because of the concentration needed to avoid the traffic. When I go back I will probably do it on foot.
The Black Valley is a lovely ride and the ascent back towards Molls Gap/Ladies View is reasonably challenging as you snake around the low mountain on the single track. I’ve now ridden all but one road in Kerry – we were too tired to be honest and it’s always good to leave a reason to go back!
Black Valley looking towards Dunloe, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
I really need to mention the Wicklow mountains. I had travelled these roads on the last 2 trips but had missed large parts out for a reason that escapes me. So we headed back from Killarney and rode the Northern portion of the Wicklow mountains (the ‘Sally Gap’) one afternoon before staying overnight in the mountains. What a road, just amazing. Long snaky road through moorland at the top – you can see it in the first picture on this blog post. I forgot the golden rule of never stopping on a slope with the end result the the bike fell on me, i fell on the pillion and the pillion ended up in the ditch. On the plus side, it evened out the crash bar damage from the drop in Sicily which was on the right hand side of the bike. I don’t really think I can take the blame though. As I explained at length to my pillion, the road *looked* flat and it was obviously some kind of optical illusion. Pillion just stared at me.
Taking in Lough Leane the following morning we headed up the old military road through the mountains. Blimey. That road is bumpy beyond belief – traction control was lit up almost constantly and the front wheel was lifted more often than not. With the bumps, the gravel and high cross winds it was a thrilling but tiring ride. Even though the landscape is flat, it’s almost impossible to see where the road goes. ABS and traction control finally gave up the ghost on that road with the dash lit up like a Christmas tree. The brake pedal shook loose which made for a nervy descent back into Dublin and the ferry to Holyhead.
We’d decided to spend a day covering the coastline of Wales and some roads in Snowdonia that we hadn’t ridden before – this was a tale of two halves. Riding down from Bedgellert to Barmouth and then Aberdyfi was a slog – crazy drivers, any number of near misses and slow progress. With fuel running low, we stopped at Machynlleth and met Trish who is the mother of Lisa Thomas of 2RidetheWorld fame! What a lovely lady – obviously so very proud of her daughter and I think was pleased that we had heard of 2Ridetheworld and seen their blog. She is a mean pillion as well having travelled extensively in various parts of this planet! If you haven’t seen 2ridetheworld then check them out on Facebook and give them a bit of support! 2Ridetheworld
Ascent to Lake Vyrnwy, Canon 5d2, 16-35L
Pushing on to Bala with some stunning views and even more stunning overtakes (I usually lambast my ability but I was pretty impressed with myself!) we took the forest road through to Lake Vyrnwy. This is a very special ride. Single lane track through to the lake which is straightforward and then the most amazing ride through forest tracks with trees towering above you on all sides with sunlight bursting through the canopy. Such an amazing final part of the journey
I’ve waffled on enough in this post but will leave you with some snippets from my pillion.
‘You’re on a road and see a track and I’m waiting – I know it’s coming, we’re on a decent road, why on earth would you pull off?
‘I think my head changed its attitude towards the end. Hands, knees, relax – I kept telling myself this, hands, knees, relax, trust the bike and rider’
‘I’ve never been so full of adrenaline or so scared, at one point I thought I’m too young to die but you have to overcome your fears. I hate heights, I wouldn’t even have done those drops in a car or on foot. Being pushed to the max is good though – makes you feel alive! I am really chuffed with myself, facing my own fears.’
‘All of Ireland is beautiful. The smells, riding through sea water, smell the trees, cow poo, mizen head, the quietness’.
Oh, the day after we were back I got this text
The Beacon, Canon 5d2, 16-35L