I first heard about the above tour from a friend Anne who was on the LeJog trip last year – The tour started from Mizen Head – the most south-westerly point in Ireland to the finish at Malin Head – the most northerly point, a distance of 570 miles over 6.5 days – average 87 miles per day along Ireland’s spectacular Atlantic Coast.
It was organised by Paul Kennedy of Wild Atlantic Cycling Tours based in Belfast. Mattie and Stuart the other members of the team-mechanic and baggage & food van drivers and Rachel was a ride helper. The tour included transfer from the airport, hotel accommodation, baggage transfer , mechanical support ( very necessary for me!) , tea-breaks and lunches. The only extra costs was for evening meals…and Guinness! There were 19 in the group – 5 from Ireland, 13 of us from all over England, and Tim from Atlanta, USA!
Two of us hired bikes from Paul but the others brought their own bikes by various means and routes! l also hired a Wahoo Element Cycle Computer with the routes as the tour wasn’t guided as such, but there were regular breaks and support if needed !
The meeting point was in Cork but because there wasn’t a flight on the day from Newquay I chose to fly Aer Lingus to Dublin – the return flight was from Belfast to Newquay which makes the travelling much easier ! I arrived on the Friday and stayed overnight in the Premier Inn , then there was a coach pick-up from Dublin Airport midday on Saturday which took 7 of us to Cork Airport to meet up with the rest of the group and then on to Schull for our first night – a journey of about 6 hours! After dinner & meeting everyone, we were kept busy with a briefing from Paul, putting bikes back together, fitting the hire bikes, sorting kit etc – everyone had early nights ready for the first long day!
Sunday 19thAugust – Schull to Kilarney -98 miles – 5372 ft ascent!
We always started the day with a morning brief at 715am before breakfast at 730! The first 15 miles were out to the headland at Mizen Head where the official “Miz-Mal” route starts-unfortunately it was very misty and so no views of the headland and the group photo wasn’t great –you could hardly see in front of your face! Coffee breaks were by the roadside about every 25 miles and we had our first lunch, again by the road at the seafront in Glengarriff, by which time the sun was out and luckily it turned into a fine day! Then the first of 3 big climbs over the pass from Glengarriff then a wonderful long descent to Kenmare (Base of our Wheelers trips with Robin) – no time to stop as had to climb Moll’s and then descent into the “Black Valley” before the last steep ascent to the top of the Gap of Dunloe where Mattie was waiting with the support van and Jelly Babies! The mountain scenery was stunning. Then the zig-zaggy road down to the main road to Kilarney – on one of the hair-pin bends Patrick came off his bike and had a bad injury to his hand plus lots of cuts and grazes so had to be patched up and taken home by Mattie and was unable to ride for the rest of the week. We got to the hotel at about 730pm following the rescue, had a quick shower and out for dinner in the town which is a very lively , touristy place with lots of Irish music in the bars and streets! Slept like a log!
Monday 20thAugust –Kilarney to Spanish Point -84 miles -3258ft
A slightly less hilly day and set off early with Bernie and Siobhan to Tralee for coffee and then up to Abbeydorney and via the coast road to Ballybunion, (I love that name!), and for lunch at Tarbet before crossing the River Shannon on the ferry to Kilimer – for the last 30 miles of the day we rode in a pelaton as it was quite windy but still dry and bright. By this stage we had naturally divided into 3 groups -6 really fast, keen guys and Rachel- A middle group of 6, and a slower bunch of us 3 girls and 3 guys but some drifted between the groups! (I say guys – but only James was in his 30’s, Rory was in his 40’s, the others all 50-60 + ages!) We reached Spanish Point and a lovely hotel, Bellbridge House at 530pm-beautiful views & beach at the point for swimming and drinks in the sunshine before a great dinner. A much easier day thank goodness- team morale high!
Tuesday 21stAugust – Spanish Point to Galway – shortest day 73 miles – only 2617 ascent – a lazy day!
Following brief and breakfast we headed for the first spot of sight-seeing at the Cliffs of Moher – although a bit misty we had good views and took photos before descending to a really pretty village on the coast at Doolin for coffee and then on the Wild Atlantic Way for a beautiful ride to lunch at Ballyvaughan – the rocks/ geology by the coast were like the Giant’s causeway in Northern Ireland – after lunch in the sunshine the last part of the coast road got much busier as we approached Galway , a town with a population of 80,000 approx – not so pretty as I had pictured but we stayed in a nice new hotel and had a good Italian meal in the town square before the heavy rain forecast came on!
Wednesday 22ndAugust – Galway to Westport – 80 miles – 2818 ft
After the overnight rain it was dry but windy as we left Galway through busy rush-hour traffic following the flat coast road to coffee at 20 miles – sea views but nothing interesting – but after we turned inland up on the wild moor road it was beautiful – very remote , mountain landscape, road so quiet through the Connemara National park– we had a stop at Maam Cross then headed down to the fjord for lunch and followed the loch side before heading up the most beautiful valley climbing a pass which had a sting in the tail near the top! The support van was waiting for us with refreshments then a lovely descent to the road and last 5 miles on a quiet “cycle-route” to Westport, a very trendy ,small, but “up-market” resort –our hotel was very posh and had a great night out on the town – Rory and Ado knew it well so took us to a really good wee Irish bar where we all had too much beer and Guinness causing us to run late for the dinner that was booked so some of us headed to the local fish & chip shop at 9pm as we were starving by this point! After a real feast we went to a cosy pub in the square for more beer and live music! Another good day and not so arduous!
Thursday 23rdAugust – Westport to Donegal -114 miles – 4507 ft- a Long Day!!
We left a bit earlier because of the distance and slightly dodgy weather forecast –heavy showers forecast in the afternoon –help! Heading north we had the first coffee stop by a lovely loch and then a luxury of an indoor lunch in the pub in Colloonney at 55 miles and only one rain-shower …so far! We were on country roads, lots of hills but lovely scenery – Then on to the next afternoon break at 88 miles where, just before we met Stuart, a mini-squall hit us – strong winds and torrential rain/hail ! It didn’t last long but long enough to get cold and very wet –a low morale moment!! After a hot drink and snacks we recovered and blue skies again so dried off over the last 28 miles to Donegal, by-passing Sligo and arriving at 720pm tired but the weather could have been so much worse! Nice old traditional hotel in the town square where we ventured no further than the bar to eat and then be entertained by a one-man band and the local ladies Irish dancing! All slept well after long day –cosy and warm!
Friday 24thAugust – Donegal to Buncrana -84 miles – 5836ft
I think we were all thinking that the hardest day was over yesterday but today’s ride was probably the toughest – starting up hills and never ending hills all day! We left in the sleet and cold – not happy! However the weather did improve after the first break! The scenery improved also crossing wild moors and glens and then a long climb and beautiful descent to have another indoor lunch in a nice hotel in Letterkenny -55 miles –after tons of soup and sandwiches we left at 3pm for the second stage which involved 2 huge climbs to avoid the really busy and fast section of new coast road – I think I would have preferred that!! The last 5 miles were on that road but with a headwind all the way up to Buncrana by the side of the sea loch – hard work and such a relief to get to our lovely hotel with beautiful sea –views – This was our last night together as a group as we would go separate ways after getting to Belfast tomorrow! Paul had organised a big table in the restaurant upstairs so we could have a “Leaving-party” – a 3 course set dinner, photos, speeches and awards – a great night and way to finish our last long day of the tour.
Saturday 25thAugust – Buncrana to Malin Head – 40 miles -2493 ft
Our last morning brief and breakfast – we’ll miss that Paul! Set off in heavy rain but only for 30 minutes and after several early hills … headed for the Mamore Gap at 10 miles—one of the classic climbs (you’d love it Raymond and Robin!) After a sharp left turn you were hit by a vertical road, black tarmac, straight up to the top of the pass! The support team was waiting on the summit for us so it was a bit of a contest to see who could do it without stopping and how fast .. to beat the Strava time!! 6 of us had to stop and push but the others made it up! I knew there was no way I was going to make it on my heavy hire-bike so I wasn’t worried!! We took photos and had coffee etc and lovely views down to the coast with blue skies again – we were so lucky to have sunshine for the last day! We all regrouped in the village of Malin on the green before setting off in convoy for the final push to Malin Head – some of which was flat and easy by the coast and then started to climb a bit approaching the headland.. I just wasn’t expecting the steep approach up a narrow, windy road which had camper vans and cars coming down at you …I just about managed to squeeze through and cross the official finish-line before collapsing in a heap !! After celebrations and photos we rode the last 2 miles to Ireland’s most northerly pub overlooking the Malin lighthouse with beautiful beaches for a final lunch of soup and sandwiches out in the sunshine! The coach was booked for 330 pm to take those of us flying home to Belfast Airport whilst the Irish team were heading back to Bangor where the company is based – sad farewells and then a 2 hour trip to our hotel where 9 of us stayed for a “final- final” dinner and early night!
Sunday 26thAugust – Fly home!
After breakfast I got a taxi to the City Airport for the afternoon flight home – I was flying with Flybe to Manchester and then on to Newquay, 3.5 hours and luckily all on time as the weather in Belfast was absolutely terrible – dark, foggy and heavy rain- if we had had to cycle that day I would definitely have been in the van!!
To summarise –
All in all it was a brilliant tour – The team of Paul, Matty and Stuart couldn’t have been better – we covered 573 miles and climbed over 25,000, and I was really pleased just to have finished in one piece and not too many sore bits and to have cycled from the most south-westerly to the most northerly point – Great food, beer, company & accommodation. Paul also does a 12-day tour, average 50 miles a day, so more time to relax and enjoy the scenery and in the future he may do a tour of the full Wild Atlantic Way which is in excess of 1200 miles but that involves more time and expenses – Possibly one on the Northern Island coast too. I would really recommend him. (More photos in Photo Gallery).