No pictures. Probably a good thing, forgetting my camera for the ride meant I concentrated on the cycling and the experience, but as I set off to see if I could cycle through the Gap of Dunloe, as both the hostel and Lonely Planet had recommended, I didn’t really think what I might need. In fact, I was thinking more that promising to meet someone around midday to give them a lift, giving me two hours to complete a 50k loop was probably a bit optimistic.
Patrick had come in to the dorm room late last night, so we only met in the morning, but he seized on the idea that I was heading to Dingle and had a spare seat-I’m not even really sure how it happened, but I accrued another hiker without trying. Trip-wise, he had come over as flight-crew-girlfriend’s flight buddy, which is just the cost of airport taxes. A bargain from the States, but lends itself to little planning, that’s what they’d done, so money was tight.
In the meantime I had a mountain pass to conquer, a bit daunting for someone who’s not much of a cyclist. The route started where I’d left the car, near the Cathedral, heading along the main N71 before turning off. Very soon came a ‘Gap 10km’ sign, which was encouraging, though it then seemed a long way to the 9km sign. A jaunting cab (pony and trap, not rhyming slang) hire spot announced where the road became narrower, and walkers spreading out to cover the whole road showed that little traffic was expected. I’d started fairly early, before 10, so was ahead of most groups early on and climbed. Frankly, this is a challenge for more or less anyone. It had me out of the saddle a few times, but only to crest a mini hill, never because I’d been going up for so long I needed a break. Reach one crest and the beauty of the Gap stretches before you, copper-coloured water streaming by on one side, hills left and right, purple flowers dotting the hedgerows. A mini waterfall drifted lazily off a bump in the landscape, the sun shone-defying yesterday’s forecast-and ahead a car showed me the road was winding left and right through the peaks.
This, then, was the challenge proper of the gap, but it still wasn’t anything too bad. I climbed more in the glens early in my trip, after a fast cycle down to Cushendall. Here, I made the top and revelled in a lovely Irish lady calling me a hero and letting me know it was all downhill from here, whilst secretly wanting a little more up so as to have earned a really long down. Doing the route anticlockwise, though, seems to give you more down than you’ve earned, which is definitely the right way round. I think it’s because you then have to climb back up to Killarney, but that part of the route I’d covered the day before and it was nothing to worry me. I rolled down the hill, soon catching the car that had passed me on the up, and whose passenger, out of the car, had only been alert to potential cars passing after a photo stop, nearly giving me a bonus point on my climb before her boyfriend warned her I was coming. Back into the National Park and onto a smooth tarmacced road I was flying, though there is then a couple of miles on the Kerry way, which is a pebbly walkers’ trail. The route to the N71 is well marked, though there may be a longer but quicker route. Nonetheless I was soon back on the road, and downhill yet again to boot, waving happily to a couple of cyclists slogging up the other way, laden with panniers. I got down into the drops for a while once the terrain levelled out and with a sign announcing Killarney was 11km, this was going to be nearer 40k than 50 so it was worth putting in some effort to get a workout. Traffic slowing up ahead, behind a digger, got me back into the drops on the last climb into town, trying to hang on to the digger, powering past an elderly cyclist out for a ride (i admit that trying to whizz past him was my main motivation) and keeping me working on the last section. Just under 41k, comfortably under 2 hours and back to the hostel at 11.57.
I must have taken a shortcut, the owner reckoned on more like 2.5 hrs, he looks fairly fit and I really didn’t hit great speeds. Still, a fantastic start to the day. Picking up my passenger we headed to Dingle and with sunshine overhead that was another great journey. Inch beach is beautiful, deserving more than the brief photo stop we gave it, and the road gives plenty of views of the North Atlantic as you travel West.
The hostel is a little out of town, but that allowed us to explore a little whilst looking for it, kick a ball about on the lawn whilst waiting for staff and then to walk into town when I remembered I was out of money and so couldn’t pay anyway. Dingle is charming, a perfect tourist spot and with shops to tempt me-food and sporting goods, bliss. I eked out my last euros for a lunch picnic in the harbour, found a bank and then on the way back bumped into Linda, who Patrick and I had met when we first arrived at the hostel. I already knew she was a runner, and now discovered she is quicker than me. Damn! Ego firmly tucked away, then, for now. It seemed natural to share chocolate with her. Johnny doesn’t share food. Interesting.
Summary: cycle, great, dingle, dangly, beach, *****ing, Guinness, later.