The awesome news is that after 10 weeks Bruce and I are back in Dublin after successfully cycling 3,725 kilometres around most of the coastline of Ireland (with a few inland detours to visit mountains, lakes, valleys and Neolithic tombs etc). We’ve had brilliant weather to finish – dry, still, sunny days, with a spectacular ride over the treeless Wicklow Mountains to conclude rolling down the hills into Dublin where Jan and Joe gave up a warm welcome with delicious chocolate fudge cake to celebrate our achievements.
This trip has been an incredible achievement especially for Bruce who had broken his leg only three and a half weeks before we started cycling and neither of us had cycled for such an extended period or distance before.
We came here to cycle but have got much more than we bargained for. As with so much travelling the highlights are as much about the fascinating people you meet as well as the interesting places you visit. Walking our bikes along the seafront in a small town an old man stopped to talk to us and it turns out he had travelled the world in his youth including visiting Australia with the Royal Navy. He commanded a ship in the D-Day landings as well patrolling the Pacific during WW2. Within a minute another old man stopped us to find out where we had cycled from and ended up congratulating us for cycling so far. As we cycled along a regional road, in a busy rural area, a lady called out from across the road “Safe journey and good luck”. Meeting my sister-in-law Stella’s mum and 2 of her sisters was superb, as well as visiting the most beautiful area where Stella grew up on the south-west coastline. Interacting with the numerous Irish people we met was a great way to learn about how the average person feels about the economic crisis that Ireland is currently in.
We certainly have a much better understanding of “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland during the 1970’s and learnt a lot about the Irish emigration over the centuries. We have visited so many ancient abbeys, monasteries and castles we’ve lost count, it’s hard to believe the solid rock structure that were built without any mechanical equipment. However one of the most dramatic and thought provoking places we visited was Newgrange, an ancient Neolithic creation, built over five thousand years ago. Yes, 3000 years, before the Pyramids! It is an underground passage tomb built on top of a hill, of stone sides then covered with an earth, which is aligned perfectly to allow a shaft of sunlight through a small opening to penetrate the internal ‘room’ only on the winter solstice for just 17 minutes! On a nearby hill is another tomb designed perfectly for the summer solstice and on a third hill one aligned for the equinox. Amazing stuff! These people lead a subsistence life but were able to build such incredibly exact tombs. It must have taken generations to plan and build as the sun does not always shine on this particular dates and the specific rocks were sourced from hundreds of kilometres away. Very long term patience and commitment would have been needed.
Even though we mostly cycled the Irish coast with dramatic cliffs, beautiful beaches and kilometres and kilometres of roads right beside the water, we also loved visiting the mountains (hills) where it reminds us of the mountains we love in Australia. We’ll have to come back to Ireland to “hillwalk” (walk up the treeless mountains and ridges) as there’s certainly a lot of areas with great walks which would have tremendous views.
We have had many challenges as well – most relate to the super-strong winds and damp weather but this is what one expects when cycle touring. We decided that the two most common colours in Ireland are: “green and grey” – green hills and grey skies. We’ve learnt lots of new words like “drumlins” – short steep hills that go straight up requiring you to use your lowest gear to go up and then all the effort is wasted as the downhill is just as steep and requires the use of brakes.
We loved the stone fences in southern areas of Ireland and the beautiful huge country houses everywhere as the country areas mostly decorated with contrastingly painted quoins on the building corners, and around window & doorways perimeters. There are collections of five or six houses everywhere resulting in a more densely populated rural landscape compared to Australia. But everywhere we saw “For Sale” or “To let” signs, some areas have 50% of the houses for sale. Even though we saw lots of property bargains and great renovators, we restrained ourselves and didn’t purchase any properties as there are currently some 300,000 unoccupied houses so who would rent a property? No-yield, no-way! There is even talk of government funded demolition of empty new housing “ghost estates”.
Many parts of roads in Ireland have fantastic smooth surface, making cycling a dream. Traffic free cycle paths are much wider than Australia and on-road pathways are well painted in green or red. Whilst the roads and streets are narrower, the Irish drivers display a more patient and courteous attitude to cyclists, pedestrians and each other. The use of car horns was extremely rare. However, double parking and parking in no stopping areas, particularly around schools, seems to be the norm. The lack of gravel road edges made it difficult to allow vehicles to easily pass us or each other in many locations. On the other hand ALL minor roads in Ireland are bitumen. None of those endless gravel roads with potholes, washouts and corrugations we cycle tourers endure in Australia. The major roads of Ireland have a constant cycling challenge – the protruding metal reflectors along the pavement edge necessitating not only watching the traffic forward and behind (using our bike mirrors) but weaving round these 20 mm high safety devices every 30 metres. Hitting them particularly in the wet prompted much closer attention to the road pavement.
The Giant brand hybrid bicycles we used were kitted out with rear racks, front carry basket (easy day pack carrying), and much needed wheel splash guards. Only three punctures, two new rear tyres and one set of brake blocks were needed to complete adventure. The pre-used bikes were purchased in a buy-back arrangement from a bike shop in the University of Central Dublin. We have been very pleased with the performance, reliability, strength and flexibility these bikes displayed during our entire journey. Surprising little mechanical maintenance was needed to keep them running every day for 10 weeks.
Bruce has managed extremely well carrying his daily injections for MS. Carrying the freezer pack and cooler bag has been a bonus as we’ve been able to keep the milk, cheese and vegies cool, as well as his daily injections.
Some of the things we take for granted in Australia but we will really appreciate from now on are: public toilets in most towns, picnic tables and parks, one currency, English road signs with actual distances, street names, motels and hotels in most towns, as well as our blue sky weather.
Lots of people commented “You must be so fit.” We don’t feel fit, even though we can easily climb the hills with loaded bikes, and we have not developed into shapely sinewy thin cycling legs. We’re just feeling a little bit tired after 10 weeks continuous cycling everyday. We’re looking forward to coming back to Australia next week for winter at Perisher looking after the Nordic Shelter and squeezing in lots of cross country skiing. We’ll have to start training for the Kangaroo Hoppet, Australia’s 42km Worldloppet ski race event at the end of August.
In conclusion we’ve have an amazing adventure over these last 5 months and we know how important it is to decide what you want to do and then work out a way to make it happen. Live your dreams don’t just dream them. Our aim is to make the most of everyday rather than looking back and having regrets. We hope you all live your dreams too.
Looking forward to catching up sometime in the near future.