I’m now in County Donegal, nearing the end of my stay in the republic. In a few days time I will cross into northern Ireland, and a few more will see me cross into Scotland.
Since my last post I’ve been fighting my way north through some rather variable weather. No one day is the same for more than a few hours, and there has been a pattern of Atlantic low pressure systems crossing the country, bringing heavy rain and high winds, that vary in direction as the system passes. It’s been quite predictable, but the weather it brings is unavoidable.
The scenery has been quite incredible. The coast is lined with mountains all the way from the south. These add to the prevailing weather systems, forcing incoming air upwards until it reaches the point where it just dumps everything it holds on those below.
The, now you see it, now you don’t, nature of he scenery, means it can take you by complete surprise. You know there are mountains there, and then they clear suddenly, leaving you to gaze in awe, at the majesty and beauty.
Just as quickly as the view opens up, the cloud gathers again, hiding it all away until next time. It’s different from the Lake district or North Wales, in that it does clear, sometimes for the whole day, and sometimes for just an hour. No two days are the same, and no day remains the same for long.
I’ve sat on campsites watching the frontal systems make their way closer and closer, in the full knowledge of what was coming. It doesn’t detract from the riding at all. In some ways it adds to it. Nothing is taken for granted and no quarter given. You set off with your waterproofs on, or very close to the top of your luggage, knowing you will use them at some point. It goes both ways. I’ve had some awful mornings, that have cleared up quickly, leaving me in warm sunshine for the whole ride.
What doesn’t help is the driving. Most drivers give way, pass wide, and are considerate. Most will wave and toot to make you feel welcome. The rest are reckless, inconsiderate and dangerous. The time I’ve spent on regional roads makes me feel like its just a matter of time before i get hit.
The roads often twist and turn, and it’s on these sections that they also narrow to a little more than a cars width in each direction. Hearing a car approaching your slow moving bollard, at 70mph on a bendy road, leaves you on red alert constantly. Do that all day long, and combined with the noise it has left me exhausted.
As soon as the traffic thins out, it all falls away and I feel happy and content. We are so lucky to have Sustrans and the National Cycle Network. We really should embrace it. Ireland is working towards this slowly. The advent of the Great Western Greenway has sparked interest from many other counties, and Sustrans have already established routes in the north. It can only help to get people out, enjoying this beautiful country safely.
My own health has been good. There are always a few aches and pains, but there has been nothing to speak of. My mental health has also been good, generally speaking. I’ve had a few days where the solitude and aloneness have really got to me. Hardly surprising given what I’m doing and the conditions I’ve had up to now.
Last night I was trying to work out whether I had had any days when it hadn’t rained. In the end I decided it isn’t more than one or two, and I still have the west coast of Scotland, and the islands to go. There have been no periods of stable weather at all. The temperature has varied wildly through each day. Only two days ago, I had a merino wool top, fleece and polar Buff on at 6pm. This is unheard of in a mild climate.
The effect of that is that less people are going away. Combined with the economic situation, camping isn’t on many peoples agenda. This, and the weather, has meant my staying on empty campsites, or being pinned in the tent for many hours, unable to make contact with other people on the site. The saving grace has been the campers kitchens. All but unheard of in the UK, they provide shelter, equipment, cookers, fridges and a place to congregate.
Even so, there have been few people about. I met a cyclist from California who had only met two cyclist, and one of them was me. I’ve seen a few more, but not many.
Given all of the things above, you might think its not a great place to ride, but you’d be wrong. The cycling here is incredible. The various mountain ranges of the west coast line your route all the way from Kerry to Donegal. The riding here in Donegal is the toughest I have encountered, but it also the most beguiling in nature. The scenery makes your head want to spin around, as you try and take it all in.
The counties keep changing completely as you cross their borders, and Mayo was an amazing example of that. Travelling on the Great Western Greenway you get gently introduced the the bog lands and mountains surrounding them. From there to Sligo, I rode in the worlds biggest bog. it’s quite incredible how it affects everything around it. The houses, the smell of the peat that’s burned as fuel, the peat cuttings, and the animals that graze there. They all reflect this amazing environment. An English couple told me that they thought it was boring. I asked what they had been to see, to which they replied “nothing, we just drove through it. It was too wet to get out.”
From here there are a myriad of variations to get to Northern Ireland. Which ones I will use depends as much on the weather as anything else. I paw over maps and then make decisions when I throw my leg over the bike. There’s little point in just following a line on the map, especially when the weather is so variable.
Fly has been amazing. There’s no need to worry about her. She just does what she’s meant to do, no fuss and no complaint. The wind has tried to blow her off course, but unlike other butterflies, she just carries on. Having Trevor back has helped. In the strong winds I’ve regularly ridden in, the panniers acted like a sail. Trevor just follows along, and being attached at the axles, I hardly notice the gusts of wind hitting him. It also means less clutter in the tent, which really helps when you have such a small living space. I also feel that Trevor is easier to haul, in all conditions, than the panniers I used whilst awaiting his arrival.
When I land in Scotland, I’m off to see Nick, the owner of Carry Freedom. He’s going to sort the sticky wheel problem, something that shouldn’t be an issue at all. It will either be new axles, a new chassis, or both. I’m looking forward to meeting him and his partner again, as well as seeing the workshop where he designs his trailers and the Paper bicycle.
The next week looks grim on the charts, with a huge low sitting over Ireland. Let’s hope that the forecasters are wrong. Whatever it does, I’ll be pedalling along with a smile on my face, living this simple life, and feeling glad to be able to.
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