Cycling along the Ring of Kerry; Muckross Abbey and House; Scary tunnel; A near-death experience for Sheryl; Smashed mirrors; Ladies' View; The Gap of Dunloe; Inadvisability of cycling in a mountain pass late in the day

Bicycle rental in Ireland is not cheap. In Killarney the prices were €12-15 for a day, depending on where you went. We settled on a place run by an angry younger punk guy, because we liked him, his bikes were better, and we didn’t have to take them back until the next morning. Plus, he gave us a map and had a nice alcoholic dog. As we were leaving, he told us that if anything went wrong with the bikes to call him and he’d come stab one of us in the neck. He reminded me a lot of some of the bike messengers back home, and it definitely got me thinking about running a bike rental business and how it must be a license to print money. The initial outlay wouldn’t be huge either. Three or four thousand would do it. I could do all the maintenance and I have most of the tools already. Certainly something to think about.

The morning was spent poking about Killarney National Park, a mountainous and pretty chunk of land a few kilometres outside of town. It’s also the first stop on the fabled Ring of Kerry Road, one of the most beautiful seaside drives in the world. At 170km, though, it’s a little long to cycle in one day, since there are mountains involved and I’m out of climbing shape. Instead I planned a 50km route south of the town, then west and north through the mountains at the Gap of Dunloe, and coming back to town from the north. Sheryl decided to accompany me about halfway. We were slow at first, poking about the park, seeing the fifteenth-century Muckross Abbey, and having lunch in the gardens of Muckross House (but declining the admission charge). The next leg was a long grind up some low mountains to a lookout called Ladies’ View, so named because the handmaidens of Queen Victoria had been enchanted by it during her state visit. The ride up wasn’t terrible, though Sheryl had trouble with it, her sinuses still bothering her and making it hard for her to breathe properly. Along the way, we kept seeing ominous warning signs for a low, narrow tunnel, and although no one had mentioned such a thing, we wondered if we’d have to turn back since it might be too long and narrow to safely take the bikes through. Imagine our surprise when we arrived, only to find that the scary tunnel was all of five meters long and only ornamental.

Less amusing was a close call Sheryl had on one of the hairpin turns when some maniac Irish driver took the curve too tightly and headed straight for her, stopped safely by the side of the very narrow road and pressed against a rock face with nowhere to go. The car came close enough to smash into her right-side handlebar with its side-view mirror. I saw the whole thing in slow, horrified motion. She’d just moved her hand away from the spot that got hit, so she wasn’t injured, but her hand ached from the impact all day and it scared the hell out of her. The driver didn’t even stop, the asshole. I hope his mirror was smashed. As it happens, when we collected ourselves enough to finally round the turn we saw four or five smashed side mirrors on the shoulder, mute testimony to bad Irish driving.

Ladies’ View was quite nice and well worth the ride, though I’m not sure Sheryl agreed. We were quite chilled from the strong winds in the mountains, so we stopped for an overpriced cup of tea and some chocolate and then Sheryl turned back and headed for town while I continued up, farther into the mountains. In retrospect I should probably have thought twice about this, as it was 4pm on a cloudy afternoon, not warm, and I had nothing to eat and no warmer clothing - and it gets cold and dark a lot earlier in the mountains. I ground up to the top of Moll’s Gap for half an hour and then lost all that painfully-won altitude in a ten-minute coast down to the valley floor on the other side. I’ve never been able to decide if the down is worth the up or not. In this case I think I was leaning towards “no”, aware as I was of the upcoming climb to the top of the Gap of Dunloe. That turned out to be a steep series of hairpin turns on a narrow, thankfully deserted road with nobody but the sheep for company. Although I was worried about the cold when the sun went down, I was sweating like a pig as I climbed the mountain. The views were stunning, though I didn’t stop often for photographs. The Gap was both higher and longer than Id expected - the climb up was steep but the level plateau of the Gap itself was ten kilometres at a guess, through sharp rock walls all cracked and broken and steep crumbling granite hills with an occasional adventurous sheep clinging grimly for purchase. The pass was a bizarre wierdscape of tiny freezing pools and meadows of perfectly flat moss, so vivid green as to be shocking among the black rock. Even up there, though, in as close to a wasteland as I ever saw in County Kerry, there were still scattered the ubiquitous little stone bridges, perfectly cut and fitted, and so distinctively Irish.

As I descended out of the pass there came more signs of habitation - abandoned stone houses and farms first (some places are too unforgiving for even the Irish to farm, I suppose) and then living houses, and finally the highest form of Irish habitation, the Bed and Breakfast, here represented in great numbers - and all of them seemingly filled with Germans. Joe told me later that the Germans love that area and flock there, for reasons no one else understands.

The rest of the trip was a boring stretch along flat highway back to town, hungry, thirsty and tired. I only covered about 50 kilometres according to the map, though with all the twists and turns it was probably more like sixty, and all the climbing made it feel like a hundred.


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Chris Liberty - Dispatches from a Gentleman Adventurer
Being the internal dialog of a vagabond who chased his own tail across five continents for 4 years and 2 days from May 2008 to May 2012, in search of something that never really became clear.
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