Some time back, I got the notion that I would cycle the first few hundred km of the WAW as part of my holidays. Leave from home, finish in Tralee and get the train back. None of the SR or PBP “cycle till you drop” nonsense. It would be at a leisurely pace with plenty of time to soak up the atmosphere and scenery. Good food, regular “electrolyte replacement therapy” and a decent bed every night. Shortly after that idea had a lonely journey crossing my mind I got that phone call from Eamon. Little did I know what he was planning at that time! By the end of the call I was committed to doing the spin, finishing in Tarbert, devising the route sheet and keeping the distance to Tarbert to around 700km. The other requirement was to include Healy’s Pass. No pressure then.
A draft route of 719km was sent to “The Man” for approval. Following another phone call strict instructions were given to keep it to 700km. Further editing and the route was trimmed to the required distance. The start date had been selected as Sept. 13th. The only issue remaining was the weather. Given it was the WAW then anything was possible and likely. Day 1 started to the sound of wind and rain hitting the windows. Fair enough it had been forecast but you still wish they got it wrong. First thought was to forget it and go the following day. However, the bike was packed, the accommodation was booked and there was a hard stop for the 17th. No real choice but to go! Given the country and the route it would only be a matter of time before a drenching would happen in any event. Might as well get it over with and it and look forward to the sunshine.
A prologue of 51km was required to get from Midleton to Kinsale and the start point. Getting to Kinsale and much of the first couple of stages followed a very similar route to the Mile Failte of 2014. Kinsale arrived without any issue but still with the rain for company. Resetting of the GPS and making the start notes for the route sheet marked the official start of the “holiday”. The first notable feature to pass is “The Pink Elephant”. Used as the inspiration for a 200km event (to be held in October) it is on normal day a great place to stop for refreshments while taking in the view of Courtmacsherry Bay. Unfortunately it was still too early in the morning but the view of the bay was there to be enjoyed instead. Cycling up and down bays will be a feature on this event but this is one of the few which will be on the flat all the way round! Going through Courtmac the rain was starting to ease a little but there was nothing open for a warming cup of coffee. Pressing on and heading back towards Clonakilty an oasis appeared in the form of the Barryroe Co-op. Who would have thought that in the middle of nowhere you would find hot food and a seating area on a Sunday morning? Coffee and a roll and the body was restored. After mopping up the pools of water that had drained off me it was time to hit the road again. Sun was now out and things were looking good.
Back down to the coastline in Ring and onto Clonakilty. Back out the other side of the bay heading for Dunmore with fabulous views over to Inchdonney beach and hotel. Sky was looking moody and the waves were pounding the shore. The kite surfers didn’t seem to mind though. It’s rarely good cycling weather when the kite surfers are having a ball. This was new cycling territory for me so was looking forward to it. That was until a couple of steep little hills made themselves known. Nothing for it though but with some pretty low gearing on the bike there was nothing to worry about. Much worse was to come! Through Ardfield and over towards Galley Head was the route of choice. Always interested in seeing lighthouses which meant a quick detour from the route out to Galley Head itself. Good call as it happened. A heavy shower could be seen coming in across the water and hitting Owenahincha Beach. Great to watch from high up on the hill in the sunshine. With deft timing headed down past the beach and through Roscarberry. Plenty of flowing water from the shower to be seen on the roads. Couple of other cyclotourists were not so lucky. Slightly smug feeling when passing them!
Off the main road (N71) and through the well known towns of Glandore and Union Hall before veering off the WAW to take the more direct route to Castletownshend and back on the official route again. Followed the coast to Tragumna with great views of the headlands and coves along the way. Another trip cross country detour off the official WAW took me to Lough Hyne on the most challenging roads for the day – the grass up the middle ones. A must for any decent audax event. Lough Hyne was looking well but also marked the return of the rain and a steep ascent out of the valley. On the other hand it was then almost all downhill to Baltimore which will very likely be a control on the event. Given the weather had closed in the views of Sherkin and the other islands were not as good as hoped. Skibberreen was the next and final port of call for the day. Day one over with. A 188km for the day and 137km for the route sorted.
Day 2 started with a straight run north west on the N71 to Ballydehob before taking a left for Mizen Head via Schull and Toormore. This is again the same route as the Mile Failte used. However, this time we get to go all the way to the most south westerly point of the country. There are two options to reach Mizen from Goleen; along the coast towards Crookhaven or over the hill direct to Barley Cove. Why not out one way and back the other? Taking the Crookhaven route gives allows one of the first glimpses of the Fastnet Rock lighthouse 8miles of the coast. All was going well until the “road closed” signs appeared. In true audaxing style the signs were ignored and kept going. Eventually at the back of Barley Cove Beach I came to the rather large section of the causeway which had subsided. Not for the first time either it seemed. Passable on the bike without major issue. Unless some serious work gets done it won’t be passable once the winter weather finishes off the work. Other destruction caused by the recent poor weather could be seen everywhere. Whole chunks of asphalt had been ripped off the road and washed down the hill. Banks of streams washed away etc.
Took the time to explore the Mizen Head Signal Station. Gives a lot of information on the Fastnet Rock Lighthouse, its construction, lives of the people that manned it, the weather it experiences etc. Well worth the admission fee of €6 to see the place, cross the bridge, see the displays and take in the views. Might be costly in terms of time on the event itself though.
Retraced the road back to Toormore and back on the Mile Failte route to Durrus. Great views across Dunmanus bay to Sheep’s Head and the next port of call. Unfortunately that also means the “Goat’s Path”. Rising out of Kilcrohane it gets high quickly! Just have to remind yourself the views are worth it!! It’s then a straight run back to Bantry while able to look across Bantry Bay to the Bearra Peninsula. Back onto the N71 and to Glengarrif to call it a day with 145km for the day and another 139km of the route complete.
Day3 started in stunning sunshine and zero wind and dead flat seas. Couple of testing little hills on the way to Adrigole before heading inland for Healy’s Pass. A long sinuous never ending ascent to the Cork and Kerry border at the summit. Nothing for it but to get it over with and look forward to the long easy descent looking down into the valley and across Kenmare. As mentioned earlier the weather was very calm and so some amazing mirror like reflections were on display in the various lakes on the descent. The odd dumb sheep wondering aimlessly across the road was also a feature. At the end of the descent is Lauragh which is planned as a manned control.
Taking the road around the coast avoids a significant enough climb which makes a pleasant change. Onward to Kenmare and rejoining the now annoying N71 to get through Kenmare. The next peninsula is the Iveragh Penninsula or “The Ring of Kerry” as it is more commonly known. Given the tourist interest in this area the traffic was significantly greater in volume. As the route is going clockwise on the ring (N70) the majority of tourists and practically all the buses are coming from the opposite direction. Makes life much easier. For the second day running I was also to see a convoy of classic Rolls Royce cars as they also seemed to be enjoying the WAW experience. Leaving Sneem the first of the climbs on the ROK makes itself known. An easy enough drag with an equally gentle descent to Castlecove gets the legs back into climbing mode for later! Passing through Caherdaniel means Coomakishta! Again another steady drag but much longer and the same for the 7km descent to Waterville. While this was all great progress it was getting closer to the one climb I was dreading. It doesn’t help when people have painted “The Hard Way Round” along the road as you make your approach. Coomanaspig looms skyward a little after Ballinskelligs. This also features on “The Priest’s Leap and Devil’s Elbow 300km” and while it is nothing compared to Priest’s Leap it is still an interesting challenge and defeated me on that occasion. The approach is easy enough and then it starts to kick up. A couple of seconds rest are possible at the first hairpin. After that there is little rest till the top. Oh and the last 50metres has another kick such that trying to keep the front wheel on the road is the second biggest challenge. Sucking air like there was no tomorrow being the first. I managed to get over it; Coomanapig 1-1 KOS. The descent to Portmagee is probably one of the fastest descents in the country. Dead straight and steep will have the bike at over 90kph within seconds. Good nerves and/or brakes are therefore a requirement. Rolled through Portmagee and onto Cahersiveen to call it a day with 167km for the day and all of it on the route.
Day 4 and the easiest day for navigation. Follow the N70 to through Glenbeigh, Killorglin, Miltown and onto Castlemaine. Turn left in Castlemaine and dead straight to Inch. Early drag out of Cahersiveen, descent into Glenbeigh and essentially flat for the next 45km. Plenty of tour buses on the road stopping at various “points of interest”. All the while the locals were making hay while the sun shined as the hapless tourists were high on the smell of burning turf...
Inch beach is one of those iconic beaches and a haven for various sports. Surfing being the obvious one, but kite surfing, sand yachts etc. are all to be seen skimming across the sand/water at serious speeds. This day however, the sea was like glass. Not a ripple to be seen. Surfers everywhere crying their eyes out in frustration. A great day to be cycling so. Straight on to Dingle for the first visit of the day and through Ventry to Slea Head. Blasket Islands could be easily seen. As it happened it was one of the days during which they were filming for Star Wars on the Islands. The usual seagull was sitting on the wall taking in the view. Back through Dingle to face the highest climb of the event - The Connor Pass. First challenge is to pass the micro-brewery at the bottom without stopping for sustenance. Onward and upward as they say. The climb is steady but long and the views at the top are once again worth the effort. The upper part of the descent has a few narrow sections where cars need to be made to stop but once through those the descent is enjoyable. Flat run of 30km all the way to Tralee finished off the day with 180km for the day and 170 of the route.
Day 5 started with a short westerly stint to Fenit before heading north for the rest of the day. Once you have turned northerly the scenery reduces to “average” as the mountains are now behind you! This section to Tarbert should be considered as a “transition” stage as they say in the Tour de France! Roads were pretty quiet and little tourist traffic to deal with. Terrain was flat to mildly rolling so a good section to get a little “rest” before hitting wilds of Clare. Seeing the ferry was a welcome sight as it marked the end of my assignment. First ferry leaves at 07:30am and the last one goes at 10:00am. Price is €5 for a single. Get your money ready!
An epilogue of 50km got me back to Tralee for the train home giving 137km for the day and 87km for the route. In total clocked up 816km for the 5days. Far cry from the 2days it took on PBP!!