Back in 2007, I did a bike tour in Newfoundland with a great tour company out of Nova Scotia called Pedal and Sea Adventures (photos of that trip, plus my iceberg kayaking here). Putting together my holiday for this year, I thought I'd go to Ireland, and when I saw a listing from Pedal and Sea for a Western Ireland Bike tour, I was sold. Given my past experience with the company, I didn't even shop around, and it turned out to be a great decision--we had a small and interesting group, and our head guide was Dana Gallant, the owner of the company. On my last bike tour in Newfoundland, I was the only American; this time all the clients were American except for one couple from BC, and the group as a whole were strong riders--I don't think anyone even ever rode in the van (as is an option) except on the very last day where some of us (including me) cut off the last few miles through heavier traffic. The trip (rough Google Map of the trip here, routes approximate) covered about 225 riding miles of beautiful roads in a big chunk of Counties Clare and Galway, and included the beautiful Connemara and Burren regions.
I spend a huge amount of time planning things (see parts I and II of this report for an exampe), but these biking trips are great for me, since I really don't have to think about or plan anything--I just show up, ride and eat (very well). The groups tend to be a bit older than most of the people I hang out with, and the hotels are way more upscale than I would stay in otherwise, but I get to see new places at a nice cycling pace, while getting a good workout and still having a nice comfy bed to stay in each night. (I'm fine with camping, but only when it gets me somewhere I wouldn't be able to get otherwise--I can say from experience that it's a lot nicer taking a hot shower in a nice dry hotel room after a long day on the bike rather than setting up my tent in the rain!)
I arrived back in Ennis (see Part I of my report), Ireland on July 12th for Day 1 of the tour, which was a welcome dinner at the Old Ground hotel. The next morning of Day 2, I was a bit disappointed when I arrived and saw a hybrid bike instead of the road bike I had requested. But after a short time on the Irish country roads in a downpour riding to Doolin, I was happy to have it. And it seemed, much like mountain biking, that given the conditions and the bike, the mileages we were riding need to be multiplied by something like 1.5 in order to match up with typical miles on my road bike.
The ride was nice, and we saw a ton of traditional walls, thousands of cattle, and lots of heavy rain (no photos of that, I wasn't using my waterproof camera). We pushed through and kept the pace up, and had lunch in Lahinch, where there was a very nice surf break and, apparently, a famous golf course.
The rain finally cleared out for the day by the time we got to the Cliffs of Moher.
These cliffs were beautiful, but nothing in comparison to what we would see later.
On the way into Doolin, we rode by a very cool castle, which is apparently owned by an American.
My riding distance (including a wrong turn) was about 36 miles for the day, but it felt more like 45 to me with the wind, hills, and heavy raing. We all got dried off, had a nice dinner that night in Doolin, and went and heard some traditional Irish music at a pub. It's pretty interesting how many young people we saw throughout the trip playing traditional music with traditional instruments. More photos and a GPS track and ride profile here.
We stayed two nights in Doolin, and so on Day 3 we did a long loop out to the Burren, which is an incredible area with a fascinating geological history, too complex for me to cover (or remember) here. On our way, we rode through through Lisdoonvarna, which apparently has some crazy matchmaking festival in September. Maybe if I go back, this guy Willie Davy can hook me up:
We went to the Burren visitor center, and then visited the 5000-6000 year old tomb called Poulnabrone
It's interesting to be in a place so dominated by humans for literally thousands of years, and a landscape which now is mostly rolling fields, which of course were forrests originally. But those forrests started getting cleared thousands of years ago, and the last wolf was reportedly shot in the 1700's. So while the country is stunningly beautiful, it certainly doesn't have the wilderness feeling you can find in the States.
We timed our lunch perfectly, right when the rain started getting very heavy, and even giving us hail for a little while. I spent a huge amount of the riding time either putting on or taking off my rain coat or various other cycling garments, since it was hot when the sun was out, nice when it wasn't, and a little cold when it was raining.
After lunch, once again in the rain, we rode along the beautiful and ever-changing coast.