Thursday, June 30, 2016

Donegal Wild Atlantic Way (con't) May 30th, 2016


A reflection from the poem "Wagon Train West":
    "when I saw the dawn this morning, I said, let the wagons go on without me"

Polly's knees had had enough.  We called Seamus to see if he could transport a person + bike AND the luggage to our next destination in Ramelton.  The steroid shots had worked their magic but the effect was wearing off and it was a major concern that more fun in the saddle might do permanent harm to her knees.  Rob took a break as well to keep her company and so Lynne and I were on our own:  Gweedore to Ramelton by way of Bloody Foreland,Falcarragh, Creeslough, Lough Salt, and Kilmacrenan. We are at lattitude 55 degrees--really Far North.  As in Happy Valley, Labrador is at 53 degrees. 
In front of the hotel we leave Rob and Polly and head for the coast.  About 1km into the trip I noticed I could not find the GPS route to Ramelton but we had the maps. We discussed it for all of 30 seconds and then I went back to get Rob's GPS because it was so much easier to navigate.

Overlooking Gweedore.  I actually saw a palm tree!  We also saw plenty of rock fences.

We were headed on the coast road to Bloody Foreland.  A little traffic was present in the small town of Derrybeg but not much thereafter. 
Bloody Foreland (the little penninsula)   We didn't bring a picnic lunch and it was only midmorning so we hit the road to Falcarragh.                                       

The owner of the grocery came out and took a picture of us snacking at his front door. We talked to 1/2 the people going into the store.  The Irish are very friendly.  
Our next stop was Ray Church, site of a massacre by Cromwellian soldiers. More than 200 parrishners were killed and are buried around the church.  

Ray Church and Cross

Leaving town we enter the wilderness.  We are heading to the gap in the distance.
Once through it we don't see anything but sheep and fields

Our next stop was Creeslough for lunch. I cannot tell you how many turns we had to make to get to town.  If we had not had the GPS we would still be there debating whether to go right or left. 
They had a nice little pub called Rose's but we opted for a sandwich shop with hot tea.
After lunch we headed to Doe Castle.  During the 16th century it was one of the Irish strongholds against the English but fell many times.  It's in relatively good shape compared to the usual pile of stones.  After checking it out we head for the dreaded Lough Salt.  It was suggested in the guidebook that we bypass to Glen Lough unless we wanted incomparable vistas and brutal climbing.  So we elected that.
Lough Salt itself wasn't much to see but it's the deepest freshwater lake in the County.  The views are pretty incredible.
Here's Lynne having conquered the climb.

All downhill now to Ramelton.  So we are flying low down to Kilmacrenan when we run into a detour sign that appears to take us several miles out of the way.  The road looks passable so we do not want to lose the GPS instructions so we continue on past the "Road Closed" signs.  I know, I know not the smartest call in the guidebook.

and this is what we run in to.  We could get around so it was no biggie.  After crossing the mountains we again find the sun and it warms up nicely.  The ride home is uneventful.  Ramelton for 2 nights.  Tomorrow we will do a loop around the Fanad Peninsula and the following day, leave, to ride all the way back to Donegal.  
Our hostess for the night was another example of creative imaginative helpfulness.  Re-uniting with Polly and Robb we found that there are few restaurants in town and most are closed on Monday.  Our hostess drives us 15km to a beautiful restaurant on Mulroy Bay by Carrowkeel.  We watch the sunset on the plaza outside and have a delicious seafood dinner.  The owner of the restaurant has his daughter drives us back home.  (Too fast in my opinion but we enjoyed our discussion with her about her job prospects and return recently from Australia.)  Most of the jobs are tourist related--I did not see many factories.  The day off has rested Polly's knees and Seamus has outfitted her with an e-bike.  We are in trouble now...

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

IrelandbyBike-Donegal May 31st, 2016

 DAY 6

Today we are not changing B&Bs but just making a circular ride up around the Fanad Peninsula. And we have our compatriots back with us on the bike!  Knees rested and ready to ride.   Don't "kneed" to pack so head down for --Breakfasts are fantastic in Ireland!  Fruit, cereals(granola to Mueslix),  breads, cheeses,olives? (where do they eat olives for breakfast?), biscuits, and then the actual plate of eggs, potatoes, meat they set in front of you.  Always 3 kinds of meat; sausage, bacon, and of course, blood sausage.  I have not seen a pig on this trip and yet we've eaten a bunch of them.  Sheep(lamb) is not a regular on the menu and they are everywhere.  It would be useful to develop a taste for lamb/mutton in Ireland because they seem pretty indiginous.

 After breakfast we "call" for our bikes.   Interestingly we have not ourselves stored our own bikes anywhere except in Glenties. We blithely ride up to the house and lean them against the wall and when we ask where to put them, it is oh don't bother we'll put them away.    The host packs them away in the garage and brings them out for us in the morning.  I don't recall that they washed them and oiled the chain but I'd say they go a lot further in the accommodation department than they have to. We are doing a self-guided tour but we have concierge bike and luggage service.  I have a front pouch for the camera and a larger pack on a rack in the back. It almost holds everything we might need for the day. Rain suit, warm clothes, sunglasses for sun and clear glasses for overcast.  Seamus has provided us with sturdy cables and locks that are as heavy duty as the bikes. We have a repair kit, a patch kit, a first aid kit.  Kits, cats, sacks, and wives, how heavy is the bike when you overeat for a week?

We are about ready to ride.  Polly has her new e-bike and we are about to see how she can shred the hills.  Leaving Ramelton, we turn left out of our B&B and ride through the old warehouse district that is the classical picture of this old trading town.
We are heading first to Rathmullan, the famous departure point for the "Flight of the Earls".  I am a little hazy on why they are venerated since it appears that they were in danger of being overwhelmed by the English and so left for Italy to escape capture--leaving their desperate kinsman to their fate.  However, this tragedy happened in the 1600's and they have a statue celebrating? the event which is appropriately modern.  I got the feeling it was a kind of Douglas MacArthur moment with them promising to return but eventually being sidetracked in Italy. But it's the thought that counts and the Irish have long memories... They could easily be expecting their relatives back anytime.

We meandered around the small town of Rathmullan, checking out the beach and the fortress and some cool ruins.  Early in the morning it was not real busy.  It' really difficult to tell what people do for work around here perhaps they commute to Letterkenny (the big city)  but we enjoyed the lovely views over Lough Swilly.

Heading on up the bay we found the coast road to be hilly, providing us with plenty of opportunities to burn up the calories from breakfast and provide great vistas.  We are all envious of the e-bike but feel superior to compensate.

The Fanad Peninsula goes all the way up to the lighthouse on the north coast making it the second most northerly point in Ireland but  we feel like Port Salon is far enough and do not do the entire 100km loop.  We settle for 65km.

Road views and 

Mouth of Lough Swilly views

When we get to the Port Salon overlook we can see the 2nd most beautiful beach in Ireland or the world.  I can't remember what they claim but it is dramatic without being densely populated with swimmers.  In fact there are only a few tent campers in the reeds.  I couldn't swim here with a wet suit but I bet there are some amazingly tough Irish give it a week or two to get the water temps to the 50s and the air temps to the 70's. As for now we enjoy the pristine serenity.

To the left in the picture you can see the roll out of the downhill we are about to experience.  Across the inlet is the town of Port Salon.  We decide not to eat lunch there but push on to C..... across the peninsula on the east side of Mulroy Bay.

So my question is do you feel the Most free walking, biking, taking Uber, using your car, public transportation, a train, or plane?  I like to walk but you can't go very far in any reasonable period of time.  Getting a good deal on Uber is a pretty sweet feeling.  Having a car as a teenager is very conducive to feeling free but as an adult maintaining the car requires a lot of man hours in the office.  Buying a ticket is actually freer than one would suppose--As Greyhound says, leave the driving to us.  But you merely get taken to where you intended to go--not like the whimsical perambulations of a bike trip.  TS Eliot says that in the mountains you feel free but I disagree, on a bike you feel it the most.


This is the only open restaurant in  Kerrykeel.  I do not know why it is called the James Joyce Tavern.  I think of Joyce as being kind of Dublin related and of course if truth be told he is only Irish in the sense that he left it for France but couldn't get it out of his head so wrote about it.  So in a way he rejected Ireland, couldn't live there but couldn't not write about it.  I am not enough of a Joyce aficionado to know whether he ever made it to Donegal....

I might have asked these trenchant questions if the bar had food.  Sadly, they serve food on weekends, not weekdays.  With that as a baseline we could say that the Irish imbibe calories from either food or drink in a 5:2 ratio--2 1/2 times more calories from drink than solid food. They had plenty of beer which tempted us for lunch but there is always the everpresent concern that you might have to cope with actual traffic rather than cows and it "would not be prudent" as GHW Bush said, to go overboard with the liquid nourishment.
So we ended up at the restaurant our B&B host had so helpfully driven us to last night.  Ripples!  We actually didn't know we were in the same area--riding in the backseat of a small car is not conducive to navigational awareness.  But low and behold we saw a sign that said restaurant 1/2km which is about the length of my suburban street of 30 houses and not far at all when you are hungry so here we are again.  (I hope we tipped enough last night... they were so helpful to drive us back to our B&B).

I don't think they remember us. Maybe they have different family members work the lunch and dinner shifts so we go incognito on the sandwiches and can report in Michelin fashion that you can get a good lunch or dinner here.

I have forgotten what we ate because we supped with a motorcycle couple from Belgium who one of which was actually a lapsed American, marrying a tattooed, mustachioed man from Belgium with a huge hog.  They were following the Wild Atlantic Way.  I think she grew up in Chicago but was European now.  I am sure this happens a lot but it is only recently with the renunciation of citizenship by billionaire Silicon Valley guys to avoid taxes that I have become aware of it.  We clueless Americans like to think that anybody would prefer America to anywhere else. Perhaps we could have a Gallup survey taken monthly that would sample Americans about where they would prefer to live--and like a thermometer-- indicate whether our ideals that "we are the greatest" match up with the reality.  They have a stock market VIX  indicator that measures whether people are calm or frenetic about their expectations for the future and so a Love America index would denominate how many had actually moved to Mexico (or elsewhere) to "make their SS payments" go farther.  We had a good lunch inside, not on the patio due to the overcast.

We had a lengthy lunch....

The trip back to Ramelton included passing several elementary schools.  Irish schools are exactly like American at quitting time, moms and cars everywhere.  They seem to be on back roads and the last two days we end up passing a lot of schools that are "just letting out".  What is interesting is that you are riding along thinking you are in the middle of "nowhere" perhaps like the S. Dakota Badlands and you round a corner and there is a traffic jam!  There is a cop in the distance and a line of cars and as a bicyclist you haven't seen two houses to rub together to call a community in 5 miles and suddenly not only civilization, but a veritable cauldron of activity.  We are very glad the Irish are being educated for jobs all around the world.  I note that there is some European displeasure with the Irish strategy of giving tax breaks to companies to provide jobs BUT come on, just because you don't tax the company, doesn't mean you can't tax the workers.....

We make it back to Ramelton and are discussing our dinner options in the parlor when our thoroughly attentive hostess suggests that she can drive us to Letterkenny for dinner.  We accept and are trundled 12km down to the "big city" for dinner at a lovely restaurant called the Lemon Something, where afterwards we are able to walk around the biggest city in Donegal for an hour or so before heading back to the placidity of our digs in the quiet and quaint Ramelton.  We are thunderstruck at the creative helpfulness of our hosts.  No way would we have seen as much as we have without the intercession of hosts.

A final shot of our walking tour of Letterkenney.


Back to Donegal Town on the morrow.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

IrelandbyBike (Ramelton Back to DonegalTown)

Day 7-

Our schedule today is a little tight.  We have reservations in Galway for dinner and overnight.  But first we have to get 76 km back to Donegal Town--turn in the bikes with Seamus and IrelandbyBike, shower, and head to Drumcliffe for our Yeats pilgrimmage and gravestone visitation.  After an Under Benbulben recitation and salutation we do a Sligo flyby just to see what it looks like downtown at rush hour and then on to Galway for a few days (by foot or taxi)  

The morning in Ramelton dawns clear and bright with the promise of full sun and record setting warm temps.  We are convinced we can handle the worst heat Ireland can throw at us, we are after all Southerners but we recall a trip not so long ago in Sonoma where we were warned about the heat and pooh-poohed the kindly informant but were not laughing when we could find no water anywhere and temps were 105 with extremely low humidity which makes you thirsty very quickly.  We are getting more sure about the hills but we have a healthy respect for the topography.  We have had some mighty pretty roads but they are not the direct way from A to B.  Our first sign says Kilmacrenan 9 km and I think, should be there in a jiffy.  Not.   The hills have got us considering a rope to make Polly pull us up all the inclines we prefer not to tackle.  In effect we weave our way to the town all the while knowing we could have risked our lives on the valley road and been there in 20 minutes.

Our route today retraces some of the roads Lynne and I took into Ramelton 2 days ago. This is so called O'Donnell country where the ancient chieftans of the clan were crowned on Doon Rock around Kilmacrennan.  We didn't see it on the map and I have every expectation that if it had been on the map we would have had to go uphill to see it.  

Here we are resting from one of the many early climbs we had to make this morning.  These are not long climbs at all but we find ourselves either going up or going down.  It's not like pace-lining on a country road in Alabama.

So we are cruising along headed to Ballybofey when we see a country store that reminds us of home.  We stop in for a Gatorade and see that it has a steam table for lunch, drink cases, and ice cream boxes just like home.  It has an unpronounceable name that I tried 3 times to get right amusing the cashier and it overlooked a pastoral valley that was closer to green than the ubiquitous brown.  Donegal is NOT all Irish green, it has a dusky forlorn remote air in many places but it has plenty of resplendent green.

We are headed to Ballybofey for lunch.  It's a pretty happening place at noon. We were told its the only town without a church or school.  Well it has a lot of cars.  The main drag is pretty tight to be walking your bike on the sidewalk what with everyone thronging.  There was a lot of traffic too.  We wandered around asking people what the best place to eat was and got several opinions with no obvious synchronicity suggesting a superior choice.  We ended up in Hennessy's which was cool and rather empty which was a mighty good thing because the proprietor was aged and flighty making us feel bad for ordering, having him bring the wrong thing, and then making him return to the kitchen which he did with apparent good cheer but some ineffectiveness until he got the helper out of the kitchen to assist.  We like the step up toilet.  I had never seen that before.  You open the bathroom door--and take two steps up to a platform where the toilet resides.  No one can see you on the throne but you just know your way up there.  So hills to conquer when riding a bike and hills to conquer when going to the john.

After lunch we notice that it has become significantly hotter.  We are headed to Barnesmor Gap which has an uphill sound to it.  I notice on the map that we are getting very close to the border of Northern Ireland and wondered whether a little road like we were on would mark the border.  No.  Didn't see any guard towers or fences with a no man's land.  I think it is safe to return to Northern Ireland--the troubles are quiescent.  I would be a lot more worried about taking an admission tour at U Penn in W. Philly.

It is another prettty fair climb to Barnesmor Gap and arriving suddenly find ourselves on the main superhighway to Donegal.  There is a LOT of traffic but we have an entire emergency lane to ride in.  Pretty sweet. It is also a huge thrill to take the downhill.  What a rush.  It is also very satisfying to end a bike trip flying downhill.  It's like making a birdie on 18, leaves you with a great feeling and makes you end wanting more.  The last 10 miles are all downhill and once we detour off the main road at Lough Eske we get even more downhills on narrower roads.  Our only problem is elementary school quitting time which puts us on the road with Moms late to pick up their little darling and sometimes  sabotages us around blind corners with idling cars in a bunch.

We get to Donegal a little before 3:00 and return to our first night's stay to turn in the bikes.

Seamus is there with his truck and detailed instructions about accessing the shower in the hotel in town.  We pick up our suitcases , throw them in the back of the rental Passat, deliver to him our trusty steeds and head downtown to remove the funk and put us in a traveling mood for the trip to Galway.  It was a short and sweet goodbye to our trusty guide Seamus.  I of course forgot to remove my pedals from the rental bike and Seamus had to return to the parking lot where we were  just getting back from the shower to deliver them to us.  Always thinking that Seamus.  I am grateful he didn't discover it servicing the bikes in Carrick and then need to mail them home to me.  It would just be one more thing for him to do to ensure we had a good trip.  From what we've seen--a Donegal tour is about as good as it gets in cycle touring.

Yeats' grave in County Mayo is not far.
"Under bare Ben Bulben's head-
in Drumcliffe courtyard Yeats is laid-
An ancestor was rector there--long years ago.  By the road an ancient cross"

We drank a toast to the poet and checked out the view of the mountain.  It is distinctive.


Well I'd write more but you should just go and see for yourself what a pleasure Ireland can be in the sun.  I'd say we were lucky considering it could have rained daily and been 50 degrees but Fortune favors the brave and the Irish will make up for any snafus with a generous dose of hospitality.