Dublin

The city is rather cold, grey, bleak and somewhat depressing. This perception is, I admit, compounded by the weather which is of a similar quality. There is no doubt that the capital is showing definite signs of the financial upheavals that have beset the country.

The banks have been “rescued” by the government and are now controlled in some way by them. I was more surprised to learn that most, if not all, the stunning golf courses have also come under semi government control!

The river that runs through the city is a dirty brown, unkempt and sad. It looks and feels as though it is coursing through the city by “accident” – to be honest it is no more than an apparent “drain”. It is so “alone”. The city, the populace don’t utilise it and I don’t think I have seen a boat or even a duck try to float on it.

A significant number of shops are vacant. Rubbish, graffiti and weeds point to lack of public money to keep the place looking proud and happy. The high streets in the suburbs seem to be a mixture of pubs, solicitors, off-license betting shops and sex shops!

In Europe, even Spain, the locals seem to “take care” of themselves, here even jeans are uncommon. The uniform of males is light grey track suit pants and a hoodie – non matching! The young women tend to wear black or grey leggings combined with ragged hem denim shorts that are so “short” they would make a sailor blush! It’s not a sexy look to me, but then, I am me!

The terrible rape and murder of Jill Meagher in Melbourne is making headlines in Ireland.

I wandered, by accident into a city area called Temple Bar on “Paint the Town Black” Guinness Day! In other words an excuse to drink all day and night! it’s 250 years since Arthur Guinness commenced brewing his ale. For 16 euro one can tour the Guinness storehouse! It seems that this is the Dublin equivalent of the Vatican! Hundreds of tourist buses disgorge their (male) passengers who for the exhorbitant entrance fee can “pull themselves” a beer at the end of the tour.

The standard shopping iconic Irish tourist merchandise is the leprechaun hat the tall floppy green thing! Picture attached. It’s the best I can do on the day.

I visited the Dublin castle, and the most impressive aspect were the numerous chandeliers of Waterford crystal!

I also visited the Kilmainham Gaol, brutally fascinating and then the grounds of Trinity College and it’s famous library. This has a spectacular room housing ancient books and manuscripts.

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The final day Ring of Kerry

Village, the Loughs (lakes) of Caragh and Acoose.

A dilemma! Do I settle in for the day at Carrig House – curl up in a downy soft sofa, open fire, read “The Pickwick Papers”, indulge in more creative writing whilst continuously gently grazing on a large fruit and cheese platter with a chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio, then around mid afternoon adding coffee and cake, and almost certainly, intermittent power naps….. OR…. Walk into the local village (16 km return ) then cycle the scenic lakes loop ( 36 km )?

The choice is obvious.

Let me explain: there are some remarkable similarities between myself and Percy Grainger – the gifted Australian musician, composer and conductor at the height of his critical acclaim in the 1920’s (that’s got the dissimilarities out of the way).

Percy Grainger had a tempestuous relationship with his mother, indeed some say, incestuous. He was a masochist and indulged in extremes of physical exertion. In the days of train travel he was on a conducting tour for the ABC and, travelling to Melbourne for a concert, he asked that the train stop at Ballarat. He alighted and ran the rest of the journey to Melbourne, conducting the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra that same evening, if not a little out of breath!

On other occasions for a piano recital, he would enter the concert hall from the back, dressed in gym gear, sprint up the centre aisle, hurdle onto the stage and presumably execute a sort of gymnastic floor routine, culminating in a final somersault, with tuck, onto the piano stool!

He eventually married when, on an ocean liner to London with his mother, he met a strong, large Swedish woman who also, he discovered, enjoyed giving as much as she got! They married and whipped themselves into a frenzy most nights I believe.

My next holiday will be a P & O cruise liner, I think.

Having almost completed my cycling saga, I think the ultimate Irish Holiday would be to cycle the Ring of Kerry and combine it with fishing and golf- if that perchance was your bent.

If you were not a cyclist, then come in Spring, enjoy the sweet Spring Showers and swim the bloody Ring. Why do I immediately think of Wagner?

This is a very funny song about the English Weather written and performed by Flanders & Swann:

January brings the snow
Makes your feet and fingers glow
February’s Ice and sleet
Freeze the toes right off your feet
Welcome March with wintry wind
Would thou wer’t not so unkind
April brings the sweet spring showers
On and on for hours and hours
Farmers fear unkindly May
Frost by night and hail by day
June just rains and never stops
Thirty days and spoils the crops
In July the sun is hot
Is it shining? No, it’s not
August cold, and dank, and wet
Brings more rain than any yet
Bleak September’s mist and mud
Is enough to chill the blood
Then October adds a gale
Wind and slush and rain and hail
Dark November brings the fog
Should not do it to a dog
Freezing wet December then:
Bloody January again!
(January brings the snow
Makes your feet and fingers glow).

I have been surprised at the ubiquitous availability of Wi-Fi in Europe and even Ireland. It is free in every guest house, pub, cafe and the more modern buses and intercity trains! Carrig House by the lake was remote – no mobile service and the Wi-Fi dodgy at the best of times – I was almost going to complain about signal drop out in the bathroom.

Speaking of bathrooms, I discussed the issue of European shower cabinets in a previous blog. However plumbing is another issue to-wit the taps. I am but a simple man and 2 taps, one marked “hot” the other “cold” is straightforward. but the Europeans have a unique ability to complicate this simple solution. There may be one tap which is pushed, pulled swivelled up, down, in, out – in any number of permutations and combinations. There is another variation – a stainless steel horizontal cylinder with a knurled nob at each end. One nob controls the amount of water, the other controls the mix of hot and cold. There are other plumbing permutations which defy logic but the end result of all these is that until you master the logic of which tap does what and when, you are very likely to turn, push, pull, elevate or depress one, either or both of these taps and suffer an instantaneous cold shower. I could do that quite easily in Ireland by mounting my bike at any time during the day. I don’t need to have the same experience, unexpectedly in the bathroom of my guest house!

On the final day/night I dined at the Carrig House Restaurant in silver service style. A gift to myself after a rather sadomasochistic day, if not 10 days! Two entree meals: duck liver with caramelized figs and the second was a scallop dish! Both divine. Home made bread and local butter. Glass French white wine then to the drawing room for coffee and petit fours!

Thursday is a day of travel to Dublin, not much I can write about that unless there is another unexpected Irish bun fight on the train! So next blog possibly a day late?

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Lake Caragh and Carrig House

This is my penultimate day of cycling and there is bad news and good. The bad, not unexpectedly relates to the weather: cold, wet and windy! It’s been the least enjoyable day of the trip as the rain was persistent. I was rugged up but the rain in one’s face, spectacles fogged up, detracts from the overall experience. Misty mountains are still enticing, in moderation!

The good news is that desperate and damp (in truth, soaked) I arrived at my destination – Carrig House. This is 5 star accommodation on the shores of an inland lake, teeming I am told with brown Trout. It is described as a Manor House as indeed it is. “To the Manor Born”. Huge rooms, marble fireplaces, huge sofas with dozens of fluffy pillows, antique furniture, wallpapered walls, heavy brocade curtains – you get the gist. And the Jaguar motor vehicle in the driveway.

You are greeted by “Audrey” with tea, scones and fruit cake, classical music on the radio ( in this case definitely the “wireless”).

But back to how I got here.

My first stop today was the fishing village of Portmagee. The route was delightful along the back roads and I came across several sites of peat “harvesting” (if that is the correct term). The Irish call peat “turf”.

Two things of note happened in this “little piece of heaven” ( as the brochure claims) Firstly I was nipped on the ankle by a dog in the street. It drew blood. I could not remember my last tetanus booster, consequently as I cycled along my niggling anxiety about being lost was magnified by the risk of developing lock-jaw. Lost in an Irish bog dying of tetanus.

The second event was that I had tea at a tea house on Portmagee Harbour. Every cafe near water has the same decor and atmosphere. The walls are decorated with black and white, even sepia, photos of bye gone days, depicting sailing ships, horse and carts, the harbor, the quay, the pubs. Incidentally, why is it that photographs of women taken before 1901, capture on print what can only be described as apparent grumpy old men in drag?

As well, framed newspapers tell of momentous happenings. Portmagee is no exception. According to the local paper of July 12th 1979 its’ front page, had pictures of a smiling young lassie, one Eileen O’Leary being presented with a silver cup – the first qualified female pastry chef in Ireland.

Included in the picture was Master Chef Eugene McSweeney ( with an obvious degree of pride. Perhaps he took young Eileen in hand ? )

The journalist further documented “Chef Eugene McSweeney is of the opinion that women are naturally more attracted to the pastry department than to the sauce corner……”. The sauce corner?!!

On this penultimate day, I also came off my bike I had crossed to the island of Valentia. As it was wet, windy and generally depressing, I rode from a bridge access, several kilometres to the other end where one took a ferry back to the mainland. This is not Kangaroo Island – one could swim from island to mainland 200m between the two. At the ferry loading there was what I thought was a white line on the road delineating where cars lined up for the ferry. I was at the time, (uncharacteristically) distracted by something, rode across to line up for boarding and the white line turned out to be a raised white kerb! I struck it and bingo! Base over apex! The only thing ruined was my mascara which was running already from the rain!

The highlight of the day was yet another crest and breathtaking descent on a VERY narrow road, a shear drop on the left and screaming down at great speed to Rossbeigh Beach. Today as I write this, sitting in the Manor by the fire with a glass of French champagne, that descent, in retrospect, was stupendous! On the day, however, it may have lost a bit of its appeal due to “brain fog”!

The weather is a perennial topic of discussion even amongst the locals. An elderly Irish couple explained that the summer was wet. Something about the jetstream moving a few hundred kilometers “down”.

There was a week to ten days of sunshine in March (March !!! ) and since then constant daily rain. August had ten times the usual average rainfall.

Tomorrow is my last day on the Ring of Kerry. I am leaving in style! A half bottle of French Champagne a slap up meal and definitely NO food pics on the iPhone! even though they justify it!

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Waterville

Today I decided to have a lay day. I was, weather permitting, going by boat to the “Michael Skellig”.
This is a barren stony rock rising out of the ocean, no human inhabitants, an abandoned monastery ( you guessed it- medieval) but teaming with wild life. The weather was not permitting! Too much swell! I was not surprised as the iPhone weather app suggested wind and rain. However the day was mostly sunny – as it turned out.

I now accept that I live each day as it unfolds when it comes to the weather. I can state categorically that each day has a stiff sea breeze ( even when nowhere near the sea), grey ominous cumulus clouds, broken sunshine and each day has the feel of a brisk Australian winter day! The contrast is all the more stark as I spent almost a month in Spain in temperatures serially exceeding 35 degrees centigrade!

All of these perceptions and remarks will give so much ammunition to my archetypal cynic in Australia (Mr Lacey) that he will be beside himself with glee!

So I decided to WALK a bit. There is a well delineated “Ring of Kerry Walk” some 270 km long. Indeed so well marked that even I would find it a challenge to become lost! The only drawback and it is a considerable one, is that one would need strong agricultural grade gumboots to safely cross every boggy field! I contemplated whether any Irish farmers have disappeared walking across these fields? One’s feet sink and stink (thanks to the cow manure)
with each step. Irish quicksand.

I discovered yet another delightful sealed, narrow access road around the cliffs. The road was, not surprisingly, called “The Cliff Road”.

During that walk from about 9.30 am to 2.30 pm , scudding grey rain clouds could be seen advancing across the sea towards me with a rainbow arching into the water. I was walking in bright sun, and then within seconds, I was drenched by a 10 minute downpour. The sun came out, the bitterly cold wind dried my trousers within half an hour. I had a rain jacket so my top half was dry!

I passed a unique circular stone “fort”. Actually it was an ancient farmer’s secure plot! This stone fortress was about 20m in diameter and had the remains of a square and circular building within. Fascinating.

As I walked the cliff road I watched as graceful soaring white sea birds circled in the updrafts of the cliffs and then plunged vertically like a dive bomber into the sea, to reappear several seconds later, presumably having speared a fish with their needle long beaks.

I was going to return to the same restaurant tonight to try the “House Platter for the Confused” but thought I should spread my tourist euro and went to one of the local
Pubs – The Fisherman’s Basket – and had the Trio of Seafood. My decision was vindicated, great food with some lobster meat, salmon,fish and a couple of crab claws! The crabs must have been on steroids!

Before I forget, my guesthouse in Waterville is clean and pleasant. Having had two amazing establishments to date, this one does tend to pale a little by comparison.

At breakfast a man, obviously a tourist, entered. I was about to try the friendly chat approach, asking him about his trip and from whence he came, when his mobile rang. His answering ring tone was ” I’ve been everywhere man”. He then spent about 20 minutes talking loudly to his mate. I remained silent and the more he talked the more I mentally calculated his roaming data costs with an inward sense of glee!

Tomorrow is my last stop with an extra day before Dublin on Thursday.

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Kenmare to Waterville

In some ways similar to the Great Ocean Road although not as spectacular or rugged. Basically keeping to the “main” road – again sharing with cars, so never entirely relaxed but my fluorescent jacket and rearview mirror, act as the religious equivalent of worry beads.

I have decided that riding in the middle of the left lane is better than keeping as far to the left edge as possible. Cars are forced to slow down on these very narrow roads. I have deduced that the most aggressive drivers are Audi owners or tradesmen in vans! “Paddy’s Plumbing” or “Eamon’s Electrical Services” or “Ryan’s Radiator Repairs”…all serious sideswipers – we have them in Australia!

Sneem is a sleepy little village serial winner of the “tidy town” competition. I am so relaxed for many reasons: the sun is shining, the bakery at which I sit is reminiscent of the bakeries in the Hills, the fruit scroll is moist and warm and the coffee not unreasonable. I am so easy to please, really! All the Irish villages seem to have a Dulux paint competition as the houses are painted in all the colours of the rainbow. It is quaint and not as gaudy as it may sound or look. An ancient stone arch bridge over a cascading river runs through the village.

It’s a Sunday morning and a few cyclists appeared – look like locals on road bikes out for a spin. Having said that I have not been impressed by any obvious large numbers of touring cyclists. The relative quiet of the roads may be due to the fact it is a Sunday but more importantly, as has been explained, it’s the Irish football grand final – although calling it “football” in the pub would place my life in mortal danger.

Today the road tended to hug the coast, beach on left and gentle slopes of verdant green with stone fenced fields and sheep with wool as white as snow. A smell of grass often newly mowed, a persistent sweet herbaceous scent with a subtle mixture of fresh sheep droppings. Could well be an Adelaide Hills Savignon Blanc.

Every house, church and village square has acres of lawn as green and well manicured as a bowling green, but I am yet to see even one lawn mower.

At O’Connor Beach an Irish couple, retired I would venture, were paddling in the sea, as i did too – Freezing cold water. As is my custom I struck up a conversation – my opening line is usually “can you tell me if this is the road to …”

They were exceedingly helpful but sadly not quite enough, as I missed the turn off to the national park. Anyway I asked if they lived locally? Oh no they explained, this is our first trip back here in 35 years! Oh, I exclaimed, to where did you migrate? (surely it had to be Australia or America). No, the wife explained, we live in Cork. You don’t need to check the Atlas, Cork is about 155 km away!

I started today from Kemare. The Official “local” weather on the iPhone (admittedly provided by Yahoo) showed cloud and rain from 3pm. Well today was the best sunny day to date at 3 pm, 4pm and even 6pm! The weather app has the facility to show the local weather by the hour on the actual day! Perhaps the Yahoo weather app development team had a major part to play in the new Apple Maps app?

Speaking of that Apple stuff up, apparently it identifies a cattle farm somewhere in Ireland as a “major airport”. This provoked concern from the farmer, who was understandably upset that a 747 Jumbo taxi-ing up to the milking shed, would upset his cows. Whilst the Irish press suggested that this may lead to pilots using their iPhone Maps app to navigate and hence line up on final approach to the diary farm. If Aer Lingus pilots are using iPhones in the cockpit to navigate, change airlines immediately! Moreover I am unable to verify if the press reaction suggesting pilots using the Maps app was tongue in cheek or serious. Remember I am in Ireland!

The final gentle Pass to Waterville was just as awe inspiring as the others over the last few days, the more so as the sun was actually shining.

Tonight I dined at The “An-Corcan” restaurant an establishment rating 4 or 5 stars in Trip Advisor. It has the atmosphere of an American cafe from the deep south. Mostly locals, vinyl table cloth, and a menu item that states: “a platter for the confused”! As I was not sure what I should have, I ordered the lemon sole and will have the platter tomorrow, assuming I remember. The background music is country and western, no Irish fiddle here.

Again the Yahoo local weather app suggests a veritable gale tomorrow! The plan is, or was, to take a boat trip to a remote island in the bay. The guest house owner explained that we can’t make plans until the morning, something to do with the “swell” and the boat being able to dock. We shall see.

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The Beara Peninsula

Another wonderful cycle route, it’s 12.30 and the sun is struggling to peek through the clouds. It is so much more enjoyable on a bike if the weather is likewise. I am seriously contemplating stripping off a layer of clothes.

I am sitting at the Ardgroom (name of village) local store on the shoreline they offer a bowl of Ardgroom mussels for 6 Euro and throw in a glass of “organic” wine – all up 10 euro .

I must say the Irish do know how to bake scones. I skipped the mussels – shall have them tonight

A couple of Irish MAMILS have entered cafe, they are aiming for 80 miles. We bonded although so strong was their Irish brogue that at times I needed them to translate.

The ride today is quite lovely with beautiful sea villages on the right then on the left tropical like forests of tracks and roads lined with rampant rhododendrons, holly bushes, wild fuchsia and stone fences covered in lichen, ferns and wild blackberry bushes. Nothing like stopping and sampling a wild blackberry. I took a brief side trip to the Glanmore Lake through shady narrow roads so green and overgrown, expecting a hobbit or leprechaun to suddenly dash across the road.

The rain forests are very similar in many respects to our rain forests of parks such as the Otway Ranges, the major difference is the ambient temperature and the rather chilly breeze here in Ireland.

Stopped at Castletownbere for lunch – Chowder. My food philosophy has been to sample as much seafood as I can cause its obviously a fishing region and seafood restaurants are surpassed in number only by the pubs. The first chowder I tried had lots of seafood but the soup base much too thin. Today’s chowder much thicker, sadly thanks to cornflower.

The label “home cooked soup” often is as valid as the labelling “made in Australia” when the product has been “assembled” but from imported parts. In the case of soup, it’s a dead give away of the use of a packet base when the soup has a distinct cornflower/arrowroot texture and all the diced “bits”, be it carrot, chicken, beef, bacon are uniformly 4mm cubes! The claim that it’s home made alludes to the extra bits of fresh whatever thrown in as it is heated up. My “home made” chowder was definitely of this type.

I cycled 125 km today and the pinnacle, literally and figuratively was Healy Pass. The ascent was slow and gentle through alpine fields, similar to yesterday and with a moderate tail wind! Heaven. Then the panorama on each side was spellbinding. One looks from County Kerry on one side and County Cork on the other. Rather than use words, totally inadequate., hopefully a panorama or two may suffice.

Then a descent, and final 20 km back to Kenmare and a cone of local ice-cream – chocolate and mocca!

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Kenmare

Same old story, lost within the first 2km! Then lost again crossing a golf course. Indeed at one stage I was pushing my bike, on foot, through the most daunting mud bog in all of Christendom! Ireland is, I now state categorically, permanently “moist”.

Grey, misty drizzle today constant and so not really enjoyable on the bike. Oil on the legs seemed to help. The locals reassure me it’s a front passing through by “lunch”. I am at Kate’s Cottage Cafe by an open fire. It’s really a pub , the adjoining restaurant/cafeteria is in darkness. Kate is renowned in all of Ireland for her scones!

For the heterosexual male readers, “scones” is NOT an an Irish euphemism for anything other than the delightful warm ubiquitous baked damper!

Sadly I will never be able to confirm this, (that is that Kate’s scones are a taste sensation).

Trusting Paddy’s weather prediction, I decided to pull up a chair by the fire for a while to dry socks, shoes and my ragged damp route notes for the day’s ride. One has to be extremely careful with wet paper – limp and wet it disintegrates like the self destructing messages in “Mission Impossible”.

The drizzle abated and I set off having observed a fellow cyclist travelling in the opposite direction. He had a very heavy load on his BMX – 2 monstrous side panniers and an equally large back pack. No wonder he needed a quiet smoke before he set off down the mount.

The track today from the scone-less Kate’s Cafeteria, was awesome! Sure it was misty – it added to the charm and the drizzle did dry up! I cycled up a gentle incline for a few kilometers on a rather pot-holed narrow road meeting several horse and carts ( with Irish driver I hasten to add). It was isolated and gently undulating. Cold, cascading mountain streams with glistening black rocks and trees all covered in dewy moss and lichen. My peaceful and serene state in part due to the fact that there was absolutely no way I could get lost other than turning hard left into a mountain lake, precipitously right plunging down a ravine or turn up a path to a stone cottage, knee deep in cow shit!

Reaching the Gap of Dunloe, and passing a mountain lake, came a spell binding descent for a few kilometers into Black Valley. Not because of any speed, rather simply the evolving panorama as the track was narrow, potholed and twisted and turned into the valley below. On the way up and down, mountain streams were crossed by quaint ancient stone arch bridges.

One felt irritated and mildy peeved when the occasional car appeared as it was so unexpected and almost inappropriate. They had no right to be there. Paddy in his horse and cart, cyclists and bush walkers – it was our territory.

I was really taken aback when a small car stopped me as I was checking my route (it was an intersection) and 4 Irishmen asked the way to Killarney! They were sober. I laughed at the incongruity of a non Irish tourist, without a smidgen of navigation skills being accosted on remote isolated byway by a car load of lost locals. I told them there were only two options “that way to Kenmare the opposite to Killarney”!

I felt rather smug!

The route having taken me via the Gap of Dunloe, the second pass was at Moll’s Pass – I had ridden to this same mountain pass yesterday by a different approach – a main road. On both occasions I stopped for lunch and today rode like the wind down to Kenmare, my village for the next 2 days. Thank God for my rear view mirror.

I fear I am the only Australian tourist. The only other travelers have been American. It seems they come for one of two reasons – because of their Irish roots or groups of men to work their way around several golf courses.

Yesterday was overcast, cool and moist but no actual rain. An Irish couple at a cafe by the lake, establishing that I had come from Australia, asked me how much longer I was staying? A week I said and they were effusive in their thanks that I had brought “such lovely weather” and that they were happy in the knowledge that the the fine weather was to last “for another week”! They were genuine in their praise as I was in my surprise!

Tomorrow I explore the Beara Peninsula Loop, with 3 options of 50 km, 100km or 136km. Shall check weather forecast before committing.

In summary today was a great day on many levels, even allowing for the weather.

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