Ireland – Wales – England – Channel Islands – France (1,335 km)
Shannon – Tralee – Lismore – Tramore – Enniscorthy – Rosslare (524 km)
Our friends Joan and Peter decided to tie the auld knot and we were summonsed to their shindig in Tralee. A summons we gladly accepted. In true gone bike about spirit, we decided to bring the bikes and see how far we’d get in a few weeks.
Ryan Air saw us to Shannon and two days along the scenic north shore of the Shannon estuary followed by a stunt on the wild Atlantic coast brought us to the beautiful Banna beach campground, 10 km from the wedding venue.
Placenames in Ireland tell a whole story and Co. Clare is no exception. We passed through Kildysart (Cill Diseart = The church of the desert) aptly named because of the barren location of the church founded there many centuries ago. Labashida (leaba shíoda = bed of silk) earned its name from a sea captain who was hosted by the locals during a rough storm on the estuary.
Unfortunately, emigration has hit all of these small towns badly, resulting in a lot of vacant houses. Labasheeda residents have put in a lot of effort to cheer up these dreary homes with murals depicting local scenes (painted by the primary school children) and window boxes galore bounding with colour.
After two glorious days on the coast, torrential downpours on the morning of the wedding forced us to cycle in our full rain gear to the hotel. Operation transformation had to be employed and we didn’t scrub up too badly, did we? Joan and Peter looked fab and we had a great catch up with former colleagues from the international school in St Gallen, Switzerland.
From here, our route took us cross-country to the ferry port in Rosslare, Co. Wexford with tail wind and sunshine most of the way. Pastures of north Cork, the Copper coast in Co. Waterford and castles a dime a dozen made for very pleasant cycling.
The Copper Coast, Co Waterford
The emigrant flame in New Ross, Co. Wexford was lit with fire taken from the eternal flame at the graveside of President John F. Kennedy in Virginia USA, whose ancestors hailed from this area. The flame burns permanently within a globe monument to remember emigrants throughout the world.
Our friends Sheila and Michael wined and dined us outside Enniscorthy, while Kathleen, Marty and Muireann treated us on our last night in Rosslare.
Our alternative route did not follow any official bike route until we hit the Sean Kelly route 4, named after the Waterford tour de France hopeful from the 1980s.
We managed to find loads of quiet country roads and when we were on the main drags, generous hard shoulders made it quite pleasant. Thumbs up from a cyclist’s point of view!
Pembroke dock – Tenby – Kidwelly – Gower Peninsula – Swansea (179 km)
A tranquil 4-hour crossing brought us across the Irish Sea to Pembroke Dock, from where we cycled the scenic south coast taking in Victorian towns, medieval castles and amazing nature reserves with friendly, helpful, entertaining locals all the way.
Our stove pump gave up the ghost in Kidwelly. Ian, our campground host, went way beyond his call of duty by investing a few hours in his workshop and then driving us back to Camarthen for a replacement. Much appreciated, Ian.
On the upside, with a broken stove you don’t feel bad about having Indian takeaway delivered right to the tent.
The Gower peninsula, renowned for its scenic unspoilt beauty is certainly designed for hikers and not bikers. At least on weekends, with the volume of traffic, you don’t really want to be on those narrow roads. We checked into the first campground we saw and took to the hiking trails, which were the business with magnificent views.
On the Gower Peninsula
The Gower is also renowned for its weather, which we realised when we woke up in a puddle the next morning. A good two hours in driving rain and head wind was a hard slog to the comfort of a warm and dry hotel room in Swansea. The hair-dryer was employed to dry soaked shoes and trousers, before Kurt invested in some serious new rain gear. The forecast for the next day wasn’t any better, so we saved two days on the bike by taking the train to Bristol.
Wales is definitely a hikers’ paradise with trails following most of its marvellous coastline for 100s of miles. It’s a different story for cyclists, however, who have to choose between steep narrow 16% inclines on quiet roads or busy main drags with no hard shoulder. Pity.
Bristol – Cheddar – Wells – Glastonbury – Dorcheste – Poole
Our afternoon in Bristol was spent chasing Banksy street art all over town. This local elusive artist’s works are now bought for hundreds of thousands of pounds. Surprisingly, he has managed to maintain his anonymity until today.
Stokes Croft, Bristol’s cultural quarter, has graffitti and street art to beat the band and in broad daylight, wanabe Banksys can be seen busy with their spray cans on every street corner. However, the area has become so trendy, the local artists are being priced out of the housing market. The chances are these artists will be forced to pick another suburb to initiate more gentrification!
For those interested in less thought-provoking art, Shaun in the city consisted of 70 Shaun the Sheep sculptures dotted around the city throughout the summer, before being auctioned off to raise money for children in UK hospitals.
When Darina feels like a taste of home, she always goes in search of good mature red cheddar cheese. So, not stopping at cheddar village was no option. Little did we know that the half of England were intent on having a tasty cheddar cheese sandwich in Cheddar. But we also discovered that it has an absolutely fabulous gorge and that cheddar jacket potatoes aren’t bad either.
The Cheddar Gorge
Renowned to have one of England’s most beautiful cathedrals, Wells was next on our agenda. Rocking up late afternoon, we headed straight for the church spire and were somewhat non-plussed with what we encountered. That was until Darina scrutinised a map on display outside to discover we were on the wrong side of town!
A Calorie breakdown of each dish was outlined on our pub grub menu in Wells. Darina ordered the full rack of pork ribs with all the extras, clocking up 2,131 Calories. Now, the recommended daily intake, according to the National Health Service in the UK, is 2,000 Calories for women. Hmmm! Should she skip on the coleslaw? What does the cycling calculator say? Weighing about 60kg and cycling for 4 hours at about 15kmph, she burns up 1,440 Calories. Considering that the brain is responsible for about 20% of our daily Calories burnt, that leaves her with a mere 291 Calories to entertain Kurt. Just as well she had breakfast too!
Menus with calorie counts really do put you thinking
Glastonbury, famous for its open air music festival, is a hive of activity including witchcraft, tarot readings and other alternative awareness programmes. We arrived just in time to witness glittering goddesses in flowing gowns participating in the Goddess conference and woman spirit exhibition.
Eight years after out beach wedding in Costa Rica, we were delighted to meet up with our bride’s maid and best man, Liam and Claire. It was a lively full house with their two boys, Ruan and Ty and Claire’s Mum, Elaine. Needless to say we had lots to talk about!
Our idea of casually rocking up to the port and jumping on a ferry to the Channel Islands was innocent to say the least. With school holidays staring on Aug 1st, we had to make do with the last two seats on the 3am ferry from Poole to Guernsey. But, it was well worth the wait – Guernsey was like heaven on earth!
You have to hand it to the English for their sense of humour!
The Channel Islands
Guernsey – Sark – Jersey (156 km)
The Channel Islands are special in that they are neither part of the UK nor the EU, but considered the British Isles and residents have a European passport. Most people associate Guernsey and Jersey with offshore bank accounts and money laundering. Because we happen to live in another offshore bank haven, and spend our hard-earned cash on travel and bicycles rather than filling bank accounts, those services were of little interest to us! However, we were mega impressed with the scenery, especially in Guernsey and Sark.
White sand beaches, steep cliffs, colourful gardens, quiet country roads and very friendly people make Guernsey a beautiful stop over.
Car-free Sark, is quaint with its dirt roads, hiking trails, horses and traps. It also happens to be the world’s first Dark Sky Island, ideal for star gazing. We managed to walk it in a day, taking in the Sarkhenge, erected some three years ago!
Jersey is that bit more commercial, with more tourism, but also boasts pretty corners. What made our visit all the more interesting was the German underground military hospital with has been converted into an impressive museum depicting the plight of the islanders and imported slave labourers under German occupation during World War 2.
St.Malo – Le Mont St Michel – Saint Lo – Omaha Beach – Bayeux (251 km)
Another ferry later and we were in St Malo, Brittany. There we enjoyed moules frites local style with apple, bacon and cider. Très très bon! And we cycled past France’s second most visited tourist attraction: Mont St Michel.
Our trip came to a close near Omaha Beach, where allied forces landed on D-Day in 1944 to bring World War 2 to an end. Visiting the American cemetery complex was a very moving experience, in which we learned how 9,000 brave young hopefuls lost their lives so we could all live happily every after.
Charming Bayeux – the first French town liberated from Nazi Germany
From there, St Gallen was just a 12-hour train ride away… with a half-hour cycle across Paris to change train stations on the way! This trip was not only a geographical cross-section, but also a culinary eye-opener. Kurt finally came to the conclusion that mushy peas are actually not all that bad and do happen to add a je ne sais quoi to the humble staple fish ‘n chips.