Our original plan had been to cycle from Ballyshannon past Letterkenny, just to leave us with a short day at the end, (circa 45 miles or so). But since Martin O’C was driving back up from Limerick to cycle the last day with us, we decided to have an easy day on Friday instead. Everybody was looking forward to a nice easy relaxing day, and that’s how it started.
Since we had a short day the lads wanted to break it up a bit, so our landlady at the B&B advised us to head through the town and head to Rossnowlagh beach. The street through Ballyshannon is pretty steep, so a shock to the legs first thing, but once through town we just spun away for a few miles, until we arrived at the beach. Stopping off at the beach was a great idea, it really helped break up the day. One of the drawbacks was a bunch of lads trying to change on a packed beach without any towels or swimwear. And as a certain member of the group found out (name withheld), you need to keep up a certain amount of momentum when cycling unto the sand, otherwise unfortunate dismounts can occur!
After an hour or so on the beach, it was back on the bikes, a handy spin 45 mile spin to Letterkenny. Morale was high in the camp, although there were a few tired legs, everyone was looking forward to getting to the B&B early, just to relax for a few hours. For the whole week while not killing ourselves with pace, we had very little downtime in the evenings: normally once checked in and showered it was normally straight out to dinner.
We stopped at a petrol station on the run into Donegal Town for a quick sandwich and then back on the bikes. Barnesmore Gap was the only climb of the day into Ballybofey, but it wasn’t as bad as expected, and once into Ballybofey we stopped for another coffee.
Unfortunately this is where things went awry. Long story short we missed the turn that was signposted for Letterkenny, and ended up staying on the road to Lifford. Since we had a westerly wind we had actually been tipping away at a nice pace, and it was only after about 7 miles we realised we were on the wrong track. The options were either to cut across country (over a narrow network of roads), or cycle back all the way to Ballybofey, and then pick up the right road. Getting advice from locals (obviously not cyclists!), we headed over cross country: big mistake! The route was quite narrow, with some really nasty, sharp little climbs.
and of course we missed a few other turns (the Irish just don’t do signposts). After about an hour and a half basically going round in circles, we eventually got back onto the right road (if you look at the garmin activity the detour is fairly obvious). Of course because we were expecting only a short spin, I didn’t eat enough, and the bonk hit on the final climb up to the top of the hill before Letterkenny. I must admit I was doing a lot of whining. But at least once we hit the top it was all downhill.
The descent into Letterkenny was expected to be the fastest descent of the week, and it lived up to the billing. Because I wasn’t overly happy with the braking with the extra weight on the bike (plus a few hit manholes on the way down), i kept my top speed to 39 mph. Mike hit about 47, the highest of the week, although Donal wasn’t far behind (very hard to read a cycle computer with your eyes running!). Fortunately the B&B (Burndale House) was just off the turn, and we were home for the day.
Once we had the usual shower etc we headed off to find what can only be the best hidden gem in Letterkenny, the restaurant Fantasia. Hidden inside an industrial park, we were convinced we were on the wrong track (once again), until we caught the waft of garlic bread. And were we in for a treat! A unit across from an NCT centre, the restaurant was very nicely decorated inside, and given the large crowd it’s obvious that’s it’s not that hidden to the locals! Every plate was cleared, many rounds of Peroni consumed, and to top off the dinner the waiter gave us a round of Citronella on the house. Fantastic!
Martin O’C and the girls arrived just as we were finishing dinner, and Mikes contact (who had suggested Fantasia), next recommended the Cottage pub on Main Street. I’ll spare the details, but a good night was had, and we were back home just after last orders.
On paper a long day, and this was made a lot longer by a headwind that was present for about 60 miles. Understandably after the previous night there was a slow start in the morning, but unfortunately a very heavy shower (10 minutes of absolutely torrential rain), made this a struggle. we didn’t even have time to get the raingear on when the downpour started, and had to head towards a cluster of trees for shelter. But we were soaked to the bone, and it took hours to dry out
We stopped at Charleston (after only 20 miles), in a nice little deli just off the main square, and had fine lunch (outside unfortunately, because we soaked and didn’t want to wreck the place inside). Because of the northerly wind the pace was slow, and we were wet can cold, so morale was fairly low, but we pushed on to Sligo, and despite another few showers we began to make some gains in speed, due to a slight downhill trend to the coast.
We got to Sligo just after 4, and stopped off at a petrol station just on the other side of town. At this stage morale was improving, and with the weather picking up and an end in sight we set for a bit of a pull out of Sligo. However we were still into the wind, and again we climbing for what felt like an hour (although it was in reality about 15 minutes!). Finally with about an hour to go the wind finally shifted to our favour, and because everyone just wanted to get to the B&B (Elm Brook) the lads started to lift the pace. For the last few miles from Bundoran to Ballyshannon the wind was fully at our backs and it was a relief to be able to just spin away in the big ring for once.
To be honest the day on the road was probably the least enjoyable, due to a lack of scenery and the weather, but as it happens because of the tailwinds at the end, combined with an urge to finish we actually finished the day with our highest average speed, of just over 15mph.
Karen, the owner of the B&B, was very friendly and obliging, and once again we were blessed to enjoy the hospitality of a great host. She very kindly put on a wash of our kit, and stowed the bikes away for the night. She also advised us to go to the Nirvana restaurant, but unfortunately it appeared we arrived on an off night. The food was average, and the 2 waiting staff were under pressure, and not overly-friendly (indeed the young waitress was making faces at another member of staff). Given the tiredness of everyone we just had a couple of pints and then headed home.