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.
At 79 miles this was planned to be our longest day, and given that a few of us were struggling at the very start with stiff legs, the initially climb out of Doolin was a bit of a shock. But once the legs loosened out a bit it turned out to be a cracking first half of the day. Even though it was a little overcast, the cycle along the coast was fantastic. I was expecting more hills, so it was a nice surprise to find a pretty flat spin on the way into Kinvara, even if we had an easterly headwind on the run into Ballyvaughan.
After some really rough roads, and a surprising sharp little wall of a climb (the first time I had to get off the bike), outside Bell Harbour, we eventually made Kinvara. We had lunch in Kinvara, but by the time we got back on the road again it was 2 o’clock and we had 50 miles left. But from Kilcolgan all the way the Claremorris we were now on main roads, with a hard shoulder and what was now a tail wind. so for the next we hours we started making a decent pace.
Apart from an absolutely torrential downpour (we were lucky we were less than 1/2 mile from a tree) the journey into Claremorris was pretty uneventful. We arrived at the B&B (Ashlawn House) around 6, and while initially quiet, the owner had no trouble at all in letting us wash our gear.
Once sorted we strolled into town for some food. To be honest we were expecting very little of the food in Claremorris, but we had definitely a memorable night. First off we ate in the Old Arch restaurant, and the food and wine was simply fantastic! Not a morsel left on any plate, the staff were brilliant, very well trained and very friendly. It really was brilliant food.
Once we had our fill of steak and merlot, it was off to potter around town, to find somewhere for a decent pint. We were strolling around, ignoring all the obvious choices, when Martin suddenly said “lads, I think I saw a pub at the back of that shop”. And so he did. A brilliant little gem of a place, PJ Byrnes. At first we were eyed with suspicion (only about 3 in the bar), but it was exactly what we were looking for. Quiet, but with really friendly locals and fantastic Guinness. By the end of the night they were chatting away, telling us about how they had fought the law and they won! (after hours serving was the crime…pfft!). This little pub was a real highlight, they even signed a postcard of the pub, to the wish us luck and if that wasn’t enough Dick stood a round to us. These were exactly the sort of experiences that we had hoped for, and were an undoubted highlight of the trip