Three weeks of sun, rain, narrow country roads, and some epic camp spots. The “Wild Atlantic Way” is full of historic sights and epic vistas to boot. Ireland didn’t hold back on letting us know why she is so green with some excessive rain but the beauty wasn’t spoilt, we still had our fair share of sunshine that let Ireland really show off just how stunning she can be.
We began the adventure in the most mundane of ways, a train to Holyhead followed by a ferry followed by a train to Cork, this was pretty much our first day of our trip done but we were keen to actually get some riding in our legs and to actually make it onto, or as close to the start of the Wild Atlantic Way as we could.
With little hesitation we navigated our way out of Cork and got started to refresh our legs on what this cycle touring was all about.
First nights in new countries are always an interesting one. We never have the feel for a place on just arriving, it usually takes a few days to acclimatise if you will to the norms and ideas of each country. This was fine on our previous trip, we had an infinite time scale in which to sus things out. We didn’t have this luxury in Ireland, luckily we found a classic cycle tourist camp in the shape of a bit of wasteland tucked away from the main road. We sat to try and get a feel for it but upon the sighting of a lone tent peg we decided this spot was good to go for our first night.
The next few days we were eased into the cycling easily, we hit the coast under blue skies and on quiet roads. Our camps consisted of farmers’ fields, where possible we asked for permission finding the farmers to be be more than hospitable with our requests. We were even allowed to camp on the cliffs at ‘Sheeps Head Penninsula’ which was lucky as when we arrived we were well and truly in white out conditions, and couldn’t see much. The morning broke bright clear gifting us the views we had been blind to the previous night.
We did experience the notorious Irish rain most nights but this was fine by us, hopefully we could keep up the pattern of riding all day under blue skies with only the occasional rogue grey cloud reminding us how different our trip could be going, only for it to storm during the night while we were safely tucked into our canvas castle.
Our pace was very relaxed over the first week, we were enjoying being back on the bikes, the normality of waking up each day and packing our life into our bags and onto our bikes. The logistics of getting water, public toilets are great in Ireland by the way, some even have showers and acquiring food that could be cooked on our stove. We slipped back into the lifestyle with ease and it was great to be doing this cycle touring thing again.
Our luck with the weather ran out around day 8, we had been getting a few spells of rain during the day but nothing unendurable, we opted to go for paid camping in Eyeries, mainly for a shower, our smell was beginning to offend each other not to mention the people we passed on the road.
We slept like babies, either because we were clean or because of the Murphy’s stout I had sampled in the local tavern, but awoke to heavy rain. We delayed the inevitable for as long as we could but had to pack up wet. The rest of the day was constant heavy rain. The only change in the weather was the intermittent spells of torrential rain to brake up the monotony of it all. The views were limited and the roads were at risk of becoming rivers, by the time we rolled/ floated into Kenmare we were done. Our first night under a roof was needed. Our room took on the appearance of a second hand clothes store while we found every available protrusion to hang our clothes and kit while the radiators were cranked to winter setting.
The Ring of Kerry, a famous stretch of the Wild Atlantic way, and one we were told could not be missed was attempted in what we were told was the worst time, a Bank Holiday! We were dubious about how good this so called ring would be, usually when people tell us a must see spot we find ourselves rather bemused and disappointed, often we have seen far better sights or had a more authentic experience in the places nobody knows about. All this being said our intended route went round the ring of Kerry so we did as well.
The road was busy with both cyclists and motorhomes, the downside of a Bank Holiday. The view spots were often packed with said motorhomes getting their photographs causing snaking trains of vehicles waiting their turn to pull over. Luckily we were on far nimbler modes of transport and could nip into all the stops with ease. The ring of Kerry was beautiful and I can see why people say you have to go, but, I would not put it on a pedestal above all the other sections. We had seen similar rugged coastline views and we continued to do so far after this particular stretch.
We did score an amazing camp spot on this section though. We found a slight dip of the side of a quiet side road and there, overlooking the crashing waves we were gifted to a burning sunset with the Skellig Islands as our backdrop, this section was pretty special and will definitely go down as a one of the highlights of our trip!
A few days with an old uni friend meant not only did we once again smell fresh but our clothes were also fit to be worn in public. From here the remote and storm battered rocky coastline began to give way to slightly more tranquil backdrop with small coves and secluded beaches becoming more accessible, many of which came our homes for the night. One such night we were so secluded that when we awoke our sand road we had ambled down was now under water, a bit of hike-a-bike along the sea defences saw us get back to the tarmac and be on our way.
That is until we reached the cliffs of Moher, this natural wonder towers above the sea some 260m in its highest spots; again being by bike means you skip the entrance fee that is charged in the car park. A stunning spectacle well worth the uphill battle to see. We spent an extra day around the cliffs and walked the coastal path from Doolin to get a different perspective and to avoid the mass of tourists, again well worth doing.
We made every effort to take in each and every peninsula, often adding 20-30km on to our distance only to make 5km headway as the crow flies but the quiet country lanes snaking between blackberry bushes and hugging the rocky coastline were worth it. We weren’t here to race, although on one day we did end up in the middle of a charity bike ride, we didn’t quite fit in with the carbon fibre steeds on fully loaded monstrosities.
The cliffs of Moher marked the end of our trip, we knew from here it was a days ride into Galway, a rather anticlimactic ride into our finishing point with a day of predominantly main roads meant we were glad to call to see it end. From here it was back to public transport, ending our trip in the same manor we started it.
The Wild Atlantic Way was far less remote than we had been expecting, I guess our experiences in foreign lands have spoilt our sense or remoteness but it was still an amazing road to ride all the same. The camping was plentiful and as long as you’re respectful the people of Ireland don’t seem to mind seeing a tent on bits of public land. If mother nature had really hit us with her full force this trip could well and truly have been a far wilder experience.
Photos by Danny Yates and Jessica Daniel