Planning a cycle this weekend? THÉRÈSE QUINN shares the best coastal cycling routes in Ireland – and the essential coffee stops along the way …
I cycle with the “CycoBelles”, a very select group of ladies. At this time of year we aim to get out a couple of times a week for fitness, therapy, leisure and pleasure all in one go. Close to home, one of our regular routes is to follow the coast from Monkstown, out along Bullock and Coliemore Harbours, up Killiney Hill, over to Rathmichael, past the Lead Mines, up to Johnny Fox’s and across over to Enniskery via The Devil’s Elbow. While there are some vicious hills along the way, we are sustained by the fabulous scenery, from the Sorrento-esque coast of Killiney, where the houses on the Vico Road are sensationally aspirational, fabulously detached and shrouded in scented eucalyptus trees and mysterious cypress trees ensuring privacy for their owners.
It doesn’t take long to get into the deepest countryside where we frequently give way to passers-by on horseback and we are always amazed at how rural life is just a stone’s throw from the city. If we are feeling very brave we’ll push up to the Sallygap and it’s like being on a different planet, there is absolutely no sign of habitation – the emptiness of the wild landscape is staggering.
The highlight of our cycles is always lashings of coffee and cake; we try to get most of the work done and then loop back to The Gables in Foxrock, unkempt and smelly in our cycling gear, cringing while the local matrons glide in and out immaculately groomed and beautifully dressed. On a sunny day, we often head over to Whelehans and indulge in a glass of delicious rosé which makes the cycle feel like a holiday.
Another spin we enjoy is out over Bray Head and through the back roads to Delgany and onwards to Greystones where the draw is not only the “healthy” treats in the Happy Pear but also a sniff around some of the great boutiques – indeed we now know that the back pockets of a cycle jersey are perfectly made to fit a shoe or two …
However, my favourite cycle of all is in south west Kerry, where we set out from Valentia Island, taking in heart-stopping views of the Blaskets and the Skelligs, pausing only to let a herd of cows go to milking. We then cross over into the colourful village of Portmagee, and climb up through the “Glen”, dropping down into St Finian’s Bay, where the rollers roar in off the Atlantic and the salty tang competes with the tantalising aromas from Skellig Chocolate makers; a pit stop is essential to fuel up for the hills. We cycle on through Ballinskelligs, stopping off for coffee and scones at the Cill Rillaig Art Gallery where we can feast on the fabulous paintings and sculptures under the watchful eye of Noelle Campbell-Sharp. Onwards to Waterville and we turn inland up the daunting Ballagh Beama Pass, where streams tumble down mossy and wild mountains and the only traffic hazard is the odd leaping sheep and the 13 per cent gradient of the road. The beauty and drama of the landscape is cathartic and nothing clears and stills the mind quite as perfectly. A welcome and thrilling descent brings us through Cahirciveen, where we do our best not to stop for pastries at Petit Délice or indeed QuinlanCooks for its world-class food and hospitality. We try to kick on and get nearer home to Renard Point, where the renowned Bridie O’Neill of the The Point seafood bar serves us delicious crab and squid washed down with cold white wine, essential to sustain us on our journey back to the island via the famed ferry.
On reflection, refreshments feature rather a lot on our cycles. While we have enjoyed some seriously delicious touring in Spain and Italy, nothing quite compares to the quiet and beautiful cycling right on our doorstep, and of course the cafés, the occasional glass of wine and the odd bit of shopping. It’s magical really and I can’t imagine summertime without it.
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