As prophecies go, this was a cracker. So you are going to the Beara Peninsula?” remarked a Dubliner on a crowded train. She gazed beyond our smoky carriage to the hazy Wicklow Mountains, as Dublin’s light industry gave way to cows and fields. “Good food, good drink, good craic down there. You’ll have a grand time.”
I was heading to Killarney in south-west Ireland for a four-day cycle safari, crossing from Kerry into Cork and hugging some sublime coastline around the Beara Peninsula. Twenty of us, from teenagers to aid workers and web consultants, would then head inland past lamb-filled fields to the mountainous Gougane Barra National Park, complete with waterfalls and lakes.
Our guide, Pat, a softly spoken massage therapist from Cork, would be driving a van with our luggage and carrying a mobile to save those who couldn’t face any longer without a pint. Although you only need average fitness to cope, I soon understood why they don’t encourage young children – offspring that whine “how much further?” could scoop Oscars on these open roads and hills.
Passing historic homes and deserted lakes on the first morning, the road veered uphill to Ladies View, christened when Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting declared that they were amused by the mountains in 1861. After 17 miles, we stopped for lunch at a café that does a brisk trade in restoring lungs.
Only myself, Suzi – a young New Zealander – and her mother were newcomers to the safaris. Julian, a 36-year-old web consultant and veteran of eight tours, kept stopping outside cottages with ideas of buying one. Dubliners Morna and her brother Thomas were escaping mass back home.
After the moderate afternoon option of 17 miles between hills and alongside oak woods and a sea channel dotted with enticing-looking islands, we neared Kenmare. The roads were eerily quiet and most of Ireland seemed to be in church, apart from an amorous couple snogging in a parked car down by the water. The bars dotted between brightly painted houses were closed but I discovered a hotel that was flirting with the rules. The barman handed me a Guinness and explained the deal: “You’re in room 53 if the Gardai [Irish police force] check. It’s residents only for the dark stuff on Good Friday.”
Over a supper of excellent mussels and salmon in a bar, Julian’s face took on a dreamy aspect. “I’ve had a lovely day,” he sighed.
By day two the seafood had gone to my head and after 15 miles to Teddy O’Sullivans pub for lunch, I picked an optional 13-mile killer around a hilly peninsula. After hours of wind, rain and an angry sea battering the jagged coast, on one of his sweeps in the van Pat found me delirious and muttering about chocolate in the village shop at Eyeries.
The rain continued unabated the following morning, after a night of “sláinte” (Gaelic for cheers) in the bars of Castletownbere, a fishing town on the south coast.
The sea had vanished into murk as we trundled onwards with heads down. I burned my socks over an open fire in Glengariff on the lunch stop, feasted on toasted sandwiches and soup and transferred half the Atlantic to the pub floor.
The only thing left to worry about – apart from the state of the pub floor – was not crying like a baby when you got back in the saddle after lunch and your buttocks announced that they needed a holiday.