Mantova • Campo Canoa
7-9 giugno 2024

Mantova • Campo Canoa
7-9 giugno 2024

FOUR GUINNESS, PLEASE!

martedì, 14 Maggio, 2024

In Ireland, I expected rain, and I got it.
I anticipated a more flat terrain, but there were hills everywhere you looked!
I expected to meet a lot of friendly people, but not this many. 
I expected my bike to be broken after the bumps it endured during the flight, but it arrived intact. 
I expected the highlight to be the Cliffs of Moher, legendary towering cliffs: they’re amazing. But there’s even better, much better!
I didn’t expect the green desert in Connemara, and I fell in love with it. 
I didn’t expect to become obsessed with Guinness, but it happened, and for the first time in years, for two weeks, I didn’t even drink a blond beer. Just a red one. The rest, Stout!

Summarizing a bike trip is hard, even if it’s only 2 weeks long, because you experience so much and all intensely, and you want to tell everything… but in the end, since everything revolves around a few simple things, I’ll only tell about those. Our journey along the west coast of Ireland gave me everything I want from a bike trip: adventure, fun, peace, bikeability, scenery, food, people (both those you bring with you and those you meet), and beer!

Thanks to the invaluable advice of a friend who lived there for 15 years, thanks to the web and Komoot, we chose to combine a mix of the best Ireland has to offer for our needs, concentrating every day in the saddle on the western territory, where we spent about ten days.

It’s early August, and here I am with my wife and two great friends.

Unlike some German tourists on vacation in Italy, who prefer to rent bikes on the spot and bring crates of beer from home, we bring our bikes to Ireland, but we prefer to rent local beer on the spot…

Arriving in Dublin with Ryanair, we move to Killarney by train (3 hours, 20 euros per person). We’ll visit Dublin on the last 2 days before returning to Italy. We leave the bags containing our steel travel companions at Donny Brooks bike shop, contacted in advance not only for this need but also in anticipation of any repairs. With Carla, it’s the fifth time we’ve taken bikes on a plane: we’ve learned to pack them well, but if you see how they’re treated, it’s upsetting and something can always happen… fortunately, the bikes arrive safe and sound, but I can’t reassemble the headset properly because I have those fancy bikeporn parts that get ruined just by looking at them, and the mechanism annoys me. The mechanic at Donny Brooks fixes everything for me, not without effort, losing 15 minutes, but he doesn’t ask for anything. “Enjoy Ireland,” he says. And I can’t wait to enjoy Ireland!

Officially, trains only accommodate 3 bikes at a time, but the train conductors are extremely kind and not rigid, so they let us load the fourth bike, putting it in the corridor.

We’re on the eve of the most important day of the year, the start of the adventure we’ve been longing for for months and finally, those names seen on the maps are now on the signs.

But it’s raining, it’s 17 degrees, and the forecast for tomorrow sucks. Screw it! Let’s go to the first pub: “four Guinness please.” Things are already looking up, we’ll worry about the rain tomorrow, for now, let’s toast!

We’re ready to go: we haven’t booked any place to sleep, we’ll see how it goes day by day, and we have a route that we’ll partly follow, partly leave to go to better places or who knows… not everything has to be planned. In fact, we change it right away: we decided to skip the famous Ring of Kerry, aiming for its cousin, the Dingle Peninsula, just north: but we discover the Black Valley near Killarney here (Cill Arne in Gaelic, here the official language everywhere – everything is written and said in two languages, with English). It seems like a very wild place, and we are also fascinated by the name, so our journey begins with a wonderful surprise, thanks also to the weather which is kind to us until evening.

We do a lot of off-road, many secondary roads, a natural park with a road in the middle of a lake, and a beautiful pass, the Gap of Danloe.

In a few hours, we’re finally in another dimension.

It starts raining, and after an hour under a decent downpour, we take shelter in a pub. Pubs are real inns, where there’s always something to eat, and often they have some rooms (fully booked at this time). While we wait for a hot soup or a sandwich, we search for a place to sleep on booking.com, but there’s nothing. Meanwhile, Trish, the lady who serves us at the pub, immediately asks where we’re from, where we’re going, etc., and where we’ll sleep tonight, and we don’t know. So she spontaneously starts helping us and provides us with phone numbers of private individuals she knows who rent rooms, and we call some and she calls some. Too kind, in the end, we find a place and finish the stage without rain in a guesthouse at the beginning of the Dingle Peninsula.

In the following days, aside from two half-days with rain, the weather was perfect for cycling, around 20°C, and we alternated stretches on the coast with others inland, pedaling a total of 620 km with 6500m elevation gain, while the route planned on the computer indicated only 4000m. The roads are perfect, but be careful to keep to the left and look the right way! Of course, we expected fewer climbs and less effort, but we feared more monotony both in terms of cycling and scenery, instead, everything exceeded expectations even from this point of view. We’ve seen famous and crowded places like Dingle, Galway, and the Cliffs of Moher, and a lot of simple beauty, the kind we particularly appreciate, traveling along a dry stone wall amidst the countryside. Particularly beautiful were also the bay of Westport and Doolin.

We ventured into some off-road trails, spending hours and hours alone, accompanied only by the inevitable greeting of the sheep. The terrain is particularly suitable for a bike trip, especially with gravel bikes: it’s all wild without being necessarily extreme, because there are no dangerous animals, and anyway, we’re in a developed country with very friendly people ready to help. However, the feeling of remoteness is very high, and you can easily spend half a day in the green desert without meeting anyone, so not even a bar or a fountain, between woods, endless dirt roads, and lakes where you can swim.

This happened in the Burren N.P. and then in Connemara, going from Galway to Westport.

We struggled to find somewhere to sleep, so I recommend planning a trip to Ireland not during the first two weeks of August because it’s peak season like here, and not like in other places in Northern Europe where it would be more like our September. With a desire to bring a tent, the opportunities to fully experience the outdoors are endless. However, we didn’t end up under a bridge, and between Airbnb stays in private family homes, simple guesthouses, and more refined accommodations, we always managed to settle in well. The breakfasts in these places are very generous and provide a lot of energy for a day of cycling!

Irish cuisine has improved a lot in general over the last 10 years; from fish & chips to seafood soup to many simple and sophisticated meat and potato dishes, we always ate very well in restaurants and pubs. Guinness was another pleasant surprise of the trip because it’s something different from the Guinness we drink here. It definitely became our fifth travel companion, always four Guinnesses please at the end of the ride and for dinner!

Various tips:

– Wait for the bartender to hand you the Guinness; they know when it’s ready.

– Strike up a conversation with someone at the pub, and if you’re shy or not fluent in English, have two pints and let yourself go.

– Avoid the N roads – very, very busy.

– Keep to the left!

– There are plenty of bike shops in towns, but they mainly do repairs and sell very standard products. However, as mentioned, the territory is so vast that you need to be self-sufficient: we only punctured once but broke the chain 70km from the first bike shop, so having the kit and spare parts to repair it on the spot was crucial.

– Sheep and cows everywhere attract midges and horseflies. It’s not a big problem, but it’s better to have some spray and anti-bite cream with you.

– Timeframe: avoid August, very expensive and B&Bs are always full; better in May, June, and July.

– With the Miss Grape bags I had (2 fork bags about 5 liters each + 1 handlebar bag about 12 liters + frame bag 5 liters + saddle bag 13 liters), I had everything behind me to pedal comfortably during the day in both warm and cold weather and to go out in the evening in jeans, a sweatshirt, a half-sleeve puffer jacket, with a pair of Gore-Tex shoes.

– You need complete and good waterproof equipment.

– In bikepacking, even the camera equipment must be compact, so unfortunately no DSLRs but two compact cameras.