Cycling in Eire 2009

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Updated 03 June 2009




Janet wanted me out of the way for the Whitsun holiday week.

I left everything to four days before the holiday, then booked an air ticket to Knock in Ireland on impulse.

Norway (my favourite destination) is off the menu: the value of the UK pound has dropped by 20%. And Aer Lingus fly people to Knock for a third of the price of a ticket to Bodø, and can confirm space for your bike immediately when you telephone them to book. The bike costs 40 Euros for each flight.

Maps and Guides

This could be the "Blank On The Map" tour since none of the usual reference material I use has much to say about Connemara despite its obvious popluarity as a tourist destination. Knock is fairly close to the airport, but not marked on most maps (see it here on my local library was able to provide eight 1:50 000 scale maps of Connemara but three of the key ones were missing from the shelves. No tours in this area listed in the CTC Route Guide now that it has gone on-line (indeed, no coverage of tours in Eire!).

Departure Day - 24 May

Going on holiday when I was small was hugely exciting.

These days it's generally more anxiety at what will happen to the bike after I hand it over to the airline, but I have a well-practised ritual for preparing it, wrapping it in a big sheet of plastic from the builders' yard after removing the pedals and turning the handlebars. See previous notes for more ...

Gatwick Airport was the departure point. Aer Lingus have their own extension on the departure hall, which is a good thing, the main hall was jam packed with hundreds of stranded EasyJet passengers. The reason for their stranding was clear when I tried to check in - there was a power surge just before I arrived, which left both the North and South terminal buildings without baggage handling systems or air conditioning. The temperature in there soon soared to 30°C, making life harder for everyone inside trying to cope with the breakdown.

The check-in desk team couldn't take our bags, but did indicate that that my bike would only travel if it was inside a bike box. I was able to buy one from the left baggage shop next to Costa Coffee for the exhorbitant price of £17 - fortunately I had planned ahead and arrived with a big roll of parcel tape, and three long bungee cords for fixing the bike and bags to the luggage trolley, otherwise I'd have found the next steps even more stressful. While the staff wrestled to check in customers with no baggage conveyor system, I wrestled to get the bike into the box, having to remove the front rack, front wheel, and saddle in the process. The only mitigating factor for the box was that I could put some heavy items into it along with the bike before sealing it up, effectively giving me a small increase in weight allowance. Somehow I was able to get both items checked in before they closed the gate...

Bike and transit bag at Gatwick

Boxed bike and transit bag at Gatwick

The flight was delayed on the ground for nearly an hour while bags were loaded by hand, but both checked items made it on board.

Arrival in Knock was signalled by a rough landing in a strong crosswind after five minutes in thick rainclouds. The airport really is isolated - just a couple of buildings on the top of a ridge above the plains of Sligo. I was the last to leave the small arrivals hall because I had to partially re-assemble the bike there - the Customs man relaxed with a newspaper while I got to work on this, and afterwards he was happy to drag my empty bike box over to the corner of the room to wait for my return at the end of the week, because there was nowhere else to store the thing. Outside, the arrivals hall has a couple of car hire outlets, a bureau de change, a bar, and an ATM (out of order). No cold water in the toilets either for some reason, though the hot water was plentiful for cleaning the grime picked up on reassembling the bike off.

It was cold, windy, and wet in Knock, about 8°C after a hot and sunny morning in the UK; fortunately the rain stopped within minutes of arrival, and I was able to pedal off towards Swinford, the nearest town, to look for a Bed and Breakfast for the night. The ride was all on very quiet lanes with the scent of burning peat on the evening air, and along a route that reassured me that I'd chosen the right destination for the week - lovely countryside: dry stone walls, gorse bushes in bloom, houses scattered along the roadside, and lush green pasture for the cattle and sheep in the fields on either side of me. What surprised me though was the number of partially built new bungalows left with rusting JCB diggers outside.

Stopped just outside Swinford at the junction with the Barnacahoge road with the N26, where there's a petrol station with a Spa convenience store. This was reassuring. I was able to fill my MSR fuel bottle for 86 cents, top up my water bottles, and buy tinned tuna, bread, cheese, and spaghetti in case I couldn't find a bed for the night.

A short time later - after a couple of circuits of Swinford - I was tucked up out of the impending drizzle at the Deerpark Manor Guest House owned by Mrs Bridget Malloney (094 925 1078), for €45 - luxurious shower, plenty of space, TV and complementary tea and coffee. I was the only guest, but this is exceptional I think. It has lovely beds, too - I watched a bit of telly and turned in fairly early.


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