Into The West


The west coast of Cork has an eclectic collection of colourful villages and towns sitting pretty on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean and I recently visited many of them.

It was the weekend of Oxygen and the Galway Races but instead indulging in free spirited socialising in the midst of these cultural celebrations I decided to head for the hills on a solo 250km cycle.

My trip took me from Cork-Kinsale-Clonakilty-Skibbereen-Schull-Bantry-Dunmanway-Bandon-Cork.

I set off at 9am Saturday morning and sailed in scenic Kinsale at 10.30am. The weather was smashing. There was a gentle heat and a soft wind which made perfect cycling conditions.

I spent two hours in Kinsale, wandering around the shops and taking in the sights. I stopped for a coffee and a Kitkat at the Milk Market Café.  I ate at the silver tables in the open cobbled courtyard that centred the multitude of cafés that lined the square. I was accompanied by warm sunshine and surrounded by chit chat from enthusiastic tourists at the other tables.

Just before lunch I headed on to Clonakilty, another busy tourist spot with much to see and do.

The vast expanse of green fields surrounding the thin meandering roads that lead to the next sign of civilisation were all consuming.  It took me three hours to get to Clonakilty and it was three hours well spent.

The towns of Kilbritain and Timoleague were welcome stops on the route but the real attraction was the views when all signs of habitation were far from sight.

The contrast of theo flourishing wilderness to the fast paced bustle of Clonakilty was bewildering. The cycle had made me feel like I delving deeper and deeper into an isolated and untarnished existence.

Arriving in the tourist town brought the crushing reality that the coast is well known and adored for the very things I thought I alone had discovered.

I got an ice-cream and wandered the high street of pubs and restaurants, eventually stopping to rest in a small green just beyond the town centre.

I stretched out on the grass and soaked up the sun listening to a cluster of toddlers squealing and laughing as they ran through the water sprinklers at the other side of the square.

On to Skibbereen which was to be my resting point for the night. It was a straightforward cycle from Clonakilty to Skibbereen.

There was a good road and I just had to follow it, but the views were boring and 10km outside my resting place the heavens opened and steady rain fell for the remainder of my trip.

I was drenched and exhausted when I arrived in the quaint and colourful town of Skibbereen  which seemed to be the most traditional or old fashioned of my coastal stops. I found it a peaceful and quiet spot.

I went for a jog out of the town and followed sign posts to Tragnumna beach, a lovely secluded and picturesque beach.

When I got back to my accommodation I got cleaned up and intended to take a quick nap, before joining the margue gig organised downstairs in the attached Paragon Bar, but as soon as I let myself relax, the muscles throbbed with tiredness and I felt almost paralysed with exhaustion.

My 100km trek was catching me and I slept soundly till the morning.

The next morning I was back on the road at 9.30am and I arrived in Schull at 11am. Schull is my favourite town from the trip. There is a jovial atmosphere and modern feel to the town while remaining loyal to its West Cork culture.

On the way to Schull pier, I passed the Sunday morning market, where, among the artisan breads, jams and jewellery, a dog sat in a foldable chair, wearing a cape, helping to fundraise for the West Cork Animal Welfare charity.

The pier was a paradoxical scene of intense serenity and chaotic activity. Men were working furiously preparing a ferry for sail, people clustered together awaiting departure and around them a myriad of boats, in all shapes and sizes, floated listlessly in the waters.

Back in the town I stopped in a quaint rustic café called The Courtyard for a coffee. The joint was run by the most welcoming French man who whipped my heavy bag from my back into storage and showed me to table with cushioned seating, which, after 130km of cycling, I greatly appreciated.

Here I sat, sipping the most exquisite coffee, browsing the Sunday papers and scribbling an irrelevant note about my trip on a postcard that I would post to my mother when I was safely home.

On to Bantry, the pinnacle point of my trip. After this it was homeward bound.

Arriving in the majestic town, cloaked in history and tradition, I was enveloped with a serene satisfaction that stayed with me as I strolled the streets.

Having achieved my somewhat ambitious goal of cycling to Bantry I felt a great sense of achievement and it was a nice feeling.

The streets of Bantry were alive with people enjoying the August Bank Holiday BBQ festival. I spent the day wandering the busy town, tasting a local burger and enjoying some live Jazz in The Bantry Bay Hotel.

Later in the evening I went for a jog along the sea front and wandered off into the depths of hilly country before circling back into the main streets where a band was playing on a trailer in the middle of the street.

After my run I headed back into the town to properly experience the band. I had a few drinks with the locals and enjoyed the raucous festive atmosphere and acoustic music.

I finished the night sitting at a stool at the bar, drunkenly comparing Bruce Springsteen and U2 with a middle-aged electrician. I have little knowledge of either.

I was in bed by 1.30am. My bike and I were in Dunmanway, 30km towards home, by 10am the next morning.

The cycle to Dunmanway was particularly beautiful with several close ups of the wind mills, however I had run out of socks and the sweatiness was distracting.

I stopped in Bandon Park for my lunch. There were benches and well-kept flowerbeds along the banks of the river Bandon. It was so pretty I was reluctant to move on.

I was home by 3pm; the city never looked so good.

My holiday was the perfect mix of activity, serenity and scenery and I came back with a fresh enthusiasm for everything I had left in such an impulsive hurry.

The West Coast of Cork is a beautiful place with a lot to offer and I hope to visit it again soon, although next time I may drive.


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