More from Tara in Ireland…

In the logistical craziness of the days and weeks that led up to my departure for Ireland, I would occasionally imagine myself, standing astride a bike and gazing off at emerald green fields rolling down to a rocky coastline and the endless ocean beyond. This vision reminded me of what I was working towards and convinced me that it would all be worthwhile in the end.

Never, in any of my daydreams, did I imagine that as I stood looking at the ocean, I would be completely wet.

Totally, thoroughly drenched. Down to my underwear!

The rains started my first day of cycling. I got off the bus at Bantry and found that I had arrived on the day of the town market. I trolled the wares displayed in the town square (junk from people’s attic in foreign countries always being more interesting than junk from attics back home). I fell in love with an antique coal scuttle but realized it wouldn’t quite fit on the back of my bike, and passed it by.

I did buy some bread at the stall of a French man who was making crepes for the local kids. This part of Ireland has a lot of European immigrants (“blow-ins,” the local Irish call them) who started moving over in the 70’s and buying houses cheap, and also a lot of European tourists as the ferry from France docks at Cork. You hear mainly French and German being spoken in the streets, and the bread I bought was some of the best I’ve ever tasted.

The town of Glengariff marks the entrance to the Beara Peninsula
The town of Glengariff marks the entrance to the Beara Peninsula

Fully provisioned, I set out to cycle to Glengariff, 10 miles away, where I would begin the Beara Peninsula. The road wound along Bantry Bay and past open fields and through woodsey areas. I passed a pick-your-own mussel stand (you don’t actually pick them from the rocks yourself, but pick a bag of fresh mussels from a big bin and leave money in the little box provided). Finally, at about 2 p.m., I arrived in Glengariff, gateway to the Beara Peninsula.

And that’s where the rains began.

I was in the general store/post office when it started. I love the combination of store and post office you see here. I’ve also seen combination hardware store and pub and haberdashery and pub. It’s a great country where you can buy a pair of rubber boots and a pint of beer at the same time!

The rain started as a gentle mist. As I had plans to go on to Adriole, down the east side of the peninsula, I decided to put on my rain jacket and continue onward. Three minutes later the mist had turned into real rain, and I put on my rain pants. I hadn’t cycled in full raingear since I was in 6th grade when my mother made me wear bright yellow raingear we dubbed the “rubber ducky suit” which I hated. I was glad of the full raingear this time as it was really raining down.

A few kilometers later I saw a sign for a campgrounds and decided to take a look. It was a nice place, with campsites on beautiful green lawns, but I thought I could do just as well camping wild and decided to push on. That’s when I saw the sign: free hot showers. I instantly decided to stay.

It rained and poured all night, with thunder as well. The next morning it was still raining and I thought of staying in the tent all day. Unfortunately I had finished my book the night before and the idea of being cooped up all day in the tent with nothing to read was grim. Also, after a heavy night of rain, the tent was damp. I had slept with my cycling gear in my sleeping bag to dry it out, so I decided to pack everything up and just ride in the rain.

An hour and a half later, I wobbled back onto the road, my gear now heavier than before, due to the several quarts of water than had been absorbed in the night.

The scenery was beautiful though—fog shrouded mountain peaks, misty coastline and small coves with clusters of houses. It was rugged and beautiful with rough rock formations jutting out from the gorse and underbrush. Even in the rain, it was stunning.

So I rode onward, through Adriole, where the man at the general store/post office asked me, completely deadpan but with a twinkle in his eye, “Been avoiding the rain, have ye now,” as I stood, dripping water all over his floor. Adriole is one of two towns on the east side of the peninsula, the second being Castletownbere. I hoped to cycle the entire east side that day, and make it to Anhillies, at the tip of the peninsula by nightfall.

The Beara Peninsula has managed to stay off the tourist route, mainly because the roads are too narrow to allow for tour buses. Just north of Beara is the Ring of Kerry, another peninsula which has become “the” tourist route and is clogged with buses all summer long. Car tourists have discovered the Beara though and I saw a number of them, passing me by, and then stopping at scenic pull-outs and taking pictures before hurrying back into their cars and zooming off again.

I had no doubt they pitied me, their faces said as much, but as the day went on I began to pity them. In their rush and in their cars, they were missing some of the best things about the day: picking wild berries from a roadside embankment dripping in mist-covered ferns; the encouraging greetings yelled from old men in the fields; the tea house woman in Adriole who, when she heard I was cycling, insisted I take fruitcake with my tea and wouldn’t charge me for it; men on tractors who would tip their hats to me as we passed each other; the smell of camomile and honey in the air. Even in the misty wet, it was magical.

I pushed on through Castletownbere—the first town I had seen in two days with more than one street to it and as a result, a bit intimidating—and headed towards Anhillies and the tip of the peninsula. The riding was hilly, past small cottages and farms and hedges of red fuchsia in full bloom. The hills were still cloaked in mist and fog and the entire place looked mysterious.

Ten kilometers short of Anhillies, I took an old road that wound into the hills and into the mist. When I reached the top and began coasting downwards, I emerged from the fog and saw the small town laid out in a valley of quilted green farms below. It was gorgeous. As I freewhelled down into town, I belted out “Singing in the Rain” at the top of my lungs to the empty fields.

Anhilles sits at the tip of the Beara Peninsula
Anhilles sits at the tip of the Beara Peninsula

Half an hour later I was sitting in the pub in Anhillies, with a cup of tea and a pint of Guinness, cheering along with the town as Westmeath played Meath in soccer.

The Irish pub is a wonderful thing—part watering hole, part community center, part living room. The best ones I’ve been in have dogs and kids in them, although my California eyes were fairly shocked to watch an infant in the Anhillies pub be given as a plaything, first a beer coaster, and then an empty pack of cigarettes! But still, there is a feeling of community in these pubs that is great—there are also no secrets in a place like this.

Another wonderful thing is the Irish homestyle B&Bs. Not the ultra-quaint, Laura Ashley bedecked sort of place, these are simply people’s homes who have spare rooms (though I suspect a number of Irish children are displaced from their own rooms every summer) and take people in, particularly during the tourist season, to make some extra money. It’s nice being that close to a family experience.

That’s the sort of place I stayed at in Anhillies. With a wet tent, and soaked through myself, I wasn’t up to attempting to camp. Instead I followed a homemade sign to the Beach View B&B and ended up on the doorstep of Irene Harrington. She took me in, gave me a choice of rooms, and in the morning made me a full Irish Breakfast.

I can’t imagine eating a full Irish breakfast if I wasn’t on a bike. The ones I’ve had vary slightly, but usually include brown bread, toast, fried egg, bacon, sausages, grilled tomato, black pudding and juice, tea, and cereal. It’s overwhelming, to be honest, but it keeps me full until about 3 in the afternoon!

Road to Durnsey Island
Lo and behold a dry road!

The next day I rode, without bags, to the very, very tip of the peninsula and the cable car to Durnsey Island. Just off the tip of the Beara, Durnsey Island is home to six people, and a couple hundred sheep and cattle. Everything is transported by a gondola-type cable car, the only one in Ireland. Apparently you can transport one cow with two calves, six tourists, or up to 10 sheep at a time.

Back in Anhillies, I loaded up the bike again and set off up the west side of the Peninsula. Leaving the town, the coast became incredibly rocky and rugged. At times it was exactly as Mac had told me, “nothing but gorse on one side, the sea on the other.” It was incredibly beautiful. It was also incredibly gradient.

This part of the coast is the reason tour buses have not been able to make inroads into the Beara. The roads are unbelievably narrow and steep and, on a bike, intensely painful. They are also home to sheep who hang out on the road, and must be shooed off—easier said than done. They don’t see enough people to know what the proper reaction is to being “shooed.” It was pretty funny. The day was also rainy and misty, but by this time I had gotten used to being wet, and it wasn’t bothering me that much. The ocean was beautiful and I was just happy to be there.

There are three towns on the west side of the peninsula, but my goal for the night was Kenmare, at the head of the peninsula and a connector point to the Ring of Kerry. I rode through Eyries, where all the houses are painted different bright colors, and Adgroom, which is bedecked with flowers (mainly grown in a greenhouse due to the climate). Occasionally I would head off the main road to check out some stone circle or other archaeological site, but I never was actually able to find them, after bouncing along dirt roads and into farmers’ fields. The Beara is littered with archaeological sites, though I was never able to find any.

I considered stopping in Lauragh, but was enjoying the cycling so much I continued on, towards Kenmare and over another huge mountain. I had been biking for nearly ten hours at this point and knew I should stop soon. On the other side of the mountain, and 10 km before Kenmare, I reached some lakes, shrouded in mist and beautiful in grays and blues. Next to the road was a place called The Lake House—a pub, restaurant, and guest house. I decided to go in for some soup, before continuing on towards Kenmare.

Once in, I fell into the charge of the manager, Sean, a sweet man with a musical accent. He set me up with hot soup, freshly baked brown bread, a room for the night, a hot bath, and kindly agreed to wash my (very smelly) clothes in the laundry. I was so tired I could barely lift my arms up to wash my hair, and fell (literally) into bed. I don’t know if I’ve ever slept so well.

And the next morning, the rain continued.

Next: The Ring of Kerry



About Tara Austen Weaver:
Born to traveler parents, Tara Austen Weaver crossed her first international border at five weeks of age and has been hooked on travel ever since. To date, she has lived in five countries on three continents, including four and a half years spent in the mountains of Japan. She now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area where she works, plays, and commutes by bicycle across the Golden Gate Bridge.