Summer cycles: Two new books to guide you on your journeys

Whether in South Leinster or the south west, two new books will guide you on your journeys in the bicycle saddle, writes Dan MacCarthy.

The secret is out.

Cycling is booming and almost everyone appears to be at it. The new and incredibly popular Waterford Greenway is the latest jewel in Ireland’s greenway network. However, you don’t have to take to the greenways to explore some fabulous cycling routes.

Two new guide books by Collins Press bring the number of its cycling guides to three with more promised.

Cycling Kerry: Great Road Routes by Donnacha Clifford and David Elton covers more than 2,500km of roads in the county with some truly superb routes: Slea Head, King Puck Route, and three Wild Atlantic Way routes are real tempters.

Its better-known routes on the Iveragh, Dingle, and Beara peninsulas are complemented by a range of cycles in mid, south and north Kerry between 38km to 170km. The latter distance refers to the Ring of Kerry which the authors complete anti-clockwise.

The first thing that strikes you about the title of Cycling South Leinster — Great Road Routes (out at end of the month) by Turlough O’Brien is the directional noun.

South? There is such an abundance of cycling in this region that the publishers feel the province merits two cycling guides. North Leinster will feature next year.

And O’Brien certainly brings us to every twist and turn. Much of this book coincides with Ireland’s Ancient East and is a nice foil to the Wild Atlantic routes in the Kerry book.

Highlights here include The Curragh of Kildare; the Barrow/Nore Loop, and the Bog of Allen Circuit. An advantage that these cycles have is accessibility; most lie very close to the Cork-Dublin axis.

Here are three routes from Kerry and two from Leinster. They assume a reasonable level of fitness for the shorter routes and a high level of fitness for the longer ones.

Note: The grades correspond to a scale of one to five (easy to difficult). So, no excuses. Saddle up!

Note: The directions in this article are abridged in places. Please consult a map before and during cycling.

GAP OF DUNLOE

  • The Gap of Dunloe and the Black Valley Gap of Dunloe- Black Valley — Lough Brin — Moll’s Gap — Killarney — Gap of Dunloe
  • Location: Co Kerry
  • Grade: 4
  • Distance 73km:
  • Height gain: 1,076m
  • Duration: 3.5 to 4 hours.

The magnificent Gap of Dunloe really looks like the land that time forgot. Were it not for the strip of road running through here and the beautiful arched bridges, there is no evidence of human activity.

Of course a myriad of tourists tend to fill it up not to mention the lucky cyclists that decide to pass through its precipitous vaults.

Leaving Killarney on the Killorglin road, follow the signs for Kate Kearney’s Cottage/ Gap of Dunloe. Park here and cycle onwards and upwards. First point of interest is the Wishing Bridge — so make a wish!

Above to the left lies Purple Mountain — a brooding giant. Continue on a quiet winding road to the col or saddle at the end of the valley from where the Black Valley stretches out before you.

Careful on the descent and turn left at a fork in the road, pass the church and continue past a beautiful waterfall, bog, holly trees and a multiplicity of birds.

Continue along here and ignore signs for Killarney and Kenmare before climbing and then descending to the gorgeous Lough Brin. The road now sweeps along to the left before intersecting the busier R568.

Go left and this will take you to the famous Moll’s Gap. Stop for a pancake at the Strawberry Field Pancake Cottage. Now head towards Killarney on the N71 on what can only be described as a glorious road past lakes, woods and enticing paths.

Pass, or stop and visit, Ladies View, Torc Waterfall, Muckross House before a nice flat stretch into Killarney. Again seek the road to Killorglin and the road to Kate Kearney’s Cottage materialises after 7km.

EAST CARLOW CIRCUIT

  • East Carlow Circuit Tullow – Ardattin – Ballintemple – Clonegal – Aghowle – Clonmore – Tullow
  • Location: Counties Carlow and Wicklow
  • Grade: 4
  • Distance: 52km
  • Height gain: 611 metres
  • Duration: 2.5–3 hours

At 52km, this is a nice spin for the regular cyclist or a bit tougher for the beginner. The author promises a rural idyll far from the madding crowd and suggests many more tourists should be checking the area out than already do.

Start in Tullow, Co Carlow and head south along the Slaney Valley to the village of Ardattin. At a mere 6km on flat roads, you have an easy start. A right turn followed by a quick left brings you to the townland of Ballintemple, birthplace of one of the signatories of the US constitution, Pierce Butler.

The roads get narrower and more peaceful, says O’Brien, with proximity to the famous Altamont Gardens. After a short climb a spectacular view of the Slaney Valley opens up beneath the imposing Mount Leinster.

A short diversion to Kilcarry Bridge when the road intersects the L2024 is well worth it, he says. Turning left on this road shortly brings the rider to the ‘Switzerland of Ireland’ where counties Carlow, Wicklow and Wexford meet.

The plantation Huntington Castle is described as a must- see. The route now joins the Wicklow Way for a period starting from the L6049 before fetching up at Aghowle Church. Turn right at the Crab Lane pub and cycle till intersecting the R725.

Cross over and shoot down the hill in the direction of Clonmore village, site of one of Ireland’s most important early Christian settlements. Pass the castle and scoot home to Tullow.

For the adventurous there are options on this road after 7km, left and right, both of which lead back to base.

THE DAN PADDY FIGURE OF EIGHT

  • The Dan Paddy Andy Figure of Eight Maglass - Glanageenty - Dan Paddy Andy crossroads - Listowel - Knocknagoshel - Kielduff - Maglass
  • Location: Co Kerry
  • Grade: 4
  • Distance: 83km
  • Height gain: 950m
  • Duration: 3.5 to 4 hours

The Kerry peninsulas draw most people to their undoubted charms but there is plenty more to discover for the intrepid cyclist in the north of the county. This one is for experienced cyclists as the 950m of climbing is demanding but rewarding too.

The eponymous Dan Paddy Andy was a famous matchmaker who lived locally. From Tralee take the N21 towards Castleisland. Start at O’Riada’s bar, Maglass, Ballymacelligot.

Heading north, go left at a T-junction and turn right after 600m and follow the trailhead signs. A steep climb follows and you pass through the townland of Glanageenty — last refuge of the last knighted earl of Desmond who was beheaded near here in 1583. Free yourself from such ghoulish thoughts and climb again and go right at a crossroads marked ‘Captain Monteith Memorial’.

Pass the carpark and rise yet again. Passing through a native Irish woodland you intersect the Listowel to Castleisland road. Go left and cycle northwards. This brings you to the crossroads after which the route is named. Continue straight through towards Lyracrumpane. Along this road you pick up the busy N69 which carries you into Listowel and a good spot for a break.

Once refreshed, retrace your steps back across the river on the N69 towards Tralee and pick up the R555 on the left towards Abbeyfeale. After 4km turn right in the direction of Castleisland/ Cork.

Turn right at the Westering Inn towards Knocknagoshel. Cross the River Owveg, and take the left at a fork before a nice run back to our matchmaker’s crossroads. By now with 60km on the clock, strike through the crossroads in the direction of Tralee. Climb through a wooded area to a summit which offers stunning views of Tralee Bay, say Clifford and Elton.

A nice descent follows to Kielduff, 3.7km after which you make a sharp left. Continue to the next junction and go left again. Continue for 8km to Clogher village. Pass the Glanageenty trailhead and O’Riada’s pub is the next right. Home!

CAMP AND MAHAREES LOOP

  • Camp and Maharees Loop Camp — Gleann nGealt — Castlegregory — Maharees — Stradbally — Kilgobbin — Camp
  • Location: Co Kerry
  • Grade: 2/3
  • Distance: 48km
  • Height gain: 328m
  • Duration: 2 to 2.5 hours

This is a meandering cycle partly among the sand-dunes of the Maharees peninsula west of Tralee on the Dingle peninsula. A lovely, lazy day promises with mountains, sea, sand and lungfuls of fresh air.

Start at Lower Camp, 16km west of Tralee. Cycle left towards Annascaul through upper Camp and straight away stunning views are your reward. A kilometre after the village turn right for Foilatrisnig and descend into Gleann nGealt reminiscent of the lower Alps we are assured — streams, wild flowers and abundant foliage.

Descend the valley and go left at a T-Junction; another left after 500m; and a right at a derelict cottage when you meet the T-Junction. This leads to the R560 — head left towards Castlegregory.

Take a right after 800m as the maw of the Atlantic opens up in front of you. Up ahead a left takes you onto the Dingle Way and onwards to Castlegregory. Turn right at Tailors Road and straight through the crossroads to the Maharees.

The road hugs the harbour with wonderful views of Mount Brandon. Pass Spillane’s Bar and take a break at Fahamore Harbour and rest those weary spokes. Head back to the bar and after 500m go left. A mighty 6km ahead brings you back to Castlegregory.

Veer right to our next village: Stradbally. After the village turn left onto the R560 towards Camp/ Tralee. Some 3.5km after the Seven Hogs bar take a left towards the hamlet of Kilgobbin. The road twists now before rejoining the R560. The start is 1km to the left.

SLIEVE BLOOMS

  • Slieve Blooms – The Three Peaks Challenge Rosenallis – Glenbarrow – Clonaslee – Kinnitty – Camross – Ballyfin – Rosenallis
  • Location: Counties Laois and Offaly
  • Grade:5
  • Distance: 92km
  • Height gain: 1,363 metres
  • Duration: 5 to 5.5 hours

For the experienced cyclist, this one. With over 300m more than the height of Carrauntoohil containing three peaks over 92km, the route is a demanding but rewarding trip in counties Laois and Offaly.

If birdsong is your thing this is the place to be. An interest in cycling would help.

Start in Rosenallis which lies 15km north-west of Portlaoise. Nestled under the under- explored Slieve Bloom Mountains, the Quaker village of Rosenallis is our starting point.

Head towards the village of Glenbarrow before going right after 1.5km and left after another 1.5km.

This brings us to the source of Ireland’s second longest river, the mighty Barrow. Thereafter the road deteriorates for a bit. Well, no pain, no gain. O’Brien encourages the rider to dismount at the forest carpark, lock the back to a tree and walk up to the Glenbarrow falls.

A hidden gem, he says.

Back on the bike, and go left at the T-Junction which brings you to the village of Clonaslee via the enticing peaks of The Cut, The WolfTrap and Glendine.

From the Cut, Armagh can be seen on a clear day! The road now cuts through part of the Slieve Bloom forest which provide a magnificent cool canopy. Several hairpin bends add to the thrill.

Turn right at a T-Junction in the direction of Kinnitty. From there, go left for 5km before climbing again to a peak of 449m. Now look for the signs for the village of Camross before further on arriving to Ballyfin.

Pick up the R423 past Ballyfin Demesne before joining the L2095. After 7km turn left onto the R422 and the car is 2km further on.

  • Cycling South Leinster – Great Road Routes by Turlough O’Brien, published by The Collins Press, price €14.99. It will be in the shops on May 29.
  • Cycling Kerry: Great Road Routes by Donnacha Clifford and David Elton. Collins Press; €14.99.


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