THERE are many ways to experience the charming character of the Wild Corkonian West, but biking is one of the best.
I recently undertook a solo cycle tour of West Cork to immerse myself in the solitude and natural beauty that exists just beyond the foggy plumes of hectic civilization, and it was a holiday to remember.
For five days I existed as a nomadic vagrant, travelling from town to town, taking in the rich rugged landscape while engaging with the local communities that bubble so brightly alongside it.
Leaving the city was the hardest part of the adventure. I mean that literally.
Just beyond the suburbs, before I was steeped in scenic greenery, I was forced to prove my worth by agonisingly climbing the steep 3km incline of the Kinsale Road to Cork Airport.
It was a touch and go trek. I kicked off my trip in high spirits, full of anticipation for fresh cultural experiences and eager to escape the grey dredge of my routine existence, but less than 2km outside the city I was considering turning back in favour of a nap.
Fortunately, the agony passed and, once climbed, the subtle yet deadly hill gave way to a free-wheeling slope that took me swiftly on my way.
Before I knew it, I was in the midst of the dainty and colourful Kinsale where I perched my mount by the pier and watched the boats float listlessly in the harbour.
A quick coffee later, I was back on my way to my first night’s stop: Clonakilty.
Considered by many as the gateway to West Cork. It is a town bustling with activity and amenities while also flaunting the great roguish personality of the rural countryside.
I took off for a saunter around the town, which proved to be as delightful as it seemed at first glance.
Along the main street, there was a great deal of eclectic cafes and speciality restaurants to chose from, but I settled on a quick coffee and sandwich in order to head back to the hotel to try out the leisure facilities.
Hours later I emerged from the sauna and steam room only to collapse into bed and sleep soundly till morning.
Waking early I made my way to Inchydoney and ate breakfast on the empty beach as the soothing sound of the waves ebbed to and fro around me.
Later I wandered into town and watched the world wake up around me as I sipped coffee in a cafe and did a crossword.
Relaxed and caffeinated I left the charming town of Clonakilty around noon and took the scenic route to Skibbereen.
The road was quiet, pretty and with just a brief stop in the notably beautiful Rosscarbery, I made great time.
Skibbereen is an oasis of rustic retail shops amid a community of coffee catch-ups.
If you are seeking solitude without abandoning civilisation entirely, I think Skibbereen is a good choice. It is a happy compromise of amenities and atmosphere while still carrying a very distinct element of the West Cork charm.
The town holds the character of a old man sitting at the bar with twinkling eyes and a pint of Guinness in hand, looking to share his stories of ye-olde-times with anyone who will listen. Affable and gregarious, with a wise backbone but a flair for fun.
I went for a pint in The Paragon sports bar and noshed on standard pub grub while watching some kind of athletic endeavour on the several screens that surrounded me.
Tired from my day and with a busy itinerary planned for Saturday, I headed to bed.
The next morning I rose early and headed to the nearby beach in Tragumna. Initially, it is underwhelming. A spot of sand squashed between a road and a car-park with access to the ocean.
But after a few moments of listening to the sound of the sea, waves crashing off the shore, breaking up the stillness of the early morning, I found myself enjoying the experience.
After breakfast I headed into town and ate again in Fields coffee shop, a hive of activity at any hour, before biking to Baltimore.
En route I stopped off at Lough Hyne for a gander. The lake was still and silent. The expanse of water stretched out before me and as I took in the scene an entourage of cars pulled up alongside me and out stepped a newly married couple along with their bridesmaids, groomsmen and most importantly their photographer.
Feeling relatively under-dressed for the occasion, wearing adidas jog pants and a windbreaker I offered my congratulations to the bride and groom before hopping on my two wheels and peddling off.
Around the corner there was an elderly man, , standing by the side of the road. Unsure if he needed some sort of assistance, I said hello, only to be shown a bag of eggs and asked would I like to purchase a half dozen.
I politely declined and went on my way. Just up the road, there was a worn path to the right, leading into the woods. I locked up my bike and took a notion to follow it.
Twenty minutes later I was on top of a hill overlooking Lough Hyne from a picturesque peak of boulders and shrubbery. I descended from the height and took off briskly for Baltimore once more, this time keen to take shelter from the miserable drizzle that had commenced.
Baltimore was beautiful. Stunning, and a visit to the Beacon only improved my impression of the harbour town.
After a sandwich by the fire in Bushes bar and a scenic stroll, I returned to Skibbereen and got ready for my Saturday night in the heart of West Cork.
I dined at An Chistin Beag, a gorgeous, homely restaurant where I was given more food than I could possibly consume and a slice of chocolate cake that contained pieces of heaven.
Afterwards I headed to Cahalanes bar, where a three-man-band were kicking off. Joined by a buddy who lives local, we stayed till closing. A good night was had by all.
The next day, after a late breakfast, I headed to Bantry. I checked into the WestLodge Hotel and Leisure Centre and took a trek to Glengarriff Wood Reserve, 20km outside the town. It was well worth a visit.
Home late from my excursions, I hit the sauna and retreated to the luxurious comfort of my room to recoup.
The next morning I hit the buffet breakfast early and after eating more than three men, I returned to my room to nap.
Eventually I packed up and cycled to Goleen, otherwise known as The Mizen Village. Leaving my gear at the post-office/restaurant I made my way to Mizen Head and viewed Ireland’s most southwesterly point. It was majestic.
Back to Goleen I ate my fill in the post-office/restaurant and boarded the bus back to the city.
West Cork is my escape from the hectic 9 to 5 rat race that so many of us run on a daily basis.
It is an oasis of solitude and a haven of easy entertainment, however, after five days of peace and quiet, I began to crave the urgency and efficiency of city living.
The dart of deprivation revived my fervour for meetings, hectic schedules, fast deadlines and late nights.
I wanted to work all day, party all night and shop in mainstream high street stores all weekend. I was back in top form and I had the West to thank for it.
All in all, an excellent holiday that rejuvenated my love for the city while reminding me there is more to life. What more could you ask for?
TOP TIPS FOR A CYCLE TOUR
Plan ahead: Have everything mapped out beforehand and have a backup plan incase of rain.
Use your gears: It sounds simple, but don’t forget you have a plethora of gears on your bike that can help you get over that hill and make time on the straights. The more you use them, the easier the road.
Be seen: Have lights and reflective gear. The roads can be narrow and you might meet someone in an awful hurry.
Allow for mishaps: When planning your trip, allow an extra hour for every activity. This will reduce stress levels and ensure you don’t miss anything you have planned to do.
Enjoy the journey: When you are biking it is as much about getting there as it is about being there. Take your time and immerse yourself in the experience. You will get there eventually.