By Eddie Smyth
It was very cold outside but the sky was clear and I was optimistic that the original forecast for day would be wrong. The forecast I’d noted every day for this coming week before I set off said it would be 100% miserable.
Westport to Ballyvaughan 90 Miles – The pretty way
It was not even breakfast time and the sky defied the experts. I had a good cooked breakfast and loaded the bike ready for the off. I declined the very kind offer to have a sandwich made up for the journey by the lady of the house and set off in the direction of Louisburgh for a more scenic route to County Clare and Ballyvaughan. The sea on my right and on my left the mountainous hills fell away to rolling pasture as I headed west before turning left at the picturesque village of Louisburgh and continuing on the R335 which took me towards the Leenaun Mountains. Long before that however, the road offers a close up of a number of wonderfully barren landscapes, passing a fabulous mountain, the side of which that seems to have been hollowed out by a giant ice cream scoop.
This narrow biker friendly road has a gorgeous lough to pass alongside and single track curves suitable for a novice alpine rider to cut his teeth on. Scarcely any traffic to worry about and so much to enjoy as the curly elastic band shaped route takes you to Leenaun but not until to stop to photograph the falls on a hair pin bend cum junction at Aasleagh.
In Leenaun itself there are a few coffee shops and stuff that attracts tourists and as I approached the place is was already swarming with hundreds of folk decked in running gear and cagoules freezing to death by the roadside. Several articulated trailers were parked up with people buzzing about unloading whatever. It was mayhem and I could hardly get through as the dimwits in the crowd kept crossing the road in front of me. There was hardly room between the throngs to get through anyway without muppets criss-crossing my path. Fortunately the V twin engine and Beowulfs of my Bulldog barked loud enough to make several defecate in their jogging bottoms as they leapt out of my way.
I took a left onto the R336 and headed upwards into the hills and making my way to Maum. Then the heavens opened and the meteorologists with pointy sticks in warm studios were proven right. I’d ridden for about an hour so far in beautiful conditions so should not complain. You should only expect about 20 minutes of any weather in Ireland before it changes. I had originally considered heading west from Leenaun and taking the coastal route but I suspected the rains would soon come and with that, poor visibility. And now the winds had picked up and it was getting most unpleasant. I didn’t fancy extending my journey with all that going on. I would instead turn right at Maum and take the road through the mountains towards Galway.
I didn’t. A friendly faced police officer was standing at the junction at Maum to warn vehicles away from the mountain route. The weather was now a mixture of bucketing rain and force something crosswinds. I need to stop and put my extra waterproof coveralls over my waterproof clothing. I carried on south eastwards on a road that was no less remote or fun than any I’d ridden so far today. I passed by a village called Conga also known as Cong, for short I guess, and spotted a hotel in a tiny hamlet called Clonbur. It could not be more appropriate, Eddie’s Bar was nestled against the hotel proper and I squelched in to sit by an unlit open fireplace and savoured a leisurely coffee as I waited for the rains to at least stop for a coffee break themselves. I recommend booking this hotel (Fairhill House) for a number of reasons if you’re stopping along this way: Very smartly decorated, smashing, friendly staff nice looking restaurant and a cosy bar. Well, if the rains don’t stop soon, I will.
Sadly the rains did abate so I have no excuse to stay even though the open fire was now being cleaned and loaded with fresh logs. I waddled out, much drier and more protected against the elements and set off for the push to get to Ballyvaughan before I would be called upon to build an ark. The rains did stop, altogether, but the winds decided to give me utter grief every time I met with an open field along the way. The crosswinds were seriously trying to force me over the road into the oncoming traffic now. My 325 kilo bike however, was steadfast but I was not so sure about the Shetland ponies I spotted in some fields. I swear one of them was blown across my path at one point. I had to keep my wits about me at all times.
I had an idea during the planning of this trip to pop into Galway to check out the back streets and romantic essence that emanates in songs and books about the place But Val Doonican would no doubt squirm in his rocking chair if he realised what an urban sprawl the outer extremities are. Big industry (Microsoft) has moved in and brought with it, more cheap labour and the resultant congestion, rotten road systems and high rise (in Irish terms) ugliness. The rains had stopped completely and instead of taking it as an invitation to find the cobbled back streets I trusted my instincts and carried on to Ballyvaughan, situated around the coast and out of sight to the city that gave the bay its romantic draw.
Elated, I reached Ballyvaughan and pulled into the car park of Logues Lodge Hotel, my bed for the night. This route forms part of the W.A.W and that bit of road deserves an award for devilishly good fun even for the more passive hearted biker.
I unfroze my fingers in the bar once more and then carried my gear to my very quiet and soon to be not so tidy room. I had a smashing lunch of coconut and butternut squash soup which was brilliant. The home-made brown bread was very dry, gritty and lumpy for my taste. Maybe they make from dislodged pieces of old road or the slate off the surrounding hills. The hotel however, is great. A bit more expensive than dogging it in a tiny B&B out in the wilds but this is exactly what I was hoping for on this leg of my journey south.
There’s a few shops about too and open, despite it being Sunday, and the clouds stayed high enough to keep the rain away.I walked to the quay side and through the village. There are thatched holiday cottages to let and plenty of photogenic attractions. I stopped in the Soda Parlour; could not resist that under any circumstances.
Sadly the popular fish restaurant in the village is closed out of season but O’loclainn’s Irish Whiskey Bar was not. So after supper in the hotel I ventured out to sample their wares. Now, here’s a confession. It’s not often I would do this in print because confessions in the past often led to ridicule and raised eyebrows. Even ostracism in some cases but I feel compelled to admit this for the sake of exorcising my burden of guilt in such circumstances. Until today, despite being a lover of whisky, a man who spent almost 2 decades living in Scotland and imbibed in the most luxurious versions that country could offer of its most famous beverage, I had never tried an Irish whiskey before.My first ever was the popular Green Spot. It was very smooth. I liked it. So, when I got talking to the polyglot hostess in this darkened bar about my crime she was more than helpful in pointing me in the direction of certain bottles that held their version of the gleaming nectar. Triple distilled makes it very smooth and I made tasting notes in my head like I would a fine wine. My second confession is, I really liked it.
I chatted a little to a French lad who had arrived with his ‘Irish coffee’ loving female companion while the hostess, Margaret, spoke in Gaelic to another couple in the bar after talking in fluent French to this couple. It made for a lovely end to a stunning day and I wandered, at peace with the world, the few hundred yards back to my warm hotel room to see if my gloves and boots were drying nicely.