By Eddie Smyth
It looked very much like the weather would hold today. Denis had worked out that a trip to the lesser known and more remote parts of this fabulous region would top off the trio of trips. There would be little coastline to work along and I was warned that some of the surfaces might just be a little less smooth than some we had already covered.
Thursday – Cork and Kerry Mountains
Well, since we have not only grass tracked and mountaineered and gravel surfed, not to mention cattle grids, dog leg bridges and pot holes deep enough to hide a Lancaster bomber in I cannot begin to imagine what he could mean. Yes, many of the roads are superb but this guy knows routes through peoples outside cludgies to get to memorable landmarks. My bike has been superb in all conditions thrown at it so far so I will not be deterred, well, I was determined not to be deterred, until he said “You OK with heights”? Oh, my. Umm, we will have to see.
Being familiar with bovines and knowing a little of the female behaviour of most domesticated species I felt confident enough to be able to seduce these girls into doing my bidding. Denis, was more cautious in his approach (probably because he knows more than I claim to know about the behaviour of females of most domesticated species) and suggested we should wait a little longer as the farmer might just appear to chivvy them out of the way. I had waited long enough already and these girls are not going to mess up my riding time.
My upbringing included plenty of exposure to livestock farming so their steely stares and intimidating war cries were not going to scare me. I spoke to each one by name (they are all called Daisy) as I slowly strolled past them toward the rear, where I presumed the ring leader was hiding. And I was absolutely correct in my presumption because as I reached the end of this black and white hoard of trouble making hooligans (an old Irish family of such fame that spawned the dictionary meaning of the word) the one at the very back began to shove the one in front into motion. The domino effect was to make Daisy (the one at the front) to pick up her hooves and hoof it and the rest followed. By the time half of them had passed Denis, still astride his bike, the farmer emerged on a dune buggy with a dog sitting on his lap (steering it I think) and the danger had passed. I chatted to the lovely old fellow, the farmer that is not the dog, but I could not understand a word he said, such is the vernacular in these parts.We waited until the herd had disappeared around the corner, fired up the engines, splattered through the freshly deposited cow shit and blatted up and away into the hills via Morley’s Bridge where we stopped to take in the first of many stunning, elevated views of the day just below the summit of Knockbrack.
My encounters with farm animals was not over. I almost came a cropper as I followed Denis along one stretch of road with a very high stone wall to my left with a gap in it that was once a gateway to a garden or yard. Whatever it was I was not interested in it as I was concentrating on following my leader through this avenue of derelict buildings and dry stone walls. Well, Denis passed the entrance without interest too but just as I reached the exact point where the gap was, a panic stricken sheep ran straight out from it and was now on a collision course with my left foot peg.
I have no idea how it avoided sticking it’s head through my rear wheel but in true Keystone Cops fashion it back peddled hard enough to merely head butt the last foot of my exhaust pipe. It’s a good job I was doing 90 miles an hour, that’s all I can say.
We reached Coomhola Bridge where Denis took a sharp right and suddenly we were on a road almost too narrow even to have that Brazilian trim down the middle. And after passing a few cottages we were suddenly climbing at a rate a passenger aircraft leaving Heathrow would be proud of. And climbed some more. Denis signalled for us to stop to take in the scenery, Bantry Bay was below us in the distance.
At this point I had no problem with heights, Stunning yes, scary, no. But the warning Denis gave about heights being an issue was not the whole story. It was the width of the road and the sheer drop to my left that was scary.As we rode on it was like balancing along the blunt edge of a knife, only the surface included scattered gravel, grass, pot holes, ripped up tarmac and ditches that meandered too close to the middle of what track we had to steer on. All this, while we were still climbing into the ether. It was exhilarating. I did not look down to my left once. We parked up at the crest which was the famous point of the whole route for bikers, cyclists and lunatics who can’t settle for a stroll to the local pub: Priests Leap. The view is magnificent and the sunshine and broken clouds made for a wonderfully atmospheric experience. What a high point, literally, of the day! We pressed on and made for Releagh Bridge, the road continuing to undulate but more descending and twisting than the incline on the other side. To the south west we could see for miles, across the Caha Mountains on Beara that we had traversed two days ago. We entered a series of different landscapes as we returned to fertile land but there were so many sudden changes that only a series of photographs can best describe the experience. This whole trip was so different to the others in many ways. Indescribable sadly, since I am trying to describe it, but it was something I will savour for a very long time. We stopped at Moll’s Gap on the way back to Killarney. Denis asked if I wanted to go down the main route or the Black Valley route. I opted for the main route, I want to give it my best shot on those hairpins and switchback corners one last time. Boy was it awesome. Denis led and knows the road so well he could probably ride it blindfold, what a marker to follow? We never saw another vehicle on our side of the road all the way down. I’m not one for attempting to bottom out forks or scraping my kneecaps and besides, the Bulldog just loves road working not track skipping. It was the most exhilarating section of road I have ever ridden (limited experience I admit) the forks were true, my braking timely and the acceleration to the next bend grin straining. Absolutely and utterly (add your own expletives here) fantastic mini alpine screamer of a road all the way down to level ground. Even Denis admitted it was a golden moment, one rarely enjoyed so completely, as you often get interrupted by traffic dawdling along. We never once broke the speed limit on any part of the three day jaunts. But we might have broken it twice. This could easily have been one of them, I could not tell, my eyes were shut.
In the late afternoon, which stretched a little into the evening we celebrated three days of awesome touring. In a newly opened whiskey bar in Killarney. Well, it was so newly opened they had not even stocked the shelves yet.
So as not to empty the shelves when they had clearly worked so hard while we were there to fill them, we retired to the convivial surroundings of a local, more established hostelry, just to finish the day off on another high.
I have enjoyed every second of this trip, from my lone journeys to get here and then home again and this unbelievably wonderful countryside and typical Irish hospitality. It was sad to think I have to return to reality all too soon.