Sweaty Craic! Cycling Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way (Day 4)
Day 4 Killkee to Lahinch (99km)
Shipwrecks seemed an appropriate theme for another feisty day along the Atlantic coast in County Clare as we tumbled out of our overnight pub accommodation for the 4th day of a trip to cycle the entire length of Ireland along its majestic west coast.
When I say 'shipwreck' I'm in no way implying we'd had an all-night bender on the 'black stuff' - Guinness and the like - but my own slightly weary legs on the wreck of the previous day's epic 3rd stage and a stretch of coast littered with the misfortune of mariners.
Strictly speaking some 40km of today's cycle geographically speaking wasn't necessary. We could have continued for an easy breezy day towards the overnight hotel in Lahinch. But that would have missed one of the highlights of the Wild Atlantic Way - the Loophead Peninsula. Jutting out like a jade finger of land above the Shannon Estuary, the dark volcanic cliffs to the north of the peninsula are tall and liquorice-black and made for nautical mishaps, pounded by wild Atlantic rollers.
We breezed the early morning start to the Loophead's lighthouse riding a fast tailwind that at times was pushing me close to 40km/hour uphill. The present lighthouse was built in 1854. If you walk around the grassy area to the front of the lighthouse facing the ocean, the Gaelic name for Ireland - Eire - is laid out. This was so German bombers wouldn't mistake the Irish Republic for the British Isles as they were neutral during WWII. The cliffs when cycling are definitely not made for walking too close to in cycling cleats as they are slippery and the wet grasses tumbled down to the cliff-edges - a point of no return.
Like all high-altitude beauty spots from the Grand Canyon to Bhutan - the cliffs hear bear the sobriquet of 'Lovers Leap. This one after Diarmuid and Gráinne who leapt off them to escape relationship issues bedevilling their own love. Marriage guidance wasn't around in the Middle Ages.
Mythology aside, however, during a day that dipped in and out of green cattle pasture and small sandy beach bays, real tales of woe and heroism emerged.
In Kilbaha on the southern coast of Loophead is a giant anchor salvaged from the 'Morven' which sank heading to Portland Oregon off this coast in 1906. The anchor was recovered in 1983. Then after lunch as I barged my way through stiff coastal headwinds I paused in the seaside town of Quilty to hear a remarkable story
A French ship called Leon XIII went down in 1907 and for over a day in ferocious seas its sailor clung on for survival to the wreck. The locals of Quilty lit lamps to try to offer them comfort at night until they could be rescued. That came after 24 hours when the local men risked their lives to save the men in the sea in their small 'curragh' boats. On a larger front, at Spanish Point, which has wonderful views to a divine sandy beach squeezed in a dark rock cove, the remnants of the Spanish Armada struggled past here in 1588 after another disastrous attempt to invade England.
By now my legs were feeling a little like I'd been all at sea but I'd weathered the storm and soaked in the coastal air imbued like an old salty sea dog. This time the original 'black stuff' really did beckon.