Sweaty Craic! Cycling Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way (day 7)
Day 7 Galway to Clifden (99.4km)
We're over halfway now to completing a 12-day cycle along the Mizmal route in Western Ireland to navigate the whole length of Ireland and I'm experiencing a little wear and tear. My knee is playing up slightly but today I could hardly complain about hardship in light of a quite amazing story I discovered in wonderful Connemara. It's 100 years since two British airman (daredevils more like) - Alcock and Brown - made the first transatlantic flight in 1919 and crash-landed along today's route.
It was another cloudless blue sky day leaving Galway this morning. We left in rush hour so its a little hairy threading through the traffic. But the coastal views for the first 30km are pretty: not least the foreground of rust-coloured seaweed in the exposed tidal inlets.
Tracing the coastal fringe we cross into County Connemara. It's quickly noticeable most signs are written solely in Gaelic - so no English translations beneath them. 'Its very much an area of Gael-tacht, people like to hang on to their culture,' says fellow cyclist, Garry, who was born on the border of the republic and Northern Ireland. It doesn't take long thereafter before we turn north of the coastal road onto the habitat Connemara is most associated with - its 'bog lands' . These are raised blanket bogs that require 1200mm of rain per year to continue to grow adding layers of dark black peat: decomposed organic matter. The bogs are an intoxicating landscape with wild moorland heather and gorse, russet-brown in the fall and interspersed with cobalt-blue tarns. The rolling hills across these uninhabited moors are a joy to cycle.
On the bog lands I cycled past peat cutters still using spades to dig out 'turfs' - used in this part of Ireland for burning for heat. The practice is dying out - not least because concerns over fuel pollution and habitat loss yet it was still interesting to see the bog-cutters at work.
As always Paul and the team had positioned the 'truck' for a lunch stop - eaten today in blazing sunshine. We were even joined by the flyer of the group, Damien from Manchester, who speeds through often too quickly to notice the 'chuck wagon'. He's a fit cyclist - wracking up 14,000miles on his bike alone in 2018. Lunch is also time to make a few tweaks to the bikes and look at route options .
Fortunately Peter, a retired BA pilot, had an alternative plan for the afternoon and I joined him going off our group route to seek out the place where Alcock and Brown crash-landed on their way into the record books.
We cut across a remote moorland road around 3km south of the overnight destination - Clifden. Its a majestic ride along a remote road where a century ago the peat-cutters, at 8.40am on the 15th of June in 1919, would have got quite a surprise. After a journey of 3048km from Newfoundland in a flimsy Vickers Vimy biplane, the two aviators decided to set down on what looked like grassland but in fact was bog.
Peter and I managed to cycle along a little circular trail to the monument site to where they landed, or more like nose-dived - and survived with minor injuries only. The monument resembles the top on an ICBM emerging from the ground and has interpretation panels explaining their first ever transatlantic flight crossing.
I'm constantly underwhelmed these days at the seemingly endless 'adventurers' concocting sometimes inane challenges aimed at nothing more than landing them extra social media followers, lectures, and book tours - that in fact do nothing to push back boundaries of discovery. Yet these two airman faced death for every minute of their 16.28hours flight. They battled against fog, ice, storms, and at one stage plummeted 1,000m in an almost fatal spin. If they'd have ditched in the Atlantic they would never have been found. Their plane was written off when landing here and their rescuers found it hard to believe they had achieved this monumental voyage of derring-do.
It's a short ride thereafter to Clifden and I'd shut up about my slightly sore knee in the wake of their heroism. Clifden is a pretty little honeypot sitting in the moorland. Little pastel-hued shops selling Irish-iana to tourists. Irish music. A chance to reload proteins for the big day ahead. And a dark and dingy whiskey bar to toast the daredevil aviators who made history a century before.