Day 8: Clifden to Westport (85km)
Connemara really is something special and if you don't believe me then listen to the great Irish pet, novelist, and playwright, Oscar Wilde, who described it as possessing 'Savage Beauty'. Today, we got both parts. The beauty of cycling through Connemara National Park amid the '12 Bens' - and a certain degree of savagery with fearsome winds on day 8 of my attempt to cycle the length of Ireland along the MIZMAL cycle route.
But first a picture of my knee. Sorry, that's rather grim. Patella problem. And expertly triaged by retired nurse Kim, one of the support team, and who helped me get through the day
Although, I put this small injury in context because there are some incredible fellow cyclists on this wonderful journey overcoming great physical hardship who are all incredibly fit cyclists. A few replaced hips, new knees, and a remarkable guy with cancer. It takes a lot of willpower as well as fitness to complete a multi-day cycle adventure - not least along Ireland's west coast where it's rarely anything less than hilly.
The winds meanwhile were strong gusts (this is the savage bit) at over 25mph/hour throughout the morning. Sometimes the
they almost bludgeoned me to a standstill on the ascents while the crosswinds wobbled just about everybody out on the road this morning. Yet the motivation as we headed into the national park was landscapes that were enough to make any Irish poet weep. Not least as we encountered out first sea flood - Lough Killary. Its water whisked by the winds to form an almost ice-like glaze overlaying a rich blue colour beneath. I spied lots of mussel beds: I'd eaten that particular shellfish from this fjord last night. Its very hip to talk about being more in touch with locally sourced produce and this week has been a joy to taste taste such foodstuff: the local lamb and beef, oysters, mussels, local laver bread, etc.
Throughout the day I also passed many charismatic white Connemara ponies. Its said that when some of the Spanish Armada's ships floundered off the Irish coast around 1588 that Andalusian horses swam ashore and mated with the local Irish ponies to give rise to this breed. Perhaps a rather fanciful myth?
Our first brew stop was on the shores of the fjord, soon after crossing into County Mayo- passing a small wagon proclaiming to be the last pub of Connemara.
There is little relent though changing into Mayo of wondrous scenery as a long ascent begins heading into the mountains to the highest summit pass of the day a little over 200m. That doesn't sound much but we'd rode from sea-level and I had to find my lowest gear when the gradient reared suddenly to over 10%. A fast and furious descent followed on twisting lanes from the pass summit called Sheeffy on a road trending more-or-less downhill into the Atlantic fishing port of Westport.
Evening's have been fun. Mainly exploring small pubs and trying to rebalance the day's loss of calories and attempting to find traditional Irish music. So there's me talking about the wonderful Irish produce above and we end up in a sports bar with fish goujons - straight from the fridge. Not great. But what followed was Porter's Bar with live Irish music, a guitarist and piccolo player, ending with a rousing rendition of the classic 'Dirty old town' with the whole bar singing along.
The sort of wild(e) night that Oscar might have loved?