Day 12: Letterkenny to Malin Head (92.6km)
D-day had arrived. The final push towards Malin Head and the end of an epic end-to-end cycle along the length of Ireland known as the Mizmal. Twelve days of aches, hills, lovely countryside, way too many pub meals (and Guinness) ... in the company of individuals who love cycling and being outdoors. You can dress up award-winning lodges with the latest eco-design as being good for the planet .... but ultimately, we used leg power only to convey ourselves 1030.3km. That's a pretty environmentally friendly holiday, I'd say?
Just as it had been the previous afternoon some fairly vicious hills and shockingly pitted roads awaited to get us out of Letterkenny. Sadly I cycled straight passed the brew stop, as did Dr Jane from Belfast, so we settled for an impromptu coffee stop. I didn't miss lunch though as we headed onto open heather moorland to find the lunch van where we where soon joined by a small herd of sheep.
During lunch an old sheep farmer stopped by. Missing all his teeth he lisped:
'The vicar said to me I have a flock of 100.... but I told him I had four-hundred (sheep) in my flock'. He howled loudly. Yet another character from a rich cultural landscape of warm engaging people.
By the time we reached the pretty town of Malin, Trawbreaga Bay was cutting into the rocky peninsula. The sounds of oystercatchers squeaked from the mudflats. Ahead we crossed by grassy dunes as the peninsula climbed steeply towards the end point marked by a rather curious concrete tower.
Malin Head rears up in a rocky valley with some seriously steep climbs but the sea-views out to the Northern Atlantic are breathtaking. When the final climb to the clifftop Malin Head it's a vicious little dig uphill. Yet by now, inspired by the effort of the previous 12 days, I dug deep for one final time and crossed the finish line of this truly beautiful peninsula, that has an air of being the end of the world.
Make no mistake. This is a cycle route that has everything you could wish for. We'd got very lucky with almost total sunshine throughout 12 days on a coast that is notoriously wet. But this good fortune allowed full exposure to a landscape that is never flat, always green, unpopulated, has breathtaking passes and deep hidden valleys - incised at times by fjords and inlets alive with seabirds.
The trip had been superbly organised logistically and I was full of admiration for my fellow riders - some who have overcome very serious health issues and now, through cycling, possessed a fantastic level of fitness that saw them through this challenge.
My final image is of Paul Kennedy the founder, who walked away from a well-paid career in IT to form Wild Atlantic Cycling to pursue his dream of letting more people come to experience this magnificent challenge - and with him Stephen and Kim, his fun and amiable support crew.
Sláinte ... to you all!