I wanted a cheap holiday. We all know the two most significant costs are travel and accommodation, so I decided to cycle (free) and carry a bit of tarpaulin in my panniers to crawl under at the end of a day (also free) eliminating these big holiday costs. I didn’t know it at the time, but I had accidentally discovered and planned a bikepacking trip in Ireland. I called it ‘a cheap holiday’, Friends called it, ‘he’s definitely cracked’! But, it was a joy that has fuelled the fire for more adventure and discovery!
I had a cheap, adventurous holiday that would be mostly spent upon my bike… The trip ticked all the boxes.
I plotted a 400-mile spin starting in the south-east corner of Ireland doing a loop that took in Waterford, Kerry, Galway, skirted Dublin and back again to Rosslare with planned stops in Galway to go caving and cliff jumping. I would also squeeze in some family time to catch up with them on the final leg of the trip.
Putting together my kit list was easier than I thought, I have done the odd camping trip in the past and most of the equipment simply tucked into my panniers. For those who are interested though, my ‘bikepacking on a shoestring’ kit list is below:
Giant Defy 3 Aluxx
Halfords pannier rack and bags
Flint fire starter
6 ft x 6 ft tarpaulin
1x spool of twine
4x bungee cords
2 litre water bottle
Small tool kit
2x tins of beans
2x tins of tuna
Small pot with handle removed
4x chemical warming pads
Lightweight sleeping bag
Day 1: Setting off
I took the ferry from Fishguard, following the advice from the local county council who told me parking in the lot across the road from the ferry terminal for a week was both free and safe! A school-aged choir on the way home to Ireland kept everyone up on the over-night ferry singing songs and having a great time, which was infectious.
Landing in the Emerald Isle early in the morning, I was met with a beautiful, sunny and early morning warmth that lifted my spirits as I left Rosslare heading east.
I was footloose and fancy-free. I had no real goal for the day (no destination or target distance). It was a Sunday morning with quiet roads, so I decided to go along the main road. By the afternoon, I made it to Waterford and stopped for lunch. Walking about the town, I found a second-hand book shop and picked up a book. With book tucked under my arm and nowhere in particular to go, I asked about for a local park. Wheeling the bike through the gates, I settled down on the grass to a family-size chocolate bar, a tin of beans, a tin of tuna and some biscuits. After enjoying an alfresco lunch, I lay back in the sun, had a doze and read a bit of the new book. Bikepacking is easy!
After a luxurious rest, I hopped back on the bike, spun my way out of Waterford continuing east. As the hours ticked by, I started flagging. In hindsight, I wasn’t fuelling regularly enough and didn’t have the stamina for a longer ride. As I got to Youghal, I was desperate. My tank was empty, there didn’t look anywhere suitable for camping and some ominous clouds were threatening rain. Forgetting my frugal aspirations of camping where I fell every evening, I found a pub who phoned a local B&B. Fortunately, they had availability. Unfortunately, they were two miles down the road. I’d never make it. Hallucinations of a bed, a shower and food delivered me wavering between life and death to the B&B’s door. I ate everything in sight, had a shower and collapsed into bed by 8 pm. I managed 90 miles that day and my longest ever cycle.
The next day, I was a new man. Hungry for food and miles. My target was 50-miles away at a hostel pre-booked in Kinsale, a small, artsy town south of Cork. A work colleague from Cork suggested Kinsale as a haven that locals visit for the walking, scenery and food. I’d recommend following that recommendation. Kinsale is a beautiful town, well maintained and friendly nicely nestled in beautiful countryside. It’s an old port town, now with fantastic photo opportunities along the scenic River Bandon.
Day three, took me past the infamous Ring of Kerry and the hills of Kerry. One descent was 20 kilometres long! The beautiful thing about bikepacking with only a loose agenda is you can stop when you want. The heat was bearing down too much on me. So, I stopped in the forecourt of a petrol station. Across the road was a church with a massive tree in the churchyard. Again, loaded with all the junk food I remembered from my time as a kid in Ireland, I sat in the shade of the tree, enjoyed the snacks as I watched the world quietly turn.
The irony of going to Ireland with everything needed to ward off the wet and cold was that I rode through a heatwave and didn’t see a drop of rain! The morning of the fourth day, I decided to stop cycling arriving into Listowel in County Kerry and catch a bus to Galway because the backs of both my hands were so burned massive blisters formed covering the backs of both hands!
I planned a rest day in Galway – it’s a great city with loads to do for every interest. I pre-booked into a hostel in the city centre. It was easy to kick out the door and immediately be swallowed up by the energy all around. I had booked on with an adventure company for my day off and ended up having a one-to-one session exploring the Burren Caves in Country Clare. In the afternoon, Michael (my instructor) and I enjoyed a lovely, homemade lunch together on the scenic and, suitably, famous Cliffs of Mohor. With lunch finished, we threw ourselves off some cliffs into the sea doing some coasteering!
For the final leg of my journey, I hopped on the train from Galway to Naas in County Kildare, where I caught up with family.
The next day, my cousin and I had a great spin out of Naas, me heading south to the end of my trip. Over a few miles, we cruised some lovely, quiet country roads and caught up. Coming into Baltinglass and the point my cousin had to turn back, we stopped off for a spot of cake and a cuppa.
I carried on from Baltinglass to Gorey and more family. My final day in Ireland was spent, in the morning, with my aunt walking the dog and catching up. Leaving hers in the afternoon, laden with more food than I could ever eat or the bike was designed to carry, I spun the last 30 miles back to Rosslare to take the return ferry UK-side. I had stowed a Molson Canadian beer (a favourite from my time in Canada) that I got in Galway and sat on the open deck of the ferry with my beer.
As with everything, things don’t always go to plan. I had planned on kipping out of doors more than I did. But, circumstances prevailed leading me indoors.
Cycling around Ireland though, there were solutions easily at hand. Friendly people were there to give advice and help. It was a great time that I thoroughly enjoyed and will definitely be used as a stepping-stone to other, longer, more challenging bikepacking adventures!