Lovely Bicycle Laps the Lough

Lap the Lough is an annual cycle event around Lough Neagh, the largest lake in Ireland and Britain. Our friend and erstwhile correspondent Lovely Bicycle recently took on this ride on her Seven 622 SLX, and the report is worth reading.

ll21She writes:

While most of the Lap the Lough route really was comparatively “flat,” by local standards, the final 5 miles featured a sustained, at times quite steep, climb into Dungannon, culminating in a cobblestone(!) section straight up the Hill of the O’Neill. While for those of us “lucky” enough to live in the northwest of Ireland, the climb was really nothing unusual (and really a rather fine way to end a 100 mile ride, if you ask me!) others were quite taken aback by this twist to the plot at the end. A few people got off their bikes and walked. Unprintable words were uttered.

For the rest of the story, click over to Lovely Bicycle.




On the Road – The Blayleys in Ireland, Part III

When the Blayleys were last on the west coast of Ireland, the touring was a bit more seat of the pants. In the intervening decades, the tourist bureaus have organized, simplified and marked a vast number of routes that make seeing the grassy green sites a much less involved job. John and Pamela met John’s brother David, an archaeologist, to take in as many of the West’s sites as possible.

Catch up on the first two parts of this series here and here.

The Dartry Mountains range across the Northwest of the country in Counties Sligo and Leitrim. A series of limestone plateaus, the Dartries include Benbulbin, which features prominently in the poetry of Yeats.

Here are Pamela and David in the shadow of Benbulbin. Yeats is actually buried nearby in the churchyard at Drumcliffe.

Just inland from Benbulbin is Glenade Lough. A legend holds that a large otter-like creature called a Dobarchú attacked and killed a local maiden here in the 17th century. Neither John nor Pamela reported any sightings.

North along the coast from Benbulbin you find Fintragh Bay, just west of Killybegs, Ireland’s biggest fishing port.

North from Killybegs in Donegal is the Glengesh Pass. Things get pretty pastoral this far up, expansive sheep-dotted moors stretching away in all directions. The Pass itself is a little-traveled road that meanders through the mountains with swooping, whorling switchbacks and some precipitous descents that make for fine riding.

From Glengesh, John and Pamela headed straight out to the Atlantic Coast to see the Slieve League Cliffs, some of the highest sea cliffs in Europe, and were rewarded with the rainbow below, one of the few upsides of Ireland’s persistent rain.

The rain-slick return from Slieve League.

To see more of the fantastic photos from their trip check out their cycling blog. For those of you in New England, we also highly recommend visiting their routes page, which collects so many great rides it’ll take you years to ride them all.

On the Road – The Blayleys in Ireland, Part II

It’s been a hard couple of years on the bike for Pamela Blalock. In June of 2013 she was hit head on by another cyclist coming at her on the wrong side of the road, breaking her collarbone. Then, three months later she was hit by a truck, from behind. The resulting surgery left her with fused vertebra and, ironically, a whole litany of titanium screws and supports. She broke six ribs and spent four months in a back brace. She got back on the bike last April, but has been doing physical therapy and dealing with chronic pain continuously since then.

By the time she and John got to Ireland this year she had missed a lot of saddle time. In fact, the last of their annual trips to John’s homeland, she’d spent the whole time walking mile and miles through Dublin’s rambling streets and urban parks. She had dreamed of getting back on her bike. This year, getting from Dublin to the west coast, where they’d not been in nearly twenty years, was something of a redemptive pilgrimage for her, each ride a rich reward for pain endured and time passed.

In Scotland, the lakes are lochs, the most famous of which is Loch Ness, with its deep, dark water and its monster. The Irish equivalent is a lough, and the west of the country, Galway and Connemara are marked by two massive inland lakes, Lough Corrib and Lough Mask.

This photo was taken from the road above Lough Corrib. Old stone walls cut the farm fields into grazeable portions for the local sheep.

This is the road down to Lough Mask. Rolling banks of gray clouds hint at the sudden and torrential rain that leave you feeling you earned whatever view the day afforded.

This is the grass-corrupted double track to Westport in Connemara during a brief spasm of sun. These roads all rise and fall like the country’s erratic heart beat.

Here is the dark and wet portion of the Westport loop, fluoro vests keeping the riders from disappearing into the slate gray day.

The Sheeffry Mountains (the Irish translation is “Hills of the Wraith”) in County Mayo offer cyclists miles of these rough, narrow roads. This shot, taken in Sheeffry Pass, captures the elemental nature of riding in Ireland.


This the road from Ross Errilly Friary in County Galway, a medieval Fransiscan outpost among the oldest and best preserved such structures in Ireland.

The River Bundorragha south of Fin Lough, popular with fly-fishermen.

This is Kylemore Abbey, a 70 room castle built in the 1870s, by a wealthy London doctor. It sits in western Galway on the shore of Lough Pollacapall. It was converted to a Benedictine Monastery in the 1920s. Today the estate is surrounded by walled, Victorian gardens.

The Sky Road, west of Clifden, Connemara, Galway. On a clear(er) day, the Sky Road overlooks Clifden Bay and its offshore islands, Inishturk and Turbot.

Come back to see more from the Blayley’s Irish adventure, and their pilgrimage to the west of the country, or read more of their adventures on their own cycling blog.

On the Road – The Blayleys in Ireland, Part I

John says, in his ever-softening Irish lilt, “I am always trying to describe Ireland to people, and one of the things I say is ‘it’s just a rock, stuck in the ocean.'”

John Bayley and Pamela Blalock, collectively the Blayleys, are fixtures here in our Boston cycling community. We know of no couple who log more miles in a year than these two, everything from the Mt. Washington Hill Climb to Dirty Kanza to rambling tours of John’s home country. This fall, they spent three weeks day-tripping around the Emerald Isle, riding out and back from John’s home in Dublin, before heading to the west coast and then north to Donegal, a pilgrimage of sorts to many of Ireland’s natural, national treasures.

This churchyard sits in an idyllic corner of County Meath, north of Dublin. Many of the old buildings in Ireland can be hard to date just based on appearance. Some are quite old. Others are classic reproductions built in an older style by the wealthy landowners of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some are ruins. Some are museums. And they are all beautiful.

This is Ducketts Grove built in 1830, near Carlow, 60 miles south of Dublin. Surrounded by farmland, the approach to the old estate house is flat, if the road surface leaves something to be desired.

John says, “The riding there, it’s like mountain biking, but on tarmac. The roads curve and twist and undulate.” Over the years, he and Pamela have had good luck with the notoriously wet, Irish weather, but this trip delivered on all the damp, gray promise of that reputation. Pamela rode her Axiom SLX with S&S couplers, a bike we might call an Airheart SLX now, while John rode an Evergreen SL.

Here, Pamela climbs up a forbidding steep alongside a farm. Fenders can be a good idea here, if only to keep the ever-present manure off your backside. The Evergreen’s disc brakes, she reported, keep the bike cleaner, given the conditions, than a traditional rim brake.

John says everything about Ireland is “elemental.” The rain, the wind, the sun, the shift between them, constantly testing your mettle.

It was in their first week, while still based in Dublin, that Pamela encountered her first ever tail wind. Up to that point, she maintained, she had never felt the wind at her back. Sure, she had ridden miles into steady breezes, turned and felt fast on her return, but that was just well-earned speed.

Then, while riding the coast north of the city with their friend Declan on another “elemental” day, she finally felt it, a wind so strong she was able to pass miles without pedaling at all.

Come back to see more from the Blayley’s Irish adventure, and their pilgrimage to the west of the country, or read more of their adventures on their own cycling blog.