The Donegal Tour (sort of.........)
I moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland in July 2001. I brought with me the bike. An injury to my left leg (again !) meant that the rest of 2001 was a write off. The winter in Belfast is pretty harsh and I could not start cycling before the end of March.
I also met a pretty girl in Belfast and we fell in love. I still continued to do my cycling. She joined me for a couple of tours, but I did not get the feeling she was as much into it as I was. I had or have a manic streak in my personality. I regard cycling as both a nature experience and a “cycle to I drop into a coma” attitude. Her approach was very different than mine. It was do some cycling, take some breaks and then cycle again without getting too tired. Her approach was the opposite of mine.
…......so we, that means I, decided to do Donegal
on a minimum budget (youth hostels) and on a time scale which suited me and not her.
She thought this was going to be a nice tour where we were holding hands in the sunset overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. I knew it was going to be a hard tour. Being an overpowering personality, this was the most stupid thing I could do and I am still pretty furious at myself. I have long time ago made my apologies and she has accepted them. But I believe the day we spent in Donegal together brought it home to her that my personality is not suited to a marriage with her and a life at a farm in Northern Ireland. This is how I remember this day on the roads of Donegal. This and the beautiful Donegal nature.
We started the tour on the railway station in Belfast with a three hours journey to Londonderry. This is a fantastic train journey through Northern Ireland. The last hour along the coastline is just superb.
The trains was run down (dirty and very noisy) and reminded me about the trains running in India and Pakistan.
We arrived in Londonderry and had a stroll around the town. My girlfriend had been here thousands of time due to growing up just up the valley from this place. I also knew this place very well so we soon made our way up River Foyle and the international border between United Kingdom and the Republic Of Ireland (Eire). A border which is not visible, strangely enough. I have yet to find this international border. Believe me; I was looking !
We made it over the border and through the village of Killea towards the main road to Letterkenny.
We found this road and the hills along the loch to Letterkenny. We arrived at this small town and the youth hostel. We covered a total distance of 30 km that day. We had a small dinner out before we walked back to the overcrowded and very noisy youth hostel. Neither of us slept well that night.
The real tour started in the morning. None of us was what we can call agreeable friendly due to a sleepless night. We headed out the fjord towards Rathmelton. The road was pretty undulating with some nasty sharp climbs. But the views was not bad and we made good progress.
From Rathmelton, we continued straight north through some farmlands and forests to Millford. The landscape opened up and became pretty lush. We were already pretty tired so we got some breakfast and continued out the fjord to wards Cranford. The road was reasonable flat. It then became more hilly over to Carrickart.
I have to admit that my memory is a bit hazy and I hope that the following picture is taken just before Carrickart. If I am wrong in this and the other pictures, please correct me by email (link at the bottom of the page). Please !!
Looking towards the Muckish Mountain from Carrickart.
We were constantly looking in the direction of Muckish Mountain because we knew we were going to cycle past it. We passed a small castle on our way from Carrickcart towards a major crossroad.
Looking towards a nameless castle.
We reached this crossroad and we took the road going straight out towards the Atlantic Ocean at Portnablaghy. We reached the Atlantic Ocean and the most westerly point I have ever been on my bike at this small village.
The Atlantic Ocean at Portnablaghy.
Looking back towards Portnablaghy.
We celebrated and were holding hands for a minute. A quick look at the clock and we had to sprint on along the road towards our destination. We were really tired stopped for a lunch at Dunfanaghy.
A far too long lunch.
We were now in a hurry because we had to be in the youth-hostel before 2000. We cracked on along some steep climbs along a lake and down towards Falcarragh. The lunch had not made our lives easier and my girlfriend was suffering from fatigue. Not a good sign because the next day's tour was going to be 125 km.....
We reached Falcarragh after some small climbs and went past Gortahork.
The sea inlet at Gortahork.
We were now desperate short of time and we decided to bypass the coastal roads and take a more inland route to our youth-hostel at Dunglow. This to my frustration because I was looking forward to this coastal road. So was my girlfriend too. The first mountain from Gortahork to Gweedore was OK. A bit of a climb and a narrow descent. Our mood was not good and my girlfriend started to hate me (she later admitted). Her conversation with me is best described as the one finger salute. We had a small break and a heated argument in Gweedore (the name just make me cringe due to this argument) before we cracked up the mountain again.
A small waterfall on the climb.
The climb was both long and steep. It had some good views. The descent to Dunglow undramatic. We made it to the youth hostel with half an hour to spare.
The night in the youth hostel was a night mare. All my drink bottles was stolen by some drug addicts. I had no drink left. Neither I or my girlfriend slept during the night and it was clear that this was very dangerous for both of us. I decided to never ever do youth-hostels again. I saddled up the bike in the morning, witnessed by some hateful staring eyes from my girlfriend. We cracked on in our desperation............ until some good luck/God shine on me. I was climbing a small hill when the pedals went limp. I stopped and found out that the whole drive train was gone. With no possibility to repair the bike, we went back to Dunglow to get a bus out of there. This was potentially a very difficult task....... but my girlfriend became very happy and chatty now.
Our second strike of luck now happened. A bus heading for Edinburgh in Scotland was just about to drive off. We stopped it and got our bikes on that one. It only cost us € 15 each.
The bus bypassed Belfast on it's way to Larne and the ferry there. But we were very happy to take the train from Larne back to Belfast. Actually; to the Botanic Garden train station in Belfast, 100 meters from my flat.
I have never ever been so happy for a cycle-breakdown as I was that day. I am convinced that continuing the tour was madness and utter madness. That was my fault. Me and my girlfriend patched up. But both of us were like birds with broken wings and the relationship ended because of my unreasonable behaviour and her problems in the wake of The Omagh Bomb
Compiling this report has brought it home to me how much I want to complete this tour. Next time with a tent and alone (with all respect to my ex girlfriend). Maybe I do it this summer.
I also doubt if there is any other landscape in the Europe which looks like Donegal. I loved it and I would recommend Donegal to everyone. I will be back !!!