Barry Meehan 

The Kenmare Bay 24k

"A glimmer of bright sunshine made its way into my room in The Kenmare Bay Hotel this morning giving hope of a bright day ahead. Being my final day the plan was to ride a short but scenic 24k loop before heading for home.

A flat first section out the Sneem road, passing by school kids walking to school led me to a right turn where I now passed farmers bringing in their cows for milking. Everyday life was taking place all around as tourists from Australia and America boarded their busses and headed for another days sightseeing.

The quiet road that I now found myself on is a back way up to Molls Gap and off the tourist trail. Kerry flags abounded from gate posts and gable ends of houses already built whilst a solitary bike stood out on the road at the gate of a house which was now just constructed to roof level.

Bullocks curiously looked over ditches as I passed by on my bike aware that this was a road not regularly frequented, but all the more enticing as a result. Grass grew from the hedgerows but also found its way to the middle of the road in places. Silence abounded as petrol and Diesel engines became noticeable by their absence.

Mountains rose up before me as a long valley stretched out to my left. The summit approached and I would soon join a busier road for the last 3 kilometres before Molls Gap. This was a very gentle, sheltered meandering way to climb the side of a mountain and one which gave a decent rise in altitude without the corresponding rise in heart rate.

A small fishing lake caught my eye as I approached a viewing area overlooking The Black Valley. The lone fisherman seemed unperturbed by my stopping to take a closer look. He was not concerned about bright cycling gear frightening away the fish that were his prey. Having travelled from Scotland in order to relax and cast out his lines far removed from elections he seemed very at ease with the World.

The more time I spend here the more I notice that this place has that effect on people.

Molls Gap around the corner presented a small blue yellow number plated Fiesta which came to a sharp halt in the parking area before it’s two occupants jumped out. They almost ran to the wall at the edge of the road to take three photos before running back to the car and being on the move again. All in under thirty seconds they had ticked another location off their list and totally missed the beauty and splendour that took thousands of years to evolve.

The descent back down Molls Gap to the Kenmare Bay Hotel finished of a very enjoyable couple of days exploring an area that ticks all the boxes that any cyclist would place on their to do list.

This route would rate a four out of seven for difficulty."

The Kenmare Bay 83k

"Arriving at the Kenmare Bay Hotel this afternoon I had one eye looking up over the nearby mountains at a glimpse of blue beyond the clouds. The forecast was for the sun to make an appearance and combined with some spectacularly scenic cycling routes it was looking like the perfect day to get out and ride my bike.

As soon as I checked in and made my way over to the very luxurious two bedroom house that is to be my base for the next few days, the first thing I did was to hop into my cycling gear and get out onto the open road.

Leaving the hotel and passing through the bustling, picture perfect town of Kenmare I crossed the steel bridge and swung right following the now familiar signposts for the Wild Atlantic way.

With the wind on my back, the sea to my right and mountains to my left I was in cycling paradise, and this was just the beginning.

After about 18k a sign appeared for the Healy Pass, so of course I followed it. The road narrowed and began to climb almost immediately. The traffic was light and the sun was now shining down on me, life was good.

Many people training for events like the Etape de Tour come here to train, and it is easy to see why. Climbs like the Healy Pass and the Caha pass resemble the feel of some continental climbs, with views to match.

The Healy Pass averages about 5% for 5.5km and is the type of climb that once you find a rhythm you can hold the same steady pace to the top. The spectacular views keep you distracted from the effort required to keep moving forward.

The descent from the Kerry side to the Cork side reminded me of Sa Calobra in Mallorca with its many twisting hairpins.

After you reach the bottom it’s a pretty straight run into the next town that looks like it launched a thousand postcards. Glengariff is a beautiful small fishing town that makes a great location for a coffee stop on this loop. You can sit between the locals and the tourists soakig up the relaxed atmosphere. Here a left turn points you towards The Caha Pass. A longer climb at 7.5k with an average gradient of 4% along with a good road surface make this another enjoyable climb. The reward at the top is yet another continental flavour with a tunnel making the announcement that you have arrived. This is also the Kerry/Cork border so you even get a sign welcoming you to Kerry.

Another fast descent follows bringing you back in the direction of Kenmare once more. Along the way you pass Molly Gallivans which looks like a regular stop for tour busses to drop off those in search of a souvenir or two. Then comes the village of Bonane. Most small villages in Ireland have a few houses, a Church and a Pub. This village however is a little different. It has a few houses, a Church and a Chocolatier, where you can watch them making their very own chocolate in house.

Back at The Kenmare Bay Hotel I had a quick shower before heading over to the leisure centre for a dip on the jacuzzi to speed up recovery for another big day in the Kerry mountains tomorrow.

This route would rate a five out of seven for difficulty."

The Kenmare Bay 110k

"Heading out the road towards Sneem from The Kenmare Bay hotel this morning I found bright orange and fifty shades of green leaves falling like snowflakes from the tunnel of trees overhead. Autumn had arrived. On any other morning I would have been disappointed at the lack of sunshine but today I was in Kerry, cycling through some of the most spectacular mountainous terrain in the land, so life was good.

The road to Sneem is part of both the Wild Atlantic Way and The Ring of Kerry, so it goes without saying that there was plenty to look at. A bike really is the best way to explore any scenic route as you see a whole lot more and can stop any place at anytime to take it all in.

Turning right at the water pump in the middle of the village I now faced the wind as the road began to rise. Every bend of the road brought a new surprise, from fully decked out Kerry supporter scarecrows to a number of sheep farmers driving with their flashers on as their sheepdogs ran alongside.

Ireland’s highest mountain Carrauntoohil rose up before me as I approached the left turn that would take me over the Ballaghbeama Gap. An almost uninhibited road carved out of a rocky mountainside held very little traffic aside from a few sheep.

Over the top a winding descent brought me down into a mist covered valley. With conditions worsening it almost added to the sense of achievement in conquering one of Ireland’s toughest climbs.

The road now dragged on uphill towards the turn off for The Gap of Dunloe which was next up on today’s to do list. Passing Kate Kearney’s cottage Jarvies stood by tending to their ponies which were attached to jaunting cars awaiting tourists looking for a novel way to explore The Gap. I pedalled on weaving through the mass of walkers as far as the first bridge after which the atmosphere of the road turned into a peaceful calm of solitude.

Another winding narrow road carved out of rock led to the summit where The Black Valley lay in wait. This turned out to be the highlight of a route full of highlights. A fast descent on narrow roads led to a junction manned by a man in a cap. I asked which way for Molls gap and was directed in a swift concise manner. I noticed a tourist in a car behind me stop to also speak with the man and wondered if he spends his days standing at the junction in the middle of what feels like the least inhabited part of the Country waiting to direct those who have lost their way.

The Black Valley is an amazing place to cycle through. The road twists and turns past small waterfalls and rocky woodland outcroppings surrounded by the highest mountains in the land and is most definitely best sampled on a bike.

Looking across at Molls Gap straight ahead I still had a loop to complete in order to reach that height in the distance. Another winding climb brought me to my final summit of the day before the ten kilometre descent back down to the Kenmare Bay hotel once again.

This route would rate a six out of seven for difficulty."

You can book the Kenmare Bay Hotel Online Here or by calling 1850 200 560 (Lines open 9am to 5.30pm Monday to Friday) 

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