Thursday, November 1, 2012

From water to wheels

Winter Solstice is out of the water in Eamonn Egan's shed in Portumna, drying out for repair work on the hull. So we're in our winter travelling vehicle. We began the October weekend in Galway, parked down at the docks with several other vans, most of which were from the North. I was reading a poem at the launch of Crannóg magazine in the Crane Bar and we'd planned an early night but then The Lazy Blues Band came on and we couldn't tear ourselves away. Great, foot-tapping music. They play at the Crane the last Friday of every month and we're planning to go again.

Spiddal with friends on Saturday night after a lunchtime poetry launch. My friend Kevin O'Shea's first collection The Art of Non-Fishing is just published with Doire Press, and a fine book of poems it is. The sun shone, we pootled about on our bicycles, had a walk on the beach at Furbo before dinner and watched the Aran Islands appear to levitate.

Then Sunday. Wind. Rain. Would we continue on to Westport and keep in place our plans for cycling along some of the Great Western Greenway? The forecast for Monday was good, but could we trust it? In the end we did. Drove cross country to Killary Harbour, then through the mountains past Doo Lough to Louisburgh. It rained. And rained. And wild wind. But it was still spectacular. Out from Louisburgh is Roonah Point where the ferries leave for Clare Island and Inishturk. The Clare Island ferry was coming in. Beam-on waves and rocking wildly. Into the tiny harbour, turning in its own length, passengers ashore and taken on board. Put our little escapades on Lough Derg in a Force Five into perspective.

We found the camper van spot in Westport down at the harbour.

The sky cleared ready for Monday and we were all set for Achill Island, a place of bog and mountain and great stretches of beach where the dogs ran about and rolled in the sand. They won't go in the water though. Fresh-water dogs these. They tasted the salt once and now keep well clear from that weird stuff.

Next an attempt at coffee in a beach-side hotel. It was what was happening on the beach that attracted us, not the somewhat scruffy look of the hotel.

I've made this beg so you can see these are not birds flitting about above the waves but kites, and attached by lines beneath them are surfers scooting from side to side across the white water. They appeared to have perfect control of their direction, turning back and forth. Inside the hotel the remains of many breakfasts littered the dining-room tables. The kite surfers were staying here. The coffee arrived in a teapot and the smell wasn't encouraging. A whole pot of instant coffee.

We left and went to the Beehive in Keel. Ordered afresh. But it was worth it to see these kite surfers.

From Keel on the south of Achill we took the road signposted Keem Strand. The road went up and up, sheer drop to the left (Joe was driving) with no barrier at all.
'Keep your eyes on the road for god's sake,' I muttered, keeping mine there too. Spectacular views be damned. I had to will us to stay on the road, for in circumstances such as this the van, though normally good at staying in a straight line, would surely take it into its head to swerve over the edge, Joe powerless to stop it.

The view from the other side, though, was stunning.

And finally to the Great Western Greenway. We began at Mulranny and cycled towards Newport. This stretch was 18 km long, but we'd only be able to do part of it, not wishing to leave the dogs in the van for too long. In the end we turned here after 11 km.

What joy to have a dedicated off-road path. The only hazard was other cyclists. There were whole families with baby in a bike trailer and little children on a tandem-type affair or on their own mini-bikes. People on rental bikes (doing one way with a pick-up at the end). Serious cyclists two abreast and not moving over. Hi viz jackets everywhere. Sunshine. Smiles. Grimaces as the unfit staggered up the hills pushing their bikes.

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