On a glorious sun drenched morning, I set off with my teammates, Siobhan, Neasa, Steve and Allie for our Tour de Dingle. Our 45-kilometer (26 miles) biking adventure was to take us on a loop of the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, situated on the west coast of Ireland. This scenic and eye pleasing ride runs along the coastline, up a number of steep but manageable hills, and offers breathtaking views of the Atlantic Ocean, ragged cliffs and nearby Blaskatt Islands.
The town of Dingle is a small quiet Irish seaside fishing town with plenty of colorful pubs and attractions. When entering a pub for a quick pint, one will often see a number of tourists intermingling with the locals. The docks are full of fishing boats heading out for the next catch in the rough Atlantic waters, as well as visitors waiting for a “dolphin cruise” to catch a glimpse of Fungi; the town’s resident dolphin for over twenty years.
As our cycling team arrived in Dingle, we quickly took in the ambience of the town, but we were keenly focused on the task at hand. Siobhan, Neasa and Allie were the newcomers on the tour; you could sense their apprehension and excitement. Steve and I had completed the cycling loop a number of years ago; we were the self proclaimed veterans of the ride.
We were set on completing the Tour de Dingle
We prepared for our journey by stocking on goods at the local SuperValu supermarket in town. After we bought sandwiches and bottled waters, we walked to Paddy’s Bicycle Hire and selected a bike that would be our sole mode of transportation for the day. The bikes were in perfect condition; the rental cost of 10 euros a great deal.
Our trip began without any problems; we headed out of town, along the Slea Head Drive. Dingle Bay looked beautiful from the road; the scent of salt water ever present in the air. As we cycled along the Slea Head Drive, we couldn’t help but notice that the road was fairly busy. Due to the high hedge rows and solidly built stone walls, one has to leave about two feet between the bike and the branches and stones. The cars and trucks seemed like they were constantly whizzing by us. Once in a while, we’d hear a big engine; we’d look behind and realize that a giant bus was practically touching us. It made the journey more interesting.
The road to the westernmost tip of Ireland is a gradual incline with some twists and turns along the way. We passed several tourist spots, including ruins from a village and stone forts. As we pedaled further and further uphill, Dingle Bay looked magnificent. The turquoise blue water sparkled in the sunshine; the jagged cliffs provided a panoramic view that is unequalled. In the distance we could see a lone kayaker gradually moving through the surf. The road along the bay provides several spots to park, bike, car or gander out into the open water. These were perfect water breaks. The Tour de Dingle was running smoothly. By this time, Steve and Allie had pulled away from the rest of the pack.
The road continued to meander up along the coast; the land looked more and more rugged the further we cycled. The tall green grass was blowing in the wind; the sense of isolation very apparent. As we continued to climb the hill, we encountered a ruin of a house that still is solidly standing, but probably has not been touched in decades. The roof was somewhat intact; the wooden beams were visible above the stone walls. A little further up, we came upon a rugged bend in the road with a large stream running over the road and down into the sea. Siobhan, Neasa and I eventually caught up to Steve and Allie at the top of the coastal road. Looking back towards the bay, we could see the road we had just traveled along. It was quite a feat to get this far for a few amateur cyclists, but we realized that we had much more to go.
The westernmost tip of Ireland at Slea Head is simply beautiful. A quick bend in the road brought us out to a lookout that sat above the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. This spot marked the last of Ireland that thousands of immigrants from the Dingle Peninsula would see before heading off to foreign lands; it is represented by a crucifix. One can sense the spirituality of the area, especially when you look out over the Atlantic and see white looking Blasket Islands with the remarkable Great Blasket Island in the forefront. These islands seem so close, but are cut off from the mainland by the dangerous currents of the Atlantic Ocean. The islands used to be inhabited, but are now a tourist destination, where visitors can stay in refurbished accommodations and experience the natural beauty of the area.
We decided to take a break and rest on a stretch of grass overlooking a beautiful sandy beach nestled in a cove. High above were the green hills that seemed to cradle the sandy beach below. As we sat on the grass and ate our lunch, the rich sun reflected its rays off the deep blue Atlantic Ocean. The Blaskets sat across the Atlantic; far, far away was North America. I tried to find the skyscrapers of New York, but the thousands of miles of ocean obstructed my view.
As we strapped on our backpacks and headed off on the Slea Head Drive once again, we found ourselves on a relatively flat route. A stretch of hilly and rocky terrain appeared on our left. We could see a trail that led to the top of the hill, so we parked our bikes and headed for it. After a five-minute walk, we were overlooking the entire peninsula. To our east sat incredibly beautiful steep, rolling hills with a smattering of houses. To our west, the Atlantic Ocean’s different shades of blue created a kaleidoscope of colors. This panoramic masterpiece of deep colors is like no other in the world.
After taking in all the colors and beauty of the setting, it was time to get back on the road. Approaching the small town of Dunquin, we noticed that a large piece of the original road had broken away and had crashed down to the sea below. Luckily for us, a new road had recently been constructed which saved us from navigating around fields. The small town of Dunquin became famous in 1970 when the film, Ryan’s Daughter, shot many scenes in the town and coastline. It is often referred to as “the next parish to America”; closest to the Blasket Islands. A small boat from the local beach/pier makes several journeys out to the Blaskets carrying visitors. We watched a raft bring people to the boat, which was anchored in deeper water. Both bobbed up and down from the swells. The seafaring adventurers made it safely onto the boat, speeding off toward the Blaskets.
Beyond Dunquin, the road took us more inland. We were heading back towards Dingle town; the coastal views began to disappear. We could see we had to get up over hills to get to the other side. Questions began to surface from the “team” members: how many more miles were left. We looked out into the distance; the hills brought fear to some faces.
The toughest thing about navigating the Dingle Peninsula is the variety of road signs. Some show distances in miles; some show distances in kilometers. Heading towards Dingle on the inland road, we encountered a small intersection where two signs pointed to Dingle. The road we were on seemed to head up a hill towards town. If we made a left, it appeared we would also end up in Dingle. The road on the right didn’t have a big hill. The trick was finding the shortest distancel.
At this point, Steve, using his memory from a previous journey, remained focused on the road we were on. He decided to keep heading straight up the hill. The rest of the group lagged behind. For some reason, I thought we should make a left; I headed towards the flat road. I yelled for Steve to come back to the group and make the left turn. He wasn’t happy. His Lance Armstrong effort was impressive, but it was all for nothing. He was sure we were going out of our way; a few miles later, I realized he was correct.
We cycled through small towns; evidence it was time to finish the journey. A bend in the road led us to a steep hill. I decided to surge toward the top, but I soon realized the road wrapped around the hill for probably another few miles. I knew there could be mutiny. Steve and Allie appeared first. After a mild display of emotions towards me, they decided to keep on heading up. Steve pointed towards the south, and showed me where the other road that he determinedly cycled up cut into this road. Siobhan and Neasa followed five minutes later. Siobhan looked towards the distance and voiced her displeasure. Neasa laughed.
The last three miles up this major hill were tough, but also a reminder of how far we’d come. By the time we reached the top, we could see the entire western portion of the peninsula, with the indentations of roads we had just navigated. While riding up to the summit, we cycled past other weary cyclists, yearning for a pint in a Dingle pub. The final four miles were the easiest; we flew down. With Dingle Harbor appearing in the distance, our long and memorable journey was coming to an end.
After returning our bikes to Paddy and watching Siobhan perform a Michael Jackson Moondance move evading a biting dog at the same time, we went into the pub. We had spent five hours cycling around the peninsula. The soreness in our legs disappeared in a few hours, but the beautiful images of the rolling hills, white cliffs and sparkling ocean will be forever etched in our minds. The trip proved to be an accomplishment for all of us. Who knows what’s next? The Tour de France is a distinct possibility.
New York based freelance writer, Gavin Wilk, has studied, traveled, and worked abroad, throughout the United States, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. His experiences have included camping in the rugged outback of Australia, bungy jumping in New Zealand and getting hit by a tractor while driving in Ireland.