Did you know that there is a cycle map designed that would enable you to travel throughout pretty much every country in Europe on specific cycle routes. All of the details can be found here at ‘Eurovelo‘
Ireland has 2 Eurovelo Routes. One called Eurovelo 1 stretches from the border in Donegal all the way down the west coast and across the southern coast to Rosslare. This is part of a full European route that begins in Norway and ends at the lower tip of Portugal. Then Eurovelo 2 links the cities of Galway and Dublin and eventual ends up in Moscow. Whilst it is all mapped some is being developed whilst a small portion is already completed.
Some of the completed sections include the Great Western Greenway in Mayo and the Great Southern Trail in Limerick. The Deise Greenway in County Waterford recently received the full backing of all the Councillors in the local area and is making great progress. The 10km cycleway from Dungarvan to Clonea which will link up with it is already used by over 1000 people per day. In Galway €2million was allocated just this month to develop a 12km commuter Greenway which hopefully, will also make up part of the 76km Connemara Greenway in the future.
I often bring my kids down to cycle the Dungarvan Clonea route and decided it was time to take a look at the other facilities around the country, so this week I headed off to Rathkeale to check out what the Great Southern Heritage Trail had to offer.
The evening before I logged onto the website for directions. I also had a look at google street view just to be sure.
Upon arrival in Rathkeale I managed to fine the Heritage building pretty easily but there were no signs for the cycle route in obvious view. At 2pm on a thursday afternoon the car park was closed and I choose not to park in front of the heritage building itself just in case I would find myself locked in upon returning from the cycle.
Across the road is a rear entrance into The Rathkeale House Hotel which has a great big car park. Although there were signs advising that the car park was for patrons use only, it was pretty empty and I’m sure a coffee or a Lucozade in the bar after the cycle would qualify you as a patron.
Back over to the Heritage building and off I set. On by a nice wooden bench and over a small bridge, past a young family and there was a deserted track stretching out ahead. It was pure bliss. Although I was so carried away with relishing the traffic free environment that I missed the 120 degree right hand turn that I should have taken about 1km in, just after you go over a bridge. However, within a few hundred meters the trail came to an end so I doubled back and spotted it on the second pass. Down under a bridge and very soon I was off out into the country side.
The fresh air filled my lungs as the sun pushed aside the rolling clouds, and even the wind decided to be going my way. Passing beneath the old Railway bridges I sat up to take in all the beautiful surroundings. After about 25 minutes I approached a farmyard which is bisected by the greenway route. Luckily I was almost at a stop when my handlebars became entangled in a string that was tied across the path. Obviously it was used by the farmer to direct his cows but a cyclist could easily become entangled in the almost invisible booby trap.
Away through a gate and I was once more cruising along at speeds approaching 30kph on my 29er mountain bike. The surface is mostly gravel so either a hybrid or mountain bike would be most suitable. A road bike like a Trek Domane, Giant Defy Advanced or Specialized Roubaix with 25mm Conti Grand Prix 4season tyres would manage it fine, but road bikes really are better suited to tarmac.
On past the village of Ardagh where plenty of the locals were out walking and on towards Abbyfeale the trail began to rise up gradually. Luckily trains don’t like steep hills so most converted railway lines are pretty flat and manage to taper out hills into shallow gradual ascents.
The novelty of being removed from all traffic never wears thin. Even at one point where the trail becomes a well segregated from the main road piece of tarmac you still feel as if you are in your own little bubble.
There are quiet a few gates to navigate along the way with a number of different styles. The fancy ornate wooden swinging gates are the most awkward for cyclists to try to manoeuvre around. But as you get nearer to Abbyfeale there are more sprung galvanised gates which you can get through without having to dismount completely from the bike and are considerably less hassle. They probably cost a lot less too.
Back in away from the traffic again I am reminded of an amtrack train trip that I once took across North America. A guide in a viewing car one day remarked that you get to see parts of the country on a train that you would never see from a car. The same can be said of what you see from a bicycle on converted railway lines.
Approaching Abbyfeale more and more people were out making use of the great facility and then 3km later, having just passed an old school desk that reminded me of my childhood I sadly came to the end of the line.
The pallets barricading the way signify a little opposition from the residents of North County Kerry. This I found rather ironic for the tourism capital of the country. The vocal opposition to continuing the line through to Listowel cites anti-social behaviour as a reason for objecting to the greenway. My experience of the Southern Heritage Trail was a steady flow of walkers who waved, cyclists who smiled and joggers who said hello. This all seemed very sociable to me. I also noticed the complete lack of any litter for the entire 36km (or 72km as I doubled back on myself). This is a fantastic facility that both benefits all who live nearby and also brings tourists and their euros to the area so I feel should be encouraged and facilitated in every way possible. But that’s just my tuppence worth.
On my return journey I hopped off at Abbyfeale to see how well signposted it was at that end. I was delighted to see a sign out on the main road and a good sized car park open for business.
Retracing my route back to Rathkeale was just as enjoyable. It was now getting busier along the route as more people were out making the most of the now longer evenings. The wind was now against me but another advantage of the converted railway lines is the abundance of shelter available from the close proximity of the hedges and ditches.
Too soon my day came to an end but I resolved to return again. How often do you get to cycle 72km without interacting with a single car ?