CYCLING THE WILD ATLANTIC WAY & WESTERN IRELAND
by Tom Cooper
Reviewed by Steve Dyster
Like the North Coast 500 in the Scotland’s Highlands, the Wild Atlantic Way, has been promoted as a driving route, taking in Ireland’s beautiful and varied coast from Cork to Londonderry (Derry). Seems a shame to fill such beautiful places with motor vehicles, so a cycling guide is welcome. Tom Cooper is just the chap to deliver this, an enthusiastic cycle tourer and author of the 2010 Cicerone guide, “Cycle Touring in Ireland.”
The new book is described as a second edition, I assume of the 2010 guide. There’s is a little more to it than just revisions, though. The older guide includes routes further east in Northern Ireland; linking Belfast, Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, and Cork; Dublin to Limerick: through Killarney. However, for many touring cyclists, it is the west coast that pulls most strongly., and this was reflected in the 2010 version.
The good news for the west coast tourer is that the refocusing of the guide has allowed a reduction in size to one that will slip into a cycling jersey pocket. As the author points out, this is not a guide to the Wild Atlantic Way: it avoids, wherever possible, busy sections of main road.
If you are lucky enough to have enough time to do the whole journey in one go, good for you. For those who have not, the guide actually describes six self-contained cycle tours. Three are circular, or, at least, have a circular element. For example, the second route is linear between Donegal town and Sligo and then becomes a circular route via Westport, before returning to Sligo. Many of the seating and finishing points can be reached by rail, although not all.
Advice on practicalities such as these are covered in the introductory pages; background history, geography, geology, and so on. Given the author’s experience of cycling in Ireland, the advice seems pretty sound, although there’ll always be a few things that cycle tourers - individualists if ever there were any - might disagree with. There are few, and they are personal things. Many, especially carrying a paper map as a back up to on-line or .gpx tracks, I’d wholeheartedly agree with. Likewise, keeping an eye out for festival dates is oft forgotten, but vital for those in search of festivals or seeking accommodation.
Appendices contain lists of contacts, glossary, further reading and, very helpfully, a section outlining the main deviations form the Wild Atlantic Way driving route.
The routes in between are imaginatively designed to take in the best scenery, the quietest roads, and give access to a accommodation at the end of each section. Needless to say, it is up to you to decide how far you ride each day, but the guide provides all you need to explore the outer-edge of Europe, regardless of your energy, or lack of it. there are strong hints where good alternative routes exist. For example, mention is made of the Kingfisher Trail, linking Beleek, near Ballyshannon, to Enniskillen, Carrick-on-Shannon, and Sligo, as opposed to the much, much shorter coastal route between Ballyshannon and Sligo. The Kingfisher Trail was covered in the 2010 guide. Sometimes, flatter routes are suggested as an alternative to more strenuous routes for which some might find a motor desirable. Cleverly, the author also looks to the future. There are a number of “Greenway” proposals under consideration that would affect the routes.
Of course, if you are one of those lucky folk aiming to go all the way from Derry (Londonderry) to Cork, then select the sections of route you wish to take - you have choices!
A lot of the photographs brought back memories of cycling on the west coast many years ago. Little seemed to have changed. For the newcomer to cycling in Ireland will only add to the temptation to book your travel tickets.
An unusual, for Cicerone, feature of both the 2010 book and the new guide are route cards. Yes, you can download .gpx files for the routes and get the latest updates by registering your book purchase. Some like hard copy. Using a format similar to an addax card, though employing symbols rather than letters, the author has provided directions that can be copied, cut into strips, and placed on top of a bar-bag or in a map/route card holder. Allowing the guide to be used for planning and to remain in the jersey pocket, or safe from those “soft” Irish days in the pannier, this seems to me like a good idea. Others have expressed less enthusiasm for this format, but I certainly find it easier to follow on the fly than directions within the general text. Personal preference, again.
The guide makes easy reading, and finds a good balance between breadth and depth. In both concept and execution it will be a welcome addition to the saddle-bag.