Our cycling experience through Killarney National Park was more dramatic and exciting than we could have planned for, clear blue skies, hauntingly misty air, silent winding streams and stunning rolling green mountains. There is no better way to fully enjoy a new area, exploring Irelands landscapes than to be outdoors taking on an activity and interacting with the local population. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone who loves cycling and exploring.
The day began with an early 6am start, excitement in our stomachs, preparing our meals and coffee with coconut cream and honey. We then walked from the house where we were renting a room, towards the town centre, about half an hour away, to the bike rental shop, where we chose our bikes, filled out the paperwork, and gathered some great local advice and detailed map, then we were off!
I dont have a bucket list, but I do have a bike-it list!
Cycling out of Killarney town and heading towards the picturesque lake of Lough Leane, to the historic Ross Castle which stood high on the bank of the lake, where our tour was to begin. We arrived 45 minutes early which allowed time for an exploration ride around Ross island, before the boat headed off. It was a pleasurable loop in the forest, along the lakes edge, with stunning scenery, and thanks to the beautiful clear day and blue sky, the views were far and wide across the water to the mountains beyond. There were a few dog walkers and cyclists around, but it was mostly quiet and peaceful, with a few rocky areas and large tree roots to overcome, but overall a fun little island to explore.
We headed back to the boat docking area where we used the restrooms and relaxed on the lawn with our flasks of tea, and waited to be called forward, watching the local Irishmen prepare their boats and chatting, in a humours tone with endless laughter and smiles.
The bikes went separately in a different boat, and 12 of us jumped into one small open topped fishing boat with a small motor and timber benches, she was called Hollie Belle, part of the group called the ‘Gap of Dunloe Tours.’ Our tour guide was great fun, with lots of jokes at the ready, sharing stories and short history lessons of the area as we wound our way across the dark blue lake, where we stopped on an island for a quick look around the ancient crumbling medieval church.
Back in the boat, the ride was breath-taking, as we were surrounded by large green rocky hills covered in huge Rhododendrons, striking tall trees, yellow gorse, purple heather, billowing grasses, and ferns. The large lake turned into a small winding river, with low hanging trees and water gently lapping at the bank’s edges. We approached a rough crossing area over a small rapid of strong gushing water under a bridge, across which two strong men pulled us through with the rope and the help of the motor. It was a good thing we brought our waterproof jackets and a scarf, because the boat ride was about 2 hours in total, the air had a slight chill and every so often there was a small splash of water as we moved across the water.
Once we reached the other side of the smaller lake, we docked at the boat platform on the edge of the river, where our bikes were all waiting, one by one, we found our rented bikes and walked up a gentle slope to a local café, called Lord Brandons Lodge, which had a large selection of sandwiches, cakes, drinks and veggie dishes. The perfect spot to sit, snack and sip a hot drink looking over the stunning landscape. We prepared ourselves, sorting out our backpacks, using the loo’s and checking the map, then we were off on our cycling adventures!
On into the national park we went, this next part was quite tough, the route was a constant uphill climb, gears in low, deep breathing and legs pushing forwards. It was an easy route to follow as there was one main route, in the direction of ‘Gap Dunloe’ but the road was not an easy cycle, we stopped after every few bends for a breather and a rest, but once we hit what seemed to be almost the top and a large flat area, we found a couple of comfortable rocks, ate an apple, some homemade oat and nut cookies and drank tea from our flasks. It was a well-deserved rest after that climb, and a beautiful spot to look back in the direction we had come from, over the lakes and textured landscape. The sky wasn’t bright blue anymore, grey clouds had rolled in and the drizzle had started, but luckily the air was not very cold, so we weren’t too uncomfortable, but we packed our things quickly and headed off once again. This uphill section took us about an hour and even walking up the hill pushing our bikes in a few areas, as this was easier then cycling up.
Over on the other side of the hill, this road was more populated with other cyclists, many walkers and horse drawn carriages with the locals taking out excited travellers around the park. The next half of the route was all downhill, along a winding stream, it was such a pleasurable ride, wind whipping at our hair, the smell of fresh water and vegetation all around, but with more mist settling in. The further down we rode the more cars we encountered as vehicles are only allowed to drive to a certain point in the park, with walkers jumping out ready to explore the park.
We then reached a small populated area of shops, farms, cafes, seating and parking, this was a good spot to stop and have lunch. We found a good seating area just off the busy road, retrieved our prepared lunch boxes and snacks from our bags while listening to the happy tune of Irish music flowing out of the café and watching the world go by with the local farmers and horsemen tending to their animals.
After that good rest, we checked our map and took off for the last part of our journey, as we headed down towards Dunloe, along Gap road and joined the main road, Ring of Kerry (N72). This was a short ten-minute section cycling along the footpath along the main road before turning off near the Castlerosse golf course and heading between the trees along a slightly bumpy dirt path. We emerged near the town centre and took a leisurely cycle stroll through the main streets where we found a large Tesco, we locked up the bikes and popped inside to buy a few snacks and drinks for the walk home. We made it back to the cycle shop by 4pm, dropped the bikes off and wandered back to our rented room, on legs which were so tired and wobbly, but it was a good relaxing walk as we snacked on humus, olives, bread and tomatoes.
A long warm shower was happily welcomed, then we relaxed with a delicious bottle of red wine and a book. It was such a beautiful day out, an explosion of excitement for the body, brain and all our senses. I would highly recommend this trip to anyone who loves cycling and exploring, even if you are not the fittest person on a bike, they also rent out e-bikes which have a small motor to help you cycle, so you can still have a great day out no matter your fitness level!