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Home Travel StoriesSouthern Ireland 2015

Kerry's Ring And Skibbereen

By Ren Withnell

This damn rib sees to it that I'm up a little earlier that I want to be. Not to worry as I've had some sleep and I feel better for it. Today I plan to "do" the famous Ring Of Kerry. It seems that whenever you mention Ireland the Ring Of Kerry is comes up, it is a must do and you've not been to Ireland unless you've circumnavigated the Ring. I am more than sceptical. 

When a film is advertised it is hyped up as high as possible to encourage folks to part with their pennies. It's always the greatest, most amazing, best ever and absolutely must see event of the century. By the time you get to the cinema you're not expecting to watch a movie, you are expecting to experience a life changing and earth shattering event. Of course what you will see is a movie. It might be a very good movie but it won't change your life or answer any big questions. It will leave you feeling let down because even the best film can't exceed the hype around it. This is what I am preparing myself for with The Ring Of Kerry, I'm preparing for an anticlimax.

Tent down, bike packed and I'm ready to roll, hell yeah bring it on! Erm, hang on, I've only covered 25 miles and it's starting to rain. Who ordered this as it certainly wasn't me? I suppose I'll be looking at this beautiful Ring Of Kerry through a soggy visor. I pull in to a spare patch of tarmac outside a house and spend 10 minutes wriggling then hopping around as I fight myself into my waterproofs. I guess this is the downside of The Emerald Isle.

A soggy road at the start of the Ring of Kerry
I'm learning the Irish Jig at the roadside as the rain starts. 

Back on the road and suitably protected the rain picks up and I slow down to a safe pace. I have been warned that being such a popular destination the "Ring" would be filled with coaches, cars, campervans and suicidal locals trying to get past them all. While there is some traffic on this Tuesday mid morning the road is flowing at a comfortable pace without worry. Still I keep my speed down, I'm in no rush although I do need to keep an eye on the time today. I estimate I've around 150 miles to cover all in all and this will be on what I guess will be smaller roads that could be quite busy. Rushing won't get me there any quicker.

The road finally gets close to the coast and although soggy I'm treated to some big scenery across the natural bay. I spot a layby and pull in to get some pictures. As soon as I stop a campervan pulls in presumably with the same idea. After a moment a tall strong gentleman steps out and stretches in the light rain and smiles to me. He comes for a chat - his wife's a biker and she's wishing she was on two wheels on this road. I look enviously inside the cosy dry campervan and laugh to myself at how stupid the human condition is, we're never satisfied. 

A smart coach filled with oriental tourists pulls in to join us and many of them stand taking pictures of themselves against the backdrop with their mobile phones, fulfilling the stereotype of the far eastern tourist. One smiles at me and soon I learn these are no ordinary tourists, they are all ageing doctors of medicine from Korea on a reunion. The chap I'm talking too has a strong accent but his English is excellent and he's as happy and bright as a sunny day even in these grey skies. In fact they all seem thrilled to be here and this leaves me questioning my western values of envy and dissatisfaction.

Oriental tourists, the campervan and coach overlooking a bay in Ireland
Joyous folk making the most of the inclement conditions.

Back on the road I decide I am happy. The rain comes and goes and it is not cold. My bike is small but working within acceptable parameters. I am in rude health apart from my rib. I am doing something I've wanted to do for quite some time. The only fly in the ointment right now is my bladder demanding attention and if that's my biggest concern then life must be good. There'll be toilets in Cahersiveen I'm sure.

Cahersiveen is a small town and quite pretty in a coastal and tourist kind of way. What it doesn't boast is a toilet that I can find or a supermarket large enough to have such facilities. I pass on through to Waterville, with a name like that there's sure to be toilets, surely! I pull into a car park by the shoreline and I'm joined by the campervan again. There is indeed a public toilet which brings great relief. As I return I see someone moving around in the back of the campervan, I bet they're making a nice hot cup of tea, I'd love a nice hot cup of tea, I wonder if I should ask, I wish I was more bold, more forthcoming. I just step back on the bike and head off.

Leaden dark skies over the views across Waterville beach and distant hills
Waterville brings relief and improving scenery across the waters.

OK, fair enough, I have to admit there are some rather impressive views opening out before me. Hills and mountains fall into the sea as the sun breaks through the clouds. All I need is a cup of tea to nicely round this off and fortuitously a cafe appears around the next bend, splendid. The cafe is part of Wave Crest campsite that looks rather smart amidst the hills and the ocean. I enquire as to prices and while it's not cheap I'll bear this place in mind if ever the opportunity to return comes up. 

Looking down onto the sea and a cove as I travel the ring of kerry
OK, I admit there are some lovely views along the road.
A beach and views across to mountains in the ring of kerry
And it seems the sun is making an appearance too.

I do not fully complete the Ring Of Kerry, my journey takes me south at Kenmare. I park in the busy main street of Kenmare outside a small supermarket then purchase a sandwich and a chocolate bar from within. As I eat my late lunch I observe the characters coming in and out of a pub next door. One is a carbon copy of Father Jack from the TV program Father Ted. Red nose, ruddy face, staggering into traffic, hunched over, string for a belt and a tatty old blazer. Another is a pot bellied navvy with shovels for hands and a beaming grin for everyone. He engages a bunch of youths and is happy for a tourist to snap him posing with his Guinness. The youths look like any others but they openly tease and laugh at each other, they seem comfortable with themselves as opposed to the self conscious highly strung teenagers of home. It doesn't look much different here but it feels it.

A car filled and busy main street through Kenmare
Kenmare is filled with traffic and characters.

The road from Kenmare to Glengariff is as good and as quiet as any in Scotland, with views and corners aplenty. Glengariff is a pretty place that deserves far more attention than the 5 minutes I give it. At Bantry Harbour I meet a Cork man hoping to cross to Whiddy Island on the ferry, his manners speak of shyness and social discomfort yet still he manages to talk with ease in his voice. More hills, more corners, more pleasant villages and a sense of space and I'm beginning to wonder why everyone makes a fuss about The Ring Of Kerry rather than The Road To Skibbereen. The N71 is a cracker I tell ya.

Hills, lochs, mountains and a winding road to Skibbereen
Aaah, this is what it's all about. Fab.

Skibbereen won't take your breath away but it appears to be a fine place to spend an evening. After the rain this morning the sun is shining and the wind had dropped to a breeze. Finding the campsite is easy enough with the help of my map app and the campsite is up to scratch. Except for my usual complaint - as ever the campers who need the toilets more than the caravanners are placed furthest from the toilets. Why oh why oh why oh why oh why...

As I roll up to pitch I see 2 German plated Triumphs, one in bits being attended to by a bemused bloke with his partner trying to help out and keep him calm. Being German they speak good English and it seems "der blinken und der hupen ist kaput". No indicators, no horn, and it's definitely not the fuse. As I pitch up the multimeter comes out, the side panels come off, wires are pulled and heads are scratched. I fill my water carrier as the spanners come out. I sort myself a cup of tea and finally there is a joyous yelp. It is the fuse, they'd checked the wrong one. It would be funny but I've made far far worse mistakes myself in the past, believe me. Kill switch...I'll leave it at that.

Ren's bike and the 2 German Triumphs at Skibbereen campsite
Is it fixed yet? My Germanic camping buddies.

I take myself for a walk around Skibbereen in the hope I might stumble upon a "session". I can't help but be reminded of France again. I...I don't know. Is it the painted houses? Is it the quiet streets? Is it the laid back feeling? It is definitely smarter and better maintained than a French town yet still it has that feeling. Why? Perhaps it's just because I'm travelling and I'm transposing the feelings from when I was in France to the feelings I have now. I could do with a second opinion. There's no sign of a session, in fact on this Tuesday evening there's very few signs of life in Skibbereen. Bedtime I think.

Prologue Ren's getting a plan together for a trip to Ireland. What can he expect and is he too tight to prepare his bike properly?
Cruising To Holyhead It's a slow ride into the headwinds as Ren heads off to the port of Holyhead on his overloaded CBF 125.
A Ferry And A Friend - Dublin The ferry to Ireland is fine but Dublin brings confusion. The rest of the day is spent catching up with an old friend filled with philosophy.
Across Ireland To Adare After a great breakfast Ren starts out across Ireland in search of what makes this place unique
The Dingle Peninsula Is the Wild Atlantic Way as wild as it's name suggests? As Ren reaches the West of Ireland will he find what makes this place special and unique?
Kerry's Ring And Skibbereen Will the famous Ring Of Kerry live up to the hype? Has Ren spotted the real Father Jack? Will the Germans ever get their Motorrad fixed? Oooooh the excitement is killing me.
The Southern Coastline Ireland's southern coastline provides a mix of beauty and disadvantage along with sunshine and rain. There's also a small ferry as long as he doesn't get lost again.
East Coast Session With time to spare Ren is meandering around the South Eastern coast of Ireland and thinking too much. He also finds a Session...sort of.
Dublin And Chillin' On his last day in Ireland Ren has time to spare and yet there's never enough time. Time is the most precious thing we have.
Holy Men To Holyhead Upon his return to Holyhead Ren is joined by a group of fellow bikers on a mission from God. This gets Ren thinking about life, the universe and everything. 42.
Epilogue - Southern Ireland 2015 Ren sums up his thoughts on Ireland. He's also coming to terms with the fact that the way he travels may no longer be right for him. Is this the end of Bikes And Travels?!

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