Cycling And Island Hopping Along The Wild Atlantic Way

Meet Conor Phelan, who I am delighted will be joining Journalist On The Run as a regular contributor! Conor is an incredible talented photographer and is also a keen adventurer and I’m delighted for him to share his travel tales both at home and abroad with all of you. Here Conor writes about his experiences island hopping along Ireland’s west coast.

The much lauded and celebrated Wild Atlantic Way really is one of the greatest road trips that can be undertaken, and you don’t even need to leave the lovely Irish shores to enjoy it. Or do you? Maybe the Wild Atlantic Way isn’t just a road to drive along, but also a tangible connection route for Ireland’s most inaccessible areas; Ireland’s mysterious islands. To do these great islands justice, this article will only talk about three; Achill Island, Clare Island and Inis Mór.

The first island is the easiest to get to, and even though there’s no ferry, you can still enjoy the journey if you get on the island by cycling the Great Western Greenway. The Greenway is an old railway track that has been converted to a cycling path that brings you from Westport through Newport to Achill Sound You can use your own bike, or rent one at the start of the trail in Westport or Newport. Between Newport and Westport the Greenway follows the main road so it’s not the most entertaining ride, but once you get on the road to Achill proper, the Greenway becomes one of the most fun cycles you’ll ever do. It’s great for experienced and nervous cyclists alike, it crosses a few very minor roads, and there are a few gates to traverse but the even, flat surface is a the perfect platform to see the raw beauty of the Island.

When you arrive in Achill Sound, you have several options for places to stay, B&Bs and a hostel, but if you have even a little cycle left in you, head on through the town and up a long slow hill and look out for signs for the Valley House Holiday Hostel to the right. If you thought the Greenway was fun to cycle, wait until you get to this road! A long sweeping downhill that is one of the most fun bike rides you’ll ever experience. However, what goes down must go up and when you go back to Achill Sound you’ll be cursing your way up the steep slope with aching legs and strained lungs. The hostel itself is very secluded and a wonderfully bizarre little place. Check in is in the attached pub, where food is served after 5 and Guinness is flowing. There’s a fire and guitars lying around and the family run hostel encourages all guests to sit together and enjoy themselves. Before you leave make sure you take a walk around the very cute Fairy Garden in the grounds of the hostel. If you still feel up for cycling, you can loop around the whole Island and check out some of the stunning, almost stereotypical Irish landscapes around you as you loop back around the island and back on the Greenway.

A place to watch the time go by. . . . #achill #Ireland #irelandgram #oneplustech #oneplus3 A photo posted by Conor Phelan (@conorphelanphoto) on

Only about an hour and a half’s drive, and a short ferry journey later you’ll be able to find yourself on Clare Island. Make sure to stock up on supplies in Louisburgh about 10km away from the port in Roonagh as the island is pretty sparse on shops.

When you arrive in the port a short 5 minute walk will bring you to the door of the Go Explore Hostel. For €20 a night, you get an incredible view of the Irish coastline and on a clear day you’ll be able to see Croagh Patrick , the 12 peaks and miles of stunning Irish coastline. Because the hostel faces back towards the Irish coastline, you’ll have a spectacular view of the sunrise. The rays breaking through the clouds and the distant rain showers will be one of the highlights of your day. For sunset, you can head over to the cliffs on the west of the Island and see the Atlantic in all its glory. It’s a great place to relax and take in the beauty of the Irish coastline from a ways off.

Back on the mainland, and another hour and a half drive down to Rossaveal in Galway and you can find yourself on another ferry out to the Aran Islands. Inis Mor is the largest and most popular and has enough to keep you entertained for at least a day or two. There are a few ways to get around the island, horse and trap, tour bus and renting a bike. Weather permitting, the bikes are the best option, they cost 10 a day and afford you the freedom to explore the island at your leisure. The island is pretty flat, so a moderate level of fitness is all that’s needed, but do bring water and food with you just so you don’t find yourself 30 minutes away from  TOWN and thirsty.

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Inis Mor, Image by Conor Phelan

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Inis Mor cliffs, Image by Conor Phelan

The main attraction on the island is Dún Aonghasa, an ancient fort perched perilously on the edge of the western cliffs. It’s simultaneously amazing and terrifying as Heritage Ireland decided to keep the fort essentially as it is. After the initial information centre, there’s nothing in the way of signs or barriers. A short uphill walk along a path and you’ll in suddenly find yourself in something that feels very much like the edge of the world. Much of the fort has fallen into the Atlantic and you can creep right up and peer down to see the waves crashing against the cliffs. As exhilarating as it is to get close to the cliffedge the wind is definitely capable of giving you a shove in the wrong direction, so do be careful.

  A photo posted by Conor Phelan (@conorphelanphoto) on

Once you’ve had your fill of the man made fort and dizzying cliffs, head a little down the coast to find the Wormhole, made famous by the Red Bull cliff diving competition. As crazy as it seems, this almost perfectly rectangular pool is naturally formed, and it’s easy to see why it’s used for cliff diving. Again, Heritage Ireland have done a wonderful job and have kept the signposting to a minimum, however this does mean that you’ll have to keep a sharp eye out for small red markers to get there from the town of Gort na gCapall. It does give you a sense of accomplishment when you follow the arrows across the Karst landscape, down along the cliffs and finally the wormhole appears. Because of this seclusion, even more away from the beaten track of the Island, there’s a very good chance you’ll find yourself there alone and you’ll be able to experience some of that wild solitude that so many of our heritage sites have lost to crowds of tourists.

Last week’s adventures relived. #onepluslife #oneplustech #oneplus3 #livetoday #

A photo posted by Conor Phelan (@conorphelanphoto) on

These are only three of the many islands we have sitting off the Irish shores, but what they offer is simply incredible. They are a bit more effort to get there, and a bit more liable to unpredictable weather, but that’s what makes them so great. The Wild Atlantic Way can at times feel not very wild at all, but if you do find that you’ve forgotten how wild it can be, these small islands will remind you very quickly.  

I can’t get enough of this guy #oneplustech #oneplus3 #oneplusshots #livetoday #oneplusshots #onepluslife A photo posted by Conor Phelan (@conorphelanphoto) on

Hanging out with the locals #discoverireland #Ireland #irelandgram #irelandaily #livetoday #wanderireland

A photo posted by Conor Phelan (@conorphelanphoto) on

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1 Comment

  1. November 9, 2016 / 8:42 am

    Looks beautiful! Especially if you can find a smidgeon of sunshine. :)

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