Photo by Jason DeVarennes

Friday, November 7, 2014

Ireland - Carlow

For us, no trip to Ireland would be complete without a journey down to Carlow. While John grew up in Dublin, his parents were from County Carlow. He, along with his brothers and sisters spent many a summer working and playing at his grandparent's farm. Most of his extended family still live in County Carlow and John's sister, Daphne bought a house there a few years ago, and extended an invitation for us to come stay whenever we'd like. She may grow to regret that.

This area is off-the-beaten-tourist track, but it is a hidden gem. Mount Leinster and the Blackstairs Mountains straddle the border between Counties Carlow and Wexford, and provide a dramatic backdrop to the rolling green hillsides dotted with sheep. Old castle ruins and grand estates are also a common sight. The massive network of tiny roads is a blessing for cyclists. It is truly hard to go wrong when mapping out a bike ride in the area. That said, just as in most of Ireland, wider tires and fenders are a good idea, given the chip seal road surface, and the tendency for grass to grow in the middle of the road, along with the fact that sheep tend to leave messy calling cards in the road when they are moved from field to field.

One must always keep in mind that John's favorite routes, of course, include lots of climbing. Nearby Mount Leinster is what I will call his reference mountain. From the time he was a wee lad going out for bike rides from his grandparents home, he made regular excursions out to climb to the Nine Stones, the highest point on the public road that crosses Mount Leinster. From the Nine Stones, depending on weather and courage, one can go around the gate continue on an access road used by RTÉ maintenance workers, hikers and cyclists to tackle the 16% grades up to the mast at the summit.

This is a pilgrimage of sorts for John whenever we are in Ireland, but this year we didn't quite leave enough time to get all the way down to Mount Leinster. Daphne had made dinner reservations at Sha-Roe Bistro in Clonegal, a special treat for gourmet food lovers. We were sent out with instructions to work up an appetite, but to be home in time to go out for dinner.
In addition to our time constraints, the wind and rain that has featured so prominently in all my recent ride reports also influenced our choice of routes. With this in mind, David put together a route using some roads that had been part of a planned fleche ride in the spring. At the last minute he learned he had to work, and abandoned his teammates to do the route without him. After a few of the climbs and gnarly descents, I began to wonder if he had designed this route fully aware that he would not be able to ride, and I decided that surely his teammates must have come to the same conclusion!

Despite our instructions to come home with a hearty appetite, we did stop for lunch, but we re-stoked our appetites with more cycling in the afternoon.

Our view at lunch.

Hoping for nice light, we headed home via Duckett's Grove.

We joked that if we won the lottery, we could buy Duckett's Grove and restore it. I sent the lads out to buy lottery tickets that evening. 

Dinner was fabulous and I highly recommend that visitors seek out Sha-Roe in Clonegal. A few years ago, I remember one particular day when David, John and I cycled through the village of Clonegal. Clonegal is a wee crossroads, with one tiny shop that barely had more than fig-rolls and cheese to offer to three hungry cyclists. That day we shivered in a park across the street from Sha-Roe, feasting on our cheese and fig rolls and fantasizing about enjoying a delicious meal and hot fire in the café across the way. The reality of that meal was even better than the three cold and hungry cyclists imagined.

1 comment:

  1. I hope you win the lottery and restore Duckett's Grove. It's quite impressive.
    Excellent photos and a terrific narrative.
    Well done!

    - Jennifer