Loving the Loop

“Are you really earthy and wholesome then?” a colleague asked me recently. I told her I was about 65% earthy, but reassured her that “I’m not one for eating placentas, though. I have my limits”. I guess the fact that I took two days and three nights to take on the 65kms Loop Head Cycleway in County Clare, is synonymous with my wishy washy green side. Eco warriors would have packed tents into panniers and cycled it in a day. Whereas I booked into three different accommodations, ate a lot more than lentils boiled up on a Calor gas, and finished it all off with a seaweed bath and a major pamper.

Looking North to rock stacks along North side of Loop Head Peninsula
Catherine on the Loop Head Cycle Way looking North towards Cliffs of Moher Photo: Catherine Mack

The Loop Head Cycleway starts and ends in Kilkee, also home to The Kilkee Thalassotherapy Centre, a seaweed bathhouse and treatment centre.  The Centre also has accommodation, so I booked in here for my last night, knowing  that if it poured the whole way round the Head, I would have that image to keep me going. The superbly helpful owner of the Centre, Eileen Mulcahy, not only allowed me to leave my car there, but also kindly arranged for a hired bike to be delivered. So, before I even straddled a saddle, I was already loving the Loop.

Amazing sunset at Loop Head lighthouse, looking back inland up the South side of the peninsula Photo: Catherine Mack
Amazing sunset at Loop Head lighthouse, looking back inland up the South side of the peninsula Photo: Catherine Mack

I set out along the North coast of the peninsula, my target for day one being the lighthouse at the tip, following a clifftop road, as magnificent as Moher at many points, but totally devoid of traffic.  After about 9kms of coastal cycling, I headed inland along gently undulating lanes as far as Cross, where I dropped my backpack at The Old School, an elegant conversion of a traditional schoolhouse which has been recently restored with love and pride by its owners (Tel:  + 353 (0) 65 6703666).

With a lighter load, I caught the sunset at the lighthouse, another 12kms from Cross following another quiet coastal path with some of the most incredible bays tucked away , such as at Bridges of Ross, a series of natural stone bridges sticking out into the sea.  My Loop love had been intensified by the fact that Ian Glendinning, owner of The Old School, had offered to pick me and my bike up at Keatings Pub in Kilbaha, just a couple of kilometres from the lighthouse, after dinner. Which was all too cool for school really.  Similarly, he dropped me back at the tip in the morning, so that I could continue where I left off, my School House packed lunch tucked into my pannier.

Bottlenose dolphins in Shannon Estuary off Loop Head  (Credit Tim Stenton 8 (2)
Bottlenose dolphins in Shannon Estuary off Loop Head (Credit Tim Stenton 8 (2)

It was a quick cycle along the calmer shores of the Shannon Estuary as far as Carrigaholt for more of a love in. I had booked in for an 11am dolphin watching outing and, within minutes on board Dolphinwatch’s boat Draíocht,   our brilliant skipper and guide, Geoff and Susanne Magee, had spotted some bottlenose beauties. For an hour and a half, they jumped and soared into the air, as all our hearts leapt in unison.

Pure Camping, Querrin, Loop Head. Photo: Pure Camping

My second night tapped into my 65% green side, without a doubt. A bell tent, with wood burning stove, awaited me at Pure Camping in Querrin, a further 8K up the coast. As did their home made sauna , a brilliant construction in one corner of the camping field which I crawled into through a small tunnel and,  when I was cooked through, I ran straight to bed and fell asleep to the soporific sounds of canvas blowing in the sea breeze.

My final cycle back to Kilkee was along tiny backroads which followed the wetlands of Poulnasherry Bay. This is a haven for birdlife, but Kilkee also has its own haven for human water lovers like me. The Pollack Holes are natural rock pools which you can swim in at low tide. I had put my togs in my bag just in case, as the Pollack Holes are not to be missed. “Just phone me when you are nearby, and I’ll run the seaweed bath for you”, Eileen had told me when I set off a couple of days earlier. Which I did, from the Diamond Rocks Café just beside the pools where other swimmers welcomed me to ‘the club’ and where I consumed a copious amount of choice carbs. From cake heaven to Bladderwrack bliss, my Loop was well and truly complete.

For more info on the Loop Head Cycleway see www.loophead.ie. An edited version of this article was first published in The Irish Times.

swimming at the Pollack Holes, Kilkee Photo: Catherine Mack
Swimming at the Pollack Holes, Kilkee Photo: Catherine Mack

Oh Derry Boy

It is always uplifting to hear the sound of the organ playing when you enter a cathedral. But nothing was going to prepare me for what followed when I visited St Columb’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Derry City last week. I was already ensconced in the guided tour in Derry by Martin McCrossan of the eponymous guided tours company. He had come highly recommended as the man to get if you want to tour the city, and within minutes of walking the walls of this extraordinary city, crammed full of history and stories, I knew why people talked so highly of him.

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SailRail – a logistical love affair?

I have long been a fan of SailRail deals and wish there were a lot more of them. I have lost count of the amount of times I have travelled on the train and Ferry to Ireland, between London and Dublin, my two home towns, hopping on the 9.10 Virgin train at Euston and travelling direct to Holyhead, one of the most gorgeous routes which clings to the shores of North Wales, arriving at 12.50 in time to catch a variety of afternoon ferries. I am always in Dublin in time for tea and all for £44.50 single. A price that doesn’t go up during school holidays either. What’s not to love? For more information on how to book and what it costs, your absolute best and most up to date port of call is the inimitable Man in Seat 61.

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