Harry McGee hits a Wicklow bike trail with a “cycling concierge” as part of a weekend that gets people in the adventure mode.
WITHIN MINUTES of leaving the manicured prettiness and metalled roads of the Powerscourt Estate, we enter a vastly different landscape: untamed, savage and spectacular. And later, too, we have a chance encounter with a star. But, first, read on.
On mountain bikes with rigid tails, we follow a rough and windy single track, which takes us deep and high into the forest. It’s a struggle keeping close to the rear wheel of Ken Farrar, as he nimbly ascends a vertical rise. It’s punitive even in the lowest gear and you know that standing on the pedals is pointless, as the back wheel will only spin and get no real traction.
And then, just as it seems the gradient is too much, he takes a sharp turn right for a glorious and technical descent through the forest, with deep dips, steep ramped curves and fallen branches that fully test the shocks.
Along the way you get amazing glimpses of the flanks of Djouce and Maulin mountains and, of course, the incredible Powerscourt waterfall.
The last leg is flat, alongside a trail that follows the river Dargle in the shadow of towering redwoods and other coniferous trees. It’s a journey that etches itself deep into the memory banks.
Farrar, one of Ireland’s best-known mountain cyclists and a professional cycling guide, also has an unusual role with the Ritz-Carlton hotel in the Powerscourt Estate. He is the hotel’s “cycling concierge”, guiding individuals and groups on road or mountain routes in the countryside around the Co Wicklow hotel.
People have shifted their priorities in recent years, resulting in a huge upsurge in interest in running, cycling and other activity sports. Irish hotels have started to cater for these new demands, offering packages and deals aimed at those training for marathons, triathlons and adventure races. Unsurprisingly, it’s more evident at the top end, where full-service hotels are now offering tailored packages to guests.
The Ritz-Carlton has been one of the first to dip its toes into the water, extending its repertoire from the traditional sedentary offerings such as its spa, pool and the nearby golf course. It offers guided road and mountain cycling with Farrar as well as trail-running, road-running and hill-walking.
Farrar, who is pleasant, chatty company, points to the amazing landscape at the hotel’s doorstep that can be explored. The hotel has also printed its own maps with marked running routes, ranging from the very easy to the very challenging. I did the hilly 10km run from the hotel through pretty Enniskerry village and around the trail at Knocksink woodlands.
Being a five-star hotel with all the trappings, it does come at a price, but there is clearly a market for this type of service.
And now for the chance encounter, the most dramatic moment of all. It happened just as we finished.
A car pulled up with bikes in the boot and in the back seat. The two teenage passengers had been involved in a crash as they descended a steep hill with dodgy brakes. The girl had minor facial cuts and the boy had a suspected fracture on his wrist.
And the good Samaritan who spotted their distress, stopped his car, and went out of his way to make sure they received first aid? None other than the actor Gabriel Byrne, who is on a shoot in Co Wicklow.
It’s three decades since he played Bracken but he’s still able to look after his flock.