Cycle series: Steep yourself in Kerry’s rich landscape
This short, but hilly, cycle takes in Valentia Island and the picture-postcard village of Portmagee
Portmagee is well known for its fishing and as a major departure point for boat trips to the Skellig Islands.
For a relatively short cycle, this route packs a punch – for its Atlantic scenery and undulating coastal terrain as well as an opportunity to cycle on the unique and historic Valentia Island, before a return to base via a short ferry trip.
Set off from Cahersiveen and head southwards through the town, following directions for Waterville on the N70 and main Ring of Kerry road. The first 12km or so is mostly on flat terrain, with an occasional rise and fall in the road. Take care as, even though this is a national road, it has a number of potholes and rough patches.
Ignore the first two signposts for Ballinskelligs. Instead, take a right turn onto the R567, where the coastline makes brief appearances through infrequent breaks in the ditches. There is a T-junction at the 18km mark where our route turns left, following signposts for Ballinskelligs, which is 3km further on.
Ballinskelligs is a Gaeltacht village whose name roughly translates as “Village of the Craggy Rock”. Beside the beach is a cafe and shop as well as toilet facilities to stop and take on some nourishment before the spectacular climbing ahead.
Leaving Ballinskelligs, follow the signposts to the right at a fork in the road for Portmagee and continue along the Skellig Ring. Shortly after this fork in the road the first climb of the day, up to Coom, begins. This climb has a steady average gradient of 3 per cent and is just under 3km long. On the descent there are fantastic views of St Finan’s Bay ahead as well the Skellig Islands in the distance.
At the base of the descent is the home of Skelligs Chocolate Factory and cafe. Well-rested and hopefully not too full of chocolate, keep left and head in the direction of Portmagee. From here, the climb of Coomanaspic begins, which is the toughest challenge of this route. This is a category 3 climb, just under 2.5km in length. Its tough average gradient of 8 per cent only seems to get less forgiving as you approach the top.
The final 100m to the summit rises to 20 per cent, leaving a nasty sting in its tail. Your effort is rewarded with breathtaking views of Portmagee and Valentia Island at the summit. The descent to Portmagee is fast and rewarding as the cooling breeze refreshes reddened faces. At the 39km mark is the picture-postcard village of Portmagee, well known for its fishing and as a major departure point for boat trips to the Skellig Islands.
After crossing the bridge onto Valentia Island, take the first left and head in an anti-clockwise direction around the island on a narrow, well-surfaced road that rises gradually up in the direction of Geokaun Mountain before a slow descent towards Knightstown, where you will pass signs for some optional short detours.
The first of these is a visit to the Valentia Slate Quarry, from which slate was taken for use in such places as Westminster Abbey. The second optional detour from this spot travels down to the tetrapod trackway, the earliest record of when four-limbed creatures began to live on dry land. The fossilised footprints are about 370 million years old and one of only four such sites in the world.
There is a ferry service that offers a regular crossing from Knightstown to Renard Point from April 1st to September 30th. At the time of writing, the fare was just €2 for cyclists. Once off the ferry, leave Renard in an easterly direction before merging with the N70 once more, taking a left turn at the T-junction and following the route back to Cahersiveen.
Valentia Island and The Skellig Ring
Cahersiveen - Ballinskelligs - Portmagee - Knightstown - Cahersiveen
A hilly and enjoyable cycle with impressive island and coastal views.
Height gain: 733m
Time: Two to three hours
This route begins in the town of Cahersiveen in the south-west of the county along the main N70, which wraps its way around most of the Iveragh Peninsula. There should be many available parking spaces within the town, with a preferred choice being on Bridge Street, close to the Old Royal Irish Constabulary Barracks, where there are also public-toilet facilities.
Edited from Cycling Kerry – Great Road Routes by Donnacha Clifford and David Elton (The Collins Press,€14.99), available in bookshops and online from collinspress.ie