How An IT Consultant Created Ireland’s Most Spectacular End-To-End Cycling Route
The team at Wild Atlantic Cycling are the specialists in Ireland end-to-end cycle tours. From founder Paul Kennedy's first trip organised for a group of friends, the flagship Mizmal tour has been refined with the emphasis on great routes that include the most beautiful and breath-taking sights of the Wild Atlantic Way. Cycling from Mizen Head in the south to Malin Head in the north, the route has been designed to take in views of all that the west coast of Ireland has to offer. This challenging cycle is primarily on quiet roads through mountain ranges and sea loughs. Everything has been considered by Paul and his team - they have built a rapport with local hotels and eateries and look after the cyclist's every need. The team specializes in providing second to none customer service throughout the tour, from transporting luggage between hotels to mechanical assistance where required.
Mark Stratton's article first appeared on adventure.com 15/11/19. Read on to find out how Paul Kennedy, founder of Wild Atlantic Cycling, was inspired to create our MizMal tours.
From Malin Head to Mizen Head on Ireland’s west coast, the MizMal—a cycling route created by a former IT consultant—is one of the country’s best bike rides that also takes in the Wild Atlantic Way. That’s all Mark Stratton needed to hear.
Paul’s prediction of meteorological Armageddon rings in my ears, as we approach Glenveigh’s summit.
“There’s a 90 per cent chance of rain, 30mph winds by 2pm and some big hills, so I urge you to get over them before that,” says the Ulsterman at breakfast. He’s wearing a T-shirt reading: ‘Hills, Cobbles, Suffer’—as if predicting a day of pain.
|Glenveagh National Park, Ireland’s second largest national park. Photo: Mark Stratton|
It never does rain.
Yet even if it had, this wouldn’t have dampened the freewheeling insouciance of a 12-day, end-to-end cycle traversing the entire length of Ireland’s Atlantic west coast: 1,050 kilometers from the southernmost point at Mizen Head to its most northerly outcrop at Malin.
A few years back, 50-year-old Paul Kennedy registered the trademark ‘MizMal (a portmanteau of Mizen-to-Malin) as his fledgling company, Wild Atlantic Cycling, attempts to create an identity for this challenge—something akin to the increasingly popular British end-to-end challenge, Land’s End in Cornwall, southwest England, to John o’ Groats in far north Scotland, known as LEJOG.
|Lighthouse Loophead Peninsula|
|Oranmore Castle in County Galway|
|The coastal town of Lahinch on Liscannor Bay|
All part of the Mizmal...."possibly the greatest long-distance cycle you've never heard of" says write Mark Stratton. Photos: Mark Stratton
“I’ve had plenty of clients who’ve done LEJOG, but enjoyed MizMal better,” says Paul one evening, as I sup post-ride recovery Guinness, more agreeable than sickly-sweet electrolytes. “Not just the west coast’s unique culture, but they found it edgier, remote, a more real experience.”
Paul, from Bangor in Northern Ireland, worked in IT for 25 years before identifying that MizMal might be something special. “I walked away from a comfortable lifestyle,” he says. “Stress and type one diabetes was killing me. My profession was stealing my soul”.
|On the road to Connemara, its coastline famous for tiny coves, bays and fishing villages. Photo: Mark Stratton|
I’d cycled LEJOG previously, but at times, I’d pedalled long stretches of uninspiring countryside just to get the challenge done. Sometimes the road traffic was terrible and felt dangerous.
The MizMal is a different beast. From the beaches of Bantry Bay to the bogs of Connemara, it proves a visual feast as Paul’s chosen route follows small, traffic-free lanes, every wheel revolution immersing me deeper into a Gaelic Atlantic culture as rich as the creamy milk of County Kerry.
Days take on an easy bucolic rhythm, averaging 88 kilometers. I’m within a group, but cycling at my own pace, discovering an Ireland well off-the-beaten track.
|Cycling the remote Black Valley road in County Kerry|
|Beautiful Bantry Bay in County Cork|
|The glacial-era karst landscape of The Burren in County Clare|
Beyond Bantry Bay’s wineglass-shaped white sand beaches, the MizMal descends into what Paul describes as one of Ireland’s remotest places—the Black Valley. It exudes mystery; a sparsely inhabited valley secreted within the MacGillycuddy reeks, Ireland’s highest range, incised by waterfalls and cobalt-blue tarns, the only traffic blackface sheep with curled horns like cinnamon swirls.
“Its few inhabitants only got electricity back in 1976,” says Paul.
|Cycling the MizMal: Duncruaire Castle, a 16th-century tower house on Galway Bay, County Galway.|
After that, beyond 180-meter-high dark volcanic cliffs at Moher, it’s an impressive ride into The Burren, a World Heritage area of limestone pavements, formed in warm tropical seas 330 million years ago, uplifted and cracked over time.
I celebrate with a few drams that night at O’ Laughlin’s, a whisky bar since the 1850s. “I’m sixth generation here,” says softly-spoken Margaret O’ Laughlin. “My daughter will be the seventh if she’s not too distracted by the young men”.
The craic throughout is lively. On another night in Westport, pub music from a duo playing guitar and pennywhistle leaves me cycling next day with the anthemic ‘Dirty old town’ looping around my brain.
‘I met my love, by the gasworks wall,
Dreamed of dreams, by the old canal.’
A keen mountain-biker who grew up on a farm, MizMal founder Paul Kennedy arranged to ride the length of Ireland with friends, four years ago. “After the first day, I began wondering if I could make a business out of this ride,” he says.
Beyond Galway, I’m among the red fescue-hued bogs of Connemara described by Oscar Wilde as possessing “savage beauty”. Countrymen fill tractors with cut turfs of peat, to be burned locally. Connemara’s white horses, local lore suggests, spawn from Andalusian stallions that swam ashore when Spanish Armada galleons foundered offshore around 1588.
With fellow rider, Peter Hackman, a retired BA pilot, we seek out a memorial to Alcock and Brown who in 1919 crash-landed their biplane among these bogs to complete the first transatlantic flight.
Malin Head maintains an aura of wild extremity: Brooding, windswept and glistening briny cliffs lending an enchanted edge-of-the-earth feeling.
I’m not comparing myself with such daredevils, but a sense of impending achievement bubbles up. My fellow riders are sharing my exultation. “I’m loving this, every day and every hill, good and bad,” says Bob from Taunton.
“I rode LEJOG, but found it a chore at times. This is a joy, so little traffic”.
“The MizMal is a different beast. From the beaches of Bantry Bay to the bogs of Connemara, it proves a visual feast,” writes Mark Stratton.
|Mark Stratton reaches Malin Head at the end of his epic ride; 1,050 kilometers from the southernmost point at Mizen Head to its most northerly outcrop at Malin.|
A spiteful dig onto the final coastal cliff seems to be the MizMal’s way of saying: ‘OK, you’ve conquered me, but I want you to remember how tough it’s been’. I’m cheered over the line by Paul and the support team, unsure whether to laugh or cry, yet imbued with the spirt of the wild Atlantic.
“It’s got all the ingredients of a world-class ride with the satisfaction of cycling the entire length of a country,” says Paul. “It could become quite big”.
It’s hard to disagree.
The writer’s trip was hosted by Wild Atlantic Cycling who offer 7 or 12-day supported/guided group rides including B&B accommodation, vehicle support and lunches. Wild Atlantic Cycling did not review or approve this story.
Photos: Mark Stratton
Post a Comment