A dramatic, rugged Atlantic coastline, unpredictable weather and boundless hospitality – a journey along the Irish coast is incomparable. The sweeping views across the sea, climbs that are, at times, relentless, and the beautiful narrow roads that wind in many curves along the coast etch themselves deep into your memory. The landscape is characterised by cliffs, moorlands and the incredible number of sheep that roam freely. Every summer since 2016, many stories have been written in the beautiful, often deserted and treeless landscape of the TransAtlanticWay.
The TransAtlanticWay (TAW) is now a legendary long-distance race along the entire west coast of Ireland. Participants ride unsupported for more than 2,200 kilometres (1,367 mi) – first from Dublin to Derry and then all the way down the west coast to Kinsale. The route is very challenging, but the struggle is rewarded by unforgettable beauty. Here, the weather lives up to its reputation: a strong wind blows constantly and hardly a day goes by without rain. Ireland is called the green island, after all. But, as fast as the clouds are blown across the sky from the sea to the land, they disappear again. You experience several changes of season every day. After the rain whips your face as you struggle up a steep incline, the sun is sure to reappear as the glittering Atlantic stretches out below you. Or, you arrive perhaps at one of the many bed and breakfasts after a long day in the rain, soaked, and are greeted with a hot tea. These are the moments that make the effort worthwhile.
The inaugural TAW was my very first bikepacking race in 2016 and I didn't know what I was getting myself into beforehand. But the island captivated me so much that I returned the following two years, completing the race a total of three times. These experiences had a strong impact on me and I made many memories that I still draw from today.
The event has since officially ceased to be a race, but many intrepid riders still set out each summer to experience the TransAtlanticWay. Adrian O'Sullivan, the organiser, changes the course slightly every year. Really, it’s far too beautiful to ride the route under time pressure. This Collection is based on the third edition of the race, which took place in June 2018. I've broken it down into 22 stages for you, each around 100 kilometres (62 mi) long. I think this is the ideal mix of challenge and enjoyment as there are countless sights on either side of the trail. You should take a little more time to see these than we did during the race.
I recommend arriving by ferry from Holyhead. Take the train to the Welsh coast via London and then catch a ferry directly to Dublin. There are special inexpensive ‘Rail and Sail’ tickets from Great Britain that are inexpensive. The first leg of your journey by bike starts at the ferry port in Dublin, where you roll off the ship. After a few kilometres, you arrive at the venerable Trinity College, where riders traditionally spent the night before the start of the race. The rooms are cheap and you can easily explore Dublin on foot from here. In the first year, the race started at the gates of the college, at the General Post Office. The second year, we started in Phoenix Park and the third year, in Blanchardstown. You pass all these historic points on your way out of town.
In Ireland, it's generally not difficult to find a place to stay. While the island is sparsely populated in places, there is a high density of bed and breakfasts or private guesthouses with breakfast. This type of accommodation is everywhere in Ireland and has its own unique charm that you should experience. Booking in advance is usually not necessary. If a B&B is occupied, you will find the next one a few kilometres away. You can also find accommodation in pubs if you ask. It’s very easy to get into conversation with the Irish. Several times, I asked in pubs for a good place to camp and was offered the meadow next to the house. Of course, there are also hotels and campsites. If you are traveling with a tent and don't find an official campground, you should know that wild camping is not a problem here, unlike here in Germany.
Don’t forget to bring good waterproof clothing. The weather on the west coast of Ireland is unpredictable and can change dramatically within minutes. Showers are a regular occurrence here, even in summer. The wind, which usually blows from the sea, drives the clouds down in front of you so you sometimes have to grip your handlebars tightly. All this is just part of the challenge and makes cycling in Ireland all the more special. When the weather breaks and the sun comes out again shortly afterwards, with the sea glistening below you and the fresh breeze drying your skin, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
The route is generally suitable for road bikes. I would recommend a tyre width of at least 28 millimetres as the Irish roads are often very rough and sometimes in poor condition. However, a gravel section awaits on stage 5, which is better suited to mountain bikes. If you're worried about your tyres, you can of course just push here. Compared to the total length of the race, this is only a short section and the surrounding landscape is a good compensation. In the first year of the race, this section was added due to a road closure and over the years, it developed into an iconic challenge that has remained part of the course ever since. Later, in the Achill Island area, there are shorter, fine gravel sections, but they are not a problem.
For more information on the TransAtlanticWay, visit transatlanticway.com.
Monaghan is roughly in the middle of today's stage and is therefore ideal for your lunch break. Shortly afterwards you leave the Republic of Ireland for a detour to Northern Ireland, which is part of Great Britain. Don't forget that this is also a currency limit. The Republic of Ireland is part of the EU and uses the euro, in Great Britain you pay with the British pound.
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Behind Moville, things get serious, but also beautiful. The peaks on the elevation profile speak for themselves. The climbs are seldom particularly long, but often all the steeper. In combination with the unpredictable weather, the always strong wind and the breathtaking views, they provide unforgettable impressions that will now accompany you to the finish. Be careful on the slopes, which are just as steep and often winding. You have to get used to the extremely narrow streets.
The elevation profile looks rather harmless, but the many small peaks really should not be underestimated. It is seldom really flat here on the coast. The sometimes very rough asphalt and the wind, which always seems to come from the front, do their part to ensure that you don't get a kilometer for free. Via Killybegs you are now approaching the capital of County Donegal, which is also called Donegal.
Leenaun is located on the huge Killary Fjord. Just five kilometers further, in the Connemara Hostel, was the second checkpoint of the TransAtlantic Way in 2018. You are now approaching the area known as Connemara. Again and again you come across the traditional language and culture of the Irish, which is cultivated here on the west coast even more than in other parts of the country. You have wonderful views of the hills and bays of this special region.
Your journey through Connemara continues. You slowly approach Galway through small villages and an impressive landscape. Here's something going. After many lonely hours on the deserted streets of the Wild Atlantic Way, a small culture shock can occur here. Countless musicians play in the streets and tourists looking for pleasure throng the alleys. Of course, the hustle and bustle also has gastronomic advantages, because here you have a really large selection of restaurants and pubs.
You have now arrived in County Cork, the last county on your trip. From Allihies, the route first takes you to the very tip of the Beara Peninsula. There is often thick fog here and a cable car takes you over to Dursey Island. You turn around and drive east, always along Bantry Bay. This stretch of coast is sparsely populated and not very well developed for tourists, although it is beautiful here.