Towering cliffs, the world’s worst backpackers and the end of Ireland

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Beautiful Galway and it’s impressive building art

IT’S 5pm and I’m halfway up a deceptively steep slope on the long, hilly and windy coast road from Galway to Doolin.

What looks like the summit comes slowly and painfully into view sparking me to grudgingly push harder against the peddles to put this wretched climb well and truly behind me.

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The port in Galway

With a final grunt I reach the top only to see the road flattens for about three metres before climbing even steeper into the horizon.

It’s the straw that breaks the camels back and with a banshee-esque screech I hurl the bike to a narrow patch of grass on the edge of the road and let loose an epic torrent of abuse.

“I hate Ireland, I hate this road, I hate everyone – everything is shit,” I screech hysterically.

Scott’s parked just metres ahead with a slightly amused and alarmed expression on his face and mere seconds later a road cyclist glides past shamelessly grinning at my feral tantrum.

“You alright there love,” he bravely asks.

“What does it bloody look like,” I retort.

“This road is bloody shit.”

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Stunning Irish horses on the road from Galway to Doolin

The grin fades and the cyclist peddles on faster to escape the crazed and hysterical Aussie.

I immediately feel ashamed and I regretfully clip back into my peddles to finish the painful haul to quiet and charming Doolin – a popular base for travellers trekking to the famed Cliffs of Moher in County Clare.

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A an old castle on route to Doolin provides a top spot for a breather

I shouldn’t be so foul – after all the 80km coast road from Galway to Doolin was one of the most spectacular rides we’d tackled yet with a narrow road frequently hugging soaring cliffs that dipped down to a wild and exquisitely blue ocean.

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A quick breather on the 80km stretch from Galway to Doolin

The scenery was post card Ireland at it’s best but with a headwind slamming us in the face for most of the road and a steady ascent filled with sharp climbs bringing our pace to a crawl I found myself reciting an increasingly colourful track of hate songs rather than admiring the scenery.

We’d stopped for a brief lunch at 2pm – throwing down a freshly baked baguette with ham and cheese at record speed followed by an entire block of chocolate – and at almost 6pm we eventually rolled into a quaint stone building that served as a backpackers with a lush yard out the back for tents.

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Entering County Clare

The charming River Aille River Hostel charged 9 euro a night per person for campers and the minute we walked into its warm and friendly interiors I knew it would be hard to leave.

A fireplace sat in one corner next to a rocking chair, large tables and chairs were perched in another and beyond that an enormous kitchen with toasters, hobs, milk and coffee and a phenomenal amount of pots, pans, cups, plates and cutlery.

It was the kind of place where people came and somehow forgot to leave and among those was the hilarious and witty John – a former BBC radio producer who’d sold his house and hit the road for a nomadic life.

It didn’t take long to form a firm friendship with the jolly John and soon after we met Jay from DC in the States, completing the perfect awesome foursome group.

For hours we stayed up laughing at Australia’s esteemed prime minister (who we’d discovered was an international laughing stock) quirky movies and books, John’s impressive and hilarious travels and Jay’s fascinating life in DC where he’d built a “tiny house” in a bid to be environmentally friendly while snubbing the common American mindset of work and career to take off for three months of each year to travel.

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Sarah and Jay from DC on route to the Cliffs of Moher

For the first time in weeks we felt utterly relaxed and at home making it hard to even summon the energy to leave the serene hostel and it’s fireplace to tackle the 6km walk to the Cliffs of Moher.

These epic cliffs are some of the highest in Europe and attract thousands of visitors to scenic County Clare each year.

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A bit of patriotism on the way to the cliffs

As the wind whistled deafeningly in our ears while birds soared gracefully around the jagged rocks and caves hundreds of feet below we could soon see why.

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On the way to the Cliffs of Moher

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Stunning scenery near the Cliffs of Moher

There was something ancient and wild about this profound stretch of coastline and six hours later we were stumbling wearily back into Doolin on the hunt for a supermarket.

In true West Coast style the nearest village shops and ATM where a decent three kilometre hike up hill and but both John and Jay had assured us that locals were so used to hitchhikers that we would most certainly get a lift there and big.

I was well and truly shagged and so just metres out of Doolin, thumbs out, we adopted our most charming smiles in the hope of a lift.

Three long, painful kilometres later we were still walking with dozens of cars quickly zooming past us.

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The Cliffs of Moher

I was hungry, cranky and full of choice words to hurl at Jay and John when we returned and after loading up with shopping we began the long walk back to the hostel.

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The Cliffs of Moher

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Looking back at the Cliffs

Eventually the thumbs went back down and we grumpily gave up on getting a lift, resigned to a windy and weary trudge. Minutes later a local pulled over in his 4-wheel drive and picked us up.

Stammering our thanks and marvelling at our luck we quickly climbed in, sparking the shop owner to say “Ah it’s no trouble – you looked a mighty tired and unhappy”.

The next day was filled with tea drinking, biscuit eating and more gossip as we resigned ourselves to leave the hostel, John and Jay in a bid to strike inland for Dublin.

Our Ireland adventures were fast drawing to a close and we’d even decided to hurry them up, catching a bus from Doolin across motorway dominated farmlands to Dublin as we’d been told it was a tedious, boring ride with few places in between to camp.

It felt as though we were cheating but the truth was we’d dawdled enough in Ireland and time was running out to meet some friends in France and equally hit Germany and Switzerland before it started getting too cold.

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Vibrant Dublin

One boring bus ride later we wheeled into heaving, expensive Dublin where tourists from across the world flock to in their droves and history melds beautifully with modern technology.

In Doolin we’d booked the cheapest backpackers we could find (20 euro per person for a mixed 10 person dorm) and despite the scathing reviews we’d figured “she’ll be right” and stoically soldiered up to the run down hovel.

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The feral Citi Hostel in Dublin

Paint peeled off the stained brick establishment called the Citi Hostel and a rusty gate swung ominously after we wheeled our bikes up the steps to a dingy interior.

Inside a rough looking Albanian stood behind the counter screaming ruthlessly at a pair of terrified looking tourists while a hairy Italian walked past wearing nothing but a pair of tight, revealing jocks.

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Art portraying the great Famine in Ireland

It was too late to turn back and five minutes later the gruff Albanian was leading us to our run down dorm.

Inside grime, mould and filth streaked the walls and a spindly table was perched haphazardly in the middle next to a moth-eaten stained chair.

I ventured into the nearby toilet/shower only to stagger at the stench. It looked as though the toilet hadn’t been cleaned in years meanwhile the strong stench of urine (accompanied by a suspiciously wet floor) made me think a hell of a lot of drunks had aimed and missed.

With scarcely a word between us we pulled out our own sleeping bags and pillows and warned each other to wear shoes in the loo.

Suddenly the tent seemed like a five star hostel and I began to miss the quiet and relaxed countryside and it’s equally quiet villages with a fierce ache.

Dublin flew past in a whirlwind of expensive cafes, international cuisines and fascinating architecture as we prepared for the next leg of our trip – Wales.

Contrary to my ignorant belief I’d been warned this little country was extraordinarily hilly and with a route that would take in most of the coastline we were set to hit the worst of it right from the outset.

So here we are – bundled up on the ferry to Holyhead with a large supply of cheap Tesco biscuits and the vague notion that we have to head south towards Plymouth for the next major leg of Long Rode Home – Europe.

 

 

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