5 Reasons to cycle the Ring of Kerry clockwise.
Once again we’re reaching that mid-summer time of year and the Ring of Kerry cycle is a mere 2 weeks away. The Ring of Kerry sponsored cycle is still one of the show piece cycle events of the year but the circuit itself is open for business 365 days of the year and is waiting for any individual or group to give it their best shot.
Over the last 4 years our local club Chain Gang CC has cycled the ring together as a club in early to mid June. The difference being that we cycle it clockwise as oppose to the event and tour bus direction of anticlockwise. Factor into that for the last 3 years we begin our journey in Killorglin as oppose to Killarney.
Reason 1: Killorglin is compact and free parking isn’t a problem.
I’m sure, no… I know you can get free parking in Killarney (though not as easy as it was in the past) but in Killorglin there are ample options for parking and if you are travelling from west Kerry or Tralee it might be a slightly shorter option to drive to.
Reason 2: With an early start you avoid heavy traffic on the busy section between Killorglin and Killarney.
Four years ago we finished in Killarney and the afternoon traffic on this stretch was a nightmare. Last weekend we left Killorglin at 7 am. We hardly saw so much as a car, in fact we saw more cyclists. The biggest congestion problem in Killarney was a couple of jarveys with their horse and carriages!
National Park and Molls Gap
Reason 3: You get to do the National Park and Molls Gap at a quiet time and the (in my opinion) toughest climb of the day is tackled when you are still relatively fresh.
It’s hard to beat travelling through Killarney National Park in the morning. The roads are quiet, there’s a freshness in the air and the aroma from the flora is wonderful. If you are lucky there’s a chance to spot some wild life. Also the climb up to Molls Gap is potentially the most energy sapping section of the route. Doing it early gets a difficult section out the way quickly, plus you can enjoy the scenery a little more.
Molls to Kenmare is one of my favourite descents. Slightly technical, not overly steep and a nice vista to your right, plus you know pretty well that once you reach Molls Gap, Kenmare doesn’t take too long to reach. On our club cycle we availed of the Brook Lane Hotel , on the start of the Sneem road for our coffee and scone, which was first class, but there is also a garage on the junction of the Sneem road as an alternative.
Reason 4: The road from Sneem to Kenmare is generally the section that catches a lot of cyclists out. It’s moderately hilly and the road surface is quite sapping, especially with 100 plus km in your legs. Going clockwise still gives you an element of freshness and the break in Kenmare comes at a good time.
Sneem and beyond
Sneem comes at the right time on this section as the legs start to tire. This section of the route leaves behind the breath taking views prior to Kenmare and enters into more of a wooded, flora scenery. As mentioned earlier the road has it’s up and downs but we are still in a relatively early part of the day and traffic is light.
Once beyond Sneem we are reaching the mid way point of the cycle and the freshness aspect of things doesn’t play much of a part anymore. Which ever way you cycle the area south west of Sneem is tough going, but the reward once you start closing in on Castlecove are spectacular views of Kenmare Bay and the Beara Peninsula, plus if you’ve time on your hands this area is a nice opportunity to move off the beaten track and explore the inlets and coves to the south, or the history of ancient monuments like Staigue Stone Fort to the north.
Reason 5: At this stage of the day the tour buses coming the other way are becoming more and more frequent. Cycling clockwise, we didn’t have one bus pass us.
From about the half way point the cycle becomes much of a muchness regardless of the direction you are cycling.
The ascent up Coomakista is pretty much the same as coming up from the Waterville side, just a different view. Both climbs are quite breathtaking with plenty of stunning scenery to take your mind off the task in hand. It’s always worth stopping at the top and admiring the view and giving yourself a little pat on the back. The descent into Waterville is another classic down hill cycle and into the Ring of Kerry’s only seafront village. Waterville has links to Charlie Chaplin and Kerry footballs greatest manager Mick O’Dwyer is from here.
The 16 km from Waterville to Caherciveen is a stretch of road that you really have to dig deep on. Gone are the sea views and the road throws up some nasty hills to the unsuspecting rider. I’d even recommend for anyone who has the time and the energy, take a left turn off this road and take in the Skellig Ring. With Ballinskelligs village, the Skelligs chocolate factory, Coomanaspic Pass, Portmagee, Valentia Island and fabulous views of the Skellig Islands. This alternative is longer and way more difficult but for those with time on their hands unforgettable.
Returning to base
On leaving Caherciveen there’s no hiding the fact, which ever way you decide to return to Killorglin it requires some climbing. The best way is to stick with the main road and tackle the “Mountain Stage” section of road. In fairness it’s not the toughest of climbs but with a good 130 km in the legs you certainly feel it. The descent opens up views of the Dingle Peninsula and Kells Bay down to the left (another detour worth checking out if you have the time).
The road carries you along the coast and in stages you’ll see traces of the old Farranfore to Valentia railway line in the shape of old tunnels and the Gleensk viaduct. Most of the journey to Glenbeigh is downhill from here on with one moderate hill about 6 km from the village to navigate.
From Glenbeigh it’s just 13 km. We found this stretch the busiest for traffic. But once you reach the Red Fox Inn the road runs fairly flat to downhill for the remainder of the cycle back to Killorglin.
Like anything that has more than two options it’s all down to opinions. For those doing the actual Ring of Kerry cycle you have no choice, you go with the flow and enjoy the road closures and the companionship. For those of us doing it outside of the big day, clockwise is certainly worth considering.
Ring of Kerry facts: The cycle is 170 km | You will be climbing for a total for 1741 metres | You can expect to be cycling from 7.5 to 9 hours depending on fitness and bicycle | Killarney is the largest town on the Ring | There are 14 towns and villages on the Ring