The reality of cycling the Great Western Greenway with kids in Ireland. There are bike paths opening all around the Emerald Isle so tourists can access more of its natural beauty. Skye Wellington, of Lens & Pen Project, tells suitcases&strollers about about her experience cycling with her kids, Matilda (5) and Flynn (3), along the 42 kilometre stretch of Irish highway, and how she may have been taken for a ride.
Cycling with kids is not the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a family holiday in Ireland. Guinness, castles, leprechauns, clover-covered hills, maybe, but not getting about on two wheels. However, the chance to see those things along the vehicle-free coastal pathway in County Mayo known as the Great Western Greenway, was an adventure not to be missed. But would the journey prove harder than spotting a leprechaun? Surely not!
The first issue was the weather. The best time to go cycling in Ireland is in summer. Summer happens about two weeks of the year around July or August (no one really knows for sure) and some years it doesn’t happen at all. It’s also worth noting that summer in Ireland is like an Australian winter – no need for thermals but you might find yourself craving the occasional open fire.
If you’re on a bike on a stretch of coast known as the Wild Atlantic Way, it’s reasonable, apparently, to expect some wind to interfere with staying upright. You might also want to pack some gloves. The combination of constant drizzle and blustery conditions can convince you that frostbite is imminent.
Cycling with kids can mean two things – cycling with them alongside you or cycling with kids attached to you. Remember if you’re doing the latter, that you’ll be doing it for what feels like several days. Before you set off, at the bike shop, you’ll test out the bike and those little caboose things that hook up to the back of the bike will seem really fun at first.
But at the end of Day One expect to feel some pain. The kind of pain that can only be alleviated by an Epsom Salt bath, laying horizontal, and the ability to mutter expletives about that charming Irish chap that assured you, “It’ll be grand” back at the bike shop.
That’s because of those hills. It’s crucial to be getting along with your partner before you set off on this trip as you are going to need him (or her).
The well-maintained path (which you can begin at either end of the track, in Achill to the North or Westport to the South) that lays out before you will look innocuous enough at first, but what goes unnoticed to the naked eye you will feel in your hamstrings and quadriceps before too long: an insidious incline that never seems to abate. The only way to deal with this is to feign injury, bundle the kids into one wagon and hitch it up to your partner’s bike. If they catch to your devious plan and suggest taking it in turns, best you ride on ahead and let that wind rushing past and aching your ears drown out any requests.
On the upside, seeing the kids perched inside those wagons makes for plenty of cute photo opps. Unless it’s raining (most likely) and you have to put the flaps down so they don’t catch a cold in their (real) summer clothes.
Don’t get me wrong. All that effort will be worthwhile and riding with kids is a blessing. Slowing you down to ambling pace, you will be forced to submit to the meandering beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way and the rewards will unfold. From white-capped waves and windswept beaches to ancient stony bridges and trickling streams, there are picture perfect scenes around every corner. Which is just as well, because the imperative to stop and snap pics every few hundred metres will make your legs rejoice.
We all know about Irish pubs and their reputation for being cosy and quaint. This idea will never be more of a comfort than when you are pushing down hard on pedals in the rain with no wet weather gear, hands that burn because they’re so cold, pointing out cows and flowers to two giggling kids behind you yelling, “Go faster, Mummy!”. As you pass the signs counting down the kilometres, keep that pub up ahead in your mind and it will save you. Never has a pint tasted so good!
By Skye Wellington of Lens & Pen Project