Sunday, 18 November 2012

Best bike routes in Ireland - Part 1: Sally Gap

I've always appreciated the amount of great mountain-bike trails on my doorstep. What I've come to realise more recently is the even more extensive network of mountain roads extending from home over the Dublin Mountains and into Wicklow, with a huge number of loops and permutations to be explored. A spare hour on a weekend afternoon is time enough to bike up Three Rock, over to Glencullen (the church where I was married), and back via Pine Forest/Tibradden in about an hour - and all ridable on my road bike (actually cyclo-cross, but anyway...). In forty minutes I can be up on the Featherbead (Military Road) which at nearly 500m. is even higher than the masts at Three Rock (by comparison, the Connor Pass near Dingle is 410m above sea level).

The Military road leads to the Sally Gap, a mountain crossroads in the middle of Wicklow (or middle of nowhere perhaps - there isn't a house that I know of within 5 miles). It too is nearly 500m elevation, and is often closed (and the scene of mountain rescues) every winter. Straight on is Laragh & Glendalough, right brings you to Blessington and its lakes, and left is the beautiful road past Lough Tay, Luggala and towards Lough Dan (past Ballinastoe).

The map above (full route here on MapMyRide) describes the route as 48.8 km, with 727 m. total ascent, and it is this loop I biked on the 1st July this year. I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

Pine Forest - 4.5 km from home; 250 m elevation (home is 100 m); 20 minutes.

Top of Cruagh Road nearing the junction with Military Road, this section has an alpine feel (350 m; 7 km; 27 min).

Looking down from the Featherbed into Glenasmole valley and the Bohernabreena reservoirs.

The lane (Bog Road) in the picture - heading towards Kippure mountain - marks the boundary with Co. Wicklow (486 m; 11 km; 40 min).

Bog cotton beneath Kippure.

Sugar Loaf in the distance.

After a nice descent, it's a steady climb again to Lough Bray Upper. The cliffs behind are home to nesting Peregrine falcons which I've seen up here during summer hikes. The road keeps climbing now to the highest point of the day at about 520m.

Man and bike at Lough Bray Upper (470 m; 17 km; 60 min).

This humble stream is actually the beginnings of the mighty Liffey - a muddy hike upstream will bring you to its source (maybe another day).

At the gap (486 m; 22 km; 1:15 on the clock)

Turn right towards Blessington for a fast descent into the Liffey Valley (not the shopping centre thankfully).

This may be the Liffey.

As might this...

Very green up here. A right turn at Kippure Estate and the road climbs again to Ballinascorney...

Grass in the middle of the road says it all.

Keep out. Kilbride army camp, and military ranges (480 m.; 36 km).

This river flowing out of the Bohernabreena reservoir is (I just discovered...) the Dodder which I ride alongside to work every morning.

Back to civilisation at Firhouse breaks the spell somewhat, but it's a fantastic loop - at any time of year - with inspiring views and little traffic. Home for a well-earned lunch in just under two and a half hours, average speed for the day was 20km/h.

Road biking is of course a very different buzz from mountain-biking, and I'm very lucky to live somewhere where I have great options for both as the mood takes me.
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