A solo bike mission in the Aran Islands, Ireland

While in Galway, I figured it’d only make sense to take a trip over to Inishmore. This is the largest of the three Aran Islands with a grand total of 840 citizens, where locals still speak Irish and the pace of life is slow and steady. I bought my bus and ferry pass from a ticket office, and set off on my own.

Despite it being a typical chilly April’s day, the bus to Rosseveal was packed. One of the perks of being solo meant I made it onto the bus with only seconds to spare, as there was only room for one more. I was at least twenty minutes early, and the line-up was still massive.

The bus to the mouth of Galway Bay was quick, and so was the ferry ride to the island. A team of dolphins escorted us as we pulled into the dock, and although I had to shove aside some kids for a view, it was worth it. A rusty old ship lay tilted on its side near the wharf, and a sandy beach horseshoed the terminal. As soon as I stepped off the wharf, a man with a brochure approached.

“Care for a bike ride?” he asked.

I did care, indeed. And although there is a number of bike rental shops around the beach, likely offering varying prices, I was impressed by the fact that this man was the only one out campaigning for customers. That’s just good target marketing.

I picked up my blue bike for 5EUR and was halfway down the nearest road when I realized I was wheeling a man’s bike. It had been some time since I pedalled anything, actually, and I was a little self conscious about how I’d fare. Everyone else zipped by like naturals.

But then I crested the first hill and hopped on, the harsh and barren limestone landscape looking all for the world like I was back in Newfoundland barreling down the East Coast Trail. I had lagged behind the other tourists and so I suddenly found myself all alone despite the hundreds of other visitors I had stepped off the boat with. I guess I had missed the trail turn-off, because I ended up on the highway instead. Perfect.

I pumped past clusters of cottages and homes, abandoned churches and stone foundations of forgotten buildings, derelict yellow pubs with red trim and chickens owning the front garden. I paused for photos of a wagon wheel propped against the flaking clapboard of deserted shop, and crept up to a window covered in snaking vines. Every now and then a busload of tourists would pass me on the road, and without fail, the driver would honk the horn and wave at me. Each time I attempted a wave back before drifting sideways onto the road’s shoulder.

I came across Dun Aengus unknowingly, but saw the bike park and the people ascending the hillside and figured it was worth checking out. Plus my hands were icy and I needed a pair of knitted wool mitts from the gift shop.

Dun Aengus is a Bronze Age and Iron Age fort right on the edge of the Atlantic, and it only costs 3EUR to visit. The climb to the top is 330-feet over a set of wide stone stairs, but the view at the top rivals the Cliffs of Moher. I much preferred it, actually. The karst cliffside dropping into the Atlantic Ocean is terrifying. Nobody really knows much about the fort, which just makes it more badass.

I didn’t really research Inishmore very well I guess, because on my way back from the fort I happened across a tropical-looking beach known as Portmurvy. It wasn’t really a day for sunbathing or swimming, but the views were lovely anyway.

I discovered the real bike path at that point, and took it back to the dock where I stopped at an unspectacular pub for some Guinness and journaling. I ordered too-expensive soup and sat listening to some elder gents talking in Irish. Ever hear someone talk in Irish? It’s a crazy language. I suppose they all are.

I wish I had more time to explore the smaller, less popular islands of Inishmaan and Inisheer, but that’s for another trip. Instead, I guided my bike downhill with trembling knees. An older man in a brown tweed jacket passed me on his own bike, and I attempted a smile. His face broke into a broad grin.

“Céad míle fáilte,” he said. A hundred thousand welcomes.

  • December 31 2013
    Earl Grey

    I gotta ask. What made it a man’s bike? Bikes have been pretty gender neutral for years.

    • December 31 2013

      You know how some bikes have the horizontal crossbar for men and a slanted one for women? Apparently the crossbar was slanted for women back in the ‘ol days because it was easier for women to mount a bike in a dress without flashing her undies and causing a scandal. I guess it doesn’t really apply anymore but I grew up using the slanted crossbar and I find the horizontal ones extremely hard to mount. (That’s what she said?)

      • December 31 2013
        Earl Grey

        I miss the days when a gal flashing her undies caused a scandal. Or signaled she liked you. ;)

        • January 13 2014
          damienflint

          Ah yes..the days when they’d troop the colours and flag you in…

  • January 12 2014
    Deborah

    Inisheer was absolutely incredible. It is more of a walking place. Magic happens there. When I was there, there were only 2 pubs and a small hotel. I stayed at a really rustic B & B and helped the lady of the house collect seaweed (to make soil) on her donkey cart. I loved the young men that said they were “stone mad and wall crazy.”

    • January 13 2014

      I really, really wish I had the chance to explore the smaller islands! There were so many tourists on Inishmore. The others seemed like amazing places to go set up a writer’s retreat or something. :)

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