Europe Ireland Travel Diary

How I left my heart in Sligo

Well, now that I’ve written my official story I needed to write for In The Know Traveler I thought I’d enlighten you with a more personal account of the trip, written in the style of previous post about lusting over Switzerland and romance with Vorarlberg. (In other words, you know some cheesiness is coming!)

I’ll update this post with links to my external articles when they are published.

So let’s get started. This is how I left my heart in Sligo.

Someone came on tour with no idea what she got herself into

That someone would be me.

I met the representative of Wilderness Ireland at a trade event in London. Over sips of our wine, we spoke about wellness and active travel, and that’s when I was vaguely sold on the idea that I should try out this new tour they had – which combines yoga and cycling to explore Ireland’s north west.

“Don’t worry! It’s supposed to be an easy and relaxing tour!” said the representative.

So I thought – why not? I do yoga regularly and I know how to ride a bike without falling off. If I can hike for hours, surely a bit of cycling can’t break me.

Piece of cake.

Ha!

Obviously, I learned it the hard way on our first day that this trip was no walk in the park.

The first day – even my usual uplift spirit was crying misery!

The itinerary took us from Sligo to the coast near Donegal and surrounds. The place is absolutely beautiful, full of still mirror like lakes and rolling hills.

The problem with rolling hills is that it keeps rolling, and rolling – up and down, up and down – and let’s just say, it was anything but relaxing on that first day (at least for me).

Challenge? Bring it.

So it was slightly miserable and I wasn’t sure if I was going to last the week. But I’ve landed myself in Ireland, what else was I going to do? Give up and go home?

NEVER!

Through our guides and the group’s encouragement, I kept going.

My iron will and stubbornness have proven many wrong before, and I wasn’t going to let a little bit of Irish rain drain what pride I still had in me. Yes, my legs may have given up half way, I have used the support van more than once and dragged my bike on foot up a number of hills along the way, but I refuse to say I can’t do it!

Thankfully, there’s plenty to keep me distracted from my burning thighs. This part of Ireland is absolutely amazing. While the struggle up the hill may be hard, from the top I was always awarded with breathtaking vistas of the surrounding valleys and plateaus.

Not to mention, what goes up, always comes back down!

So, up or down guys?
(Up!)

You would have read what I said in my previous post about how travel fuels my infatuations, that I came back from the trip wanting to buy a bicycle. The trip converted me from being a hiker to a cyclist, and I remember our last day, as I sat writing down notes in my hotel room to the sounds and views of the Atlantic Ocean, I knew with a bit more training I could do more, so much more.

Hiking will always still take preference on our trips. I like the slow pace an on foot journey takes, where I can feel the environment and nature around me. However, this trip has given me a feel of what power cycling could give me, the freedom of the speed and the satisfaction of completing the trip and the urge of wanting more.

Having a rest by the support van. The Support Van! My knight in shining black armour!

And there will be more. I just know it.

(And I did take a fall – my right shoelace got caught in the chains at an intersection in Sligo. Besides scaring a couple of motorists that were passing me and punching a dent in my pride, I was ok!)

What did yoga have to do with it?

Well, the trip included yoga sessions once a day, and yoga helped.

Every morning we gathered before breakfast to stretch and wake up with an hour of yoga, led by an excellent local yogi Blaithin. This is the hour we got to recover the tired muscles from the day before, and get ready for another day’s challenge.

Yoga, unsurprisingly, was a perfect complement to a cycling tour!

Get stretching with downward dog!

North west Ireland gripped my heart, and held on

I’ll be writing more articles on this trip for other publications, with details of the scenery and significant information on this part of Ireland, so I will try not to repeat myself here (only because editors don’t like that I give away their content!).

So, I haven’t been everywhere, but I would say I have travelled a fair bit.

From dry arid deserts to dense and humid rainforests, from cities that are haunted by horrors past, to those that represent the glory of a former kingdom; trekked along roads of lost empires and dived the marine rich waters. As much as everywhere awes me, enchants me with their magnificence and draws me to appreciate their beauty, very few places made as much emotional effect on me as the area around Sligo has.

Let’s just say, I was thoroughly enchanted by the stretch of country.

Sligo bay

 

Yeats immortalised Lough Gill in his poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree”. This view is why!

Irish poet William Yeats grew up in the Sligo area. He is buried here too, in his beloved Sligo Bay along Drumcliff River. He had called Sligo “The Land of Heart’s Desire”, and the more I saw of the lakes, the mountains, the dramatic limestone cliffs and the tidal harbour the more I was taken in by it all.

How could you not fall in love with this?

The lake was brilliant day and night, and I was especially smitten by the night sky just around Lough Gill.

I’ve had some amazing star gazing sessions in outback Australia, and have attempted to view the stars at one of the dark sites on the Isle of Man, you’d think I’d be used to just looking at stars for what they are.

You are probably thinking: it’s the same stars!

But there was a moment, at the end of another tiring day, when I looked up by habit and saw the sparkling haze splashed across the black canvas which I knew as the Milky Way, I had let out an involuntary sigh.

On that clear night, you could clearly see surrounding constellations such as the well known big saucepan which is part of Ursa Major or Great Bear constellation, and the ‘W’ shaped constellation Cassiopeia and many more.

It was mesmorising.

Dark Skys CC by 4.0 | Credit to: European Southern Observatory (ESO)
This photo isn’t mine. I wish our camera was this good. But it does represent the sort of sky you can see on a clear day around this parts of the world. (Photo source: Wikimedia Commons CC by 4.0 | Credit to: European Southern Observatory (ESO))

Obviously the stars can be seen in many places around the world, but in combination of everything else on this trip, it was one of the elements that made this area beautiful.

The gift of precious solitude

I am a social person. I enjoy being around people, to talk and to laugh over a good meal and a pint.

I do however, also enjoy being by myself, a chance to talk to myself (psychologists say it’s healthy) and to just detach myself from the everyday. I personally think even as couples, we all benefit from some time off from each other (another post for another day), to be alone. To have a moment within ourselves.

Over the seven days, I’ve had plenty of chances to enjoy some solitude (you know, being slow on the bike, trying to walk up those hills while everyone else were all way ahead already), and this gave me the opportunity to cherish what was around me, to allow this poetic landscape affect me.

It was a soul touching experience to breathe along this stretch of solitude

I find that many of us have lost the ability to see beauty in everything. We are so busy with our lives that we forget to look up, look around and absorb the things that make up our environment. Nature, is there to be admired and worshiped, yet, we can’t even find time to look at it.

Finding myself at the back of my cycling pack was a blessing in disguise. I peddled slowly (or limped on) alone, letting the wind  whistle, grazing sheep and cow stare and watched as the landscape pass me by.

I hadn’t had this sort of space for a while, and this is possibly why I had enjoyed this trip so much.

So much so that I was stopping to shop for real estate. (Ok, not really, but I did pass a few tempting options)

On one of the hills I stumbled slowly up, I saw this house for sale:

Cute little house isn’t it? Wait til you see the view.

Then I turned around towards the view the house immediately looked over:

What a view!

My heart leaped.

It’s like when you first know you are in love, that wrench of the heart every time someone mentions a name, that smile every time you think of it.

I wanted it. I desired it!

People the world over, will always surprise you

Of course, as with anything else in life, it’s always the people that make or break a journey.

All through the trip we were recipients of friendly and humble Irish hospitality. From those who took us in their B&Bs, to the strangers who stopped us on the road just wanting to chat and know which way we were going so they could point us in the right direction; to the drivers who slowed down to ask if I was alright when I fell and crashed on the side of a busy intersection.

I have never, ever met such (cycle) friendly people. Not even in Amsterdam!

Of course, let’s not forget the game! At a traditional Irish pub called Stanford in Dromahair, where we cheered on team Mayo with the locals for the season finals of Gaelic Football against Dublin. Sadly the curse of the team stayed on but what a moment, when strangers linked arms with strangers and we all sang to the same colours!

Squeezed into this tiny pub, strangers cheered among strangers for the Mayo team to win! Sadly, they lost by 1 point. ONE point!

And to my new friends…. Sláinte!

In this last section of the post, I want to dedicate to the people who were there, the two guides and the six fellow travellers who not only befriended this alien addition to the group (it was a sold out tour, I squeezed in with my media privileges), the camaraderie among us, and having so much patience with me along the way.

Plenty of fun were had on this trip, and I’ve made friends with people I never thought I would get along with.To laugh over rabbits and lighthouses, and share our mutual appreciation of gin.

I must say I let my guards down a few times and forgot I was supposed to be working (hence, missing a few notes!) but that just goes to show, the world is filled with like-minded people, no matter what you are and where you are from (oh dear, a bit of Backstreet Boys is coming out here), deep down, we can all be friends.

New friends! (Minus Karen who was taking this photo!) — Permission to use by: Karen Alexopolous

So thank you for making me climb, thank you for the cheers and keeping me spinning. You’ve brought out the cyclist in me that I thought I didn’t have!

I hope we keep in touch. If you are going on another cycling trip, please invite me?

Good night Ireland. See you again soon!

www.wildernessireland.com

Share your thoughts below!