Previously featured in Outsider magazine in their Mountain Biking in Ireland: Ultimate Guide, this trail has been on my must-do list for years. How disappointed I was to find the link to the route map was dead. One WhatsApp request later and I was in possession of a map. Off we go!
Beginning and ending in the picturesque village of Glenbeigh and for a time following The Kerry Way on the Iveragh Peninsula in South Kerry. This route explores remote valleys, lakes, climbs up and over a section of the Kerry Way and finishes with an optional traversal of Rossbeigh Mountain with a short forest trail to top it all off. This truly is the Wild Atlantic Way.
A soft start
Arriving after a soft night of rain the countryside was drying nicely. I had an inkling the dry spell wouldn’t last. Thankfully I had the foresight to don an extra layer and pack a balaclava – this was the only aspect of my packing worth noting positively.
Setting off south-west from Glenbeigh village with a screenshot of a Strava route map and not much else in the way of directions, I followed the road towards Coomasaharn Lake. Less than 15 minutes later I was battling up a short climb with hail pounding down and filling my ears. This was the first of many.
Not be be deterred by mere hail, or perplexed locals in high speed 4x4s, I persevered. As the road climbed up into the valley the view of the lake and snow gilded ridge above was superb.
As I left the black-top and headed up into Kealduff and onto the turf road, enjoying a rapid descent on hard pack I missed my turn towards Letter West. Halfway into the turf bog I realised my error and turned back – no sign posts and a lack of a proper bike computer punishing me!
The scenery just kept getting better as I passed Lough Naparka. This was a good thing as the number of gates to cross was getting irritating. Primarily due to a fear of my SPD shoe slipping while clambering over and my day ending early due to an “adult” injury.
In between the gates the track here was well formed but wet. I was left wishing I had waterproof overshoes – or full on waders at one stage. Watch where you put your wheels as I was axle deep at one point!
Reaching Kealduff Lower I was back on black-top and making progress once more. Happy to be generating some airflow in the hopes of drying off the hail returned – I dug out my balaclava in the shadow of Drung Hill. Now cosy it was onward to Mountain Stage.
One of the best things about mountain biking in rural Ireland is the disconnect from the conveniences of modern life. So disconnected was I that I had decided not to pack any sustenance in the expectation that I would purchase at the shop in Mountain Stage – which was closed. Bloody Sunday’s. Bloody light packing. I awaited the bonk.
By the way
Following my map screenshot I headed for the Kerry Way. The beginning of the trail, which looked like the entrance to a private house, is very well kept and upward I powered still fueled on the mornings fried eggs and coffee.
Powered on up for 150 meters anyway. More gates. A lot more gates. Some opening, some locked, some with styles.
This got boring fast – but the view back Glenbeigh direction was nice.
By the way, if anyone from Kerry County Council reads this, if you’d invest in some bike compatible gates/livestock control the MTB community would be eternally grateful – and you’d probably open the trail to a whole new market. I digress.
Up and over
I turned a bend after another gate and I was free. No more obstacles – time to get my pedal on. Except I stopped to take a photo as the view was fantastic. Below was the main N70 Ring of Kerry road and the dismantled railway (which will hopefully become a greenway soon) and beyond in the distance was the length of the Dingle Peninsula. The cold air resulted in a crisp scene with the Atlantic waves breaking on the shore below.
Stopping only to take the photo above it was easy-ish to cycle to the top of the pass due to the reasonable surface.
Descending now apace I headed for the forestry below. This part of the route is less eventful and less picturesque than the rest but it was fast and beckoned me on down the hill. First bike compatible(ish) gate at the entrance to the spruce!
Pedaling on through the trees the wind picked up and a black cloud of pure misery hovered above. Determined to get to the turning point I was now sprinting to get away from the weather. Hampered again by several gates I eventually exited the Kerry Way at Cahernaman and headed down the boreen towards the coast. Much mucking about with the map later I realised that I was destined to head back into the forestry, but this time on the access road rather than the Kerry Way. Hail. Balaclava. Onward.
I’m not entirely sure if access is restricted, but I didn’t hang around to find out. Blasting along the forestry track I exited the far side with a view of the Gleensk Viaduct and a boggy track that did it’s utmost to swallow me whole.
Passing underneath the viaduct I wondered for a few seconds if I was motivated enough to figure out how to get up on top and cycle across but I could feel the bonk setting in. The road sprint back towards Mountain Stage and Glenbeigh was short but half-ways along I decided I’d have a go at cycling through one of the disused railway tunnels above.This is part of the planned greenway route and I was hoping for a sneak peak at what will be a pretty cool feature. No-go, axle deep sediment and an eerily still tunnel put me right off. Hungry and tired I decided it was time to press on homeward.
Leaving the N70 at the still closed Mountain Stage shop I headed for the back-road to Rossbeigh/Glenbeigh. Here I could have decided to spin quickly on back to the village knowing the local petrol station shop had a full hot counter and as much coffee as I wanted.
With the promise of spectacular views of Rossbeigh Beach and Inch Strand I instead decided to head up Rossbeigh Mountain. Completely empty at this point, and out of water, I hit the summit and sat down. Despite how windy it was and how tired I felt nothing could take away from the view. Most certainly the best of the day and also the closest to the start/finish.
Rapidly running out of reserve energy I headed for Laghtshee Hill which overlooks Glenbeigh. Encountering my first human of the day, a friendly walker with two dogs greets me smiling and exclaiming “are you a mad man or what?”At this point I was willing to agree but hunger curtailed our conversation so on I went with some handy pointers on how to get to the “Fairy Forest” and on to Glenbeigh as fast as possible.
Wishing I had my “big bike” I descended Laghtshee hill slowly and awkwardly. I’m blaming the XC bike, my lack of energy and ability, but the descent would have been a scream on an enduro bike.
Arriving to the fence at the top of Faha Wood I threw the bike over and crawled under. A short but sweet (and very rooty slippy) bit of single track led me into the Fairy Forest trail proper. Rapidly pedaling towards the promise of hot food and sugar I sped through the woods, out onto the road and back towards the village.
Sheehan’s Supermarket was open. I exchanged my crud covered €20 note for the most amazing food I had tasted in ages.
Lesson learned – pack lunch!
|OSI Discovery Series #83
|Route & GPX
|Mapped in ViewRanger
Glenbeigh to Coomasaharn Lake
From the parking spot, follow the road back into Glenbeigh to the Church and turn up the boreen. Follow this route to the back of the valley at Coomasaharn. When you approach the lake, the road will turn right up the hill. Following the road to the end it turns into a rough track.
Coomasaharn to Letter West/Kealduff
Keep right at the gate and follow the trail downhill. When the trail begins to turn to the right watch for a gate on your left. Once through the gate follow the trail, which has views of Coomaglaslaw Lake, across to Kealduff. From there follow the road until it joins with the N70 at Mountain Stage. There is a shop here but the opening hours are limited so don’t rely on it.
Mountain Stage and Kerry Way
Make an immediate left (signed for HGVs due to a low bridge) and continue until the sign for The Kerry Way. The beginning of the trail is well packed gravel with several gates. This degrades into rough track with a couple of stream crossings. Eventually after several more gates the trail opens up and you can pedal on unhindered towards the saddle of the hill between Drung and Glensk. The views on this part of the trail are fantastic.
Coomshanna Forest to Viaduct
Once at the saddle the descent is on rough track towards the forestry at Coomshanna. You have a choice halfway into the forest where you can take a shortcut home at the white bench (see map as this is marked). This cuts out some unremarkable riding with several gates – unless you’re racking up KM the shortcut is worth it.
Should you choose to skip the shortcut and continue along The Kerry Way, you will pass through several gates and a small farm yard. The trail then returns to a tar road. Turn right and follow the road to the next junction where there is a boreen on the right. Head up the boreen about 150 meters and go through the double gate onto a forestry road. Follow this up and through the logging track (you will notice where the shortcut home joins this track) to the gate at the end. You will then begin descending on a turf road which is quite wet and boggy in places. This exits onto a small boreen which leads back to the N70 at the viaduct.
Viaduct and road section
There is then a short 5 KM pedal on the main N70 road back to Mountain Stage. Take a left at the shop and follow the boreen to where there are signs for The Kerry Way pointing in both directions.
There are three options at this point.
1) The map shows the most difficult which is up Rossbeigh hill, across to the summit of Laghtshee, and descending steeply into Faha Wood. At Faha Wood there is a short, technical, narrow trail that descends through the trees and onto the main forest trail. Turn left when you join the trail for the shortest route back to Faha Wood car park. You can also turn right and follow the forest trail south west for a short ways before it doubles back and heads north east towards the Behy Bridge on the Rossbeigh road. From there it is a short pedal to the car park and the finish.
2) Continue straight ahead directly to Rossbeigh. This is short 3 KM pedal on a tar road. Nice fast descent on the Rossbeigh side. Pass through Rossbeigh and on to Faha Wood to the finish.
3) Turn right and follow the Kerry Way as far as Behy Bridge where the road continues to Rossbeigh and the finish at the parking spot at Faha Wood.