Day 3: Out and back from Castletownbere

wild stone circleThe Ride: 17 miles, about 1,500 feet of climbing. For a map, click here.

Today’s planned ride called for climbing back up the same road we’d just descended down into Castletownbere and crossing the spine of the peninsula again before heading out to its western end. Several of the climbs were described as “steep” and “challenging.”

I was wary of that because in a couple of hard days riding so far we hadn’t encountered anything our tour notes had described as “steep” or “challenging.” And I didn’t want to begin the day backtracking. Besides, I had read of a nearby stone circle that wasn’t on our itinerary. So I decided to freelance.

Alone, I pedaled from our hotel to The Olde Bakery at the west end of town and up the road just to its right.

If I had started out to avoid a big climb, I failed miserably because the road to the stone circle was uphill all the way. About 350 feet up and a mile out of town, I came to a small brown sign that said “Stone Circle” and pointed into a field. And there it was – through a wooden gate held shut by a loop of rope, a small stone circle guarded by a few cows and a bull, lounging contentedly among the stones.

The two stone circles I had seen before – Stonehenge in England and another small, unnamed one at the end of our first day of riding in Kenmare – had been on neatly manicured grounds. This one was in the wild. The grass and hedges were tall and unkempt. There were brambles and lots of cow pies.

And I had it all to myself – except for the cows.

I stepped around carefully, avoiding the cow pies and being careful not to arouse the bull while snapping a few pictures. Then I got back on my bike and continued on in search of a ring fort that some signs had said was also somewhere further up the road. But as the road started to descend into a deep valley – and wanting to avoid a climb back up – I turned back toward Castletownbere.

Back in town, I turned west along the coast road and soon came to the turn through a ruined gatehouse on the side road to Puxley Manor and Dunboy Castle.

Along an idyllic road beside a pasture with grazing draft horses I came first to Puxley Manor, a mishmash of architectural styles whose Gothic elements reminded me a lot of the Addams Family mansion.

The Puxley family came to the Beara peninsula as agents for a wealthy landowner and around 1730 were rewarded for their loyalty with the local holdings of the O’Sullivan clan. Doubtless that created bad blood between the families. Not so bad that they didn’t work together smuggling wine one of the O’Sullivans shot and killed one of the Puxleys in 1754. Later in the 18th Century, “Copper John” Puxley added to their family fortune with the copper mines of Alliehies, on the northern shore of the peninsula.

Puxley Manor was built as an addition to an existing castle in the 19th Century, and Puxley’s continued to live there until around 1920. Amid rumors that that the British army was going to use the castle as a base or that arms were being stored there by loyalist forces, the IRA torched the castle on June 9, 1921.

Today the manor is being remodeled and expanded into a luxury hotel.

The road continued alongside one of the fingers of the Castletownbere harbor and past the rotting remnants of a large wooden boat to a dead end. A short walk beyond the end of the road were the ruins of Dunboy Castle.

I was struck by how small it was and how little it resembled a castle. Really it was little more than some thick, rough stone walls, particularly high and overgrown by vegetation. It was hard to imagine it as the fortress belonging to the O’Sullivan clan it once was.

In 1602, some 143 O’Sullivans and their followers held off a British army of 4,000 men for 11 days until the walls were shattered by canon fire and the fortress overrun. The 58 survivors of the siege were immediately executed and the remains of the castle blown up.

I was taking a picture of the ruins ramparts when a man climbed up on top, spotted me and immediately apologized for walking into my picture and offered to step back down.
“No, no,” I said. “I like having people in my pictures.”

“I just wanted to climb up here, have a look around and pretend that I’m an O’Sullivan,” he said. “Are you an O’Sullivan?”

“No, not even Irish.”

“Well, if you’re not Irish, you’re probably a bit more clear-headed that we are. We know when to vote but not how to vote.”

I took that to be a reference Ireland’s recent vote rejecting a new European Union treaty that required the unanimous approval of all the nations. Ireland’s rejection had gone down hard with the rest of Europe.

“What they’re doing over at Puxley Castle is interesting, blending the old and the new,” I said.

“It’s Tudor and Gothic. Really it’s some sort of monster house,” he said.

“I’d like to come back here and spend a night there sometime.”

“Bring your checkbook; it’ll be expensive,” the man’s wife, who now climbed into view, said.

“When I was a boy,” the man said, “we used to go there and play games in the ruins. I doubt I’ll ever be able to set foot in there again. But eventually we’ll have another revolution and I’m sure they’ll burn the thing down again.”

coast lineEventually I retraced by ride back to the main road and then continued west along the coast. And again, if I had hoped to avoid climbing, I failed miserably because soon was I was working my way up a 3-mile, 450-foot climb, pausing a couple of times to take in the views of Bantry Bay before coming to a another off shoot to a Buddhist meditation center our guide had touted.

I had expected to see ruins of forgotten religions and more identifiable ruins of early Christian monasteries and Celtic high crosses. But a Buddhist meditation center wasn’t exactly on the itinerary I envisioned before leaving Kansas.

There were lots of prayer flags flapping in the wind. But no monks in saffron robes with shaved heads.

The meditation room, with its big glass windows looking out over the cliffs and the ocean, was the real reason for coming here. It was closed when I got there. But the views from outside were no less spectacular.

I took in the view of several headlands jutting out into the surf before getting back on the bike and making my way back to the main road. Once there, the ride back into Castletownbere was fast and fun –downhill all five miles.

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