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A Cycle Around the British Isles … Part 65

The rural beauty of Laoise continued. The road remained a country lane and progress was just right. Never too fast, nor too slow. Farms and fields and trees. Undulating , rolling countryside. Nods and smiles and waves from the few people I met. A richer earth, more bountiful. More crops, greener fields.

It continued on and soon I was in the valley of the River Nore. I sensed the rural ride was over for a while. A major road was running south over to my right and I was obviously going to meet it soon. The junction was made at Ballyragget. By now I had crossed the border into County Kilkenny and was being drawn towards the city. My map gave me two choices and they were difficult. Either to go against all my cycling principles and take the big road over the little one or to go the longer route and steer clear of the traffic. A few factors had to be taken into consideration. Not least the time. If I was going to ride to Kilkenny tonight, then it seemed sensible to try and get there before everything closed. I had a bag full of stinking, sweat stained garments that I was happy to bin if I could find replacements. I’d be happy to wash them too, but I had been in Ireland for a while now and I hadn’t seen a single laundromat. The rural route was at least twenty miles compared to the twelve on the main drag, and the main road seemed to have a good cycle lane painted on. Having given up my tent there was little choice but to head for the big town. Reluctantly I joined the N77.

For the first few miles all went well. The smoothness of the road surface, the warmed up legs and the momentum of the day sped me along. Where there wasn’t a cycle lane there was a causeway (Nottinghamshire dialect for pavement/sidewalk). There was a good flow of traffic, including heavy trucks, but they kept to their part of the road and I kept to mine.

After three miles the cycle lane simply disappeared. It beggars belief. How can a cycle lane be necessary in one part of a road and not necessary in the next part of the same road? What is the cyclist to do? The lane just runs out and you are left to mix it with the thundering herd. There was no sign that it was going to run out. No warning not to pedal down here. I was left with no choice having previously made the wrong one. I had to keep pedalling.

The road varies in width and the timing of the day was such that every big lorry passed me just where the road narrowed. The drivers were aware of me, tolerant of my right to be there and respectful. It didn’t make the ride any nicer. It is dangerous and the prospect of death or serious injury from being hit by a few tons of uncompromising steel is not a pleasant one. I adopted plan A and pedalled like Sean Kelly in his pomp. Nine miles flat out and I reached the city outskirts in a time that surprised, delighted and knackered me.

A broad road, almost an avenue took me from the snarling main road through more genteel suburbs and when a rather palatial four star hotel beckoned and I returned its wink. There weren’t too many signs of bicycles in the gravel car park. A reception for businessmen was in full swing and I drew one or two glances of a not admiring nature. I wasn’t at my best as I presented myself at the reception desk. Coated in dirt, reeking of old clothes and wheezing stertorously I asked after rooms. I’m sure Sean Kelly would have been better received.

The young lady on the desk knew the drill. Hotel policy was obviously not to ban cyclists completely, but rather to make a big fat profit on them if they did insist on equal rights. I was quoted £129 for a single bed and no breakfast. “You see, it’s the festival this weekend and everywhere is full.” It suddenly became a worrying prospect. I didn’t have a lot in the tank. I wanted to see Kilkenny. To get some feel of the festival and the city. I hadn’t considered the possibility of there being no room at the inn. The prospect suddenly seemed all too real. I tried to save face by asking if she had anything a little more expensive but she was wise to me. She fixed me with a stare that challenged me to go on wasting her time and when I was the first to blink she followed it with a smile of such beauty that I willingly accepted my role as outcast.

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I pedalled on and suddenly I’m in a city centre to rank with York or Lincoln or Durham. I knew nothing of Kilkenny. It could have been the centre of Irish civilisation or a housing estate with a hurling pitch and a bar. The actual beauty, history and atmosphere of the city enclosed me like a narcotic and challenged me to find a way of spending a night with her.

I tried two hotels and got short shrift. Fully booked. Unless, that is, for the one remaining room that just happens to be three times the rate of the other rooms. I resorted to plan B. Buy and ice cream and wait for inspiration. It was getting near closing time. The ice cream was very nice, the river side view was splendid and the lady who served me was sympathetic but unable to help other than tell me there was a tourist information office two streets away. It was fast coming on closing time and the sweat was cold and clammy on my back and the powerful body odour coming off my clothes was giving me a bigger share of the pavement than anyone else was getting.