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A Journey Around the British Isles … Part 68

I’ve studied the maps as closely as I can. There is no direct route from Kilkenny to Wexford or Rosslare. I’ve got a two part L shaped journey. The first part promises much; a forty mile meander down the banks of the maturing River Nore. At the end I’ll find a town called New Ross and will have the choice of staying there or continuing on a big road due east to Wexford. I’m not looking forward to that section at all. I’m resigned to it; have calculated that, if I have to do it, I’d be advised to do it in the quieter, early afternoon traffic. It is the only dark cloud on my horizon and it niggles its doubt into my mind. If I could see into the future, I’d be able to see it turning into the best part of another fine day. It takes a considerable twist of fate and I find these happening more often since I became nicer.

Once I’m underway I find it to be one of those mornings when turning the wheels is hard work. There is no way of telling, until you have done a few miles, just what sort of response you are going to get out of your legs. What fuel you put into your body makes an increasing difference as you get older. Stuffing myself with fried bacon and eggs each morning does not help. It seems like a good idea. It isn’t. Chomping on an apple helps and it is with good bites that I leave Kilkenny city limits and head off on a road that I have mistaken kilometres for miles. A simple conversion knocks ten miles off my journey. This is more like it!

Thirty miles following a river to the sea must mean a long, gradual descent. It doesn’t. There is altogether too much uphill to make sense. Part of it is the early morning legs and the rest the road’s habit of going up and down the sides of the valley. I’ve been told it is a dangerous road. “There’s always someone being killed on that stretch. You be safe now.” Had been the parting words from the guest house. As a cyclist, there really isn’t much you can do. My lycra friends would say that you’ve got to be seen and justify their tendency to skin tight stretchy man made fabrics. The logic doesn’t follow. Green is the most difficult colour for drivers to pick out and is one of the most popular with pedallers. And I can’t see how having the name of a French supplier of loose boxes written on your back is going to lessen the impact of a front bumper. My Kilkenny hurling shirt allays this fear. Anyone who can’t see that is either blind or intent. Or a over zealous fan of the Waterford team.

Then there is the on going debate about wearing a helmet. I stay on the outside of that one. I know I probably should but don’t. The whole beauty of cycling to me is a lack of constriction and a feeling of freedom. The helmet interferes with that. I don’t particularly enjoy riding a bicycle while wearing a helmet. I might even give up the whole thing if I was obliged to wear one. Friends say that you’d be so much safer if you wore one. Somebody always recounts a dubious tale of a friend of a friend. I point out that I’d be a heck of a lot safer staying home on the sofa. I don’t like the danger but reduce it in other ways.

Riding a road like this one on a Sunday morning is a pretty good health insurance. Sundays are largely free from lorries wherever you go and Sunday mornings are almost completely free of dangerous road users. Speedsters are sleeping off the over indulgence they require on a Saturday night, bikers need an audience and no one races to get to church; even in Ireland where the priests still have a little more sway.

The dangers of the road are to be seen at every third bend, (and there are an awful lot of bends on this road). Ireland, like England has become a country of little shrines to victims of road traffic accidents. In England these are tawdry, sad looking affairs with a photograph flapping on a road sign surrounded by dead flowers in dirty cellophane and perhaps a rain soaked, sun faded teddy bear undermining the claim from family and friends never to forget.

In Ireland the shrines are altogether more professional, but none the less tasteless. I’m fully in favour of mourning the passing of loved ones, all the more so if young lives have been tragically foreshortened. I like fitting memorials and like to light a candle to celebrate lives lost. Church yards and churches have done this job splendidly for centuries. The last place to celebrate a life is the place where that life has been lost. I’m sure the victim wouldn’t want to be remembered for the last unfortunate mistake of an otherwise worthwhile existence. And I’m sure they wouldn’t want to have their final resting place marked with plastic bound flowers that rather resemble a tipping site than a family memorial. At least these dreadful tributes fade and are eventually swept away. Here on the R700 we have professionally made memorials. Here are crosses and headstones (surely the victims aren’t laid to rest here!) and virgins and in several cases of extreme bad taste, memorials shaped like the motorcycles that killed them. The victims are usually remembered by nicknames that further reduce any real sense of dignity that may otherwise have survived this gruesomeness. “In Loving Memory of ‘Diggsy’ Who Died Here Aged 26.”

I may be in a minority here but I dislike the practice. The crude, tasteless, showy, cheap memorials shout out just that. You died a terrible death before your time. We will now compound that crime of fate by remembering your good life in a flashy, tawdry memorial that looks not dissimilar, in its actual effect, to littering. It makes me feel very sad, and not at all in the appropriate way.