A Cycle Around the British Isles … Part 71
The weight of history is too strong for me in New Ross. I quite like the look of the town but I don’t like the way I feel. It’s too early in the day to be thinking of finding a hotel and I’m now within a last, long ride of the ferry port. I have no desire at all to say goodbye to Ireland but I have a very strong sense of how much I’d like to be at home. My desire to stay in New Ross takes a dent as I try to pop into the tourist office to find out some information. Normally this isn’t a action fraught with problems.
The office has two staff and two functions. One is to tell tourists things that tourists may have a wish to know. In many parts of the world this function is catered for by having a well informed, and almost invariably polite, person answering questions. Here in New Ross they have already decided what tourists need to know and they need to know about the famine ship. This leads directly to the second function of the office: getting money off people. They are good at it. It is all of the no-nonsense “give us your f***ing money” type of dealing. And a long queue of visitors are not the first to be relieved of their savings in order to be unceremoniously marched aboard a sailing ship at the quay.
The down side of all of this is that they have very little time for me. I want to know the times of sailings from Rosslare. They see no advantage in telling me. In fact they find a tourist, with a genuine need for information, to be something of a nuisance. I was also hoping to find out if there is a little ferry from here to Wexford. My map has a broken blue line that suggests that such a thing is possible. I rather fancy a boat ride around the coast; particularly as the alternative is forty miles of pedalling along a motorway.
When I do get some advice it is, as it was in Ballinasloe, rather less than useless. They tell me that you cannot just turn up and buy a ticket and give me a number for the wrong ferry company. It’s enough information to make me wobble with worry but the man on the ferry line end of the phone is helpfulness itself. There’s a choice of sailings this evening depending on where in Wales I want to be set down and of course I can just ride in and buy a ticket.
All morning I have been aware of and constantly thinking about the road to Wexford. On the map it looks like I’ve got no choice. Thirty miles of dual carriageway. Not a thing I would choose at any time and certainly not the way I want to say goodbye to a country I feel an enormous affinity towards.
The one consolation of taking a motorway out of town is that it doesn’t take much finding. Simply follow the road from the quayside south and soon I’m skirting the last of the houses and getting ready for what looks a considerable climb. Welcome to County Wexford. And for a while that is the problem. I cannot get the song Woman From Wexford out of my head and the ear worm insists on jangling it in the worst faux bog Irish singing voice it can manage. It must be thirty years since I sang it and I can remember every verse. It tells its story well, and I ride out of town under the guise of Luke Kelly.
The road reminds me of home as well. There can be few roads that do a more accurate impression of the M1 between West Bretton and Meadowhall. Just before I get to the start of the first hill I pass a cyclist going the other way. I’m reasonably friendly but I am very much not a member of the lycra boys club. I therefore am not usually the first to wave in acknowledgment of our bicycling bond. Today I do and am happy to be waved at in return. The fellow is about my age and is riding a steel framed bike.
The hill is just a bit too much. I can manage the slope and the duration, I just cannot manage it with a full bladder. A convenient gate and several hundred acres of rolling greenery affords much welcome relief. As I get back on my bike the fellow cyclist is coming up alongside. Uphill isn’t the place for conversation. We manage a cheery “Hello”, a smile and he slowly rides off into the distance. I’m quite happy about this. Simon’s Rule Number One applies. If someone is wearing cycling togs for cycling or swimming goggles for swimming they are either very good or are taking it too seriously.
I remount and make my pedestrian way to the summit. On the next descent I catch him up and we begin to talk. It soon becomes obvious that I have once again dropped lucky on this journey. For someone who doesn’t go out of his way to make acquaintance, I certainly meet some fine people.
“No. You saw me getting there. I like a run to New Ross and back on a Sunday before the road gets busy. I’m a bit late today that’s why you found me.”
“I live in Wexford. Is that the way you’re going?”
He invites me to tag on. This entails him pulling well in front every time we reach an upslope and me coming back on the downhill bits. We’re going a good clip faster than I would choose for myself. He’s an awful lot fitter than he looks and I’m the exact opposite.
“I don’t know Sheffield very well, but I have a daughter who’s training in Huddersfield.”
“I lived in Huddersfield for years.”
“Do you know the Royal Infirmary? That’s where she works”
“Know it! I had my left wrist plastered there and my right hand strapped. Different times you know. I was a little accident prone when I lived in the town.”
“It seems nice enough when we go over there to see her.”
With the rolling hills of Wexford allowing us a concertinaed conversation; he pulls away on the hills and slows to allow me to catch up on the other side; we make good progress. We cover 16 miles in the first hour. That would be a good session for me on the flat, without heavy bags and without already having forty miles in my legs that day.
“What time’s your boat?”
“Sure, you’ve got hours to kill.”
“I’ll be happier once I’ve got the ticket in my hand.”
“If you want to, when we get to Wexford, you can leave your bike at my house. Then you’ll be able to have a good look around the town.”
We’ve still got miles to go but the day seems to be panning out as nicely as the panoramic landscapes from the top of the hills. If you ignore the enormous road running straight through it, this county looks something like a pastoral ideal.