We were a group of seven touring cyclists from Cork who travelled most of the Kingfisher Trail in June 2013. We thoroughly enjoyed it, helped by the amazing Summer of 2013. It is rare for melting tar to be a problem for cyclists holidaying in Ireland! We used hybrid of touring bikes rather than road bikes and carried our own bags. No support vehicles in sight!
The trail is a collection of loops rather than a linear route – “start at A, cycle for N days, reach B”. This means that if you have a car, you can leave it somewhere safe for as little as a single overnight with your gear. You only need to carry enough for an overnight stay or two – clothes etc. If you find nice accommodation, you can re-use it! Leave a pump and a tin of oil for the chain in the boot.
The Kingfisher Trail is very hilly. It doesn’t look so hilly on the map, except for a few good climbs. But most parts seem to involve lots of small ups and downs. Often, a downhill stretch will give you enough momentum to cycle half way up the next hill. But we found the net result very tiring and progress is much slower than on the flat. It depends on your fitness (and we were not in bad shape!), but 60 miles a day might be a better goal that 80 or 90.
This worked for us several times: let the first person, arriving at the crossroads at the bottom of a hill, stop and watch the road. The “victim” can wave everyone else across if the coast is clear. Everyone else gets the best run up the next hill which inevitably awaits.
Much of the trail is quite remote so make sure you think out your food stops or picnics carefully.
The “Official” Kingfisher map is hard to get (and getting harder). It is published by Sustrans. But the Ordnance Survey sheets also show the trail and in better detail. You will need 1:50000 sheets 17, 26, 27 for sure, and the route touches sheets 11, 12, 16 and 33. Sheet 12 isn’t needed as it is very straightforward and well signposted. We took photocopies of the relevant parts of 11 and 16 (Donegal), and 33 (near Carrick on Shannon). It would be advisable to get everything laminated too.
The main northern and southern loops are well signposted, but you do need to keep your wits about you, especially in towns. We found that it was good to go over the map beforehand, and to keep it to hand while cycling so you would be expecting the next place to turn etc. It is very easy to miss turns, especially when tired after a long day. The signs are often partly obscured by vegetation so it helps for everyone to be on their guard.
We had a smartphone with the Viewranger application installed. You can buy maps of selected areas of Ireland at 1:50,000 scale. This proved to be absolutely invaluable when unsure. You don’t have to use the GPS the whole time, but it will locate you accurately and quickly. The web site http://www.kingfishercycletrail.com has saved copies of the GPS routes which can be imported and will appear on the map. This saved our bacon more than once. The 1:50,000 maps (paper and electronic) have the main loops marked in, but you will need the files off the web site to show the other routes. The signage probably isn’t as good.
The route crisscrosses the border a lot. You will need sterling and euros.
Day One – We started from Carrick on Shannon and ended up just beyond Clones for the night, staying at Leander Lodge (i.e. anticlockwise via Leitrim & Belturbet on the southern loop). Carrick on Shannon is hard enough to get out of with one way streets and a river crossing. There is a lovely flat section coming into Ballinamore from the west along the banks of a canal! Some of our group did the Clones loop, Ride 6, by turning off at Annies Bridge and rejoining the main route at Clones. i.e. We missed over 3 miles of the southern loop.
Day Two – Saw us returning to Carrick via Swanlinbar / Florence Court / Belcoo / Blacklion / Leitrim, completing the loop. The boat trip from/to Crom Castle is well worth it, at least in reasonable weather. In Florence Court, the forest roads to the east are steep and graveled and quite tricky in places, especially with heavy bikes. If you are nervous, use the public road. Leaving Florence Court going west, ask for directions as the route is hard to find. Going south from Blacklion, the route climbs steeply off the N16 then rejoins it about a mile later. That’s a lot of exertion for no gain. If tired, take the main road. We thought the road off the R206 to Dowra was one of the nicest parts of the whole trail. Below Dowra, take care at Stonyriver Bridge (G989 183): the trail goes straight and the road goes right. This is very easy to miss and if you turn right, you lose a lot of height quickly. From Drumshanbo to Leitrim is lovely and flat beside the canal. This is in total contrast to everywhere else nearby!
Day Three – We drove to Enniskillen as our starting point on the Northern Loop and then followed the trail anticlockwise via Pettigo into Ballyshannon. We found it really hard to leave Enniskillen. There is a new road under construction which doesn’t help. Drumskinny Stone Circle is very close to the route so it’s a really short detour and well worth a look. If stuck for time or energy, the section west of Pettigo is more scenic that the section east. i.e. Use the A.35 as a short cut but if you take the B136, you will miss some of the best views in fine weather. Watch for the right turn east of Beleek. It is very easy to miss (some of us did!) as it looks like it goes into someone’s garden!! Ride 4 into Donegal has been developed into a series of numbered cycling routes with good signage. The original Ride 4 has no signs left. Careful map work will be needed. We went wrong here even with GPS. It may be easier to find where the new routes go and follow them instead. We spent a night off the main trail, on the Donegal loop – Ride 4 – staying at Creevy Pier, near Rossnowlagh.
Day Four – We cycled back to Enniskillen via Garrison, Belcoo, Florence Court and drove back to Carrick on Shannon. (We took main roads from Belcoo to Florence Court as we had already followed the trail on day 2, and it is very hilly.)
This is a great cycle route and deserves to be much better known. It’s a significant challenge; there are many kinds of scenery; there are very few busy roads; people are really friendly. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.