Set within 26,000 acres of luscious greenery, Ashford Castle’s grounds are ribboned with beautiful cycling trails. Beyond the estate, the rugged Connemara offers endless off-road biking potential, too. Here, we chat to professional cyclist David O'Loughlin of Ashford Outdoors, which facilitates a broad range of activities in the castle’s grounds for our guests. David steers us through the highlights on the historic estate and shares his favourite Connemara cycle routes.
The most popular excursion that David delivers is a guided cycling tour around the castle. “The Ashford Cycle Tour is a 90-minute experience that takes in the estate and its immediate locality. We visit many of the area’s sites of historical significance and natural beauty.”
One such site is Cong Abbey, which was founded by St Feichin in 624 CE. The monastery is home to a 15th-century monk’s fishing house constructed above the currents of the River Cong. It harbours a small trapdoor that permitted its resident monk to fish without getting wet.
Next, the guided cycle tour crosses the stone-cast Cong Canal connecting Lough Corrib and Lough Mask. “The canal was erected in the 1840s to allow goods to be carried north from Galway. It’s precious as it provided work at the time of Ireland’s Great Famine,” says David.
Further along, a wooden chalet featuring a rock-cut chimney is inscribed with a dedication to Olive, the wife of Arthur Guinness, Ashford Castle’s erstwhile Victorian owner. “It is said that when the castle was undergoing a major renovation by the Guinness family, Olive used to paint in this peaceful place,” David informs us. Elsewhere, take in the ruins of Ballykine Castle and explore Cong Village, where 1950s Hollywood hit The Quiet Man was filmed.
An ex-Olympian who won Ireland's first UCI Track Cycling World Cup medal, David also knows how to navigate the Connemara’s more challenging cycle routes. “Our Connemara Cycle Tour starts and finishes at the Ashford Outdoors activity centre and lasts three hours. Although the exact distance and route depends on the group’s fitness level and experience, we usually cover between 10 and 50km.”
Choose between mountain bikes, hybrid bikes or road bikes for this scenic Connemara cycle route. It journeys through the area’s most picturesque locations: “The Connemara is a warren of trails through thickets of trees, including redwoods and sequoias. The Guinness family’s Lord Ardilaun—who donated St Stephen’s Green to the public—planted many of them. The result is a patchwork of shrubs, trees, wetlands and open limestone pavement,” David adds.
Adventurous bikers can extend the experience to include the village of Leenane in Co. Galway and the breath-taking Killary Fjord along the Wild Atlantic Way. “We pride ourselves on tailoring each experience to the individual group and ensure that the pace is one that everyone is comfortable with,” says David.
When asked where else he likes to explore on two wheels, David immediately flags up Joyce Country’s remote hills and valleys, as well as Ireland’s famed Great Western Greenway. The scenic track spools across 42km, skirting the Wild Atlantic Way towards Newport, Mulraney and Achill.
David’s final tip for keen off-roaders? The 16km Derroura Mountain Bike Trail. “Approximately 35 minutes from the Ashford Estate, find purpose-built trails for all levels of experience, including this fantastic cycle route through the wilds of the Connemara. Much of it is over high ground, meaning the views are outstanding. If you’re in the West of Ireland, this trail must not be missed.”
Explore the Connemara’s most beautiful cycle routes when staying at Red Carnation Hotels’ Ashford Castle.