On Easter Sunday, we decided to go for a gravel cycle in Arigna and cycle among the giant windmills located on Carrane hill. A steady climb brought us from our house towards Carrane Hill, a 458 meter high hill which provides views across County Sligo, Leitrim, Roscommon and on a clear day as far as Mayo.
With its location being basically in our backyard, we have been calling it our outdoor playground for the last 20 years. Within Arigna, we can cycle approx. 20km on wide forest and gravel roads with some tough climbs thrown in along the way. The only companion you will find within Arigna valley are the many sheep, deer and foxes and the many giant wind turbines which stand tall among the huge conifers.
After a steady climb, we reached Carrane Hill bog where we took a short break and admired the views towards the Ox Mountains and Benbulben.
Following the old bog road towards Carrane Hill, we felt the power of the cold April headwind, making our progress slower than expected.
And looking around us, it isn't hard to see why 100's of wind turbines grace the flanks of the hills around us, utilizing the exposed hill flanks to capture the power of the wind.
Turning left along an old track, we descended fast into the belly of the forest where the trees provided us with welcome shelter from the wind.
With the exception of sheep, deer and the odd fox or badger, there isn't anybody else to disturb the peace of this long forgotten area.
Where the area was once known for its coal mining industry, it is nowadays a peaceful area where amazing scenery and quietness provide you with a welcome change from the hustle and bustle of modern life.
The mining industry provided many local families with much needed work in an area which didn't suit itself to agriculture due to the harsh environment, but depletion of the mines resulted in the end of this industry in 1990. Since then, a very interesting museum opened its doors providing you with the opportunity to retrace the footsteps of those miners. Walking through the old mining tunnels, it isn't hard to see and experience the tough conditions which existed in these remote parts of Leitrim ( https://www.arignaminingexperience.ie/ ).
Climbing out of the valley along a wide forest track, we reached Garvagh Glebe wind farm which exposed us again to the strong Westerly wind.
Descending back towards home, we rolled into our gate and enjoyed some well-deserved lunch.
Afterwards, we sat down and watched the Tour of Flanders. Watching the racers climb their way across the Oude Kwaremont and Paterberg, we reflected back on the beautiful cycle we completed that morning.
One thing the lockdown has taught us is to appreciate our own area, rediscover the small forest roads and bog roads and admire the beautiful scenery.
Week# 3 brought us rain and wind, and not just a small bit either. Getting out every evening in darkness, we were greeted by rain and wind. But as they say, there isn't such a thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.
In week# 3, we switched our workouts between walking, running and cycling... all of this within our 5km radius around the house.
And to make our lockdown even healthier, we stopped drinking alcohol. We are now 3 weeks in and haven't touched a drop of alcohol with as result that i have lost 4.4 kg and 6 cm around my waste in the timeframe of 3 weeks.
Delighted with that as I started my training for my Alicante to Lisbon cycle early this time round. I have learned from my mistakes the last time I crossed Spain on a bike, the main one being a bit too heavy to get over some of the mountains comfortably.
And i know that the Alicante to Lisbon cycle will even involve more climbing, 21000 meters to be exact. And the weather will also be in the late 20's to early 30's, so another reason to be super fit by June 2021.
The only question now is "can we travel"? Time will tell, if not, we will come up with another adventure closer to home. The other thing which is on the cards is Gaelforce and a few other adventure races with as ultimate goal participating in the Madeira Island ultra Trail in 2022.
I am a cyclist, not a runner, but I am going to focus on a lot of trail running in 2021 mixed with mountain biking and road cycling. I will be keeping you posted regularly on the training, the mistakes I make along the way and the positive results i achieve. As you all know, we firmly believe in training with a heart rate monitor, so our Polar Vantage V's will guide us along the way.
During the weekend, we went for a local cycle and discovered a few new locations, one of them a cool metal bridge crossing a river.
So, even though you might be living in the same place for 20 years, it is never to late to discover a few new scenic locations.
With a 6 week lockdown imposed on us, we decided to use the 6 weeks in a positive way and focus on getting fit through local micro adventures.
During October, it gets dark early in the Northwest of ireland.... At 5:30pm, you find yourself in the pitch dark, especially in the rural setting that we call home
With one of us working in a pharmaceutical which makes covid19 test kits, the last few months have been the busiest ever. So arriving home late, we love nothing more than venturing in the great outdoors and fill those lungs with fresh air.
During week# 1 , we just walked most of the evenings. From the old bog road behind our house to a loop up the mountain, we started our week at a slow pace. We had set ourselves a target that every day of the week, we would at a minimum hit the 5km mark which we did.
Every evening, we admired the simple things around us. First of all, the moon was getting bigger and bigger working its way towards full moon, Mars made an appearance close to the moon.
Heavy showers changed the bog road into a muddy track, but hey, those changing conditions result in changing training options.
From a fitness perspective, we didn't really track weight or fitness just yet. This would be ramped up from week 2 onwards.
Week 2 of lockdown is where we started the real work of getting fit again. After the long days at work, it was immediately getting into the great outdoors and enjoy whatever weather was thrown at us.
With weights and fitness tests completed, our Polar Vantage and Polar ignite watches would keep us on track with the help of the Polar Balance Scale.
It was Halloween, and a rare blue moon coincided with this special evening. We decided to take the old bog road and venture from there off road through the forest and fields. Plan was to fine-tune our navigation skills, and we must say we were delighted with our current level of navigational skills.
The shoes and trousers weren't too happy though, crossing some streams and getting stuck in mud, we ended up covered in muck from top to bottom. But we were happy, happy to live in County Sligo and happy that we have plenty of wild terrain within our 5km radius
And during the week, we had more reasons to be happy about. During our adventures, we test a lot of outdoor gear and write reviews about them. All the gear we test, we purchase ourselves so we can provide our followers with unbiased reviews. In order to support us a bit with these purchases, we are affiliated with some companies we love and use quite a lot. One of them is sportsshoes.com who accepted our affiliation, so another reason to be happy. These affiliated companies provide us with a percentage of product sales whenever somebody follows the links through outdoorfitnesssligo to their website and decides to make a purchase.
And the beauty is that to you who makes a purchase, it comes at exactly the same price as what you would pay when visiting the website directly, to us it means a few euro in the bank which we reinvest in outdoor gear. (PS click the picture below and discover sportsshoes.com)
During week 2, we also introduced cycling. During the weekend, we cycled along the quiet country roads within the 5km radius, .... During the week, we cycled in darkness. The clock changed as well meaning that it was now dark at 5pm, but that added to the fun. In this season, it is easy enough to feel down, especially with the short days and negativity which floats around on social media, but getting that daily micro-adventure helps a lot.
America has also turned a page, saying goodbye to a clown of a president and welcoming a new chief in command backed by a strong new Vice-president. So a very positive week was closed off with a trip to the Polar Balance which highlighted a very positive 2.6 kg weight loss.
As we have moved back into another Covid 19 lockdown, you have 2 options.
A) You moan and give out about it
B) You make the best of it
Being the positive minded people we are, we opted for option B. So with a level 5 restriction in place, we are confined to a 5km radius around our house to exercise. This doesn't come easy if you love the great outdoors, but then again we are very lucky that we are currently healthy and secondly that we live in a rural area in the North West of Ireland.
Off course, one of us is still travelling into work every day as it is deemed an essential service , the other half is staying at home. Again, we are delighted to still have a job, especially when so many people have been layed off during the covid pandemic.
So with the new restrictions, we have decided to focus on the positive, and as we love the great outdoors, we have decided to do every day a micro adventure within the 5km limit.
Every day, we will post about our adventures, and you will be surprised how varied they will be.
This winter, we are going to follow the concepts of Friluftsliv.... or the Norwegian way of outdoor living. We will be going on hikes, we will be eating outdoors, we will be sitting around an outdoor fire pit, we will be going for cycles, and here and there we will throw in a small suprise as well...
And the amazing thing is that by smart planning, we have managed to select a cycle route of 40km which stays entirely within the 5km radius.
We have already started preparing our vegetable garden and orchard for next years season. The whole purpose is our commitment to live our lives in the great outdoors and to celebrate time outdoors, no matter what the weather forecast brings us.
There is not such a thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.
Daylight was just breaking through the morning clouds and the birds were waking up.
It was day# 9 of my cycle through Spain, and on this fresh morning I found myself cycling through the hills of Parque Natural de Hornachuelos. I was on my way to Osuna on a short 110km cycle and I was super excited. Today, I would meet up with my parents and oldest son in Osuna and stay with them for 2 days. I was looking forward to the break and spending some quality time with my parents and son. I reached the town of Constantina in record time and from there it was downhill towards Lora Del Rio.
Lora Del Rio is a bustling rural town along the Genil and Guadalquivir rivers.
From here onwards, i was cycling between fertile fields as far as the eye could reach. The roads were significant busier, especially with trucks carrying the many vegetables, grain and sunflowers which were grown in this region. Cycling towards Ecija, I noticed a very bright light which turned out to be the solar tower plant Gemasolar where they capture and focus the sun’s thermal energy with thousands of tracking mirrors.
The road from Ecija to Osuna was the straightest road UI had ever experienced. Along the route, I was able to see Osuna in the distance which was still 17km away. Roadkill along the road was mainly snakes and rabbits, and knowing my youngest son would be interested in the snakes, i decided to snap a few pictures of the larger ones.
By 2 o'clock, I reached the town of Osuna, This beautiful town was a film location for Game of Thrones, but has remained unchanged and is a sleepy rural town which is worth a visit due to the many architectural treasures which can be found in the town. Navigating the small streets, I reached the house where my parents stayed in and was welcomed by a refreshing drink and a fantastic BBQ.
Leaving Caceres behind me, it was 7am and already getting hot. The heatwave had arrived and it would make for a tough day in the saddle.
With another 5 liter strapped to the bike, I cycled along long straight stretches of dusty roads in between fields of grain, sunflowers,...
The hills were gone and good progress was made along the flat roads of this region, but I was consuming a lot of my water which meant I had to top it up on a few occasions.
Reaching the foothills of Parque Natural Sierra de Hornachuelos, the climbing in 35 degree heat was tough. When I reached the beautiful town of Guadalcanal, I decided to take a break and seek out some shade. A small festival was just starting and I enjoyed watching the parade,...
Leaving the comforts behind me of the shaded village square, I took the long road towards Cazalla de la sierra. After a quick decent, it was uphill all the way towards Cazalla.
The odd car which passed me gave me a friendly supportive beep, one driver even stopping and offering me some water. I was delighted when i reached the outskirts of Cazalla, a lively town where I checked into my accommodation.
Sitting under a tree drinking another bottle of water, I was experiencing the hottest day so far. The streets of the village were deserted, most people choosing the comfort of their own home rather than walking the streets in 36 degree heat.
In the morning, I had left Las Mestras bright and early after a huge breakfast, and after some tough climbs the landscape had turned more hilly rather than mountainous. Eagles were circling around looking for their next prey, olive trees were now a regular feature in the landscape and the lakes were missing a lot of water. It was definitely hot, but that was to be expected in this part of Spain.
And I had watched the weather forecast, a heatwave was on the way from the south (Sahara) which resulted in a constant warm headwind.
It was Saturday, and I was looking forward to a night in the town of Caceres. When I reached the Tagus, it was obvious that this region doesn't receive much precipitation. The roman bridge which once crossed the river was well visible. Carrying on, i slowly started to climb towards Caceres, a Roman city located in Extremadura, a Unesco world heritage site. The city retains evidence of many different cultures.
Reaching the suburbs, modern flats are the main buildings, but getting closer to the old town, Ciudad Monumental, a mix of gothic and Renaissance architecture is widely represented.
Having booked into my accommodation, I walked the cobbled medieval streets and admired the fortified palaces and houses. The town is encircled by 12th Century Moorish walls, but the town is also known for it's 30 towers, each of them having nesting storks on them.
It was busy in Caceres, many families enjoying an evening out on this sunny Saturday. I found a great place for pintos , placed myself on the terras and watched the hustle and bustle of this busy city.
After a great sleep, I woke up early in the morning and took a refreshing shower. Afterwards, I headed to the breakfast room where the owner delivered another feast, again a set menu delivered directly to your table.
After saying my goodbyes, I was welcomed by blue skies and the warm morning sun. And as predicted, the first hour of the day was a long climb out of the Douro valley
Climbing higher and higher out of the valley, i reached Mirador de la Puerta de las Arribes where I took a well deserved rest while admiring the fabulous vista.
Next destination was the city of Cuidad Rodrigo, a sleepy medieval walled city off the beaten track away from the popular tourist routes.
So far, day# 6 was turning into my favorite day of the trip, the legs were in great shape, the sun was beaming down and i had for the first time wind pushing me along rather than the headwind I got accustomed to during the first few days.
Cycling towards Cuidad Rodrigo, i could see the mountain range of Las Batuecas - Sierra de Francia Natural Park which would be my playground for the afternoon.
The roads were in brilliant condition, and before I knew it I had reached Cuidad Rodrigo which I left soon afterwards. My plan was to push along knowing that the toughest climbs of the entire route were ahead of me. And I also wanted to arrive early enough at my destination as I had booked dinner.
The meals were really important for me during this cycle, this as they were key to replace the 1000s of calories I burned during this cycle. During the cycle itself, I just tend to snack as I find it difficult to eat lunch and then carry on the cycle. So my preference is to snack and then replenish calories during dinner and breakfast.
The barren landscape soon made way for evergreen forests, lizards running right in front of my wheels oblivious about my presence , the scent of pine trees filling the warm summer air.
The road gradually climbed higher and higher into the mountains, and my water ration was fast depleting. I always carried about 5 liters of liquid with me, and believe me, staying dehydrated was a task in itself.
When I reached the village of Serradilla del Llano, it was time to replenish my water supply which i did in one of the local shops. This rural shop didn't have any till, the owner just calculated the overall price on the countertop. In the village, I got in conversation with a local man who explained to me that the next 10km would be tough climbing non-stop out of the village. And he was right, under a blistering sun, i made steady progress and entered an undiscovered part of Spain off the beaten path.
When I turned onto the EX366, a desolate road which brought me through miles and miles of pine forests, I knew this was one of my favourite parts of Spain. When I reached the almost deserted village of Riomalo de Arriba, I was surprised to find an elderly couple seated along the road enjoying a quiet life.
Following the river towards Las Mestas, I reached this pretty village with it's river swimming pool. This would be the place where I would stay for the night, and I must say that I didn't expect to find a fabulous hotel like Hospederia Hurdes reales in these remote parts.
When i walked into the breakfast room of Casas Campo Cimo da Quinta, I was welcomed by the same friendly girl of the evening before. She showed me all the food on offer which was to be honest a spread fit for a king. You could get absolutely anything under the sun, from cakes to a fry, from fruit to yoghurts, it was a feast fit for a hungry cyclist.
Day# 5 was one of the shorter days, so i only left around 10:30 am on my cycle through Parque Natural de Arribes Del Duero, a fabulous park which stretches along the Douro between the Portuguese and Spanish border.
First stop of the day was the beautiful town of Miranda Do Douro, a gem located high above the Douro valley. The town has many preserved buildings of its medieval and renaissance era, all of them well kept.
The town is popular with tourists who are travelling through the Portuguese Tras-os-Montes region, but it also attract locals from the countryside.
After having played the tourist for a while, I carried on my cycle... After a few miles, I knew it would be a difficult day in the saddle. My legs felt like jelly and every rotation of the pedals hurt as bad as the previous one. But what do you do if you have a planned itinerary, you just carry on and absorb the beauty of the region.
And this region is beautiful... it is marked by steep cliff edges and sleepy hamlets, all of them to be reached by small rural roads which carve themselves up and down the steep cliffs and hills.
which meant that I had to climb up and down a lot, especially the latter part of the day.
Especially the afternoon was tough, climbing higher and higher under a pleasant 26 degrees which made for a relaxing afternoon in the saddle.
By 7pm, I reached the Douro again. As my B&B was at the river bankement of the Douro, i had to make my way down into the Douro valley which has carved itself through the rocks over 1000s of years.
A 10 minute descend into the Douro valley trough a series of hairpin turns was scary, and I was thankful I had disc brakes on my Trek gravel bike. Salto de Saucelle is a very small town which is overlooked by a dam , and on either side 300m high cliffs. Where i descended in a record time, i wasn't looking forward starting the next day with a steep climb out of the valley.
My accommodation for the night was Posada Real Quinta de la concepcion, a fabulous B&B overlooking the Douro. The swimming pool looked inviting, but I decided to give it a miss as I had booked myself in for dinner.
The dining room was full, and it wasn't hard to see why. There was only one set menu, but the food was just fantastic. After a fabulous meal and a bottle of wine (yes, it was a night where I spoiled myself), a went to bed to recover my legs.