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This article is about a nice way to spend a day cycling to Cobh and coming back and some of the sites, cafes and restaurants you will see on the way. The route is largely flat, but be aware that if you choose to cycle the whole way back without using the ferry or train that there is a significant hill between Glounethaune and Glanmire.
The Cork Bike Scheme allows you to pick up a bicycle from a number of stations situated around Cork City Centre. However, there are a couple of reasons you might not want to use it. The pricing is intended for people who want to make quick hops across the city centre and you will quickly find the costs escalating for this trip to the extent that hiring a bike from a bike shop for the day will make more sense. Also, the bicycles are sturdy city bikes, which are heavy and don't have the gearing you might want when cycling in more open terrain. They do provide the easiest to access bikes though.
Cycle Scene on Blarney Street and The Bike Shed on Tower Street offer day long bicycle hire. Both are a little outside the city centre, but it is still feasible to walk to them. They have a range of bicycles that will suit your cycling ability.
The route starts from The Sextant Pub on Albert Quay.
Cycle along Albert Quay with the one-way flow of traffic and follow the main road as it turns to the right. You will quickly come to a roundabout. Take the first turn to the left on this roundabout (Centre Park Road). Ride along here until you return to the river, staying on the main road.
You will shortly pass Páirc Uí Chaoimh, the main GAA stadium in Cork (undergoing redevelopment at the time of writing).
After this, you will pass a park on your right. At the end of this park, you will have a choice. A green route (walking and cycling path) will diverge on the right. If you want to skip the Blackrock section, follow this for several kilometres until you reach a car park and pick up the trail again in the Rochestown to Glenbrook section. This route follows an old railway line and doesn't have much of interest along it, however, peering through the trees near the first bridge you pass under, you may catch a glimpse of the ruins of Dundanion Castle.
Proceeding along the river, you will eventually come to a small harbour in Blackrock. There's not too much to note about the harbour, except that The Natural Foods Bakery provides teas, coffees and some nice soups and sandwiches. On Sunday mornings, there is a small Farmer's Market here that provides other eating options. From Blackrock Harbour, follow the uphill road next to the river and pass some of Cork's most prestigious addresses.
Not much further, you will come to Blackrock Castle. While built on the site of an older castle, what you see is actually an early 19th century reconstruction. The building now houses an interactive astronomy centre, but even if this doesn't interest you, it's worth poking your head into the courtyard. The restaurant here is excellent and is open for breakfast from 9:30am every day.
After the castle, turn the bend and cycle into the car park on your left. At the back of the car park is a path that will lead you on an off-road section along the waterfront here. This area will give you good views of Lough Mahon and the Upper Harbour. It's more picturesque at high-tide, but at low-tide, it is an important feeding ground for wading birds. This stretch is quite exposed and crosswinds or headwinds can be a problem. Eventually, you will come to a T junction. turn left on this, over the old railway bridge until you get to a car park next to some modern apartments. There is a caravan selling coffees and teas here if you feel like a break.
Cycle through the car park and you wll come to the Rochestown Road. Here cyclists are permitted to cycle on the footpath, but be aware that car drivers often park on the footpath at this point causing problems for pedestrians and cyclists alike. After a few hundred metres on the footpath, you will see the path splitting left into a car park. Go through this and you will pick up another off-road path along the water.
Here again, there are good views across the harbour, but it's a bit more sheltered than the previous stretch. This lasts for several kilometres until you reach the town of Passage West. This is the main commercial centre you will pass through between Cork and Cobh. There are two ways to get through the town. You can stay off-road following the waterfront route, but this is quite tricky at this point with some tight turns and poor road surfaces. The alternative is to go out onto the main road. Even if you stay on the waterfront, you will eventually be forced onto the road. Leave Passage West on this road and you will see a ferry on your left after a short time. Use this to cross to Carrigaloe.
Here you turn right after getting off the ferry. You follow the main road for a few kilometres and parkyour bike up to see some of the many things to do in Cobh, such as Cobh Heritage Centre, the Titanic Experience, the boat trip to Spike Island, St Colman's Cathedral, or hire a boat and go out to see some of the lower harbour yourself!
You have a number of choices now.
If you feel that your legs won't get you back to Cork City, you can use the commuter train to get there. Bicycles may be carried free on commuter trains in Ireland outside peak hours.
You could also cycle back on the route that you used to get to Cobh.
A final alternative is to go back on roads without using the ferry. This is descibed below.
Leave Cobh on the road you used to enter the town. When you get to the place where you got off the ferry, continue straight on. The road will leave the harbour front and rejoin it. Eventually, you will see a bridge. Cross the bridge and you will see the entrance to Fota Wildlife Park and Fota House. Fota House and its grounds may be freely entered and have a cafe that can make a worthwhile pit stop. There is also a train station here (follow signs for Fota House until you see signs for the station), so there's another opportunity to get back without cycling.
Leaving the entrance to Fota Wildlife Park and Fota House, turn left. Eventually, this will bring you to a roundabout. Do not follow the sign for Cork here as it will bring you onto a highway. Instead, follow signs for Carrigtohill and cross the highway. This will bring you to another roundabout. Here, take the junction marked Glounethaune.
After a few minutes, the road crosses the railway line. As you descend from the bridge, you will pass The Elm Tree pub. This is probably the pick of the places to stop for food on the section between Fota and Cork.
Continuing on the main road, you will eventually come to a small roundabout. Continue straight here (signed Glanmire). The next section is the most difficuly part of the cycle. You will climb a long hill and follow it with a steep descent. At the bottom of the hill turn over the bridge until you come to a T-junction, where you turn left and keep going until you get to the roundabout.
At the roundabout, turn righ towards Cork. Unfortunately, there isn't much alternative to cycling on the dual carriageway here. This road will bring you back into Cork City near to the railway station.