Welcome to Top Gear's lap of Ireland
Join us as we lap the Emerald Isle, from the coast of Antrim to the Ring of Kerry
Posted: 23 May 2014
KENMARE - DUBLIN
MIZEN HEAD. THE WICKLOW HILLS. A FERRY FULL OF VOMIT
The next day, we head down the N71 towards Glengarriff and Bantry, and then strike further west to Mizen Head, the most south-westerly point in Ireland, a place where if you pointed your boat out to sea and kept going, you'd probably next encounter land in Puerto Rico. There's nothing there apart from a car park and a closed café, but the clouds make you want to write bad romance novels. I don't know why. The back roads look as if a hurricane has been through them. Which, obviously, it has. Some roads are completely clear; others, scenes of devastation. When a big tree decides to go, it drags with it quite a lot of the surrounding forest, plus a good portion of whatever it can wrap its branches around, like a drunk trying not to fall over, clutching at passers-by. In this instance, the local power and phone lines, which dipped in a sinuous arc through both the puddle we were about to drive through, and about 3ft in the air across the road. This prompted quite a heated and hurried discussion about the height of a McLaren 12C, whether carbon fibre is an excellent insulator or conductor (amazing how easily these two things are forgotten under pressure), and what exactly a phone line looked like, as opposed to say a couple of hundred volts of domestic electricity supply. It's like an episode of The Crystal Maze. Except if we get it wrong, we won't just be locked in a room of cut-price theatrical props, but lightly flambéed in a carbon coffin. At one point, we are hemmed in by not one, but two felled trees, one in front and one recently keeled over behind. In lieu of anything better to do, we sit eating biscuits and try to decide if we could tow a tree with a supercar, when a farmer approaches from across a field in a Hilux.
"Well, now tharn," he says, looking at the McLaren with an appraising eye, "don't seemlikeyou'llbegoinoveruporaroundthattree, eh?" I stare at him blankly but with expectation, like a labrador that's just been shown a biscuit. "Notwiththatoneanyway, eh?" Still nothing from me. The farmer sighs, looks from me to the McLaren to the 70-foot-long tree across the road, branches splayed for 30 feet or more across the roadway, and sighs, "Love-ly Macalaren. It's just that I'm going to need... a bigger chainsaw" - these last words said with the kind of weary resignation that you get when you've turned up to a large-calibre gunfight waving a teaspoon.
He returns with several chainsaws and a Kubota digger, and soon enough we're on our way, safe in the knowledge that at least one farmer has enough firewood for the next decade. Then it's past Schull, a trip across a causeway feathered by the froth of the Atlantic, Skibbereen and the N71 through Clonakilty. It was at this point we realised that in our determination to investigate what felt like every geographical oxbow of the Atlantic side, we were about to miss our ferry, so we edited a chunk of the very south of Ireland by heading up the M9 and picking up the Wicklow Mountains National Park as a final flourish. The Wicklow and Sally Gaps - poorly surfaced in places, glorious in others. The browns and greens of the moor, the road sweeping and cutting and endlessly interesting. We got joyfully muddled for a final time, lost for the joy of driving.
And then, suddenly, it was over. We'd lapped Ireland, covered nearly 2,000 miles of back road and proved that nothing really comes close to a supercar on any kind of road. As long as it's the right kind of supercar, and the right kind of road. Inevitably, we were stopped by the Garda on the way into Dublin on the pretext that they'd "never seen a car like that before", and we were asked where we'd been. "On a Lap of Ireland," I said. "What? All of it, in this weather?" said the Garda, bemusedly. When I replied in the affirmative, he asked how it was.
"One of the best trips I've ever made," I replied. And when I spoke the words, I realised just how true it was.