Ireland Cycling Adventure – Day 7

All good things must come to an end, and so after a hearty breakfast we hopped on our trusty steeds one last time for the short ride to the ferry terminal. It had rained heavily during the night so the roads were wet, but almost all of our route (5 miles) was on traffic free cycle paths. The only non cycle path section was the last mile into the terminal. Once again there were no clear signs for cyclists, or where we should go. However, once we reached the foot-passenger area we were told where to leave our bikes until someone would escort us onto the ferry. Being a Sunday the ferry was far busier, so the plan that we might nab a cheap cabin went out of the window as they were all taken. It wasn’t too bad as we had reserved comfy chairs once again.

20190929_114954126087914.jpg

Once we landed in Scotland we were allowed off the boat first, which was nice. Also, as we hadn’t gone through the terminal building we hadn’t managed to pay for our parking before we loaded up the car. I pressed the ‘help’ button at the gate and it was opened without us paying a penny. All that was left was the three and a half our drive home. Our full route can be seen below.

Untitled

It was an amazing week with almost 250 miles of cycling, as well as seeing the Giant’s Causeway and spending a night in the Republic of Ireland. It would also appear from the news this week that Brexit will make a complete mess of everything across the whole border. When taking goods across the border, you need to ensure the trade route for your goods allows for your consignment to be checked at a border inspection post (BIP) at the first EU country you enter for export. There are two BIPs in Ireland, one in Dublin and the other at Shannon Airport. If you wanted to transport goods from Strabane on the Northern Irish side to Lifford in Southern Ireland, less than 2 miles apart, you would have to drive to Belfast, take a ferry to Scotland, drive to Holyhead, another ferry to Dublin, get checked at the BIP and then drive to Lifford, without entering Northern Ireland. Completely bonkers and unworkable. People will just cross the border, which the EU will not allow, resulting in a hard border. I predict that with a hard border, Ireland will be re-unified within five years, and Scotland will also leave the UK and re-join the EU.

Despite that, we are both looking forward to visiting both Northern and Southern Ireland in the future.

If you missed any of the other blogs for this cycling adventure, links can be found below.

Day 1 here

Day 2 here

Day 3 here

Day 4 here

Day 5 here

Day 6 here

Ireland Cycling Adventure – Day 6

No cycling today on our cycling adventure as we have two nights in Belfast. We had intended to do the nearest parkrun, but as we also planned to do a walking tour we decided to give it a miss.

We headed into the city, stopping to look at ‘the thing with the ring’ or ‘Janet on the planet’.

We then had an excellent breakfast at Pottingers before meeting up with our booked walking tour. The tour was by DC Tours and was a history of the troubles. By God it was good. Just over two hours long and we were enthralled the whole time. If you’re ever in Belfast it is an absolute must do. The tour guide also talked about Brexit and how there is no way to avoid a hard border, and that a hard border will result in a return to violence. A recent poll conducted about a unified Ireland had results of 28% for it without Brexit and 46% for it with Brexit. Troubling times for the whole of Ireland.

We needed a sit down and think afterwards, as it was intense and very balanced, unlike the news we’d been fed back in the 80’s. As Helen said, it left her a wiser and better person.

To see a bit more of the city we jumped on an open deck tour bus.

This took us to see the famous shipyard and the Game of Thrones studio, before heading into the very protestant area of East Belfast.

Towards the end of the tour we went along the famous Falls Road in the catholic area, with the Bobby Sands mural.

We also saw the peace wall, the wall of walls and the Shanklin Road. My viewpoint of the troubles is definitely more balanced. So much to think about and history to read up on.

Tomorrow is the last day of our Ireland Cycling Adventure, involving a short ride to the ferry and a ferry back to Scotland. Ireland has been amazing and we will return.

Ireland Cycling Adventure – Day 5

After a long physical and emotional day we made it to Belfast.

We had an amazing night’s sleep at The Log Cabin in Armagh. If you’re ever in the area you have to stay, another 5 star review coming soon.

Once coffee’d the first priority was to look at Helen’s bike (Livingstone) to see if we could fix the brakes. It has a funny combo of cable and hydo discs, which was beyond our capabilities. We knew that there was a bike shop in Armagh, but if they couldn’t fix it then we would catch a train to Belfast from Portadown.

Before leaving, Brenda the owner came over for a quick chat. She told us that her husband is a builder who usually works over in England, but when he had a month off he built the cabin where we stayed. Proper grafters the pair of them as Brenda had just finished a 12 hour night shift as a carer. Interestingly, like Aiden at the Rossgier Inn, she no longer user Air bnb due to double bookings.

With our bikes fully loaded we set off to find Cycleology in Armagh, slowly as Helen could barely stop.

A quiet mechanic took both brakes apart, found some spare pads from an old bike and repaired Livingstone, charging us £5 for about 40 minutes work. Absolute hero.

It was close to 11am once we’d found the correct road out of Armagh, but we weren’t in a rush. We stopped in Richhill for snacks, to buy some stamps and post some postcards. The village of Richhill looked fairly affluent and was at the top of a hill. No sure how it got it’s name!

We arrived into Portadown in the sun to find a thriving little town. A place we’d only heard about from the troubles. We avoided the temptation to catch a train and pushed on to the shores of Lough Neagh, the huge body of water in the middle of Northern Ireland.

From there it was only 20 miles to our hotel in Belfast, although our route would go over a fairly large hill.

I’d plotted our route on what I thought would be a quiet B road. Obviously a B road on a Friday afternoon into Belfast is a bit different to a B road near Lancaster. It also started to chuck it down. A bit harried we made it to the outskirts of Belfast to find traffic chaos. We got off and walked to avoid the worst of it, until we found the segregated cycle path alongside the river.

Very stressed we took our bike up the lift to our room on the fifth floor of a Premier Inn located in the Titantic Quarter. Showered, fed and watered we snuggled into bed.

Saturday will be a busy day’s sightseeing around Belfast, which we are both looking forward to, although I don’t know how we’re going to fit it all in.

Day 6 can be found here.

Ireland Cycling Adventure – Day 4

I will begin with a little bit more about where we stayed last night. The Rossgier Inn was fantastic. The owner who was running the actual bar was so helpful and kind. We tried to order a take-out using an App, but couldn’t get it to work without a postcode. Ireland doesn’t have postcodes. Aiden, the owner, ordered for us and then paid the delivery driver in cash, as I didn’t have any Euros, letting me pay him with my card. He also bought us both a drink in the bar later. One of the best places we have ever stayed in.

It looks better when the shutters are up. We also chatted to Aiden about Brexit, which is hugely important for the border towns. Most days he crosses the border two or three times. A hard border would make this impossible, and understandably would hit the local economy, as well as having the potential for violence to start up again. Brexit is proving to be hugely unpopular everywhere we’ve been so far.

This morning we were a little apprehensive about our route. Once again Helen was route master, but she was worried that it was going to be on main roads all the way to Armagh.

The first couple of miles to Lifford and over the River Foyle to Strabane were really bad. The town of Strabane was featured in a short documentary about setting up a parkrun, staring Kelly Holmes, which you should watch. Also interesting to see posters for an Ireland unification referendum. I can’t see the British government agreeing to that any time soon, especially how reluctant they were for a Scottish independence referendum.

Back to our route, and after checking with Google maps we set off on our revised route, only to re-join our initial route, as on Helen’s Garmin. We opted to stay with our original route and if it joined the main road we would look at the map again.

The route ended up being on brilliantly quiet roads all day, albeit slightly lumpy ones. It also stopped raining after out first hour.

We skirted Omagh and stopped in a great little cafe in Killyclogher. I had a toffee popcorn slice with my coffee. It was so good I almost had a second one.

The rest and coffee was much needed and came at just the right time as we were soon past the halfway point. The hills were still ever present and the rain was once again falling hard, but we pushed on. Not only was today one of Helen’s routes, she was also in charge of the Garmin, making sure we went the correct way at junctions. A Garmin 500 has an annoying habit of zooming out and showing you the whole route when you slow down or stop, just when you need more detail. We only took one or two wrong roads and only briefly. However, Garmins also have a bad habit of bleeping to let you know that you’re off course, even though you’re not. Our Garmin did get called a “tweeting piece of shit” on more than one occasion.

By 50+ miles we were both feeling tired, and Helen’s brakes were not working at their best, something that we have to look at in the morning. We are staying at a wonderful place called The Log Cabin on the outskirts of Armagh. The owner had a good chat with Helen as she used to live in Morecambe.

We’ve just walked into Armagh to obtain beers and another take-out, before crashing on the very comfy sofa.

Today was a very hilly 55 miles with plenty of rain. Tomorrow is our last proper cycling day as we ride back into Belfast, once we’ve sorted Helen’s brakes.

Day 5 can be found here.

Ireland Cycling Adventure – Day 3

Last night’s hostel was pretty bad; dirty and in need of a good repairman. The only redeeming feature was that it was probably about £100 cheaper than staying at the Causeway Hotel. We headed off as soon as it was light, into the town of Bushmills. Unfortunately too early to visit the distillery. We changed our route slightly picking the direct ‘B’ road to Coleraine, only to hit the school run and commuters. The centre of Coleraine was also stupidly busy, but we found a great coffee shop.

We chatted to the guy working there, who was just old enough to remember a hard border with Ireland and soldiers everywhere. We’ve yet to meet someone who wants to leave the EU. He also recommended that we head towards Londonderry instead of the more direct route to Strabane.

After getting lost we found Windyhill road, which was both windy and hilly. We stopped in the next town, Limavady, for snacks, before embarking on the section we were most apprehensive about. Helen was in charge of today’s route and originally she had intended for us to catch a ferry across the inlet for Lough Foyle. Unfortunately it had stopped running the previous week. Therefore, to get to Londonderry from Limavady the only road is the very busy A2. There was a separate cycle lane for most of it, but as soon as we reached Greysteel we took the hillier backroads all the way to Londonderry.

An insanely steep hill dropped us into the city where we walked across the main bridge and found the brilliant cycle path alongside the River Foyle. Very reminiscent of the Lune. Rain had been forecast for most of the day, and here it came, although only for about 15 minutes. We were very fortunate.

The end of the cycle path took us onto a tiny little back road. We spotted the border with it’s disused army checkpoint. Scary to think we could go back to a hard border and not be allowed to cross where we did.

Suddenly we were in a different country. Subtle changes, but it was the first time I had crossed a border on my bike. I was just a little bit excited.

Before we knew it we were at the Rossgier Inn in Lifford, where we are staying tonight. We have the whole flat above the pub to ourselves. The kitchen is stocked with essentials, everywhere is clean and the shower is amazing. 5 star review to be added to Tripadvisor.

Today’s total was 91km with 900m of climbing and very little rain. Tomorrow we’re back in Northern Ireland as we head to Armagh with more rain expected.

Day 4 can be found here

Ireland Cycling Adventure – Day 2

The Leafield B&B did us proud with a full Irish breakfast (apart from the overcooked fried eggs) and good strong coffee. Just before 9am we set off up the A2 towards Larne. It was misty but not raining. It would have been nice to have been able to cycle around the other side of Larne Lough, but the small ferry across the inlet no longer operates. Fortunately the A2 in Northern Ireland is not as busy as it’s English equivalent.

Interesting sculpture in the middle of a roundabout in Larne.

After Larne the A2, also known as the Causeway Coastal Road, became significantly quieter, with magnificent views across the Irish Sea. However, due to the mist we couldn’t see too far. We did cycle through a small tunnel near to Drains Bay.

Soon it started to rain, and then rain much harder. We quickly changed into more waterproof jackets and pushed on. The road was almost Holland flat, with only 60m of elevation after 50km.

At Cushendun the Coastal road headed inland to avoid a large hill, but after we crossed the Glendun Viaduct the road went up, and continued up into thick fog for a long time. Fortunately we had good rear lights and fluorescent jackets. The descent was good though, until some idiot dropped his water bottle and had to stop to retrieve it.

Eventually the rain stopped as we dropped into Ballycastle. A steep little climb out of the town was followed by amazing views of the Mull of Kintyre. We pushed on towards the Giant’s Causeway and found our hostel. It’s no that good, but hotel prices near to the Causeway are an arm and a leg.

A quick shower and really good food at The Nook before entering the amazing visitors centre. You don’t have pay to walk to the Causeway, but this isn’t made clear, and it costs £12.50 to go into the visitors centre. We bought some postcards and vegan fudge and walked down the hill to the causeway itself.

It’s difficult to describe how amazing it is. Hexagonal rocks rising up out of the sea, with hundreds of tourists climbing over them.

Being a little tired after our 62 mile ride, we returned up the hill, had a refreshing pint and retired to the hostel. If they have a TV we might Bake-Off.

Today was wet and misty in places, amazing views and good food. Tomorrow we’re into Southern Ireland. Also, the vegan fudge wasn’t very nice.

Day 3 can be found here

Ireland Cycling Adventure – Day 1

Up early, bikes on the car roof, panniers in the back, we were on the road by 6.30am, heading to the ferry terminal at Cairnryan. We arrived in plenty of time, checked in, grabbed a coffee and waited to be told where to go with our bikes.

Once most of the lorries were on we were escorted onto the ferry. We were told to put our bikes into a funny little unused office. All the staff at the terminal were helpful and friendly, and unlike the Isle of Man ferry, we felt safe getting on and off.

We’d paid an extra £5 each for comfy seats in a secluded lounge, which was definitely worth every penny. We headed onto deck a few times to take photos, watched the news, lots of Brexit and Thomas Cook. One of the reasons for this little cycling tour is because we can nip over the border from Northern Ireland to the Republic of Ireland without passports, which we might not be able to do later this year.

Back to the ferry, and the views were amazing. Coming into Belfast we could see Carrickfergus Castle and a huge power station. Once docked we went to retrieve our bikes only to find that the old office was locked. It wasn’t, it was a push door. Sometimes I’m an idiot 😀

Onto the roads and escaping the ferry terminal was a bit grim, as expected, but the next few miles were amazing as there was a dedicated cycle route along the coast. We even stopped for a closer look at the castle. Right out of Game of Thrones.

A couple more miles and we made it to our B&B with an incredibly friendly host.

First days cycling was only 17-ish miles, but tomorrow we will be cycling up the coast to The Giant’s Causeway. Great start to our little cycling adventure.

Day 2 can be found here.

Arnside with the Beautiful Mrs B

I will never get bored of cycling out to Arnside as it is easily one of the most pleasant and picturesque routes in the area. We took it easy on our touring bikes and stopped off for a brew at The Old Bakehouse where I had a seriously good date and oatmeal slice. Looking out of the window we couldn’t help but once again state the obvious about how good it would be if the railway bridge also had a cycle/pedestrian walkway attached to it. A short-cut to Grange-over-Sands would be so amazing.

We pootled on back towards home but Mrs B suggested cycling along the Prom in Morecambe. Once again I moaned about the lack of good quality linked-up cycling infrastructure, as it is almost a necessity that the Prom shared use path should link up with the back roads out of Carnforth. Instead you’re left cycling along the busy and narrow A6.

20190901_1253032065788001.jpg

Back on the Prom and the skies were darkening and the tide was as high as I’ve seen it for a very long time. No beach at all, although plenty of fishermen.

20190901_1253231133359061.jpg

Cycling along the Prom it was busy with the Vintage by the Sea Festival taking place this weekend. We also noticed that the scaffolding had been removed from the new block of 50 flats that had been built overlooking the bay. They don’t half look smart. (No photo as it was properly raining at this point). The beautiful Mrs B had a look at them online once we were home. Crikey! A two bedroom flat overlooking the bay was listed as £450,000. Good luck to the developers, although in my opinion that is a bit steep, especially with what that kind of money would currently buy in Morecambe. The funny thing is that Helen had been looking at properties in Morecambe, not seriously as we both love where we are at the moment, just to see what we could afford.

Morecambe is on the up, after too many years struggling, and if the new Eden project gets the green light the whole area will get a boost.

 

Cycle Touring – Oxford to Kenilworth

Our last day of cycling started a little too early with a fire alarm going off in the middle of the night, but a good breakfast served by the friendliest staff, even at 7am was very welcome. (The other four days can be read hereherehere and here). As we retrieved our bikes from the bike store we were surprised to see two high-end Cannondale road bikes unlocked. Even though the bike store was locked I wouldn’t leave a bike unlocked in there. We opted to leave them there as neither bike had anywhere to put our panniers.

20180916_084202

Once we were loaded up we headed off through north Oxford and past yet more posh houses. Having lived in Oxford and cycled around the area for many years the first 20 miles today would be on very familiar roads. It was over five miles to get fully out of Oxford, but there was very little traffic about. We soon left the main road and reached the small village of Bletchingdon. The Oxford Tri Club used to organise mid week bike and run events from there. Fond memories.

With some flat roads and a strong tailwind we were making good progress, and the only other people we saw were other cyclists. After the first tough climb of the day we stopped for a breather, as did a group of cyclists who had been quickly catching us up. It turned out that they were from my old tri club, Oxford, although I didn’t recognise any of them.

We stopped for some food under an old walnut tree in Upper Tysoe, and with a little over 20 miles to go we expected to reach Kenilworth before 2pm, much earlier than we had planned. Helen sent her brother a text to explain this, but he was probably out on his bike so we didn’t get a reply.

20180916_084206

“Would you like to go to Hampton Lucy?” I asked Helen when we saw a sign. “Yes please, I would like to go to Hampton, and don’t call me Lucy.” Dad jokes are the best.

Reaching the outskirts of Warwick we hit a main road, although there was an excellent separate cycle path that took us over the stupidly busy A46. Note to town planners. If you build good quality cycling infrastructure, cyclists will use it.

The last few miles into Kenilworth were the only nasty roads of the day, but by 2pm we rolled to a stop at Helen’s brother’s house. Coffee, cheese on toast, loading up the bikes and we were ready to head home, stopping off in Hambleton to pick up Nelly, who was very pleased to see us.

It was a great little touring holiday, with just the right amount of cycling for both of us, along with visiting family and sightseeing some great places. The obvious highlights were Avebury and being able to show Helen around Oxford. Thirsty Meeples was an added bonus.

Both bikes behaved impeccably, although Helen’s did need a little gear fettling. Over the five days of cycling we covered 435km with almost 4000m of climbing and 395 new Strava segments.

tour

Finally, we’ve already started to plan for our next little touring adventure.

Cycle Touring – Salisbury to Oxford

This was the fourth day of our little cycle touring holiday, and our longest day with approximately 72 miles. You can read about the three previous days here, here and here.

IMG-20180918-WA0000

After retrieving our bikes from the garden that my parents call a jungle, we set off. I made my usual morning joke.

“Come on ya big old beast… and you Helen.”

Steady away, was the plan, and after fettling with Helen’s gears the day before, her bike was smoother and Helen was therefore quicker. Our route had a couple of dog legs to avoid main roads, as we headed north towards Amesbury. Salisbury Plain, just north of the city is full of army bases and is famous for the tanks, so when we came across our first ‘Warning Tank Crossing’ sign, I propped my tank (my Trek 920) against the sign for a photo.

20180914_092537

Helen noticed that there was a rumbling noise, but I dismissed it as distant traffic. Moments later the first tank came into view, followed by another four. I was literally jumping up and down in excitement, hoping that I didn’t get arrested for photographing tanks!

IMG-20180917-WA0015

What a great start to the day, although the weather forecast had said that there would be no rain, so after an hour of persistent drizzle we stopped at a convenient café next to the Avon and Kennet Canal.

20180914_104609

The Honey Street Mill Café was surprisingly busy despite seemingly being in the middle of nowhere. Coffee and a shared cake later, we set off up Pewsey Hill before dropping down into Marlborough; famous for the posh school not cigarettes. I’m sure Marlborough is a pleasant town, but the traffic makes it deeply unpleasant to walk or cycle through. This is one High Street that is crying out to be pedestrianised.

Leaving the chaos behind we headed east with the wind behind us, making good time, before turning north towards Lambourn; The Valley of the Racehorse. Climbing out of the town there is a mock racetrack with the funny white fences and furlong signs. No racehorses though as it was the afternoon.

From there it was mainly flat all the way to Oxford with a couple of miles on a minor A road and then 100m on the busy Oxford to Swindon road. Apart from those two small sections it was minor roads the whole way. As we neared Oxford I started to recognise a few of the roads, even though it was 12 years ago that I left. I definitely recognised one dodgy roundabout near Cumnor, as a driver pulled out even though it was my right of way, just like they used to many years ago. Some things never change. Maybe I should ride with a Go-Pro.

Another thing that hadn’t changed in Oxford was the nose to tail traffic in both directions along the Botley Road. Fortunately we could use the bus lane, smiling to the stationary drivers as we sailed past for the last mile. Why would you do that day after day?

A quick shower at the youth hostel and I took Helen to see my old pub. Why I say my old pub, it was where I worked for almost 15 years and running it for the last two. The Kings Arms is a very bust student and tourist pub opposite the Bodleian Library.

20180914_170629

Nothing much had changed. A new coat of paint, but the smell was the same, as was one of the regulars in the back bar, sitting in the same spot, not moving for 50 years. An old photo of me from 1992 was also still on the wall, looking young, with hair and no beard.

IMG-20180917-WA0011

We stayed for a decent pint of Young’s and had a quick look at the Radcliffe Camera in the evening sun, before heading off for some food.

IMG-20180917-WA0016

We finished off the evening playing board games and drinking craft beer at Thirsty Meeples. A brilliant end to a great day.