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.

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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.

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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.