The End is nigh! Even though we’ve just reached the end of MizMal, and it is 18 months later that I am writing this, there is still a large chunk of our adventure to go. We are at the northern end of Ireland and we need to get back to Dublin for our return ferry. I’ll keep it short, more out of necessity; really should keep a journal of each day but didn’t bank on it taking so long to get round to writing up!
Day +1: Kinnagoe Bay to somewhere in Northern Ireland
Waking up I find the tent empty. I poke my head out; over to the right in the stream joining the sea I see a head. Dam in progress! I leave R to it and go about the usual process whilst getting breakfast ready.
We are at sea level, we have a ferry to catch from Greencastle to Magilligan Point thus crossing into Northern Ireland. All that lies between us and there is a hill, and what a hill it is. In the next 4.5km we’ll be at about 350m having climbed over 400m; a bit more than my guesstimate at the time. Sod Mamore Gap and it’s 30% at the very end, this was consistently a bitch! Maxing out around 25% in places and R went straight up! No stopping. I had to, to take a short video of course…
What goes up, must come down, and what a down it was!
The ferry hadn’t long departed when we hit the coast again so we bide our time in a local cafe waiting for the next crossing; upon which we watch dolphins playing off the port bow. Once in Northern Ireland we’d be doing a jolly round the coast on our way to the Giant’s Causeway.
We munch some lunch whilst taking a quick break looking out over Dunluce Castle on its rocky outcrop.
Like the Cliff’s of Mohar the Giant’s Causeway is a tourist trap and teeming with people. We bypass the centre and head straight for the road down, occasionally dodging the shuttle bus. We’ve all seen the pictures but it isn’t until you are there that you appreciate what a marvel it is!
We leave the causeway and make our own way further round the coast passing the Giant’s Organ… to The Amphitheatre with some rocky outcrop formations. The path from here is closed due to landslips so we about turn as the heavens open; climb the waterfall to the top of the cliff and head back to our bikes.
Much to R’s delight the rain falters as we set off giving us a chance to dry out. Once again the day is pressing on so we do a Birth+1day dinner in a pub which on entering discover has one of the doors from Game of Thrones; bestowed upon them as it was a regular haunt of the cast.
With only a rough idea of a spot to wild camp in about 15km we remount our bikes, suitably full, and head off up over the headland. And just by chance there is a fantastic layby with picnic area overlooking the sea, Rathlin Island and on to the Scottish Isle of Islay and Campbeltown Peninsula with the peaks of Arran behind.
We make camp!
Day +2: Portaneevy Car Park to Marcus’
It’s glorious! We sit at the picnic bench to have noodles, huddled under our jackets as big dark clouds have rolled in since getting up and it is pouring it down. But as quickly they came they also departed; just as we were leaving, which was nice!
As we’d taken a bit longer than expected yesterday we’d have a longer ride today; but who cares? We ate cake waiting for the ferry and sucked up the sights! The bonus was after the initial hills it looked pretty pan flat as we’d nail it round the A2 coast road and Belfast.
When I refer to the initial hills I have to admit once again, like yesterday, they were rather big! We both were blown away, metaphorically speaking, by the beauty of the coastline. The last big climb had a nice little switchback and I note now is called Torr Road; not because it was a tor, though the climb certainly felt like some on Dartmoor, but the small hamlet we passed through on the way to the top. We took a few minutes, admired the view and checked out the POI board of peaks across the sea.
On. Dropping back down to sea level once again we join the A2. It is quiet and hassle free, a quick inland bit and we arrive at Cushendall to do a bit of shopping for lunch. Which we take just as we are leaving the town with views of Red Bay Castle and what I can only assume is Red Bay…
We are now on the flat and hug the Antrim coast. There is a slight north-westerly that plays to our advantage most of the time as we speed on. Sometimes R sucks my wheel, others he’s ahead, or we chat side by side on this incredibly empty main road.
Disaster! We pull into a layby for a quick snack and I notice R’s waterproof trousers are gone. We stow them on top of our panniers for easy access. R had rummaged in his when I was in the shop and I thought he must have left them there. But writing this I’ve just compared the 2 photos above; the one after lunch has them stowed on the left, the one further round the coast has them gone. They must have slipped out as he was sucking my wheel. Bugger!
More A2. It gradually becomes a busier as we pass through coastal commuter towns but nobody is in a rush so it is easy going. On the outskirts of Belfast we stop at a playground and R sets to work on the swings. There’s a cafe so I grab a coffee and some cake that R keeps popping back for.
After leaving we quickly join a cycle route into the city and skirt round the historic docks before finding our way to Marcus’, another Warmshowers host who had kindly put us up at short notice as my initial contact had fallen through. We were treated to a warming meal, chats about cycling and he showed R a computer game similar to Sim City; R loves a good bit of town planning, you should see the Lego scapes he has created!
Day +3: Marcus’ to Meelmore Lodge
Morning, I’m packing, frantically scratching my head. Double Disaster! R’s waterproof is gone, what is going on? It must have happened yesterday between the playground and here, there were a couple of cobbled sections around docks. Damn! Marcus lets me know where there is an outdoor shop on our way out of the city.
First though breakfast. Marcus is off to work so recommends a cafe round the corner. It is bustling and we’re squeezed in after a quick chat about our bikes and trip with a chap outside. Food is great. I go to pay and the waitress says “don’t worry about it, it’s on the house”. I’m a bit confused and ask who to thank. She points me to the owner who was the chap I spoke to outside. He, I never did catch his name, grabs a photo of us before we go coat shopping. Many thanks again General Merchants No. 361.
Heading east out of the city we pick up an old railway. Traffic free pretty much all the way to Comber. On the way we pass a memorial to C.S. Lewis. Having just read the Narnia series it is a pity I didn’t know he was from Belfast as there is a local trail we could have done.
Once in Comber we head off round the edge of Strangford Lough. The sun is back out, everything is going well. Until I start to get a grating noise from my rear brake caliper. We pull in to a rest stop for lunch and I go about seeing what the problem is. The dropout’s soft alu slotted caliper mount had stretched. I remove the caliper, find a large stone and flatten the slots as best I can, then re-tighten the caliper. That’d be why the Bamboo Bicycle Club moved back to stainless having now phased that design out completely.
Lunch done we continue round the lough. I do a quick search on the go and find a Halfords not to far away. R practises his no handed. A quick stop in Killyleah and we peak at the private castle and I get a snap in the gate house of Red the Rocket with his booster packs installed…
Next stop in Downpatrick and Halfords pays off after we rummage through washers. I need 4 oversized, they only had 4 after much searching! I mount them each side of the slots to spread the load. A bit of filing is required of the 2 inner ones so the bracket doesn’t foul the rotor but job’s a good’un. I haven’t touched them since but do occasionally have to man handle the caliper as the alu warps under load. More reason to rebuild the frame so everything is as I want!
Day +4: Slieve Donard
5 of 5
5th of the 5 British Isles’ Peaks – Slieve Donard. Weather gods love us; mostly… Easy climbs. Windy wander & whistling walls. Quick downpour at the peak. Stunning sunny scenic return. Must go hill hiking!
Day +5: Meelmore Lodge to Cranfield
A late start if ever there was one. I’d managed to get the tent away before the rain came, then we sat in the cafe waiting, and waiting, and had some lunch whilst we were still waiting. Finally we legged it gone midday, dense dampness was still descending. We had 3 days cycling ahead to reach Dublin and it wasn’t really that far so it all became extra leisurely. I decided that today we’d just ride to the south of the Mourne Mountains and find a campsite close to the Carlingford ferry ready for tomorrow.
As we reached the top of the only hill the weather broke and it was all downhill from there…
Into the fishing village of Kilkeel we shop and go sit on the dock to have some late snacks. Fishing vessels, some from afar, are moored. Locals cast lines off from the harbour wall. A lone seal makes an appearance too. The clink of rigging keeps the time.
Along the coast and we’ve plenty of time so stop at a playground for a swing sesh. Bit further on and we’re at the Chestnutt Holiday Park; I set up on the perfectly manicured campsite area as R heads for the playground, again. Not much to report other than that.
Day +6: Cranfield to down the coast somewhere
We leave at a respectable time, that includes me prising R from the playground; which is populated very early in the morning and requires a few of the features to be oiled!
We roll up to the ferry and roll on straight away.It’s another border crosser and again departs from a Greencastle. Does make you wonder what is the probability of that?
Any way back to the day. After a long beach stop with obligatory dam building we able south. As the day draws on I’m on the look out for a camping spot. Not much about as we near the capital. Late in the evening we come across an open space edging the sea cliffs with a foot bridge signed to Ardgillan Castle; here will have to do!
Day +7: Ardgillan Castle to Mary, Michael and Áina’s
In the light of day we poke our heads out of the tent. It was a good spot even if next to the road which was parallel to the railway both with their intermittent rush.
Packed up I carry bikes over the footbridge as R scuttles back and forth for the bags. We ride up through the castle estate. Playground; some of the day’s padding removed.
Today is the last day of our journey taking us into Dublin. We had plans for things to do on our way in so set off.
We head to Skerries and go to check the windmill out. Unfortunately the cost of entry outweighed the time we could spend there, but we did make use of the cafe for some brunch before pootling to the harbour and stumbling across another playground; it has one of those bucket swings that are really good for a kid and their dependant kid to play on…
On the outskirts of Dublin we head to Malahide Castle & Gardens. During our LEJOG the I spy book kicked off an interest in butterflies, we’d continued to spot them since, Malahide had a butterfly house so I was giving R a chance to see some exotic ones. His enthusiasm for them now is expert level!
I can’t remember how many times we walked round the house. What we both remember though is the person desperately trying to get this beatiful massive electric blue butterfly to land on their daughter so they could snap a photo. Finally it did, the daughter flicked it away, its flight was compromised, some one else stepped on it, it was the last of its breeding cycle. That upset R! So we went to walk round the gardens, played in another playground before finishing on cake…
It was a short trip into Dublin and we avoided as much road as possible using a dedicated cycle path along Sutton Strand. We were kindly being hosted by Mary, Michael and Áina; Mary had been a Warmshowers host for the recent Velo-City 2019 international cycling conference and I preyed on her kindness to put us up for 2 nights as most hosts in the centre/near the port were sofa joints or not available. It paid off. We were now at the end of our tour!
Day +8+: Dublin & home
Mary, Michael and Áina’s hospitality was amazing. We had some good chats about cycling. Mary was active in the city’s cycling infrastructure provision, Áina was doing a Masters in the perceived barriers to cycling; specifically of females and minority groups.
During the day we headed into the centre for a wander round. Mary had told us it was ‘Culture Week’ [iirc] and certain attractions were free. We sought out Dublinia the Viking Museum, arrived, and discovered you needed to book a slot on the one free tour of the day which was soon to depart. We hadn’t but the guide told us to hang on as she said they’d all been running not at full capacity as people booked a freebie and then not turn up. We were in luck!
To round the day off we catch a tram, a first for R; we walk unnecessarily to the west of the city so we can ride across to the east, it was worth it!
We have another enjoyable evening with our hosts. I get our bags ready in anticipation for an early start to catch the ferry.
Next morning it is brief, we convey our thanks, cycle through the port and board. Ferry back to Holyhead. Quick lunch there as we wait for our train then clickety clack back south to Bristol. The end is always a bit deflating but at the same time we’re looking forward to getting back…
…for G Brothers pizza!
1,735km done; 19,150m climbed; 2 British Isle’s highest peaks climbed; 4 weeks of putting up with me.
MY SON IS AMAZING!!