Ireland end to end: Bushmills to Carnlough

Well, that’s about it. Hamish and I arrived in Carnlough, just north of Larne, earlier this afternoon after a harder than normal ride round the Giro d’Italia course on the Causeway Coast. We only have 13 miles to cycle into Larne tomorrow and our ferry back to Scotland.

All the pink Giro flags and bunting is still flying and all along the route we saw pink coloured bikes in gardens, outside halls and on the hillsides. We even came across some pink sheep near the Giant’s Causeway. It looks like Northern Ireland really took this event to its heart earlier this month.

It felt a harder ride than normal because of several things. After a couple of glorious days the weather dawned dour, grey and cold. Also, I suspect we were suffering slightly from a sense of anti climax which I hinted at yesterday. We had endured some little problems in Bushmills but had overcome them. For example, Hamish’s rear tyre went very soft yesterday and we wondered if he another slow puncture, but by this morning the tyre wasn’t any softer we he pumped it up and it appeared to be fine.

Also, because we stayed in a youth hostel last night we had to go out and find some breakfast this morning. No Full Irish today. We got a couple of filled baps in the Copper Kettle, and set off with the normal full belly, but almost immediately we found ourselves climbing. Never good first thing in the morning, especially when you’re also riding into a cold wind.

We thought we’d do the tourist thing and visit the Giant’s Causeway since Hamish hadn’t been there for about 30 years. I visited the attraction last September and was, to be honest, underwhelmed. I was no more “whelmed” this time, and neither was Hamish. We decided we preferred out columnar basalt in somewhere like Kilt Rock on Skye or Fingal’s Cave on Staffa.

Coffee time found us in Ballycastle and after that we had another big climb, up over the high moors and through the Ballypatrick forest before a long and chilly descent down to Cushendall. After that it was an easy, flat coastal road all the way Carnlough where we’ve booked in to the splendid Londonderry Arms for the night. We felt we deserved a wee treat.

The Causeway Coast is a lovely route to cycle and it’s a pity we didn’t experience it in better weather, or in a better frame of mind. Partly because of the Giro, the roads are in great condition and some of the views are superb. The sectionntoday between Ballycastle and Cushendall, although hard work, was stunning, and it was a delight to bomb along the coastal road between Cushendall and Carnlough at speeds averaging about 16 mph. With touring bikes and panniers that’ no bad at all.

I think we both feel a lot fitter after our fortnight’s cycling and we might even have lost a wee bit of weight, but the difficulty is maintaining that fitness when we’re not cycling everyday. However, we are planning to ride the Outer Hebrides from end to end in September, so that’s a good incentive to keep cycling fit.

I’ll try and put a few general thoughts about the trip down when I get home, things like total distance, total ascent, time etc, but for the moment we’ll leave you and head off for the final couple of pints of Guinness (and ginger beer) of the trip. We both appreciate your comments etc on Twitter and Facebook and would like to sincerely thank you for sharing our little adventure with us. Like our long time heroes Compo and Clegg, we’ll now head off, have a pint, and have a good old think about what our next Last of the Summer Wine ploy will be. All suggestions welcome, but keep them clean… Cheers.

Advertisements

Ireland end to end: Malin Head to Bushmills

Woke to a phenomenal morning. Sunshine, blue skies and light winds. Donald and Elma at the Malin View B/B looked after us perfectly and we set off after another brilliant Full Irish.

We decided to follow the coast road as much as possible on the way to the little ferry at Greencastle which would take us over the estuary of the Foyle to MacGilligan Point in Ulster, and what a hilly road it turned out to be. Hill after hill had us creaking and the 25 miles or so took us a good two and a half hours. Didn’t even have time for a morning coffee…

interestingly we both felt a little sad leaving Ireland, indeed we were more than a little sad, we felt very sad. It had been a tremendous trip and Ireland had been so good to us. But it wasn’t over. we were keen to see what Ulster had to offer us.

the problem was we both felt a sense of anti climax. We had finished the end to end, the rest of the trip just feels like a necessary addendum, although we have the delights of the Causeway Coast yet to come. Indeed, we had a taste of it today. From MacGilligian Point we followed the road with a prison wall on one side and a military firing range on the other. It wasn’t the best introduction to Northern Ireland, but after that we had a delightful bike ride down to Coleraine, much of it on an excellent Sustrans bike track.

At one point we passed through an attractive little village called Downhill, and we girded our loins for the inevitable. A big, steep climb out of the village. We passed through Coleraine, missed the b- road to Bushmills and ended up riding through the extensive golf courses and caravan sites of Portrush.

We reached Bushmills, home of the most excellent Irish Whiskey, feeling a little bushed from the 53 miles and looking forward to a hot shower and a good meal. It almost wasn’t to be. We tried several B/B’s but they were all full. Eventually we found the Youth Hostel and what an excellent hostel it is. The warden (I think his title is manager these days) gave us a twin room en suite and we made ourselves very comfortable. The problem was there was nowhere to eat. We tried the local hotel but the prices were exhorbitant, although we did manage a couple of pints in the bar where the barman made us very welcome. And, do you know what? Hamish got his first ginger beers of the trip. It wasn’t Crabbies, and it wasn’t even alcoholic but the poor wee soul was beside himself with delight.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t so excited when he saw the prices on the menu so, not to be proud about it, we left and visited the chippy. We sat outside in the street with the biggest cod suppers you’ve ever seen. They were magnificent.

So now its back to the YH with a couple of bars of Duncans Orange Cream for a pudding and the prospect of an early night. We feel Bushmills hasn’t quite lived up to its billing so we’re not taking any chances for tomorrow night. It’s our last night of the trip so we booked into the Londonderry Arms Hotel in Carnlough, just 14 miles north of Larne, the last of the big spenders. That’ll leave us with a short ride into Larne on Friday morning for the ferry and coach to Glasgow. Then, it’ll be back to auld claes and porridge…

Ireland end to end: Buncrana to Malin Head, most northern point in Ireland

We met a couple of lads in thenpub in Buncrana who asked what we were doing in Ireland. We told them we were cyclingbto Malin Head and one of the guys told us we were in for a real treat.

“We don’t really do things like cycling,” he said. “We’re more interested in going clubbing in Derry, but I’ll tell ye this. When you get up to Malin Head you”ll never have seen scenery like it. It’s just fantastic.”

We had a fantastic day for it. Ireland glowed and pouted under a blazing sun and we set off full of enthusiasm, only to take the wrong road out of Buncrana.

we cycled for almost 2 miles up a long hill when I suggested to Hamish we stop and check the map. I just had a sixth sense feeling we were going the wrong way, a sense of intuition that has got me out of many scrapes over the years, particularly when navigating.

We returned down the long hill, found the junction we had missed and set out once again up another long hill. This one took us high over the inishowen Peninsula, a superb high road across rolling moorland before a long and swift descent brought us into Cardonoagh and coffee and cake.

By now it was hot and we couldn’t believe our good fortune. We had a beautiful ride out alongside Trawbreaga Bay and through Malin village before climbing again, this time over the hill to Malin Head village, a much scattered community of farms and holiday homes. A final run along the north coast and the last climb of the end to end, and what a climb it was. Steep and sustained but thankfully not too long.

We had hoped to arrive at Malin Head cool and collected but that final climb flustered us just a bit. We dod all the touristy things – posed for photos, took selfies, did a wee bit of exploring, dumped the bikes and walked out to the actual Head then we did what every sane person would do. We lay down in the sun for an hour and dozed…

It was great to get to Malin Head, the third of our Triple Crown of national End to Ends after Lejog through the UK and La Manche to the Med through France. We both agreed this trip through Ireland was probably the best. As we lay and dozed in the sun it was good to think through some of the highlights – Mizen Head in the sun, the Caha Pass and Molls Gap, the lovely Lakes of Killarney, the West Coast of Clare, the wonderful Irish piping at Doolin, the Aran Isles, visiting the grave of WB Yeats and the lovely cycling country of North Donegal.

It’s been a joy made extra special by the lovely Irish people we’ve met on the way, folk who have gone out of their way to help us and encourage us. Thank you Ireland.

But we’re not quite finished yet. We still have the Causeway Coast of Co Antrim to enjoy and that starts with a ride down to the ferry at Greencastle. I hope the sun continues to shine on us for a couple more days at least.

Ireland end to end: Donegal to Buncrana

We’re getting there. Another 54 mile day and by this time tomorrow we should be at Malin Head and our third national end to end (LEJOG, La Manche to Med and Mizen to Malin). Then it’ll be a couple of days round the Causeway Coast of Co Antrim back to the ferry at Larne.

We had a superb ride today. Over the Barnesmore Gap from Donegal town with the Blue Stack mountains looking very inviting in the welcome sun. Stopped in Ballyboffey for coffee and cake and sat outside in the sun, luxuriating in the warmth and wishing summer could be like this all of the time.

Beyond Ballyboffey we decided to abandon the main R15 trunk road that had served us so well from south of Donegal and take to some minor roads to Convoy and then back to the main road just south of Buncrana, our destination for the night. What a brilliant decision that was – the roads were well surfaced and very quiet and we raced along partly paralleling the border between NI and Eire, which was the River Foyle. 

Sometimes you get a sense of wellbeing from feeling fit and alive and today was like that, a satisfying combination of feelgood, great weather and lovely, gentle scenery. This is cycle touring at its best, but it wasn’t to last.

We stopped at a place called Burnfoot because the sky had gone black and there had been a couple of flashes of lightning. Thunder echoed from the hills. We expected it to downpour so thought we could sit it out for a while. Another cyclist from Derry was doing much the same, but he’d had a puncture and didn’t have a pump. We offered to fix his wheel but he had already phoned his wife who was well on her way.

We chatted for a while about the cycling scene in the north of Ireland and he told us how exciting it was to have had the start of the Giro d’Italia in Ulster last week. He said the place was still buzzing…

We left our new found friend to await his wife and we popped inside for a coffee. After half an hour or so the sky looked a bit brighter so we went for it. Twenty seconds into our ride the heavens opened.

It was a fast, and wet, final few miles into Buncrana but we found what looked like a nice quiet B/B down a leafy lane and soon dried off, showered and caught up with emails etc. Now, we’re off for a wee look at the town and find somewhere to eat. And tomorrow? Malin Head!

Ireland end to end: Beltra to Donegal

Hamish has just worked out that we’ve cycled about 429 miles from Cork. That’s about 350 miles from Mizen Head, almost the most southern point in Ireland. We reckon two more days will take us to Malin Head and about 85-90 miles. After completing the end to end we’ll cycle the Antrim coast, and the Giant’s Causeway Coast, back to the ferry at Larne.

We coped OK last night food-wise. Some crisps, some peanuts, energy bars and a large Jamesons all kept the hunger pangs at bay and kept us going through a dreadfully dull Champions League final on the telly. It lulled us to sleep quite nicely. And this morning mine hostess, Carol, made us an excellent breakfast, with very good porridge.

We made just over 50 miles today, and it was comparatively straightforward cycling. The wind had abated considerably and that made a huge difference, although. It rained quite heavily all afternoon.

Early morning took us through Sligo and the roads were very quiet this being Sunday. After that we were on the N15 for the rest of the day. It was reasonably quiet as far as Bundoran and we took the opportunity of a little pilgrimage to the grave of WB Yeats in Drumcliff, below “Bold Ben Bulbin.”

Years ago my old chum Jim Perrin sent me an audio of Yeats himself reciting the Isle of Innisfree and there was something in his slow recitation against the crackly recording that I found curiously endearing and evocative;

I will arise and go now, to the Isle of Innisfree

Just outside the churchyard there was a depiction of the lovelorn Aedh, and the words of the Yeats poem, Cloth from Heaven.

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

 

We set off from the churchyard in fairly philosophical mode but we were brought back down to earth when we reached the holiday town of Bundoran. It was worse than Ardrossan on a bad day, and if you don’t know Ardrossan think of all the worst excesses of  a run down Blackpool.

We immediately noticed the change in accent, and in attitude. We had a brief lunch stop in a cafe where the boss kept gazing at us furtively, as though we were dealing in drugs or something. But maybe he merely intrigued by two old guys wearing lycra shorts in the rain. We were a bit wet.

The afternoon was strangely enjoyable, despite the rain. We stuck with the main drag,the N15 which was nicely undulating without ever getting too steep. Best of all though was a nice wide hard shoulder which we could ride along unmolested by passing cars and lorries. Other than one ijit who thought it was clever to lean out of a passenger window and roar some indecipherable message to us. Who knows what the gobshite roared but it certainly wasn’t “Well done chaps, you’r going well.”

We reached Donegal at the early hour of 3.30pm, found a B-B, showered and then watched the drama from Easter Road unfold on Twitter. I’ve never followed a penalty shoot out on Twitter before and found it quite exciting. Can’t quite believe Edinburgh won’t have a team in the Scottish Premier League next season. To quote someone I can’t remember, “It’s a funny old game.”

We then went for a curry and checked out our route for tomorrow. Night night.

 

Ireland end to end: Westport to Beltra (south of Sligo)

Well, despite feeling old and knackered after a long day fighting the wind we decided against an early night. I felt Hamish needed a Matt Malloy experience, so we left our comfy B/B and wandered down into town in the rain and wind.

As it happened we  needn’t have bothered.  Matt Malloys, as is normal, was packed to the gunnels, so after ordering a Guinness (and a Cola for Hamish) we fought our way through to the back room where a youth was knocking seven shades of shit out of a guitar and screaming like a demented banshee. We gave it all of ten seconds before deciding it didn’t quite qualify as traditional music of the year and returned to our digs. There was a brief highlight in spotting the man himself, the Chieftain’s MMalloy, deep in conversation at the bar and I was very tempted to suggest he got his flute out but Hamish quite correctly felt my plea could be misinterpreted.

It was a nice B/B but herself obviously left himself to cook the breakfast. It was a full Irish, and it was big, but it was also a tad on the greasy side and the generous helping of three sausages were obviously Tesco budget variety. The result – trying to cycle 60 miles into the wind with several pounds of lard lying in our gut.

To be honest, it wasn’t a bad ride, other than the very frequent belches. We had a quick visit to the Westport Bike Shop where Hamish bought some new inner tubes and the guys kindly checked our tyre pressures. we didn’t want any repeats of yesterday.

We left Westport up the ubiquitous leaving-an-Irish town hill and followed a fairly busy road to Castlebar where we turned on to a quieter, and lovely, road to Ballina. It was also a windy road. We were back to fighting a head on northerly and the open landscapes meant we were the only moving targets for the Celtic Weather Gods to target. It was bloody tough.

Ballina couldn’t come quick enough, and we had a brief respite over a bowl of soup and a coffee and a long one way conversation with an old gent who wanted to tell us his life story and who blamed his wife for all the misdeamenors of the world. It was the kind of chat you’d only hear in Ireland and We just loved it.

Things improved in the afternoon. The road from Ballina went north, still into the teeth of the gale, before turning due east and a bit of respite. We haven’t been breaking any land speed records but we have been averaging about 11-12 mph. Today that came down to 10 mph, but most of that average came this afternoon between Ballina and the B/B we had booked at Beltra, just south of Sligo.

We got there about 4.30, tired, thirsty, hungry and windblown. Carol, the landlady showed us our room and Hamish asked where we could eat. She recommended the next village which she said was 4k away. We knew from the map it was at least 6 miles away.

The thought of an extra 12 miles cycling just didn’t appeal, so we decided just to make do with bits and pieces of food we had in our panniers, plus a good raid on the room’s hospitality tray, except that there wasn’t one. No tea or coffee in the room, and no food in the bar. Could be a hungry night…

After a shower we adjourned to the bar where we made a real dent in the pubs supply of crisps and peanuts. Guinness, the perennial food and drink, helped the hunger pangs. Partly satisfied we went back to the room to watch the Champions League final on the telly, very much looking forward to the full Irish breakfast that this morning we swore we’d never touch again. Ho-hum…