Saturday 27th August – From Bushmills to Ballycastle – c. 45 miles.

Given that it is only about 12 miles between our start and our finish today, by a direct route, it is all the more impressive that we managed to add over 30 miles to that! We achieved this by going to the severely touristed Dark Hedges – famous apparently from some Game of Thrones TV faux medieval boobs and bimbo fest which I’ve luckily managed to miss. But the Dark Hedges are wonderful trees, ancient (300 yr old, which is old for a beech) trees, and put up with excessive motor cars and people parking over their roots. We got a bit lost getting there and then we had to get to the Giant’s Causeway, but we reached Ballycastle before we reached Carrick y Rede ropebridge – this was ludicrous really, people paying £6 to do a nice bit of coast and walk over a short ropebridge – and there were queues!

Then the Giant’s Causeway – great but £9.50 for non-Nat Trust members. It’d be nice to remove all the car parks and visitor centres and let people find this place by  walking the coast path unaided by road or audio guide… Then a circuitous route back, trying to avoid the dreadful traffic – many vehicles find it difficult to overtake a bike because their vehicle is a huge thing that struggles to fit on the road, the road itself is windy and sometimes narrow, and there’s a continuous stream of traffic coming the other way. Not so good, you feel in the way. Makes you doubt the wisdom of the whole mega tourism phenomena, doing a hyped set of tourist experiences without too much in the way of rhyme or reason. Anyway we wound back very circuitously indeed, ending up lost, to Ballycastle where we rapidly found our hostel, shopped and ate. Ballycastle was in party mood, it’s a bit of a seaside funfair sort of place today – indeed the funfair was right by us. and the Lammas Fair starts tomorrow, but we’ll be cycling out of town…

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Friday 26th August – From Londonderry to Bushmills, c. 45 miles

Set out via the Guildhall, where we admired the stained glass, then over the Peace Bridge that connects Protestant East Londonderry with Catholic West Derry. Up on the main road until we found our small road that parallels the main road and took us out to Eglington and then Greysteel. Eventually ont the A2 and into Limavady. Wow, a bike shop and it had a Gatorskin 700 x 28c so bought at a price and strapped to back of bike. Then off on the B201 and then off on a minor road over the Binevenagh. Had lunch by the masts on the top. A decent climb. Two touring cyclists from Hebden Bridge went past just after we set off, this road is a cycle route. They were doing Bushmills to Limavady, and since we had the wind behind us they had a tough headwind. They were heading then for the Lough Foyle ferry tomorrow, so it is running… Hit by a squall of rain at the viewpoint over Lough Foyle, sideways strong gusts of rain. Then down to the coastroad with a glittering sea at Castlerock then along and rapidly through Coleraine, then a long straight ten miles to Bushmills towards the end of which my tyre punctured – this is the 7th puncture. I switched the tyre over for my Limavady Conti Gatorskin [NB: no more punctures during the remaining three days of cycling, Gatorskins seem to have solved the problem] where we shopped and discovered we were right by the Youth Hostel. Pleasant Belfast Black Beer from t’shop across the road. Burnt dry flavours. Lovely but not very cared for garden at the hostel – magnificent rosemary, curry plant and lavender raised bed.

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Thursday 25th August 2016 – From Malin Head back to Londonderry, about 50 miles

The view from Sandrock Hostel window is superb – distant mountains over a blue sea sprinkled with foam whitened rocks, an occasional neat surfy wave breaking out in the deeper channel. This was the venue for breakfast. It was a bit difficult getting going given how lovely the place is… Impressive wifi too, so at long last diary entries were uploaded, along with photos. But we got going at about 10.30am and cycled around the headland to Malin Head, which was busy. A girl was playing old tunes on the violin in hope of an appreciative donation, a PR man was asking a victim to rate his experience of the area (‘how would you rate the magic of the experience on a scale of 1 to 10′), food was available and numerous tourists were coming and going, parking being at a premium. I suppose it was a bit like Land’s End…

We pushed on along the coast, stopping only to take a photo of the metoffice (Irish Met Office) that gives the readings for Malin. You know the sort of thing – ‘Malin Head South West Gale Force 8, light snow, good’. As good as a cup of cocoa for getting off to a cozy sleep safe on land…

Then mostly following the Inishowen 100 route – Portaleen, Culdaff with its lovely beach where I swam in the very clear, and cool, water while the tiny swell rolled in 10″ high, delicious for a sweaty cyclist, then along the back roads to Leckemy. Then on to Moville where we joined the rather busy coast road down to Londonderry – except that at Muff we diverted off onto a smaller road inland which led us into a bit of town we just didn’t know so we wound around for while… But we still got to the hostel almost at the dot of 5pm. Early for us. Derry City Independent Hostel has a bath which is very nice.

Aside: do you say Derry or Londonderry – whichever you say you offend someone. Can’t they revert to an older name or invent a new one… I suggest Fifi, a town called Fifi would be a tourist draw and no-one who was passionately on either side would ever want it. So that’s the perfect choice! A serious choice would be Calgach or Columba since they predate Derry entirely.

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Wednesday 24th August 2016 – From Londonderry to Malin Head, c. 50 miles

Breakfast at Derry City Independent Hostel is part of the deal so we adequately provided ourselves for the day’s cycling and set off to the Tower Museum. It gives a reasonably balanced account of the troubles – through people’s own life stories. This does mean that there’s a implicit contradiction between some of the descriptions – one man is heading out to fight for the British Army on the front while another is planning an uprising. The other half of the museum is concerned with an Armada wreck – the Santa Trinidad Valencere (spelling?). Cannon, bits of guns and clothing, etc. It sank off the Inishowen Peninsula, where we are heading, and was only recently recovered. Marvellous stuff. The inhumanity shown to the survivors was remarkable, many of whom seem to have been shot. Then off out on the road to Buncara, tho’ there a lovely lane paralleling the busy A road and we reached Buncara without too much traffic. Then we set off on the Inishowen 100 route, lunching at Dunree Head, then over the Amazing Grace Col, or Gap of Mamore, with some walking. Wow sea views, then rims overheating along towards Clonmany. Then to Carndonagh before which we got diverted over a tiny hill road, packed with other diverted traffic. I had two punctures – glass coming out of Clonmany and then a pinch puncture on the diversion in light rain – this is the fifth puncture and cycling can induce a fair amount of stress as you sit in the rain at the side of the road trying to stick a patch on. Thank goodness patches these days seem to be super good at sticking and compensating for weary fingers. Then, time and daylight starting to press, on through Malin (tried an off licence for beers but only the usual suspects, Coors, etc) and then a brief deviation to see the Five Fingers – basically a gorgeous beach with scars running out. Surfing was distinctly conceivable, tho’ you’d be on your own, I guess. Then out and out to the bay just before Malin Head – Sandrock Hostel. It’s Gorgeous, with files of into about shipwrecks (three U boats out there), local history, and surrounded by Crocosmia, grows wild locally in great clumps, Hebes, and New Zealand flax. But it was 8.15pm…

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Tuesday 23rd August 2016 From Gortin to Londonderry, c. 43 miles

Some kind of sheep market occupied most of the night, but I was so sleepy that it made little difference. I think other people were less sanguin. Ate loads of sachets of microwave porridge to build up our carbs – poor value for money but we can’t face choco stuff. Out to the north to Plumbridge, then out on the B47 to Cranagh where we fortunately noticed the road over the pass in the Sperrin Mtns that goes to Park. Up a lovely moorland road and then down and down to Park, rain petering out now and then to Claudy. Just after Claudy we got on the quiet lane on the opposite side of the valley to avoid the A6. This got us all the way into Londonderry. Wandered around – wonderful city walls, dubious murals tho’ impressive. Art and violence is a not unfamiliar combination but… Still some high fences around so that people feel safe from being attacked. Learnt about the siege of Londonderry by James II (not the only siege). The hostel is a friendly place – a retired californian gave me his blog address after an enjoyable chat about cycling (he’s done the complete west coast of the USA by bike) and travel see playtime77.blogspot.com. Tomorrow we’ll visit the Tower Museum, which I think has a history of the troubles. I think it’s great to put your troubles in a museum, but the hope is no doubt that they just might stay there.

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22nd August 2016 from Armagh to Gortin, about 45 miles.

A very much sunnier day, allelujah! Great cycling weather apart from a persistent headwind which slowed us a little. Armagh Church of Ireland Cathedral had an organist practicing, probably for the upcoming choral festival – some national event, and so blasts of music swept around the building. There’s stained glass worth getting out of your pew for, and also the grave of the last King of all Ireland, King Brian. And also a funny little leprachauny thing in stone that was found at Tandragee – perhaps it is the Tandragee. A sort of imp. Usually Ireland has been divided up so King Brian was a bit of an event. Sets the north versus south troubles in context anyway. I mended my puncture of yesterday evening and we headed out circuitously to Navan, the site of the various archaeological remains, but perhaps most importantly where the King’s of Ulster had their base, a thousand years before King Brian. Well, it’s a hill fort so familiar stuff really though fascinating stories of archaeological reconstruction made the site come to life, evidently a religious site. The visitors centre is big and we were in awe of its high tech eco-ness. Almost worth a visit just for the cafe… Armagh is laying down pipelines and lots of roads seem to be up so we had to suffer for our history. Then on to Dungannon where we had a late lunch, we heard a lot of Polish there – I think it’s said to be more common than gaelic generally. Then on to Pomeroy, then squeezing past more closed roads and roadworks we went over the low moors on a tiny lane that got us to near Greencastle, then a lot of speedy downhill on a B road to Gortin, where we found our hostel easily because a local spotted us and found the lady that was in charge. It’s a lovely little hostel with the sort of sofas that are heaven to a bloke that’s been on a bike all day – soft with back support. We visited a pub but the range of beers is not good – Coors Light, Tennents, Guiness and Smithwicks… so we only had a half and retreated to tea and books.

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Sun 21st August 2016, From Belfast to Armagh, c. 45 miles

From Belfast to Armagh. Left YHA at about 10am, after eating all the emptyings of the fridge back in Bfd. Veg sausages in heaps. Saw Botanic Garden – pleasant Palm House with a lovely pelargonium called Creamy Nutmeg, great scent. Also a superb Rose Garden pretty much at its zenith and mostly the roses were Irish and Scottish ones I didn’t know. No David Austin roses were seen. Then a quick visit to the Ulster Museum where the lovely painting The Watcher by Russell wowwed me – I’m a succour for radiant boggy landscapes with faery folk. Then on the B38 out of town for some miles and steadily uphill. Crossed the Falls road with all its Irish flags and ‘Remember Bloody Sunday’ murals, even an INLA clubhouse. The revenge tit for tats of the past, not the future I hope. I had two punctures as we climbed out of Belfast due to very littered roads. Belfast, like Bfd, is rich in the middle and mostly poor outside of this – lots of broken bottles, not a great deal of pride in their environment. Eventually reached Lough Neagh and followed the road near the shore. Had lunch at a broken down old quay. Then through Lurgan and down to Tandragee, great name! Then we followed the B78 and a very straight little lane that more or less, with a mile of A road, got us to Armagh. Where I had another puncture. Maybe new tyres? Replenished our calories with a big pasta and a bottle of local beer – Northern Brewing oak smoked and also their version of an alt bier. Great. Sleep was guaranteed. Oh, it rained pretty much all afternoon, with sunny spells in the morning. The youth hostel seems very quiet and has raised beds and sweet peas, so I’m satisfied that things are just right.

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20th August 2016 Getting to Belfast

Rainy and windy crossing that took c. 8hrs. Not so full so pleasant really. Saw Isle of Man (we went to the east of it and felt the reduced swell) and the Mull of Galloway (I said Mull of Kintyre to someone who said what’s that land over there, oh dear…). Belfast is in party mood on a sat night, even now in bed i can hear music and voices. Tried to drink at The Crown (Nat Trust pub) but big queues to get a drink. Visited the nearby Wetherspoons which was so big even the crowds could be coped with – seemed all English or Scottish beers… We will be woken at dead of night by the other members of the room returning from a boozy night out… And indeed we were woken and Guy had evidently taken someone else’s bed but they just quietly moved to another at some early hour of the morning, slightly boozy and carrying various clothes.. Impressively  quiet really.

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Late Summer Bike Rides

Our usual Dales bike route has changed slightly due to getting fed up of the levels of traffic on the A59 – so I’ve not done the A59 much recently, we used to do the section from top of Blubberhouses Moor down to Bolton Abbey. This means we can cycle further up Wharfedale, which is great since it means we get to the very picturesque village of Burnsall, where the River Wharfe has a pleasant paddly-sandiness that is particularly attractive to the weary feet of a cyclist. There’s a shop and teashop to complete the cyclist’s joys. Last Sunday was a bit cloudy, breezy and cool – the waterproofs came out for a bit of the ride – but basically a decent day for a bike ride. I could smell barbecues at Bolton Abbey well before seeing them – odd this fascination with slightly burnt meat consumed outdoors. It seems a nicely relaxed and summery thing to do, I suppose. Talking to a farmer about milk prices – he was pretty scathing about posh farming where you employ other people to do the milking, drive around in a big 4WD ‘supervising’, buy the latest choice in computer controlled milking machines, and then are surprised that your costs exceed your income. Back over Ilkley Moor, where the heather is turning purple.

Not so many bikes out today, I guess it’s the weather being a bit overcast. The back lane beyond Bolton Abbey, on the east side of the Wharfe, was beautifully quiet, just a few bikes and very few cars. I haven’t cycled for three weeks due to various things (went walking with friends) so my legs felt the 50+ miles a bit. I’m doing a bigger bike ride soon in Ireland, so I need to get more miles done. Still need to fix a bell on my bike so people don’t tut on the rare occasion I use the Leeds Liverpool Canal towpath. The outsize bars don’t easy take a bell..

The yard is full of flowers – jasmine, dahlias (Bishop’s Children in bud, Bishop of Auckland in flower), cosmos (from Bolton Abbey Farm Shop), agastaches, rudbeckias, hebes (just starting, the first few bottlebrushes of flowers), lavender, catmint (bit faded), roses (loads, Munstead Wood, Golden Celebration, unnamed pinky things), sweetpeas, a few honeysuckle flowers still going, hydrangeas, verbena bonariensis on six foot stalks (just getting going), fuchsias. I’m taking cuttings of fuchsias and rosemary. I’ve still got last years scented pelargoniums and I don’t need six of them so no more cuttings at the moment… Are people too busy to bother looking after a plant, don’t seem to be so many around offices and people’s homes. I need a plant sale…

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Compressed Flowers

The yard is blooming and, like any plantaholic’s yard, it gets more crammed every year, especially now when the list of plants in flower is long – honeysuckle, catmint, geraniums, several roses (Munstead Wood, outdoing all the other again), agastache (a personal favourite), a self-seeded feverfew now two feet tall and flowering prolifically, fuchsias, petunias, cosmos, dahlias, foxgloves and sweet peas that now reaching the top of the railings. And this in a space that is about five yards square.

I’ve been reading www.crazyguyonabike.com a fair bit recently – wonderful stories, almost wherever you start on that huge site is great for ending up with some fascinating, and inspiring, stories from the road. Dreaming of bike rides…. I’ve got a route to reach Malin Head later this summer, so that’s a start.

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