I am guessing that the main reason people don’t flock with their bicycles from Cornwall to N Ireland is the length of time it takes to get there. Pete and I were not able to work out a route which took less than two day’s travelling to get to Newry and two days to get back from Belfast. Still we really wanted to go, partly because we hadn’t been there before and we also wanted to meet up again with the family of my son in law, Keith. And it was well worth the effort. Our cycle ride up the East coast was, we thought, the most beautiful we had ever ridden. (More narrative below the first set of pics).
If we were going again, Pete and I would probably fly to Belfast and hire bikes. For this trip, however, we wanted to take our own bikes (and to pack them up for a flight was too expensive) so for the journey there, we took a series of trains to Holyhead – this took all day and so we spent the night there; then the ferry to Dublin where we had lunch; and a very modern train to Newry – with a large number of proper hanging spaces for the bicycles. Then we cycled to Rostrevor where we were meeting Rebecca, my daughter, and her husband and his family and spending a couple of nights. Immediately it became obvious we were in an amazing landscape – with the Mourne Mountains towering above the villages and the beautiful coastline of Carlingford Lough running alongside. After a day of climbing in the mountains and a couple of evenings of live Irish music, a quantity of Guiness and a delicious meal in Carlingford itself, Pete and I set off again travelling north along the East coast to Strangford (on the southern edge of Strangford Lough).
Given that the mountains were so high, I was hugely relieved that the cycling was almost flat – it was very easy indeed to cycle along the little coastal lanes and to take in the amazing views at the same time. Stopping at Newcastle for lunch and then another more isolated beach for an afternoon rest, and another café for tea, Pete and I found ourselves in the beautiful town of Strangford and having completed 50 miles before we knew it. That night we stayed in a gorgeous almshouse on the edge of Strangford. Next morning we cycled the 35 miles into Belfast, this time using a route that visited the lough edge from time to time but also wound its way through various hamlets – again very easy cycling – until we reached the town of Comber. After lunch here in the square we moved onto a former railtrack called the Comber Greenway – perfectly smooth surface and bicycle repair stations – all the way for the ten miles into the centre of Belfast.
And finally I do just need to say how impressed we were with Belfast as a city – it felt safe (Pete and I were out walking around after 11 pm), comfortable, modern, friendly, lovely restaurants. We spent a whole day there and took the black cab tour explaining the political history of the city (approx. two hours and a real must) and also went to Titanic – housed on the site where the hull was built and then fitted out. There was a proper cycle scheme too like the Boris Bikes in London. On the morning we left our accommodation and cycled to the ferry they were out washing the cycle lanes. Very impressive. We then took the long ferry ride back to Birkenhead (eight hours) – worth booking a cabin and using the first class lounge to make it a comfortable journey – and, of course, lots of interesting people to chat to. Arriving in Liverpool in the evening, we had supper and spent the night there before getting a train back to London Euston. Pete then accompanied me across London to Paddington where we said goodbye and I came home on the train with my bike. It had been a really good adventure!