Cycling Day 15: Belfast To The Ballypatrick Forest

I crawled into my sleeping bag about 15 minutes ago in order to retain some heat. About 30 minutes prior to that, after a rather soggy end to the day, I erected the tent in the rain and quickly dived inside. It is continuing to rain and I have little intention of leaving the tent until it stops. Admittedly I’m in trouble if this is sometime in September. I’m on a campsite on a working farm just off the A2 road near the northern coast of Northern Ireland. I didn’t really expect to be here until tomorrow but more of that in a moment.

The day started here:

I think I learnt more about the industrial history of Belfast than I did about the Titanic mainly because so much of the latter is so familiar. That said, it’s a fascinating tale to tell and it is told in an engaging manner. Today was the first time Titanic Belfast had opened its doors since the start of lockdown and I have the claim to fame of having been the first to enter.

I couldn’t help but think about all the time, thought and energy that had gone into making the ship all to so little avail apart from the disaster becoming an infamous piece of history, The proximity of the slipway upon which the ship was built – it’s just next door – gives Titanic Belfast a great dollop of gravitas that any other exhibition would find almost impossible to better. Worth a visit. I couldn’t help but note that the building itself could pass as a Hollywood iceberg.

The upshot of this morning spent in Belfast was that I didn’t really get going until nearly lunchtime. On the subject of which, I’m making increasing use of Greggs on this trip:

Their food may lack the gourmet qualities of my usual evening mean of spaghetti and pesto (tonight, because of the rain, this has been abandoned and I went straight to the shortbread) but they are darned good value for a lunch and their coffee is actually quite good, and cheap. A double espresso on the ferry a couple of days ago cost me over £4 as Stena Line just double the price of a single (!!) but at Greggs it was about £1.50.

Sorry. You didn’t come here for coffee price comparisons. Let’s get to the cycling. The route planning was a simple procedure and involved the following steps;

  • Find route 93
  • Stick to it

…and sticking to it wasn’t too difficult as the route follows the A2 road. Now if someone told you to cycle the A2 in England you would do well to ignore their advice as it’s the major road that connects London and Dover. Here in Northern Ireland however, it’s not such a busy road once you have escaped the clutches of Belfast. Immediately north of Belfast, the cycle route is off-road on a segregated path beside the Belfast Lough but beyond Carrickfergus you are obliged to join the highway. Not too much of a problem, especially on a Saturday afternoon in August when there were few lorries on the road. Nice castle in Carrickfergus by the way:

Lots of information panels telling anyone who cared to read them (I did) about the history of the town. Frequent mentions of King William of Orange. It’s been interesting today seeing far more overt signs of the importance people place upon political / religious allegiance here in Ulster. More union flags on display than at Nigel Farage’s birthday party. Road ‘graffiti’ – similar to the Tour de France stuff – but focusing on things like the Battle of the Boyne Rather than Chris Froome et al – and Orange Order establishments. But then you come to a town where you have a distinct feeling that the majority is Catholic with the Irish tricolour on display. All very alien to someone who comes from England, a country where many people couldn’t give a fig as to what your religious let alone your political persuasion might be. Well, unless you voted for Brexit and it has now been scientifically proven that 99.9% of the population (basically everyone apart from you) think you are a Nigel-Farage-loving tosser. (No?)

Quickly moving on… The Antrim coast is just beautiful:

…and so well maintained. (Even that abandoned factory was pristine in its dilapidation.) In contrast to much of the British coast which seems to be in terminal decline, the stretch of coast along which I have cycled today was a delight. The coloured houses of Whitehead were a particular favourite, as was the sweeping beach at Glenarm. Further north it all became increasingly Game of Thrones. Near Glenarriff I spotted a dragon in the hills and two people having sex behind a bush. Ha! I’m joking of course. It wasn’t a bush, it was a bus stop.

In Larne – the only town through which I passed today that wouldn’t look out of place on the Lancashire coast (hey! It’s Yorkshire Day…) – I paused briefly to consider accommodation options again after having failed to locate anything half way between Belfast and the north coast yesterday. No luck. It did, however, strike me that I was making good progress along the coast so I phoned the campsite that I had already reserved for Sunday to see if they were able to accommodate me tonight. Bingo! After just over 100km I arrived here in the rain as already mentioned / milked for sympathy above.

The final few kilometres of the ride are worthy of a mention as the road moved away from the coast and across unexpectedly barren moorland:

More reminiscent of my first cycling day across Oxenhope Moor in Yorkshire than Northern Ireland.

Notice the wide angle of the image in that last photo. Courtesy of my enforced upgrade to the iPhone 11 Pro. The cameras on the device are cracking. Have a look at this:

If it’s still raining tomorrow I may just sulk in the tent all day. It it’s looking anything remotely decent I’ll move on to investigate the Giant’s Causeway. I’m fascinated to find out how they got permission to build it just in order to film Game of Thrones..,

Categories: Adventure, Cycling, Travel

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4 replies »

  1. ‘. More union flags on display than at Nigel Farage’s birthday party.’ What a great line! I cycled the Antrim coast road many, many years ago – in unusually hot N.Irish weather. You’ve been SO unlucky with the rain. Does it follow you?

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