If you follow the @CyclingEurope Twitter account, you may have seen the tweet I sent this morning from Portstewart, just a few kilometres along the coast from Portrush where I had stayed overnight in a B&B. I made the following comment:
“Welcome to Portstewart. The end of the coastal route for me; Eire is in sight but no longer part of the plan. COVID rules would be bent & I’m not happy doing that. Instead, a return to Belfast via Coleraine & Antrim along route 96. Ferry tomorrow.”
My conversation with the chap from Dublin yesterday morning had me scratching my head as to what was and wasn’t permitted so I spent a bit of time on the Foreign Office website as well as the equivalent website in Ireland. There are no restrictions as far as entering and leaving the Republic but there are clearly expectations about what you have been doing beforehand. Travelling from Northern Ireland wouldn’t have been a problem but the Irish authorities would like you to have been in the same place for the previous 14 days. Easy to get away with if you haven’t but I’m really not interested in finding loopholes like so many people seem to be. The basic thrust of the regulations is clear and I’m trying my best to follow those rules. So a visit to Eire would have been inappropriate.
Returning to Belfast via Coleraine and Antrim was never going to be one of the ‘great rides’ of cycling but it was a pleasant enough way to spend the day, a day when it didn’t rain! After being so loyal to route 93 along the Antrim coast for two days, I picked up the inland route 96 in Coleraine and followed it for much of the day. It did faff around a bit so in the final third of the journey to Antrim I did tend to stick to the more direct roads. They weren’t so busy so it wasn’t such a great sacrifice. That said, I am finding that Northern Irish drivers are fast. Too fast. They generally give you plenty of distance but they. are. dangerously. fast. It’s often – but by no mans exclusively – those boys in their BMWs. Grow up kids… (And fix your exhausts while you are at it ffs. It’s so 1980s…) And so many people on their phones…
We need some pretty views:
All very green and pleasant. Then at McLaughlins Corner where I’d stopped to consult the map I was approached by a woman at speed and I think she said:
I was expecting a telling off for something so I purposefully looked behind my shoulder to make it clear, passively aggressively, that she must be addressing someone else so indignantly. There was no one behind my shoulder. When she got closer to me she clarified her direct approach:
“Could you help me lift some ornamental vases from my car?”
Turns out I hadn’t done anything wrong; she just needed some help with lifting the said vases out of her car and clearly had no qualms about collaring some random bloke in the street. (Is it an Irish thing?) You can see the assembled vases here either side of her front door:
I even ended up filling them with compost. She offered tea but I declined. It was all very surreal.
Less surreal but equally unexpected in terms of their town centres were Randalstown and Antrim.
It is so obvious that the local authorities in Northern Ireland have so much more money to invest in their urban environments. This is not a complaint. I just wish councils back in England had the same levels of cash to invest. Do we need to go through a period of 30 years of civil unrest and terrorist atrocities for central government to recognise that investment is desperately needed?
The final 20 km from Antrim to Belfast on the pencil-straight B road (it’s the B39 and is actually called the ‘Seven Mile Straight’) was an arduous chore and, immediately prior to the long descent into the city, involved a gruesome climb for legs that have cycled approaching 1,500 km in the last three weeks. But there was an interesting twist to the end-of-the-cycling-day tale. Last week my visit to Belfast had been in the centre and in the dock area which is being transformed by massive investment. My arrival from Antrim took me along the Crumlin Road. It should really be renamed the Crumlin Hill as I free-wheeled most of it allowing me the time to take a good look around. This was the Belfast of the 70s and 80s news reports that I remember so vividly. Fascinating and, although investment has taken place here as well, not so different to how it was back then. This derelict building was fantastic:
The former court buildings, regularly – even now – victim of arson attacks. On the opposite side of the road is this:
The Crumlin Road Gaol, now transformed into a visitor attraction. I don’t think without that cycle along the Crumlin Road this afternoon my visit to Northern Ireland would have been complete. Now, it almost is. Tomorrow morning I have a ferry booked for Liverpool.