I am doing this final post on Ireland after having been home in Calgary for a few days.
Oct 7, to Belfast
My favourable wind and good weather came to an end. It was not a long ride from the cosy B&B in Whitehead but it was made more challenging by the wind and rain. My B&B host, Dave had me watching for a bike trail that meant half the ride into the centre of Belfast was traffic free.
I arrived a bit before noon and found a restaurant/pub with a foyer where I parked my bike so we were both out of the rain. A good long stay and I was almost able to get dry enough to warm up. As my Cell connection is a bit flaky in N Ireland finding the B&B apartment amongst the row housing was a bit complicated, but it worked out and I was able to get in early and into some dry clothes.
The rain never let u so I didn’t have much motivation to go very far afield to visit things in Belfast. George’s Market was close and so that is where I spent my free time. Mostly food and kitsch kiosks but the rain had brought people in so things were active and good people watching.
I had an early rib dinner and then into bed.
Oct 8, to Newcastle
More wind and rain greeted me on a fairly minor road out of Belfast. The hills added to the challenge and so when I joined the busy road at Ballynahinch my soup and warming stop felt pretty good. The second half of the day, on flatter busier roads was quite a bit easier, although the weather didn’t improve.
Newcastle is a beach town with white sand on the curving bay fronting much of the main road. The main attractions for me were the Mourne Mountains rising above the town. My hotel was quite cheap but my room looked over the bay. I was struck by the deep sea colours. My first beer in town was in a lovely many roomed traditional hotel with warm wood décor and fireplaces that had real fires. In nicer weather it would be a nice spot to stay.
Oct 9,10 The Mournes
I had picked out The Mourne Lodge, a hostel/B&B in a small town called Atticall, in which to spend two nights in hopes of some walking. My route was picked from a biking in Ireland book. It chose some very small back roads on which I had to push my bike three times, more than on the whole rest of the trip combined. Luckily it was also my shortest day as I had a stop on the way.
A short side road leads into “The Silent Valley” encircled by a ring of mountains called the Mourne Wall. I locked my bike up and walked for an hour mostly on some of the many forest trails in the park. I did get up to the reservoir in the centre of the park, from where I could look around the ring of mountains that make up the wall. I probably had time to get up one of them that afternoon, but my bike would have been unattended for too long and the wind was too strong for me.
A few kms later I got to the lodge/hostel where I had booked a room. Meread, the woman who runs the place had kindly left a note in the entry welcoming me and telling me which room was mine so happily I was into my room early. I used the kitchen to make lunch, food bought from a store close by. There was no pub in the tiny town. I had pre-arranged for breakfast and dinner for my two days. This was a very nice place to spend a little extra time. Meread cooked my meals and ate with me. I was her only food customer during this time, the other guests mostly cooked for themselves or drove down the road to the nearest town that was too far to go for me.
During my first afternoon I walked one of the rock fence bordered roads up to one of the little passes where I took pictures across fields, the village and farms to the Mournes in the north. I could easily be happy just walking these kinds of roads. After about an hour a car came along and stopped. The guy inside just wanted to talk. I could understand much of what he said but I thought he was telling me Jack Kennedy had been up to the same point as I had gone to. Kennedy’s Irish connection was in Wexford and I think he went there on his visit, but who knows.
The next day, a full day, I went the other direction, up into the Mournes proper. I spent five hours walking about 15 km initially along more roads where I snapped a shot of a nice little wagtail on a stone fence.
I headed up onto a small mountain until the wind drove me down. I then snuck across a series of farmers’ fields all enclosed by rock walls. I rock hopped across two small streams and climbed over about five big steel gates. The rock walls didn’t look very inviting to climb on. They are just loosely built and would probably topple if you climbed on them. “Canadian Trespasser buried in rocks in the Mournes.” I was successful in making a loop walk out of the day in an area that wasn’t too inviting for such walking. If I had wanted to get on my bike again I could have ridden back into the Silent Valley for more defined and accepted walking. A great day away from the road.
Oct 11, to Dundalk
My riding days are shorter now as I booked accommodation to get me to Dublin by Oct 13. And it is OK because the wind is now a strong headwind usually filled with rain. Leaving Atticall I had a fairly short 12 km downhill run to a ferry crossing. I was heading to Carlingford, recommended by Sarah, an Irish yoga friend. I got into Carlingford and saw enough to wish I had planned on staying.
But, the rain hit and I was off to Dundalk in time for a late lunch and then I fiddled around town until my neighbourhood B&B let me in.
Oct 12, to Newgrange
The forecast for this day was for a bad storm with 50 gusting to 80kph winds. I had 60 km to do. The wind was up near the 50 kph as I left Dundalk, but I don’t think I got any of the gusts and no rain to start. It was very slow going, but the road on this day was quite flat so that helped a bit. Coffee and break conversation at Dunleer centred on why on earth people would be out on a bike on a day like this when they didn’t have to. It was a bit hard to answer that one. In the coffee shop it felt like I was in the eye of a tornado, knowing that I would get hit again when heading back out.
And then it got worse. The full brunt of the storm, now with rain, hit after my break. I had to get into Drogheda and then a further 6 km to a hotel I had booked near the Newgrange Neolithic (late stone age) site. I stood dripping in the hotel bar for about 15 minutes until they got my room ready. And then I came back for soup and beer hoping at least the rain would let up so that I could go visit Newgrange. When I arrived it seemed futile.
But after a wait of about two hours the rain was less and so I rode another 3 km to the visitor centre and it began to clear a bit. I purchased tickets for the centre and the tour to Newgrange, the most significant of the three Neolithic sites accessible from the Centre. Newgrange has a large “passage tomb” that is unique among late stone age sites. The tomb is a large circular earth and rock mound with a 35m entry passage to three tomb enclosures. Each year on Dec 21 at about 9:00 am the sun shines in through a “light passage” to the back of the tomb. If you want to come to Newgrange and see this happen there is room for about 50 people over the couple of days around Dec 21 to enter the tomb and wait for the sun to find its way down the passage to hit them. The trouble is about 20,000 people apply. The window above the entry is where the dec 21 sun finds its way down the passage.
There are two other major sites close by with more of the Megalithic structures like I had seen at my two earlier visits here in Ireland. The people living 5000 years ago had a much more sophisticated life than I realized. They were more than the roving hunter-gatherers I had assumed. These sites and hundreds of others around Europe were occupied often for 100s of years and they show a society that was fairly advanced.
Oct 13, to Dublin
Steady wind and rain greeted me on my final day riding into Dublin. I had a mid-ride coffee break where I waited more than an hour hoping it would let up. It finally began to lessen as I entered Dublin. I lucked into a fairly good approach to the city. There was a nice wide shoulder to the road and as it became city a bike/bus lane was to be had most of the way. I stopped for a beer in the city and gave Google the address for my warm-showers host Eoin’s (Pronounced Owen) parents house where I had a visit, some scrambled eggs and picked up keys for Eoin’s converted garage/apartment where I would be spending my final three nights.
Oct 14-16 Dublin
I would have two full sunny warm days to visit Dublin. I cycled about 40 km around the city. Eoin lives near the town centre so it was easy to get around. As the weather was pretty nice I didn’t visit a lot of museums. The one I did dealt with pre-historic to medieval times. Of most interest to me was the section that dealt with the “Bog-People” of which there is almost nothing known. They also had a significant section on the Vikings.
I spent some time on the Trinity University campus but could not get into its famous Library. But mostly I just enjoyed riding around. Dublin is a nice bike city. Painted bike lanes proliferate and there are lots of scenic areas.
I ran into James Joyce holding forth in the middle of town and Frank Kavanagh sitting on a bench, I believe composing a new poem. Fall showed itself along the canals.
My second day I spent the morning at the Guinness Brewery. It is a seven or eight story museum and demonstration of all thing related to the history and process of building “a pint of Guinness”. I thought it is very well done and I believe it is one of the top attractions in Ireland.
I came to enjoy Guinness while here and it was nice to see that one of the innovators in the production of Guinness was a mathematician. It is not only judges who “like to drink beer”. Our not very free beer was served on the top floor with 360 degree views of the city and the distant Wicklow Mountains.
That night Eoin’s parents Frank and Irene (spelt very differently in Irish) took us out for a final dinner and the next day Frank kindly drove me and my big bike bag to the airport. I have only had two “warm showers” experiences. Last year in Frankfurt and Eoin in Dublin. Both were exceptional experiences.
This has been a great trip. The cycling was challenging and rewarding. I found the Irish drivers with whom I shared the road to be exceptionally patient. Never did I feel threatened. I think it might be my first trip in some time that nothing went wrong with my body. The beer and food were excellent. I stayed mostly in hostels, then B&Bs and I think 4 hotels. My tent never saw the light of day. It was definitely colder, windier, and wetter than I had expected. I didn’t keep accurate count of the kms I notched; I think between 2000 and 2500. Looking at my map I see that I stayed much closer to the sea than I had initially thought. I had at one time hoped to get well into the centre as well.
All for now…Talk to you on my next adventure, wherever that might be.