(793km - 14days)
8 June - Glasgow to Belfast - 6km
In order to get to Ireland, we had to cycle from Esther’s house to Glasgow Central station where we boarded a train to Stranraer. This was where the fun began and Esther, not used to the bicycle and panniers, proceeded to fall over, not once, but three times between the house and the station! Every time I looked around Esther was laying on the ground, bike on top of her, very much resembling a beetle, legs kicking in the air. All this happened in peak hour traffic, but Esther was undeterred by the staring eyes and would get up, dust herself off, look them in the eye and laughingly declare “Take three!”
At Stranraer, we boarded the ferry to Belfast where we arrived at around 16h30 (peak time again) where (you will not believe this) Esther proceeded to fall over again! The reason for all this falling over was that the bike was too big for her and her legs too short to swing over the middle bar, it was therefore not so much falling off the bicycle but more falling over. We laughed so much that tears were streaming down our faces and it was surprising that we managed to cycle the 6 km north to where we set up camp. Esther started referring to her bicycle as Silver, as it bucked and kicked and appeared somewhat unwilling to see Ireland.
9 June - Belfast to Cushendall – 69 km
The following morning, we woke to a beautiful morning, the sun was out, and there was no wind. With Ol’ Silver loaded and packed we took the coastal road, which was incredibly scenic, especially on such a glorious day. We cycled past many small coastal villages and steep white limestone cliffs. Esther proceeded to fall off another five times before arriving at camp where she again fell off again in full view of all the campers! Good thing she wore a helmet. We managed a whole 43 miles (70 km).
10 June - Cushendall – Ballycastle – 32 km
The next day we left our campsite rather late and shortly after leaving the village of Cushendall we spotted a road sign indicating a scenic route via Torr head, which sounded rather nice. The sign, “Not suitable for caravans and coaches” should have forewarned us! The scenery was spectacular, but it came with incredibly steep hills. Esther claimed that she did not fall over at all that day as she walked the whole way, leaving her with blistered feet.
The downhill into Ballycastle was pure pleasure, and after waiting at the bottom for longer than usual, I cycled up the hill again to look for Esther. I found her walking downhill, this time with a flat tyre. We discovered that there was no quick release on her wheels, and we had no spanner. There was nothing to do but walk the bikes into town and onto the campsite. Just about every man in camp seemed to have had a suitable spanner, and soon the wheel was off, and Esther got a lift into town to buy a new tyre and inner tube.
11 June - Ballycastle – Castlerock - 64km
The following day started in its usual way with Esther providing all the fun and drama. While loading up Ol’ Silver, the one bungee cord slipped loose and hit her on the lip! There she was, not only covered of bruises and scratches from falling over, and lumps and bumps from the “Wee Buggers” but with a fat lip as well. We first cycled past the bike shop to get a spanner and new front tyre for Esther's bicycle that was looking equally worn.
The coastline of Northern Ireland is magnificent, and we stopped at Giants Causeway to explore this fascinating area. The causeway is said to consist of about 40 000 black basalt columns, the result of an ancient volcanic eruption. These unique rock formations, weathered by some 60 million years of wind, rain and storms, today form perfect, regularly shaped horizontal section. I found the legends of the area even more Intriguing. The story goes that a giant by the name of Finn McCool had trouble with his Scottish rival named Benandonner. Furious, Finn grabbed chunks of the Antrim coast and threw them into the sea to form a pathway for reaching Benandonner. Benandoonneer was, however, larger than expected, and Finn fled Benandoonneer in tow. Finn was saved by his quick thinking wife who disguised him as a baby. On seeing the size of the baby, Benandoonneer thought better of it and returned to Scotland.
After a particularly long hill, Esther declared I was trying to kill her and that it would have been easier and quicker to have taken an overdose at home! After 40 miles, we packed it in and found a campsite. The lady managing the campground took one look at Esther's face and allowed us to camp for free!
12 June - Castlerock – Quigley’s Point - 32km
It was a short ride to Magilligan Point to get a ferry to Greencastle, where we got slightly lost as a local map shows a coastal road which we found non-existing, we pitched the tents at the first opportunity we got to give Esther’s backside a rest and went across the street for a pint.
13 June - Quigley's Point - Portsalon via Letterkenny – 91 km
It rained all night, and there's nothing to do but pack up in the rain and head for Buncrana, where we intended to take a ferry to Rathmullan, just to find that the ferry only starts operating on the 16th.
I loved the foreign-sounding names of towns as we cycled from Quigley's Point to Portsalon via Letterkenny, a remarkable distance of 91 km. Esther was getting stronger by the day and was not falling over anymore. Ol’ Silver was still creaking and squealing, and extremely unwilling on the uphills, but Esther shows her no mercy, and we pushed on. From Rathmullan to Portsalon, was only about 19 km but we took the scenic route (again) and encountered some nasty hill before a serious downhill into Portsalon. By then Esther’s one hand was numb and entirely useless, she was 100% convinced that I was trying to kill her.
14 June – Portsalon
The weather turned even more foul overnight, and it was not just cold and raining, but there was an icy wind coming from the North Sea, we decided to stay put, and we both crawled back into our sleeping bags, zipped up the tents and read for the remainder of the day.
By 5 o'clock we had enough of laying in the tents and headed for the local pub, which was a shop and pub all in one, a few locals were sitting at the bar, and soon the singing began. It was three in the morning before we got back to our tents, I guess it will suffice to say we had a good time.
15 June - Portsalon - Melmore Head – 59 km
For obvious reasons, we had a slow start, and it was 12h00 before we eventually got on our way. The weather was terrible, it drizzled, a strong wind blew, and it was bitterly cold. On reaching Carrickart we were told of a Hostel not far from there, we opted for a room instead of looking for a campsite. By then it felt that I was frozen stiff, even Esther was in long sleeves!! The Hostel was not as close as we were led to believe, but we soldiered on up a steep hill where we found a very basic and remote hostel. At least it was warm inside.
16 June - Melmore Head - Letterkenny - Belfast and Larne - 72km
Esther needed to get back to work, and the only option was to cycle back to Letterkenny and see what public transport was available from there. We were in luck as there was a bus in 20 minutes to Derry and then another bus straight to Belfast. A shock awaited on arrival in Belfast. Belfast was packed full; each little nook and cranny was fully booked due to a large international boxing event. Every B & B and hotel from the cheapest to the Hilton (even considered that one) was full. By then it was 10 0'clock and freezing cold, I suggested we cycle the 6 km north to where we camped before, but Esther nearly had a heart attack and refused blatantly to get on the bike. So back to the train station, where the staff was extremely friendly and directed as to a B & B in Larne, from where one can also get a ferry to Glasgow. They even phoned to book both the B&B and the ferry and helped us on the train. Wonderful people.
We had a great breakfast at the B & B, what luxury! The B & B was right across from the harbour making for easy access to the ferry. Esther hopped on the 10.30 ferry, and after waving her goodbye, I jumped on my bike and headed back to Belfast to get on the road leading south.
It was a great morning and as it was a Sunday plenty of cyclists are out, all stopping for a wee chat (as they say here). I took the recommended route south of Belfast along the River Lagan, all the way to Lisburn. From there on a minor road via Moira to Oxford Island on Lough Neagh. I even saw the Orange Order men marching, band and all, in one of the smaller villages.
18 June – Oxford Island – Ballyronan – 72 km
The Irish are really friendly, even offered me dope, what lovely people. The Lough is a freshwater lough and one of the largest in Western Europe. With that information, I decided to cycle along the shore to Ballyronan. The path follows small country lanes and minor roads, past small villages and farms. The lake has an interesting legend which says that it formed when the Irish giant Finn McCool scooped out an earthen clod to toss at a Scottish rival who was fleeing Ulster by the Giant's Causeway. Finn's shot fell into the Irish Channel and formed the Isle of Man!
19 June - Ballyronan - Kesh (Lough Erne) – 101 km
As usual, I packed up in the rain, but it soon cleared, and I had a fantastic cycling day west along the foothills of the Sperrin Mountains, via Omagh to Kesh. In Kesh I cycled onto the campsite, which was up a serious hill, just to find it was not a campsite but a mobile home park with no camping facilities. Bummer! The owner was, however, kind enough to allow me to camp on a small piece of grass and even unlocked a mobile home so I could use the shower and toilet.
20 June - Kesh and surrounds – 32 km
I decided to stay in the area and went down the hill to the proper campsite from where one can take long walks around the lake and through the forest. I even found some dried fruit, yummy stuff, and proceeded to eat the whole lot. Needless to say, I was soon shitting through the eye of a needle. Talking about food, I always considered myself the Queen of carbos, but I have nothing on the Irish, they eat macaroni cheese & chips, or even a baked potato with beans and chips, now that is considered a carbo overload.
21 June - Kesh - Donegal (Dun na nGall) – 72 km
The road to Ballyshannon ran all along the lake, and with a tailwind, it felt like downhill all the way. At Ballyshannon, I turned northwards along the coast to Donegal, still with a tailwind, where I arrived reasonably early and set up camp at the Youth Hostel.
Soon afterwards Eddie arrived by car, and we loaded the bicycle on the roof and explored the rest of Ireland by car.
Back in London, I tried my level best to obtain a visa for Europe, but all to no avail. I soon discovered that the Schengen visa is, for me at least, the most elusive visa in the entire world.
I felt frustrated as nothing was going to plan. My plan of cycling Europe fell through, and after much deliberation, the next best thing was to fly to Hungary and cycle Eastern Europe and then see where the road leads me. Eddie took time off from his job, and the two of us packed our bicycles and flew to Budapest, Hungary.