Hello to everyone from SUNNY!!!! N. Ireland,
Well here we are in Belfast the evening before we embark on a ferry ride to Scotland.
Following our pleasant but all to short stay in Dublin, Mary and I accompanied our friends Al & Steve (Stephanie) in their recently purchased car to Sligo (Strandhill) thereby jumping one day ahead of the group. The group was slated to ride some 87 miles to Athalone and after conferring with the tourist board we felt our time would be better spent in the Sligo region, smart move.
We arrived in Strandhill where the group was slated to camp and as luck would have it found a spectacular B&B to stay at, Mary and Steve made the decision which door to knock on based on the flowers and they did good. Super room, breakfast of champions, a lady you would love to have as a friend, she even did our washing & ironing n/c. If you get to the area make sure you stay at the Knocknara House and say hello to Carmel the owner. She was worried about the group as the small community had just been approached to feed the riders and no one was sure how or where it could be done in the manner the community would like to do. As it turned out the owner of the campground arranged for a local, albeit small restaurant to prepare an excellent dinner and breakfast.
It was also reported by a number of riders that we did not miss much at Athalone other than no vendor to provide dinner and breakfast and a temper tantrum by one of the senior management staff for TK&A. It was reported but not witnessed by Mary and I that a garbage pail was dumped in order to make a point to the paying customers to cease putting trash in containers not lined with a plastic bag. Hum is this how to impress the paying customer?
For our part we had a great day riding to some unique ruins, Queen Meves's tomb which was at the top of Mount Knocknara, we got to climb for 45 minutes in bike shoes, not recommended, bleat at herds of sheep, pat a bunch of cows on the head, enjoy Irish hospitality, visit tombs some 5000 BC old and have a super seaweed bath. The seaweed bath was supposed to have many therapeutic benefits, not sure what they all are but it was a great and slimy experience.
The group arrived the day following our arrival and we had a great dinner at the Venue restaurant. Following dinner the skies opened and we were very pleased to have a B&B to go to, numerous others found alternate accommodations.
Sandhill to Nara,
We started the day following breakfast at our B&B and hugs and kisses goodbye to our host. The rain that had been forecast held off and the day was a beautiful one for riding. We like many others have purchased maps and plan an alternate route designed to get us to the same destination but usually by somewhat flatter and in some cases shorter/longer routes.
The first 35 miles were along the coast with nice scenery, with numerous sheep for Mary to commune with, the sheppards must think we are crazy as we bleat our way through the countryside. The campsite had been changed which added a few miles to the ride that ended up being 80+. The last few miles were killers as they took us out to the sand dunes and were up and down with grades to severe to label. As usual Mary and I found a B&B and as luck would have it we picked one that was close to the original dinner site.
The riders had to be bused some 5 miles to supper and the supper was great with plenty of food for all even the vegetarians.
Nara to Port Rush, 107 miles (billed as 94)
After a super breakfast we cheated and rode in a four-wheel steed for the first 30+ miles where we unloaded the bikes and rode the balance of the way into Port Rush. This proved to be a wise decision as the ride was extremely hilly and the day was getting hot. As it was we did some of the TK&A route and augmented it with our own. After a killer of a climb on our improv route we were gratified to hear those who rode the prescribed ride had some killer hills as well. To add insult to injury we suffered a flat but this was welcome as it came at the end of a very steep climb on the prescribed route. Gave us a chance to get our breath and meet a local out for a Sunday walk.
Arrived in Portrush to find out the campgrounds and dinner location had been changed from the route guide given out that morning. Cannot figure out how a trip that was cast in stone, could not be shortened and for which vendors had been already paid can change so much.
The dinner venue was changed to a hotel, which once again necessitated busing the riders to dinner. We arrived on foot midway through the time slot to eat to find salads gone, no vegetarian meals to be had and no vegetables to eat with the steak and kidney pie other than a baked potato or French fries (chips). The desert was great and the company as usual great. It was a little unnerving however to be yelled at to get out to the bus if we had finished dinner as the staff were being kept waiting.
Portrush to Belfast,
We once again played hooky and stayed an extra day in Portrush to enjoy the sights while the others (some) rode on to Belfast. We crammed more sightseeing into a day than one would like to ever do again. We walked and walked and walked up hill and down dale to see such things as the Giants Causeway an impressive geological display left from the ice ages, crossed a rope bridge to view nesting birds and a salmon fishing set up used for hundreds of years and still in use. While not a drinker Mary and I accompanied Al & Steve to Bushmill Distillers for a guided tour of the worlds oldest licensed distiller of whisky. All in all a very full and enjoyable day.
Today July 4th we drove to Belfast along the coast route, which is to say the least a sight to behold. Even getting lost enroute turned out to be a great experience. The only problem is meeting oncoming traffic on roads meant for one car, this was made even more difficult with two tandems hanging over the ends of the car.
We are now in Belfast and are staying at the residence for Queens University. Tomorrow we are scheduled to depart on a 7:40 AM ferry to Scotland (route guide from TK&A lists a ferry which does not run) arrive in Scotland at around 10:00AM and have a 60+ mile ride from there to Ayr.
The only downside of the trip in Ireland was the theft of three bikes while riders were having lunch in Londonderry, N. Ireland.
What are our memories of Ireland?
Excellent and plentiful accommodations (numerous B&B's)
Great people proud of their country, willing to speak with you regardless of how rushed you or they may be.
If you have been considering Ireland go for it, you will not go wrong.
So long for now, we will try and write from Scotland.
Dave & Mary