Travel StoriesNorthern Ireland By The Water
Causeway And Coast
Ride Date 17 September 2020
By Ren Withnell
Being a rough, rugged, hardy and butch adventure type I must say the bed was comfy, the clean warm en-suite toilet was a blessing to my middle aged bloke bladder and the central heating kept our chalet at a congenial temperature. No dead arms and legs in the middle of the night, no getting tangled up in the sleeping bag, no hypothermia and no scary animals rustling in the hedges. If only they made a fold up lightweight en-suite heated chalet that would fit on the bike.
I am calm too with no ferry to catch and no need to be anywhere specifically. I do allow Lady Parker to awaken gently and only badger her to get out of bed from time to time. Believe me if I didn't she would spend the next 2 days snuggled down.
I fear the Giant's Causeway will be something of a tourist trap. Our research informs us that it's about £13 each too. Further research reveals we don't have to pay to get in, the £13 is for parking and access to the visitor centre. But you absolutely cannot park nearby as it's all double yellows and oft patrolled due to the parking nightmare of so many visitors.
"Thou shalt park here and pay!"
The internet offers many suggestions to duck and dive and dodge the parking. The best and most obvious seems to be a free car park in Bushmills with a free bus to the Causeway specifically and sensibly designed to control this dispute. I don't know who pays for this, not my problem. The only thing is, this being The Covid Times, we can't establish if the bus is running. Or even if the Causeway is open. Meh, it's a ride.
In the interest of both saving pennies and being Covid secure Sharon creates a lunchtime snack of tortilla style wraps complete with spicy chicken, coleslaw and lettuce. I make a pan of tea then pour most of it down the sink and some of it into our 2 flasks. Throw in a couple of breakfast bars and some crisps and we can dine like royalty.
Sharon decides she's coming on the back of my bike. This always creates a duality of feelings in me. On the one hand I wish she'd ride. It's all good experience, it's bragging rights to say she's ridden to these places and I fear she may get to like being on the back too much. On the other hand I totally understand that on the back she can relax while looking at the sights without having to dodge drivers and monitor speed limits. I suppose she has the best of both worlds, a choice.
Indeed for me there are advantages too. I can "pop" a junction without leaving her behind, I can make a million U-turns without wearing her out, I can venture off piste and we can talk when we're stopped at the lights.
The M2 motorway is as motorways are. The A26 is broad and fast moving. Peculiarly the M2 makes an stray reappearance around Ballymena as a satellite disjointed section (check the maps). The traffic is omnipresent but unlike at home is flowing fast and yet unhurried, it feels, erm, European? Maybe it's the "holiday" sensation.
Excuse me, you have a stray section of the M2 curving around Ballymena?
Eventually Bushmills comes into view, presenting itself as a small town with a mixture of buildings from various eras and a sense of space in the broad streets. We find the car park where the Causeway Bus departs easily enough, my gut feeling is that it's just a little too quiet and empty for a world renowned heritage attraction. There's no "Bus to the Causeway" signs, no departure times. Something's not right.
A short walk takes us to Tourist Information. Bemasked we enter where a young lady informs us from behind her Covid screen the bus ain't running due to Covid. Dagnammit, and yet not entirely unexpected. We could catch the regular service but that only runs every 2 hours. We thank her and return to the bike to discuss our options.
As we eat our lunch on a bench various locals and tourists alike smile and nod greetings which brings me to think this is a friendly place. We could just skip Giant's Causeway and have a look along the coast. We could go to Giant's Causeway and assess our options there. Yeah, we'll go and see what's what and if there's a viable option then great, if not at least we tried.
Bear in mind this is a Thursday afternoon in mid September. While the weather is good it's not the weekend and it's not the school holidays. It's busy. Not queues to the horizon busy but busy. A handful of cars and campers queue at the National Trust entrance, people walk around and there are plenty of cars parked exactly where they should not be.
The Bushmills Railway car park is £8. The rough gravel car park of Finn McCool's Hostel is £5. As we're on my seriously (not) off road adventure bike we choose the cheaper gravel option. We pay the smiling, cheery and jovial handsome young chap who runs the butty cabin. We lock the helmets and jackets to the bike with a long wire and prey a dog doesn't pee on them. We walk.
£5 for parking and a short walk to the Visitor Centre. That'll do nicely.
It is painfully obvious the Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre is a trap. To those who haven't done their online research it appears obvious the imposing building and the guarded car park are the only legitimate access to the Causeway. A steady stream of cars and campers drive up, pause and pay. The odd one or two are forced to make an uncomfortable, almost impossible U-turn if they haven't the funds or the will to shell out.
Meanwhile armed with the lowdown we walk past the cash collectors, make use of the public toilets and walk unhindered through a large, modern, angular portcullis of a tunnel and along the path down to the shore.
A friendly, warm, natural and welcoming entrance to The Nation's Heritage.
Once beyond the warm welcome things are much improved.
I am I suppose a heathen, an uncouth result of the modern age. The Giant's Causeway is exactly as I expected after years of TV documentaries, YouTube science videos and countless social media images about this place. It's hard to be impressed by things you've already seen a thousand times. It is a lovely vista, it is good to see the shapes for myself, it is helpful to put a scale to the shapes and I am happy to be here. But there's little point describing the place for you, you already know.
If you look closely there's a Hobbit in there for scale.
Once we've taken plenty of pictures to add to the millions of others on social media we walk back up through the centre and back to the bikes. Luckily no dogs have peed on our kit. With the sun blazing down we kit up and head off in search of more peaceful coastal exploration. My plan is to follow the coast east then south back down to Waterfoot where we reached yesterday. This will complete our look at this section of "world renown" coast.
Dunseverick Harbour isn't a harbour in the regular sense of the word, there's barely enough room for a pair of rowing boats let alone a fleet of trawlers, it'd be better described as a sheltered slipway. There's a tiny house above the high tide line with an elderly couple sat outside on deck chairs, sunning themselves and making polite conversation with a passer-by.
All is calm and quiet at Dunseverick Harbour today.
The car park contains a handful of cars, there's a few walkers here and there and a chap tinkering with a small sailing dinghy, it is calmness itself. However the large toilet and shower block suggest this place gets busy, real busy at times. I sadly have to admit there are a few good things that come from the evil of Covid. I shall enjoy this restfulness while Sharon takes some images of the crystal clear waters.
Further down the road and another harbour, this really ought not come as a surprise to me as we are on the coast. A serpentine road leads us steeply towards Ballintoy's harbour. This is much more harbour-eqsue complete with burly walls that look like the sea wouldn't dare try disturb them. A variety of curious houses of various vintage and style line the twisted road or hide behind bluffs and outcrops. Picturesque and interesting.
Nestled beneath the cliffs and a steep road Ballintoy is pretty.
The "Causeway Coastal Route" that we've been following I think bypasses Torr Head. There is, because everything now has to have a name, the "Torr Head Scenic Route" too. This follows the coast to, go on, have a guess? That's right, Torr Head. The Causeway Coastal Route is on primary roads with a lane in each direction, suitable for big cars and campervans and caravans. The Torr Head Scenic route is much better suited to small cars and of course motorcycles. Excellent.
A narrow lanes takes us towards Torr Head only for the turning to the Head being "Road Closed". Gosh darn it! Not to worry, calm down, the route itself continues south by south east.
Have any of you had the pleasure of riding from Applecross to Sheildaig? No, not over the pass but along the coastal road? That is a long, narrow, wiggling, writhing up-down-left-right roller coaster of a road, a sheer delight of both tarmac and beauty. This road from the Torr Head turning to Cushenden is a cracker and very much a match as it clings to the plunging hillside then rises over a promontory then slithers across fields. Admittedly it's only 7 or 8 miles long but it'll be on my list of "good roads" from now on.
A narrow lane and dlightful views along the Torr Head Scenic Route.
As we hiccup over a crest and wobble around a corner I look across the sea to our left. Out there in the haze I can see land in the distance. I pull in to have a word with the now somewhat shaken Sharon. "Is that... is that Scotland?"
Regular readers will recall we were on The Mull Of Kintyre last year. When we were there we looked for Ireland, alas the haze was too hazy to be sure we'd really seen anything. Today it looks as though we could swim to the land over yonder. It can't be Scotland, it's way too close. Google maps ain't any help, there's no reception here. Nah, it'll be an island off the coast.
Scotland? Nah, can't be, it's too close.
Cushenden is enchanting. A small river flows under an stone arched bridge and calmly into the sea with little houses and a local shop. Enough life to sense community but not the impersonal life of a town. Admittedly it's not my first love (Ullapool) but I quite fancy a bit of Cushenden on the side. We sit a while in the sun on the grass beside the river.
A lovely place to stop and finish off our snacks and tea.
Sharon's noticed, now she's no longer a novice, that I make mistakes when I'm riding. Yes, yes I do dear. You now have the knowledge and experience to spot them. The wobble through the bend, the extra braking mid-corner, the last minute correction or the completely mis-read hump in the road. But how do I get away with them? When you've been riding as long as I have sweetie, you get a bit better at fixing your cock-ups. The real problem is when you #### up correcting your cock up, that's when you're thankful you only ride to less than 50% of what the bike is capable of.
Out at sea the land mass is still visible, perhaps more so as the haze lifts a little. And we have internet on the phones once more. It is Scotland you know. It absolutely must be The Mull Of Kintyre! We've been there. Cool.
To the right of the land maybe, just maybe, you can see the Mull of Kintyre.
We've run out of snacks and we've run out of tea so it must be time to get back. We skirt around Cushendall and catch another fast and flowing road that leads us to the fast and flowing road we used yesterday to get to the chalet. I'm still not used to this sustained speed and I imagine Sharon's on the back saying "yeah, shoulda been a bit left there, coulda gotten the power on sooner there, didn't see that manhole cover did ya..."
I fill up before we get back. I've worked out why Sharon's on the back, she doesn't need to fill up does she. Dagnammit! Stitched up.
The little cooker come stove is about the size of a microwave and atop the regular height unit. For most normal folks this creates something of a reach to see inside the pans, for hobbitses this is impossible. I manoeuvre a bedding box for her, rather than offering to cook.
Hobbit problem - solved.
I will not claim for one moment today has been one of "the best ride of our lives". And yet as with yesterday I'm finding Northern Ireland and the coastal route to be pretty and pleasant and I'm very happy to be here. The weather today has been a comfortable temperature and the sun has warmed our backs without burning them.
We don't get to see what the weatherman has to say as we watch a murder mystery in the evening after Sharon finally steps down from the bedding box with tea. The internet informs us tomorrow looks a tad cooler with maybe some cloud, but no threat of storms or snow or tornadoes or even rain. Something is definitely not right here.
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Northern Ireland - A Covid Prologue
The lead-up to this journey seems to have been a bewildered shambles. So how did The Dynamic Muppets manage to rescue their trip from the tangled mess of 2020?
It's A Bumpy Lumpy Ride
Sharon's life is never simple. While getting ready for maybe, possibly, perhaps going to Northern Ireland she takes a moment to explain why she's been so quiet on here.
An Easy Ride To Carlisle
It's an easy, lazy and relaxed start to this holiday with a handful of miles to cover and the weather behaving itself for once.
Sharon's luggage situation has improved but it's going to take a while for her to unwind, chill out and settle into today's journey. Aaaaaaand relax.
A Ferry And Hint Of Northern Ireland
Ren is doing what Ren does best - flapping.
A Dip Into Irish Waters
Today's lesson - don't place yourself behind angry small mythical critters.
Causeway And Coast
Getting into The Giant's Causeway poses a challenge for a miser like Ren, can he avoid his wallet seeing the light of day? The Causeway Coastal Route and Torr Head Scenic Route may ease the shock for him.
Giants And Hobbits
Sharon enjoys a rather wonderful day exploring more of the Causeway Coastal Route. Languishing in luxury on the back of Ren's bike while he does all the hard work. Sort of.
Ards Peninsula, Wonderfully Modest
Today it's the turn of Ards Peninsula to be explored. Throw in the regular dose of disorganised nonsense and some fair weather, it might be a good day!
Upt'North said :-
It looks pleasant enough Ed, albeit the accommodation is obviously heightist.
It reminds me of Derbyshire with sea.
15/10/2020 10:10:22 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Derbyshire? Yes, yeah I can see that. The main difference I'd suggest between Norn Iron and Derbyshire is the roads are quieter, not empty, but quieter. They seem to flow better. I would like to add though the Covid situation may mean the roads are quieter on this trip than they normally might be.
15/10/2020 11:15:28 UTC
Bogger said :-
Nice write up as per usual. Also without too much angst thrown in.
When I read the first instalment, I thought good grief Ren, why do you torture yourself so much. Chill out man.
I was wondering how often Sharon punches you for the Hobbit remarks? I reckon you are black and blue?
15/10/2020 09:01:55 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Did the previous ride to the ferry stress you out Bogger? Why do I torture myself? I am not a natural traveller. I find it stressful and worrisome. There is a part of me that wishes I was like some folks I know who just throw a pair of undies and a toothbrush into a bag, check the tyre pressures and head out into the wild yonder on a wing and a prayer. If only it were that easy for me.
But then if it were that easy, where is the challenge? If you have no fear then even skydiving becomes "marginally interesting". If you are scared of everything then stepping outside the home is terrifying. If travelling comes easily to you then you have to travel the globe to "push yourself a bit". I have only travelled the UK and a few European destinations, my travels are quite humble. But for myself they have been a huge undertaking and I suspect I have gained more sense of achievement from them than some world adventurers have doing a full circle.
We are all unique. I'd like to think there's a reader out there who stumbles upon this blog and is inspired to push themselves a bit. It might be just getting on their moped and taking a night away at a cheap hotel 50 miles from home. If they've never done that before and it takes them out of their comfort zone then they're every bit as brave as Charlie and Ewan or Nick Sanders or Sam Manicom.
Sharon doesn't punch me for the Hobbit remarks. I give her far far better reasons to punch me. The advantage of her being a hobbit though is she can only reach my ankles so I'm OK if I have my bike boots on. Sleeping on the other hand, that's a different kettle of fish entirely...
16/10/2020 10:00:30 UTC
Upt'North said :-
I agree and empathise with everything you say Ed, EXCEPT!
Charlie and Ewan, come on?!? Really?
They're a couple of pampered thespians who are paid more than you or I will ever be, just to have what passes as fun in their world. You've lost the plot Ed, I think the dry weather has addled your wotsits.
I've met Nick Sanders a couple of times, nice bloke, a little nuts. I escorted his barge through the Black Country as well about 25 years ago, can't remember where he was going except he was going to cross the Channel. Likeable enough but nuts.
16/10/2020 10:57:12 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Well, OK, Charlie and Ewan aren't exactly heading out unsupported and I doubt they'll be spending their life savings on making a trip. I would feel a little more relaxed if someone else were handling all the paperwork, providing a motorcycle, funding the trip and selling my story to Apple TV. Any offers? ...anyone??
If, like Nick Sanders, you're a little nuts then the idea of riding a motorcycle around the world might seem like a jolly jape. If, like me, you remember you have bills to pay, realise that motorcycles can break down, understand not all countries share our attitude to law and justice, free healthcare is not universal and sometimes things do go wrong, then it seems rather daunting.
16/10/2020 12:00:42 UTC
nab301 said :-
Excellent write up Ren, I've been up that way a few times over the years but all day trips from Dublin...
16/10/2020 08:43:03 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I always make the mistake of thinking Ireland is small, but Google maps tells me it's 165 miles from Dublin to The Giant's Causeway. That makes for a 330 mile round trip, not an insignificant ride.
Tell me Nigel, outside of Covid are the roads as I describe? Not empty but generally flowing well enough. Or does it get chaotic say in the summer holidays on a nice weekend?
17/10/2020 10:06:50 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Good read as always. The short stretch of M2 may be the NI equivalent of the Preston bypass - AKA Britain's first motorway?
19/10/2020 11:16:28 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Looking again Ian, you could be onto something. Where the M2 meets the A26 the M2 magically becomes the M22. This suggests the section of the A26 betwixt the M2/M22/A26 junction and the stray M2 around Ballymena will one day be widened into a continuation of the M2. Don't ask me which bits came first though.
19/10/2020 01:11:01 UTC
nab301 said :-
"Tell me Nigel, outside of Covid are the roads as I describe? Not empty but generally flowing well enough. Or does it get chaotic say in the summer holidays on a nice weekend?"
Saturdays especially in the bigger towns can come to a standstill depending on the time of year ... I have been caught out a few times over the years. In Southern Ireland all the tourist hotspots become clogged as do scenic drives especially with tourist buses. (in normal times)
As regards mileage I've done some mad day trips over the years , Nutts corner in Antrim and back with an added rideout with the REOC on a 350Bullet (over 300miles ) A complete loop of Northern Ireland to complete 6 points of a photo rally , (over 500miles on a Deauville ), then there's West cork ( the Beara peninsula) and back in a day) never mind Galway / Connemara , Kerry (200miles each way and one year, Achill Island and Sligo in one day . The last couple of years I don't seem to have the stamina for such trips !!
Photo is Irelands answer to Stonehenge (Achill Henge ) ( built in a weekend without planning permission but apparently still standing
Back in 2011 ( I'd forgotten how long ago)
26/10/2020 05:57:22 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
So essentially we were quite lucky with the traffic. Makes a nice change.
That's some proper miles nab301, are you one of these "Iron Butt" types who seem to be able to ride and ride and ride without much in the way of aches and pains, or are you just well 'ard and man up?
I had to google Achill Henge. An interesting story with many points of view it seems.
27/10/2020 08:59:56 UTC
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Travel StoriesNorthern Ireland By The Water