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Ards Peninsula, Wonderfully Modest

Ride Date 18 September 2020

By Ren Withnell

Oh yesssss, this bed thing is very nice yet I awake long before I dare disturb sleeping beauty. I presume she must have slept well as she is merely dangerous this morning as opposed to terrifying. 

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside, oh I do like to be beside the sea. The rough plan today is to ride down the coastal side of the Ards Peninsula with the promise of a small ferry across the tip from Portaferry to Strangford. 

Once more Sharon rustles up some tasty tortillas and I throw more hot tea down the sink, some of which makes it to the flasks. Outside the sun is shining although I'd say there's a firm, cool, perhaps cold breeze. As we're headed to the coast I think it wise to put on an extra layer, we can always take it off can't we. 

Sharon has decided she'll ride her bike today. Oddly after my reticence about her not riding yesterday it's just a tad frustrating she's chosen to ride today. You see we have to make our way through Belfast, or at least the complex looking motorways and bypasses through Belfast. More chances to get separated and on busy bustling roads in a city finding each other could be problematic. 

I'll keep my trap shut, we've ridden through far worse places than Belfast. Amsterdam, in the rain, on the wrong side of the road, suicidal cyclists, trams, 125s with camping luggage, Jeeez. Remember dear reader, we do these things so you don't have to.

Sat Nav does help. It pains me to admit this. I have been all too proud of my navigational skills over the years although they have let me down, often. 

Sat Nav is not an ultimate panacea though. It's not always obvious which lane you need to be in, not every exit off a roundabout is logical and not every rule of the road is reflected on the screen. It is a tool in an armoury of tools, it is a guide not a reason to not read signs, both directional and instructional. It can also be a distraction.

As we ride I spot a familiar sight, although I've never been here before. The 2 massive cranes of "Samson" and "Goliath" at the Harland and Wolff shipyard are clearly visible from what I hope is the A2. Much like Giant's Causeway this is another iconic image that comes to mind whenever Northern Ireland is mentioned. I am taken back to the '70s and '80s, watching the BBC news about strikes and bombings and redundancies. It is oddly emotional seeing these massive metal towers in the flesh.

Normal service is resumed when we get out of the city and onto the much more normal, relaxing and less complex dual carriageway heading around Bangor. We drift calmly and casually under the guidance of my phone's screen towards Donaghadee for our first stop.

Donaghadee (dona-gadee... dona-hadee... dona-ghgh-adee...??) feels different to the quaint, pretty "local fishing" harbours north of Belfast. This is larger, more industrial-revolution scale. I can envisage men in cloth caps using large steam powered hoists while hard handed women gut vast piles of fish in a factory. The industrial revolution has passed, the harbour is still in use but thankfully much quieter and all the better for it.

A big harbour and stout wall with a lighthouse at the entrance at Donaghadee
Donaghadee Harbour means business. 

We walk the broad harbour wall to the stout lighthouse at the exit to the sea. 2 men dangle lines into the water although it seems obvious they're here just to chat and avoid cutting the grass. They nod and smile to us before tugging a line, just to ensure we know they are actually fishing.

Following the coastal road south we pass through Millisle and into Ballywalter. The tangible difference from the Causeway Coastal Route is still here. This route, according to the signs is called The Mourne Coastal Route. It feels more real, more lived in, less touristy. 

Please don't misinterpret this. It is still pretty and green. It is still acceptably quiet. It still feels very coastal. In some ways I like the twee and cutesy northern coast, in some ways I like the real and lived in feel of this route. I can imagine holidays on the northern route, I can imagine a pleasant and comfortable lifestyle living here. Not better nor worse, just different.

In Ballywalter we park up behind the Spar minimarket. Inside we grab more ingredients for tonight's tea and a few snacks. Outside we sit on the bench to dine, sipping tea from our flasks and chomping our wraps. A handful of people come and go, walkers throw balls for their dogs. It feels alive and lived in while lacking the chaos of the city. The beach we see in search of toilets would make for a lovely evening's stroll.

A sandy beach curving around with calm waters at Ballywalter
A constitutional walk along here of an evening seems idyllic.

Portavogie's harbour is very much in use with plenty of trawlers, workers working and steel buildings. We only stop for a brief look and to stretch a little. Definitely a larger place and yet it still feels laid back.

Fishing trawlers, jetties, buildings and all the associated workings of a busy harbour
Portavogie is still hard at work.

You'd think I've done so many ferries by now they'd be second nature, and they are - normally. However the approach to Portaferry's ferry terminal bewilders me. I can see the ferry. I can see the slipway. But, erm, errr... There's big "No Entry" roundels and "HGV Only" painted on the floor. I stop. I ponder. The deck hands are flailing their arms at me but not in a cohesive and understandable manner. 

It probably only takes me 20 seconds to work it out but when you're looking like an idiot yokel from Bolton it feels more like an hour. My flashing fleeting eyes finally spot a sign "Ferry traffic 200 yds". It leads away from the slipway which is confusing. I lead us down a lane that folds back on itself, designed for cars to queue while waiting to cross. We ride straight onto the ferry and the ramp is raised behind us. Marginally embarrassing, thankfully the wisdom of age softens my shame.

Sharon looks at the camera Ren is holding as the ferry leaves the port
Yeah, erm, sorry about that sweetie.

We enjoy a short calm ride across the waters, being relieved of £3.50 each. Disembarking is much less confusing as there really is only one way off. 

The bikes and cars on an open deck ferry making the short crossing to Strangford
I guess the way off is, erm, forwards?

I consider just heading back to the chalet, However it is still only 1330 and Sharon reports she is comfortable and happy to ride some more. Well that's good then, except I hadn't given this any further consideration. We'll, erm, we'll just keep on following the coast then?

The road opens up along with the landscape. While not empty there's much more space between the houses and small villages. This is rolling, soft arable land now with a rural farming feel. In keeping with this feeling we cruise along, slowly making our way towards Ardglass.

Ardglass is, once more, quite small and perfectly pleasant yet it has a different vibe to it. It's just a tad touristy, not Blackpool per se but the small shop sells ice creams and postcards, that sort of thing. I figure it must be posh too as the harbour (marina?) contains private boats and yachts, one of them particularly swish. 

One quite swish yacht and several nice ones and sailing boats at Ardglass
Shall we get a yacht with room for the bikes sweetie?

There's a small castle style building in the harbour. What it's there for I'm not sure, I figure it was a shelter for harbour workers or perhaps simply a folly. Sharon, wishing to be the princess of this castle, delicately slips and slithers her way across the slimy rocks to go and play. At the age of 50 she's still not right in the head.

Sharon walking over the slippers rocks and then waving from within the tiny castle
Could this be Sharon's new home?

It's still only 1400 but we've got about an hour's ride back according to Google which means, well lord only knows. I think by the time we get back we can call this a good ride so we head north towards Belfast. The roads are wide and flowing with verges, proper verges. Back in England verges do exist but they're the exception, far from the rule. Verges seem to be a thing in Europe so I get that "abroad" feeling again. Odd, nice, but odd.

Sat nav is handy but it is merely a tool. I need to be in the 2 lanes to the right of me but Belfast is bustling with traffic. If I were alone I'd push my way in but that makes life very hard indeed for Sharon following me. The good thing about sat nav is if we don't make this turning it will re-route. I follow this lane and allow sat nav to do it's thing.

Belfast is a city. I'm sure a local could point out the beautiful architecture of such-and-such a building, there's likely a fascinating tale about that statue, I bet the nightlife is amazing and there'll be thousands of years of history here. But it is a city. I see towering office buildings, confusing road markings, one way systems and angry executives in big cars bullying Sharon to go faster. 

Wrong lane, traffic. Right lane, queue. No signs and sat nav is vague. Too many signs. Impatient pedestrians. Taxi from the right cutting in. Wrong lane again. There is only one way to view a big city as far as I'm concerned, through a screen in the comfort of your own home. Relief comes in the form of a big road that eventually becomes familiar. It's teatime by the time we're back at the chalet.

Sharon and I discuss our day as we sort out food and drink. It's strange. We seek out vast mountains and chocolate box villages, stunning views and remote places. The Ards Peninsula is none of these things and yet today has been a pleasure. We agree we both felt "right at home" on the country roads and in the coastal towns. Maybe it's just being on holiday, maybe it's this whole Covid thing, who knows, we're just glad we had a look.

I now have to work out where we should have a look at tomorrow. To the maps!


Contact ren@bikesandtravels.com

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.
Space 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!
A Bit Of Irish History A history lesson and tomfoolery by The Queen Of Rain. Thing is, it's not raining. Something is wrong here, very wrong.
Lough Neagh And Money The Dynamic Muppets circumnavigate the largest lake in the British Isles. Is this the sort of place where a prudent miser like Ren would fit in?
Reflections Another watery day in Northern Ireland and still no rain on the horizon. Sharon contemplates the many and varied lives we get to live.
Ferry, Friends And Mostly Scotland In a remarkable twist Ren is not flapping! Nor is he ready to go home. But alas and alack 'tis time for this all-too-brief inspection of Northern Ireland to end. Take comfort in Scotland Ren.
North Pennines And Epilogue It's the end of the journey for the dynamic muppets yet there's still time for a little detour, or two. What did Ren make of Northern Ireland?

Reader's Comments

Upt'North said :-
Blue skies? Blue skies!
Upt'North.
22/10/2020 11:06:51 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I know!
22/10/2020 11:25:11 UTC
Upt'North said :-
I can see you'll be considering a name change for the lovely Sharon.
Sunny Sharon, got a ring to it. S.S. for short.
Upt'North.
22/10/2020 01:18:19 UTC
Bogger said :-
Fifty. Fifty! I think you've overstepped the mark by quite some margin. Twenty seven or perhaps twenty eight at a push. But I don't suppose this post will matter anyway as the Ed is probably no more. Poor fool.

Bogger
22/10/2020 08:22:16 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I'm probably safe until tomorrow afternoon Bogger. I'm doing some work on daughter #2's car so I'll be OK until it's done. I'll not tell her I've finished until I'm on the motorway back home...
22/10/2020 08:31:18 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
I/we always try to avoid the honeypots (apart of course for the mighty mountains of the Alps and Pyrenees). Our best holidays have been on little campsites on the edges of sleepy small towns. As long as there's a boulangerie or two and a couple of bistros, thgere's usually enough local interest for at least a week. And we actually get to talk to people.

Similarly the rural D roads in France may not be spectacular but offer some great riding where you can go for miles without encountering any traffic.
24/10/2020 11:34:55 UTC
Upt'North said :-
But not the....... D341. Spectacularly awful perhaps?
Id rather pay a toll.
Upt'North.
24/10/2020 01:36:24 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
Boulogne isn't somewhere I go very often. Pray tell me more.
24/10/2020 03:57:48 UTC
said :-
Ian me o'd mucka, it's an alternative (but it isn't) to the Autoroute des Anglais to Arras. I recommend that everyone should travel every inch of this god awful speed trap infested road, I think I got into second gear once but that may be incorrect. It'd be great for those that like to spot antique farm vehicles that have mastered the art of travelling below 5 KPH and for those that like to observe quaint French village life, mainly the old folk (like me) standing on the crossings chatting about onions, for some time.
As an aside, does anyone have a good reference for the RN's that still exist. Along the lines of don't use the toll road when this is just as direct and cheaper.
Upt'North.
24/10/2020 04:40:45 UTC
Ian Soady said :-
That's just one reason I always use the western Channel crossings....

Probably one of the best places to find autoroute alternatives is the caravan talk forum (although Ren will probably snip this!) Although we usually just bite the bullet and pay the tolls when we have the van in tow. Never on the bike however (although sadly that is becoming a distant memory).
https://www.caravantalk.co.uk/community/discover/429/...
24/10/2020 05:02:19 UTC
Upt'North said :-
Thanks Ian, I'll take a look before it's snipped.
He wouldn't dare, would he?
Upt'North.
24/10/2020 05:14:22 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I quote from the rules "Unnecessary or excessive bad language will either be edited out or removed." I have checked the BBC's guidelines. Much to my disappointment it appears the word "C#r#v#n" is not among the pre 2100 watershed bad words list. It pains me greatly to do this, but Ian's comment remains.

All I can say is how did it comes to this? I have a link to a forum about tin tents on my website. The shame.
25/10/2020 04:44:14 UTC
nab301 said :-
Ah , Portaferry, I think Strangford has one of the strongest tidal flows, which makes for an interesting ferry journey at certain times of the year, although I haven't used it recently . The coast road and a trip through Newtownards is an alternative for me .
Nigel
26/10/2020 06:12:58 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
I guess Sharon and I were lucky with our crossing then, it was like a millpond for us. Yeah, looking on the map Strangford Lough is a lot of water that will want to flow into/out of the sea with the tides and through a narrow gap.

How do you say "lough"? Like the Scottish loch which is "lock" or a softer "loghhhg"?
27/10/2020 08:55:30 UTC
nab301 said :-
Ren , I pronounce it "lock" with regard to the crossing , it's not that it can get rough so much , but the strong tidal flow requires some skilled piloting and local knowledge to get to the other side without drifting up or downstream excessively.
Nigel
31/10/2020 02:33:24 UTC

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