Dublin to Gyle’s Quay: 11th August
My early morning start was defined by my first brush with publicity. After a delightful Dublin security guard was less than inviting about having my bike in the CHQ building, a large shopping mall on the Liffey, my breakfast date Darshini suggested sneaking it into the café where we were having smoothies and breakfast burritos. Freshii were all too happy to oblige and made the usual head nods and raised eyebrows when they heard I was cycling to Sydney. Thirty minutes into the non-stop chatter between myself and Darshini, one of the staff gestured to the bike and I thought they were asking me to move it. It was getting close to 8am and the commuters were starting to crowd in. But it was not the case. They wanted a photo to put on Facebook. Darshini and I were their first ever customers (Darshini has two free meals in there if you are nice to her) and they wanted to publicise that their first customer was cycling to Sydney. The CEO gave me his card and made promises that Freshii would be in Sydney by the time I arrived and there would be a free dinner waiting for me.
After a fond farewell to Darshini shortly before 8am I left for the North. The smug satisfaction of starting the day shortly after sunrise kept a smile on my face all the way through the first 45 km of the day. The route I had chosen had the odd juggernaut thundering past but was mostly a calm R-road. The early start allowed me to stop around 10.30am in a rather regal looking tearoom to contemplate the journey. And a blueberry scone. The proprietor offered to put my water bottles through the dishwasher, a kind gesture that I took up, but knowing that they would be dirty within minutes of being on the road. The joy of starting early was further enhanced when I realised I could just sit in this café for hours if the inclination so took me. And it did.
Two teas, a scone, the soup of the day, some homemade soda bread and a good amount of time with the Irish Times and I was still in my café throne. Four and a half hours later and I finally embarked on the next 55km of the journey.
Cycling the last 10km to Gyle’s Quay was the part of the journey I was looking forward to the most, but was rather disappointing. What looked like a coastal R-road on the map was populated by juggernauts and I could not see the sea. I arrived nonetheless to a small campsite in Gyle’s Quay, which was situated in an idyllic harbour which I assumed helped to warrant Cooley Penisula’s claim to being 2008 European Destination of Excellence.
I felt happily reclusive this evening. After pasta and tomato sauce (creativity hasn’t quite sparked my camping cuisine) I watched the only film downloaded on my laptop, John Michael McDonagh’s excellently scripted ‘The Guard’.
Gyle’s Quay to Belfast: 12th August
The alarm rang at 7am. I got up two hours later. I had what I thought was 95km to cycle ahead of me but no inclination to rush. I lay out the tent to dry off the dew then head to the sea for a swim. I managed to cycle out of the campsite just before 11am, but only 12km up to road to Carlingford where Dave L recommended I stop. I gave in once again to a café. My budget is going to stretch for fewer and fewer weeks at this rate. After a turn of the coastal town, a café on the crossroads called Dan’s Café enticed me in and I ordered a soda breakfast sandwich and black coffee. After reading “Oscar Wilde: The Worlds Favourite 100 Quotes” from cover to cover I let Dave L know I was still in Carlingford. He then recommended I eat at Dan’s Place, Dan being the cousin of an old work friend of Dave’s Mum. Dave was delighted at the coincidence that I was already there and after introducing myself to Dan he was equally chuffed at the connection. Ireland is a striking place for connections.
The time came to leave Dan’s Café and Carlingford. I was, however, rewarded with the quiet coastal road I had hoped for the next few kilometres. Newry arrived before long and I slowly cycled through my first Northern Irish town. I had mapped the route a few nights previously on Strava. However, I have noticed in the past that its choice of cycle routes are not always as interesting as Google Maps set onto ‘cycle’. The Strava route today took me from Newry to Belfast on the A1 most of the way, a thundering uninteresting road for cyclists. As soon as I left Newry and noticed this I took a left and went cross-country instead. I made a mental note that my mood significantly decreases when on major busy roads. I am not particularly concerned by safety as there tends to be wide cycle lanes or hard shoulders, but my mood noticeably improved once I had taken the decision to go off the A1 and take the country route. Now back in the UK, I was able to use data on my phone and Google-mapped the cross-country route, eventually going along the Newry Canal Way, a well-maintained cycle and walking route.
I then joined the A3 for a short distance before heading onto the Lagan River cycle path. There was a short climb that led to a view of Samson and Goliath, Belfast’s iconic yellow cranes and a downhill roll to the river took me to Dave Maguire’s front door. It was a treat to see Hannah, who had made a flavoursome curry and a very impressive lemon tart (an Iberian recipe, is that right Hannah?).
It was also a treat to see Mark, a school friend and current housemate of Dave and Hannah. After a game of Cranium (I don’t remember who won) it was bedtime. Forced to sleep on the floor by the cruel friend that is Dave, I blew up my air mattress and crawled into my cosy sleeping bag.
A Rest Day in Belfast: 13th August
I was woken at 10.20am by the deep Northern rumblings of two Ballymena men. Dave treated us to some excellent coffee and scrambled eggs before we hit the bicycles and the Titanic museum. The museum itself takes you on a chronological journey from the linen industry of the late 19th Century, through the shipbuilding industry, to the specifics of building the Titanic, to the launch and the infamous demise. I was pleased that our journey did not end this harrowing note as they then take you through a few rooms of oceanographic research and various aspects of marine biology. I was unfortunately close to a grandma and granddaughter when the grandma reassured her impressionable relation that she should not become a marine biologist because there would be horrible creepy crawlies and it would be all dirty. Here’s hoping that granddaughter rebels and immerses herself in the sciences!
We were fortunate enough to cross paths with Dave’s Dad, Brendan, for a quick coffee and chat about my imminent cycle. Dave, Mark and I then swung by the impressive frontage of Queen’s University, where Dave was soon to start a Masters in software development.
We opted for a student’s meal deal in the student union shop and took it over to the Botanic gardens to laze in the sunshine. To my surprise we were about two minutes cycle from Stranmillis Drive where we slumped until Hannah arrived home after a mixed day at the BBC offices of Belfast. She declined the offer to join us at Dave’s sisters’ for a BBQ, so Mark, Dave and I cycled off to a feast of meat and salads and an excellent array of conversations.
We headed back, packed my bags and Dave and I rolled gently North along the river to reach the Stenaline docks, stopping for a second photo of the infamous fish.
We arrived at the Stenaline building and were met with a mysteriously quiet waiting room. A security guard came around the corner and after a bit of confusion I established that he was letting us know the ferry doors were shut and there was no way I was getting on that ferry that evening. Check in closes an hour before departure. Not thirty minutes. I carried the frustration back to Dave’s house and to a slump on the sofa next to Hannah. I managed to let go of the frustration, slightly aided by a Red Stripe beer, and considered that this is not going to be the hardest logistical fail I will face on this journey.
A Second Rest Day in Belfast: 14th August
I woke up at 8am to a few emails from Helen and Kate Senior, which helped make the decision about which ferry to catch. My mood was further improved when Stenaline allowed me to change to the evenings crossing for just a £2 service charge. Logistics sorted, I had an extra day to seize in Belfast. Dave started work at 11.30am so we milled around the apartment until he had to go to work. After a quick shower, I headed to Saint George’s Market (conveniently open Fridays and Saturdays) with Dave’s housemate Mark.
This market was a dream: crafts, bric-a-brac, cheap goods fallen off the back of a lorry, hipster food joints and a live guitarist / singer. I bought a wallet that fit just what I had been looking for, a handmade card for Helen’s parents and some toothpaste. Mark and I then deliberated over the food options, finally opting for a burger (Mark) and a large burrito (Alice). The personal challenge of eating the entire burrito was much aided by sharing large chunks of it with Mark. Hannah joined us for a more reasonably sized burrito, followed by a walk down to the Belfast BBC offices, where Hannah departed to continue the maintenance of the BBC website galleries and be the technical brains behind the producers.
Mark walked me back to their apartment via the most bombed hotel in Europe (I was surprised to see they didn’t have a plaque advertising this), the location of one of the bonfires for that years 11th July gatherings (preceding the 12th July Orange parades) and the house where his parents met. I highly recommend Mark for a walking tour of Belfast, adds the personal touch!
Back at the apartment Mark made dinner and I was educated with another ‘Don’t Tell the Bride’ episode, which ended up being somewhat harrowing, rather than obscene or funny. But the food was delicious, thank you Mark.
I left for the ferry (unnecessarily early) and at arrivals area tied my bike to the mini luggage van. After ringing Pete B (in the Alps and on a stag-do, possibly slightly inebriated) and checking that we were still on for a meet in London at the weekend, I boarded the ferry. I found a corner. Completed a bit of writing. Sleeping bag out. Sleep.