Rear View - Part 2

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The Antrim Coast

I seem destined to commence all these great bike journeys on some form of public transport. This time it was the new and much-improved Northern Ireland railway service that was to enjoy my custom...

Why the train?

I'd been planning to take my daughter up to the very north coast, to spend a week with my parents, but I also wanted to come home by bike, around the glorious coast road that hugs these shores. On the other hand, the weather report for our quirkily unpredictable climes was forecasting storms for the weekend, so we were almost at the point of wimping out and going by car. On the Friday, the sun shone and the weatherman assured us that this happy state of affairs was set to continue over the next few days. So daughter and I took the train, with Dai due to ride up and join us there on Saturday evening. The train journey was relaxing and comfortable (and a tenner for the pair of us) and we had readied ourselves with a plentiful supply of magazines and sweeties to while away the journey. I even smugly managed to do a bit of work. We were met at the station by my mother and whisked off to the patio for my father's legendary industrial strength G&Ts, punctuated by my mother's sports reports on the tennis and the football. (We did go inside to watch the nail-biting penalty shoot-out that sent the England team home in tears.)

Wot? No bike?

So where's the bike, I hear you cry! Ah yes, a throaty roar announced the arrival of Dai, followed by much posing for photographs and complaining about the weather. Dinner at the local hostelry was follwed by falling asleep in front of a taped Doctor Who.

On Sunday morning, we took a stroll by Portstewart's delightful harbour, enjoyed the famous ice-cream from Morellis and remarked on how the place has such a dichotic split between crumbling decrepit old buildings and shockingly-priced modern holiday apartments. The sea view is rather wonderful and the place is only an hour from Belfast, so you can see why it's so popular as a weekend retreat for posh city slickers. The nearby university also makes it very attractive to landlords, who can reap the benefit of both student tenants during the winter and holiday-makers during the summer.

Starting Orders

Time to set off and, appropriately enough, we began at the pits of one of the most well-known road race circuits, the Northwest 200. The late, great Joey Dunlop was the much loved local hero of the competition and it's heartening to see his family still such great competitors and supporters. Good to see also that he's been honoured this week with a posthumous doctorate from the University of Ulster. The road continues, hugging the jaw-dropping coast and passing some of Northern Ireland's most iconic landmarks: Dunluce Castle, craggily silhouetted against the misty hills of Donegal; the Bushmills Distillery, makers of the world's finest and oldest whiskey; the Giants' Causeway, a geological wonder and home of myths and legends aplenty; the Glens of Antrim, sweeping majestically down to the Irish Sea. We stopped for lunch in picturesque Cushendun and took time to note how lucky we are to live in this truly beautiful land.

On the Road

The road itself (prosaically the A2, but nobody round here calls it that) was originally constructed as a relief road, but its splendid curves around limestone cliffs and through rocky arches make it a favourite today for Sunday drivers. We carried on through the rather grimy port of Larne, and past the castle at Carrickfergus, only hitting motorway for the very last few miles to my house. Where, after a quick cup of tea we discoverd a puncture on the back tyre. Thankfully, Dai had a clever pressurised gas cannister to allow him to continue.

Next time we're back in Kerry, on our usual complicated mixture of transport vehicles...

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