In the heart of the North of Ireland

Just over a year ago I gathered up some leftover leave days and cycled across the north of Ireland. I started in British Northern Ireland and, after crisscrossing the  convoluted border voyaged on through the county of Mayo to the Atlantic coast of the Republic of Ireland. 

Enniskillen left a strong impresssion of old enmities with its statues and overbearing castle and I moved westward on the same evening to a wonderful B and B. This cosy place, run by a farmer’s wife and on the verge of a grand old estate, was a home from home: I felt welcomed and cherished as their guest. The evening was spent in great chats with the owner, a successful farmer whose family boasted  a long heritage in the area. The farms of his many uncles had gradually come into his ownership and included land all around the estate. His health had recently suffered but he was still actively working his land : I witnessed this the following morning when detouring across the Florence Court estate and chatting to a local lady, only to meet him out on the quad bike checking his bounds. Another cheerful talk and goodbyes and away I went.

The British exit referendum was imminent, thr UK was midway between 2 general elections in two years and the conversation was turning to how these two neighbours’ fortunes might change  in the years to come. All views were expressed in the many friendly interchanges I had along my way; perhaps the clearest consensus if there were any, being that we were all moving into uncharted territory. (As I write this a year later nothing has changed and it seems likely that this will run and run…..)

The border is sometimes a tangible obstacle like a river. There, on a bridge, it may be easy to see where guard posts once stood, and where they might be built again. Multiply   the required numbers of men for 2 shifts or more per day by 2, then by all the bridges  and more major roads and you begin to appreciate the enormous and costly task reformation of a ‘hard border’ would comprise. A heavy price to pay for a release from ‘red tape’.

The route was well marked, thanks to brilliant Sustrans and their maps and signs
Not Irish punts, but Northern Irish Ulster bank sterling
Not all road surfaces in the UK are good, and NI was no exception. But we were warned!
The looming presence of Enniskillen castle.
Remembering lives cut violently short, in Enniskillen
This grand old house and its gardens was a tonic after the grim realities of Enniskillen . Called Florence Court, the National Trust list it as one of the finest old houses in all Ireland.

2016 revisited: To Omagh via Cookstown

(In June 2016, I wrote): Started early cycling from Antrim along Lough Neagh. The first 5 miles or so were spent skirting the walled and moated estate that is Antrim castle. My first close up of razor wire with towering dark green steel walls surrounded the modern encampment nearest to the town. The towns have a definite, borderline grim, garrison feel , while the countryside is lush, green and mountainous. (I stopped here, but took some pictures (below) on a day that ended at the old judge’s residence in Omagh, now a faithfully restored Georgian masterpiece: the actor Sam Neill was brought up in this house but now lives and makes wine in New Zealand ). 

Postscript first ? 2016 revisited

(1 year ago, I drafted this, now it needs posting…and more memories from last years brilliant trip to Ireland to follow) So what happened to my blog? I’m back with a head full of memories, a phone full of photos and nothing written down. Antrim in Northern Ireland to Westport in the Republic : 200-odd miles on my old faithful 1980’s hybrid in 5 precious days in June, never dry in the island of Ireland, but always mild and sometimes even warm.

An unforgettable trip. And lots to share for others interested in making the trip.

So, I’ll get down to posting some tales of the days on this lovely section of Paul Benjaminse’s round Ireland cycle route, once I’ve hopped off the back to work treadmill at the end of the week. (But that took a whole year..!)


No nanny state here!

Seen today, free hard hats on wall next to entrance plus disclaimer about injury. Torched in 1715 apparently and a few large loose stones high up. Shame. But like the personal choice approach to risk.
‘Drive efficiently’ was another non nanny suggestion on a road sign we saw earlier in the week.

National speed limit on single track roads with passing places perhaps taking this approach a little far, but makes for sporting contests flooring the accelerator/standing on the pedals to make the next passing place in time.

It’s different here, maybe even more different after today’s General Election.