The Antrim Coast Tour
I moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland in July 2001. I brought with me the bike. An injury to my left leg (again !) meant that the rest of 2001 was a write off. The winter in Belfast is pretty harsh and I could not start cycling before the end of March.
I got some problems with my bike and went to a cycle shop for a repair. I got to know the owner of the shop and he told me about a charity ride for the cancer cause two weeks later. The charity ride was the same route as I had in mind myself and I thought it would be a good idea to both support a good cause + get a nice tour at the same time. The route was only 180 km in a day and the terrain seemed OK. I was in good spirit after the Mourne Coast ride. I got in touch with the one-man arrangement committee and signed up. This man assured me that the charity-ride would be a piece of cake for a man like myself. I was both assured and flattered.......
Two weeks later on a Saturday morning at 0445 in the morning, I was therefore standing at the small start gate just outside the Belfast City Hall together with ten other cyclists. I had already paid the starting fee directly to the charity. I met this one-man arrangement committee and I got some inklings that not everything was right here. In fact; nothing was right about this ride. I was glad I had paid my starting fee directly to the cancer charity. To be fair, this was the advice we had got from the arrangement committee so I am not accusing it for being a rip off.
I got a pretty detailed map for the whole journey and I was told to sign in at various points and a diploma would be waiting for me at the finish line at Belfast Town Hall.
The ride started at 0500 precise and we cycled out the Belfast Lough past Newtownabbey, Greenisland and Carrickfergus towards Larne. There was very little traffic on these small roads and we made good progress. I dropped out of the main pack on the hill from Whitehead over to Larne Lough and that was the last time I ever saw those other cyclists. I was more interested in doing my own tempo and rhythm. Basically, I wanted to complete the ride. My best decision of the day, it turned out.
The road along Larne Lough was a bit busy and I was happy when I arrived at Larne. One look at my cycle computer and I got a sneaking feeling that the the arrangement committee had got the distance (180 km) wrong. Much more about this later.
I got some water at Larne and went over the small hill towards the spectacular north coast of Northern Ireland. This coast is also referred to as The Giant Causeway Coast. This coastline is probably one of the most spectacular coastlines in the British Isles and the main reason why I wanted to do this tour.
Looking up the coastline from just after Larne.
The start of this coastline is spectacular and the road even have a small tunnel. The road is very narrow between vertical rock-faces and the sea. I loved it. The rock faces disappeared after some kilometres and gave way to lush hillsides and small idyllic villages like Ballygalley.
I was pacing myself and kept an eager eye on the cycle computer to make sure that I did got the balance between speed and use of resources right. The road was flat along the sea and I was soon at the idyllic village Glenarm. The views up the vertical coastline was very impressive and I could not wait to get there. I continued through the village, over the bridge and past Carnlough to the spectacular road up to Garron Point.
Looking down the coastline towards Larne from Garron Point.
The road from Carnlough to Garron Point was flat, but still spectacular. I could see Scotland on the other side of the North Channel from this road.
Looking over the North Channel to Mull Of Kintyre (Scotland).
The road turned sharply around Garron Point (from north to west) towards Glenarriff (Waterfoot). This was the start of a major climb I had been warned about earlier that day. I intended to take it easy up this hill due to the length of this route.
The climb started from the village up to some farmlands before the road descended to the crossroad between Ballycastle and Cushendun. I took the road up and towards Ballycastle. The climb was very steep and I paced myself. It was starting to rain just when the road entered a small valley. The road became flat and descended to the very narrow Glendun Viaduct. This is a spectacular, but still a very short bridge over a gully and river deep down below.
The hardest climb of the Glenarriff to Ballycastle started just after this bridge. The climb also passed through some heavy vegetation and the humidity here was 100 % due to the mixture of sun and rain. The end result was a very drained cyclist which also became the dinner for some very hungry flies. The climb was interesting though and I really enjoyed it. The top of this climb and the mountain is around 260 meters above sea level.
Looking down the coastline towards Glenarriff and Larne from near the top of this climb.
Looking to Cushendun from near the top of this climb.
The road went over a small moor and forest before it descended down to Ballycastle . The descent was pretty hairy on a wet road and horrendous side-wind which almost finished me off. The views over to Ballycastle, Rathlin Island and Mull Of Kintyre (Scotland) was also very spectacular. I was trying to hold onto my bike for dear life at the same time as casting glances over the surrounding landscape.
I eventually reached the village of Ballycastle. My stomach was a bit sore and I visited a WC at the harbour before I continued the journey. I also tried to sign in at the shop I was told to use as a control gate. The owner told me I was the umpteen cyclist trying to do the same and she did not understand why so many cyclists wanted her autograph. Strange......
After a too brief visit in Ballycastle, I took the coastal road up the hill out of this village towards The Giant Causeway and Bushmills.
Looking back towards Ballycastle and Fair Head, the north-east corner of Ireland.
The climb was OK in the sunshine and the scenery very nice. I was feeling great. The views over to Mull of Kintyre was now obstructed by the clouds, but I had a nice view towards Rathlin Island.
Rathlin Island and my bike.
The road was pretty undulating along the coast. The sea was mostly in view, but the road followed the cliff faces and through some farmlands. I passed some farms and some small villages along the way. This was pretty hard cycling. I took the photo below. I was later told that I photographed The Giant Causeway. This is supposed to be a major natural wonder. If this is it, I am not so sure about this. I regard the whole coastline from Larne to Bushmills as a natural wonder. Not only the small rock formation called The Giant Causeway.
The Giant Causeway (see arrow), the sea-cliffs and the beaches on the coast.
I passed the road down to The Giant Causeway. I was in a hurry so I could not be bothered. I reached Bushmills and the end of the coastal road.
The coastal road from Larne to Blackbush is spectacular and it would had been a major tourist attraction if it had been in England, Wales or Scotland. Due to the tragic recent past of this place, I had this road to myself. I hope that the tourists soon will see sense and flock to this coastal road. It is absolute worth it and I doubt if you find anything like this tourist attraction anywhere else in Ireland.
I found my second sign-in control point at the local cafeteria. Same story again: The owner told me I was the umpteen cyclist trying to do the same. But she gladly gave me her autograph and I bought a lunch there. Bushmills is a nice village with some fantastic views towards the Isle Of Islay in Scotland. I continued towards Bushmills distillery for a peek at the visitor centre.
The Bushmills Distillery.
The Bushmills distillery is the oldest distillery in the world. I stopped there for some minutes and the obligatory my-bike-at-a-distillery photo shoot before taking the road over the hill towards Ballymoney. The hill was steadily climbing upwards a mountain. I was very relieved when the road bypassed the mountain before dropping down to the main valley between the coast at Coleraine and
Ballymena. During the descent to this valley, my one tyre violently punctured and I had some hairy moments trying to stop the bike. The wheel was a mess and it took me over half an hour to repair it again. Some nervous glances at the map and the clock made it clear that I was in deep trouble.
The next six hours is the hardest hours I have ever had on a bike. When finishing the repair, it dawned on me that my situation was precarious. I reached the very heavy traffic at the main road and the climbs up the valley. The traffic made my situation even worse. I followed this road for ten kilometres before I turned of the main road at Clogh Mills and the beginning of B94. A look at the hills ahead and I was starting to fear the worst. I was right. The B94 is the shortest way to Belfast. It is also a road which crosses all the Antrim Glens. All of these seven (??) glens. The next hours was spent on mostly climbing these vertical hills and then descending down to another glen. The descents was vertical and pretty hairy. My constant companion was the Siemish Mountain through these desperate hours.
My companion, Siemish Mountain
Thankfully, my bike was superb. It needed to be because I now trusted my life on it and what it could do for me. The clock was ticking and I was starting to get desperate.
I passed through the small villages of Clogh, McGregor's Corner (which is only one garage) and finally Broughshane. The two mountain climbs after Broughshane was the worst of the day. I took the last photo of the day on the first of the two climbs.
The road and some of the hills I had climbed during the last hours
Both these climbs was vertical. The first of these mountain tops gave a superb and an overview of the final climb. My heart sunk ! It was one of the most scary sights as I have ever seen. A glance at my cycle computer confirmed that I should had been in bed twenty kilometres ago. It was two hours left of daylight hours. I therefore cracked on down the hill and crossed the glen at Battery Bridge.
The climb up the hill was as hard I thought it would be. It was vertical at some places. I felt like a mountaineer climbing the last steps towards the top of Mount Everest. The chance of survival was pretty much in the same percentage bracket. The climb was divided in two with a small flat part before the steepest section before the top. The road was desperate vertical and I my vision was blurred with big red spots in my eyes. I gave absolute everything I had on this climb. I had to !
When reaching the top, I just threw myself down the vertical and pretty hairy descent to Ballyclare. Me and the bike merged into one entity during these desperate hours. It was a matter of to be or not to be. I was down in Ballyclare at 2300. The sun was disappearing and I still had a hill to climb and the final descent down to Belfast. I cracked up a vertical hill and over the main road over to some small roads taking me over Mossley down to Belfast. The descent down these narrow roads in bad light was hairy. I would rather not repeat this experience again. It is probably the most dangerous thing I have ever done.
When arriving at Newtonabbey, the locals was kind enough to arrange a small riot in the avenue I was coming down. I have to zig-zag between a couple of smouldering burnt out cars. Thank you for your welcome, but that was too much of a celebration !!
I was now saved although I had 7-8 kilometres left of the tour. The light was vanishing pretty fast, but the light along the avenue I followed was good enough to save my skin. I still sprinted along the avenue to the town centre and Belfast Town Hall where I in my delusion hoped the arrangement committee would greet me. I arrived to an empty street and no finish line. The arrangement committee was probably tucked up under a duvet in a cosy bed. I therefore took a photo (where I forgot to remove my finger from the camera-lens) and went home to my own home at Botanic Avenue.
My girlfriend and her mother was anxiously awaiting me. I had not brought any mobile phone with me and they were anxious to find out which hospital I had been taken to. They were very relieved to see me. I was still full of adrenaline, very happy to have survived and very deluded. They did not appreciate my jokes and light hearted approach to their hours of anxious waiting. They were right.
The adrenaline wore off after twenty minutes of mindless happiness and the pains caused by 18 hours and 250 km in the saddle did hit me like a sledgehammer. I spent the next hour crying and screaming. Every piece of my skin and every muscle in my body was aching and that is a manner I can only describe as violent. I was also vomiting a couple of times. A doctor was therefore called. My unfortunate carers was advised to give me plenty of water due to dehydration and some painkillers. These painkillers worked and I was knocked out. My carers watched over me when I slept. I have never ever been so tired in my life. This is a “place” I do not want to visit again. It feels great to be tired after a tour on my bike. But this was many, many miles beyond tired. I spent the following day recovering.
This tour is the hardest and most desperate tour I have ever done. The 180 km turned out to be 250 km. The last 70 km was vertical. The descents very hairy. I would still recommend everyone to do this tour with the start from Larne. That is a 180 km long tour. The tour is still very hard and the last 70 km along B94 is very hard. But this variation bypasses the very boring part along Belfast Lough.
I loved the coastal route between Larne and Bushmills. I doubt if there is any prettier and more interesting coastal road in the British Isles. This is the reason why I recommend this tour.
I am very proud of this tour and I regard it as my finest hour on a bike.
Footnote: I later learnt that I was the only one who completed this ride. The rest got enough Clogh and took the train from Ballymena back to Belfast again. They almost caused a riot on the small train with their big bikes.
I tried to get my diploma for this tour when I visited the cycle shop again. I believe I used the phrase “breaking his neck” or something like that about the one-man arrangement committee. The result was that he did not ring me. Well, I do not mind. I am very proud of this tour !!