A hilly tour through County Down

April 2002
75 km

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 when it comes to cycling. The winter in Belfast is pretty harsh and I could not start cycling before the end of March. My first tour was this tour, almost a trial tour. I was unprepared and untrained. I also severely underestimated the terrain and the tour turned into a small epic with blood, sweat and tears. I learnt the lesson that Northern Ireland was far from being flat and easy cycling. In fact, the cycling is as serious as in Scotland.

The tour started with a kilometre of cycling from my home down to the main train station in Belfast where I boarded the inter-city train to Dublin. I was jumping off at Newry halfway down to Dublin for the tour back to Belfast. I was unprepared and had not eaten properly in the morning. Northern Ireland seemed flat to me and nothing near as serious as Scotland, I thought. I was in for a very rude awakening.........

I jumped off the train at Newry and took the road down the hill to Newry town. This border town was severely hit by bombs and terror during The Troubles. I like Newry. It is a busy town with a sad past and hopefully a prosperous future.
The road out of Newry was pretty steep up to a plateau and through some villages and farmlands over to the small village of Mayobridge.

The climb up to Mayobridge (looking back towards Newry).

The road over Mayobridge was quite heavy and the lack of preparation started to show up. The road over to Hilltown made me realize that Ireland was pretty serious. A long hill and a long descent before the road climbed up to Hilltown.

The first view of the mountains before the descent and then the climb to Hilltown.

Hilltown was a nice village with some good shops. I had to get some water before the climb out of the village. I finally gave up the idea that Ireland was easy on these climbs. The road bypassed the Mourne Mountains on it's way over to the coast at to Newcastle again.

The Mourne Mountains from the road between Hilltown and Newcastle.

The Mourne Mountains is visible from most of Northern Ireland.. They are some of the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen... and I have seen a lot of mountains in my life !! There is an extensive image gallery of pictures at Google.com (put in “Mourne Mountains” in the search field) and I highly recommend having a look at them. The highest mountain in the Mourne Mountains are 850 meters above sea level high. The Mourne Mountains is less than 3 km/3000 meters away from the beaches at the Irish Sea. This makes them even more impressive. The Mourne Mountains has an iconic status and rightly so. The Mourne Mountains are very impressive from all directions. But some of the most impressive pictures of these mountains is from the world famous Royal County Down golf course.

I was pretty breathless due to the cycling and the stunning views of the Mourne Mountains. I eventually made it to the top and got an impressive overlook over the rest of the hilly landscape I had to cycle through on my way back to Belfast. My heart sunk..........

Overlooking the hills in the County Down and Belfast in the far distance.

The road dropped down to Bryansford and Newcastle. I bypassed Newcastle and turned inland towards Castlewellan. The climb up to this village and through it to a vertical descent to the crossroad toward Ballynahinch was pretty heavy. The following 40 km to Belfast finally killed the belief that Ireland was easy. The road crossed and passed over one hill after another. Some of the hills along and over the farmlands was pretty heavy and steep. My legs was sore and I was pretty thirsty. There was not a single shop for twenty kilometres. Just farmlands, cows and sheep as far as the eye could see. The landscape was OK, but not particular scenic. I was too occupied with putting the miles on the clock to take any photos.
A grumpy badger gave chase just because I had woken it up from it's slumber in a ditch did not help my situation either. I legged it up a steep hill instead of getting mauled by the badger's teeth.
I was pretty shot and fed up when I arrived at Ballynahinch. I got some water and chocolate bars in a shop before I continued on the road towards Belfast. I was very tired now and my legs was sore. The road over to Carryduff was very hilly. This being a main road, the traffic was also pretty heavy. I finally made it to the hills overlooking Belfast and I was very relieved. I took the road down to the shopping centres at the top of Ormeau Road and this road down to my flat.

This tour thought me that Northern Ireland has some serious cycling. I did a lot of training before the next tour around the Mourne Coast (see the tour) and I made sure I was pretty well prepared.
This is a heavy, but still an enjoyable tour through County Down. I would probably bypass the boring bits between Newcastle and Belfast by following the coast to Downpatrick and the road to Belfast from there as I did on the Mourne Coast tour.

But I would still recommend this tour.