Until yesterday (Tuesday), I’d ridden most of the way around three of the UK’s constituent parts, but not all the way around anything. But as I rolled off a segregated bike path into the centre of Belfast, I realised that I was about to meet the Big Fish again, and complete the circuit in Northern Ireland (‘NI’).
I’d spent the previous days in border country. On both sides of the border, in fact, as it’s pretty much impossible to avoid crossing over a few times. At the moment, it makes little difference; it’s all largely rural, there are vehicles from the UK mainland, NI and the Republic on the roads, and the rain showers pursued me regardless of which country I was in.
If you ever need the info for a quiz question, the westernmost settlement in the UK is called Belleek, and is a pretty little town between the western end of Lough Erne and the Atlantic. If you have a swift half in the last pub in the UK, and then turn the corner, you’re faced with the border (pic above).
As you can probably see, there really isn’t one. A British cycle route sign points you straight across the international border into Ireland. And 150 metres later, you hit a junction with the main road, and are back in the UK again. Who knows how all this would work if the Brexit negotiations go wrong?
I cut across a somewhat larger chunk of Ireland later that day. County Monaghan pushes the border way to the north, which would have made an awfully long diversion. So I cut across it. Despite some incredibly black clouds floating about close to where I was, I managed to navigate this excursion into ‘abroad’ without too many issues, and popped back into Northern Ireland on the ferry across Carlingford Lough on Monday morning.
Sadly, although I wasn’t getting all that wet, the proximity of rain was definitely affecting the views as I rumbled up the eastern coast of NI. The Mourne Mountains were mostly hidden under clouds, and, although they look quite atmospheric in the gloom (above), it would have been nice to see their full magnificence.
The flip-side of the south-westerly wind that was pushing all the rain my way was a decent tailwind, so I made good progress back towards Belfast. Even the extra wait to cross Strangford Lough (due to the school ferry taking priority for some reason) didn’t hold me up too much.
And so, yesterday morning (Tuesday), I finally located the awfully-signposted Greenway into central Belfast. This is a lovely piece of infrastructure, with a wide ribbon of nearly-new tarmac whisking you through the suburbs before suddenly dropping you off in central Belfast. It needs much better signs, as it took me nearly half an hour in the small town of Comber to find the far end of it, but once again, it’s good to see decent cycling facilities being put into various UK towns and cities.
Once I’d met the Big Fish again, thereby completing the circle of NI, it was just a case of retracing my earlier wheel tracks to the ferry port, and on to the Tuesday afternoon sailing back to Scotland, pursued this time not by rain, but by seagulls and competing ferries.
Although I’d have preferred some sort of open-jaw excursion to Ireland, without arriving back exactly where I started, it does at least mean that I get a few more days in Scotland before heading further south, back to England and then Wales.
But with new Covid spikes all over the place at the moment, it’s feeling less likely that I’ll make it back unmolested by local lockdowns or other restrictions. We’ll have to wait and see…