Cork to The Giants Causeway Cycle
I’ve cycled many roads with my dad, from the early years on different bikes, the odd cycle in Ireland, England, Scotland and France on our holidays. But never have I shared the road spanning the entire length of a country. What a challenge.
I had this urge to complete a big cycle before COVID kicked in and when I mentioned it to my dad, he was unphased. He was in, and he simply wanted a date and the rest would fall into place. I bought a road map of Ireland and decided that straight up the middle would be the best path. Heading to the coast would add a lot of miles and no one would thank us for that.
With an App called Komoot, we plotted a course from Cork to the Causeway and picked out some potential locations to stay overnight. We both had this App on our phones which we would use like a sat nav to get us up the country, without getting hopelessly lost.
I remember asking Sean and Wilma Laverty if they would fancy a road trip through Ireland. I didn’t have to twist their arms, they seemed interested and the dates worked well. They would drive us to Cork and stay with us for most of the trip as our own personal support crew.
It’s about a 6.30hr drive to Cork (and a longer cycle home) which meant we got there for 3.30pm and we cycled 35 miles north to Mitchelstown. We had a few gadgets with us but the oldest travelling device for me was the best. A compass. If we weren’t heading north I became anxious!
It took 10 miles to get our location to link up with our intended route, which took us all the way to our first night’s accommodation. That initial cycle was great to stretch the legs, get started and explore rural Ireland. It wasn’t too long before we were cycling along roads with grass growing down the middle. We came across a large sign for another charity cycle from Malin to Mizen head, so I was waiting for a peloton of cyclists to whizz by us at some stage, but it never happened, we must have been going too fast.
The next morning after a bowl of porridge, we said goodbye to the wild boar and deer in Ballywinlan Farm and headed for Birr. This cycle took us out of County Cork, through Tipperary and into Offlay. 75 miles in the saddle, again through the undulating rural landscape, where many of the roads were really tractor highways. At a junction in Tipperary, I got Dad to dismount and stand beside the Tipperary sign for a photo. The locals thought we were lost so a chap shouted over to ask where we were heading to. I replied Bushmills. “You what?” he said and I nonchalantly replied with a smirk, County Antrim. He said he wanted to come with instead of going back to work us and wished us well.
The donations we have received for this challenge has blown all of our expectations. As we cycled, I would receive notifications of donations and well wishes which really spurred us on. This was especially true when we would cycle past signs for villages and towns and expect the next sign would be a shorter distance, only to find the distance was the same or greater!
The weather app was used to predict what was around the corner, I can deal with rain or sunshine but I was dreading a strong head wind pushing us south. Fortunately, the head wind we had was very light and somehow, we managed to avoid the rain.
After a night in the Georgian town of Birr we set off, this time destined for County Cavan, but first we had to cycle through Counties Offaly, Meath and Westmeath. The highlight of this section was that part of our route was on a Green Way. This is a reclaimed railway track which has been turned into a cycle way. No traffic to contend with and beautiful views of the countryside. So, for 18 miles we cruised along this stretch which took us to Mullingar for lunch.
The final part of this day was eventful, to get to our accommodation in Cootehill we had to detour from our route which took us through a huge windfarm and down what can only be described as a mountain bike dirt track. As I descended with my hands on the brakes and avoiding any sharp stones, I prayed that the road wouldn’t simply end and we’d have to go back the way we came. Remember my bike wouldn’t go south. Fortunately the road rejoined a main road and the hotel was in sight.
So that was our biggest distance, 95 miles and we knew we were past halfway which made the day that bit easier.
Day 4 took us into Ulster, but before that we had 30 miles of interval training. If anyone has been on a bike in the gym, where the digital display shows peaks and troughs, well that’s what Cavan and Monaghan have to offer to the cyclist. It was tough going and I was glad to get past that section.
We didn’t meet many cyclists but just near Glaslough, on the border, we met 3 cyclists, who were sightseeing and touring and they were moving at a great speed. After a brief chat with them we discovered their bikes were electric and it wasn’t that we were getting seriously slower.
Being back in Northern Ireland gave me a boost, we were nearly home, just another 75 miles to go. We spent our last night in Maghera and Walsh’s Hotel popped our picture on their Facebook page. Any opportunity for a bit of PR was taken, the power of social media posts, the power of chatting to people and their generosity is incredible. There were a few occasions where someone would see our Samaritans top and chat to us and hand us some euros. The kindness of strangers is something to cherish.
The last leg to the Causeway was pretty special as we were joined by my brother and some friends, plus the wind had changed to a tail wind. A small change but what a difference. The 8 of us chatted as we cruised through Balnamore and down into Bushmills. Thanks to anyone who came to see us arrive at the Causeway, with people clapping at the side of the road, it certainly kept the legs turning and pushed us up that final hill.
With the funds raised reaching over £7000 we were able to get John Nicholl his Braille computer with 3 years support and insurance plus we were able to give a healthy donation to Samaritans in Coleraine.
For anyone who donated, we would like to thank you so much, you have instantly made a difference in John’s life and you will have positively influenced so many other people’s lives for years to come.