Friday 22 June 2012

The Great Grail Grab Grand Tour - Day 3

The day started OK and went downhill from there!

It was dry in the morning, so I was awake about six so wandered over to the shower block only to find that a shower would cost a euro. But worse than that you had to buy a token for a euro from the shop…. That didn’t open until nine!

So after a quick wash in the sink as I wasn’t prepared to wait three hours I packed up and just as I went to leave, the rain drops started to fall, I already had my overtrousers over the top of my BMW Rallye suit as unlike the jacket I didn’t have the waterproof liners in (because I’ve put on weight and they won’t fit if I do). As I headed north towards Sligo the rain just got heavier but as my jacket was soon soggy and wet on the outside it didn’t seem to make much sense to stop to put my one piece oversuit on over the top.

As I followed the coast past the Dartry Mountains, the fantastic sight of Benbulbin came into view. This mountain has an incredible set of overhanging crags below the summit plateau that many compare to a huge breaking wave. Today it also had an impressive cap of cloud. The best view of this is from west but there were precious few places to stop on the road for a photo and one occasion when I could have the cloud had dropped, spoiling the view. I eventually found a place to stop but by now was to the north of the mountain and much further away so not really giving the same impression.

The road continued northwards and despite the rain gave excellent riding. It eventually stopped raining although it was clear from the dark skies that this was unlikely to last long so as my jacket had dried out I decided to stop and put my one piece waterproof on. The place I picked was a parking area near the top of the pass of The Barnesmore Gap, I stepped off the bike into what I can only describe as a midge storm! I would have moved on but was desperate for a pee, a dangerous proposition I can assure you dear reader! After doing the necessary I decided to put my oversuit on but made the mistake of taking my overtrousers off, because I wouldn’t need them would I?

The top of the pass had a large stone memorial to John O'Donovan the first surveyor of Donegal, OK you might not be impressed but as a Geographer, I find it interesting!

From then on the rain just got heavier and heavier and I got wetter and wetter, the rain was getting down my neck, soaking into my cuffs but worse of all, the leak that in Wales had lead to the classic bikers “soggy crotch” was not a one off and had returned with a vengeance! On the basis that skin is waterproof, I carried on.

I arrived at the UK border at Strabane which was a total non-event not even a “welcome to Northern Island” sign. The only visible indication was that the sign on the Irish side was how many kilometres to “Derry”, on the UK side it was repeated as how many miles to “Londonderry”. I stopped at the side of the road to convert my speedo back to miles and then rode the fifteen very soggy miles to Londonderry in quite heavy traffic.

Crossing the bridge to the West Bank and therefore back to Derry as it is the Catholic, Republican side of the city, bedecked with Irish tricolours for Euro 2012 just as the whole of the republic had been, I rode up the hill and soon found St Columb’s Cathedral and grabbed a quick photo.

Returning back down the hill to cross back to the Protestant, Loyalist side of the city (still bedecked with Union flags for the Jubilee), I passed a roundabout with a new sculpture of two stainless steel figures standing on their own walls but reaching across the gap and shaking hands, one of many such symbols of reconciliation I saw in the North but nearby was a sign of the continuing divide, that unique artform of the province, a wall mural, this one in stark black and white stating “West Bank Loyalists, still under Siege!”

Riding in the continuing rain to Portrush, I sought refuge in a Tescos on the edge of town, parking up under their convenient overhanging roof. Sadly they didn’t have a cafĂ© so I bought myself some stuff for lunch, the wander round the store helping to dry me out, then eating it beside my bike before putting my overtrousers and then my one piece suit! At least now I shouldn't get any wetter underneath.

The plan had been to ride the coastal road to the Giant’s Causeway but given the conditions and the fact I was running way behind schedule, I rode straight there. After a protracted search to find my National Trust card under the many layers of clothing, to avoid paying two pounds to park my bike, which was a surprise as usually the NT don’t charge for bikes, I parked up and went to play Tourist.

Removing my tank bag and carrying my helmet, I followed the signs to the causeway only to discover it’s a walk of over a mile, not great in motorbike gear and two layers of waterproofing!!! The walk down was OK put the walk back was uphill most of the way, the body heat helped dry me out but the resulting sweat didn't!

The stones themselves were quite impressive although not as extensive as I imagined.

After this I decided to just kill some miles and headed for Belfast by the most direct route only to hit it in rush hour but to be honest it was nothing like back home and I was through in no time and as an added bonus it stopped raining. Heading south towards Downpatrick the heavens opened again although by the time I got there it had stopped again. Finding the Cathedral was simple as it appears on the hill right in front of you as you descend the hill towards the City. From the first roundabout it is clearly signposted and you are there in minutes, the road not only taking you straight there but takes you right round it too.

I parked up and got in conversation with the caretaker who lives in a cottage next door and ended up getting an impromptu tour of the Cathedral, three hours after it closed to the public and whilst the organist was practicing which made it even more special. I also got the tour of St Patrick’s grave and he took my photo for me, a smashing guy.

Leaving the cathedral I needed some sterling as I still had a pocket full of euros, the only cash machine I could find in Downpatrick was out of order, so headed on to the next town, the seaside resort of Newcastle. It once again started pouring so I decided to go for a B&B, especially as campsites were conspicuous by their absence. After getting some cash, I decided to stop at the first B&B I came to, unfortunately it was in town and looked rather seedy so I carried on and found another along the coast. A great find as the owner is a biker and let me put the bike in his garage.

Luckily I had stopped for dinner on the way out of Belfast, as once again I had found accomodation in the middle of nowhere, the last thing I wanted to do was get back on the bike!

This sadly also meant that for the third night running there was no pub in walking distance, so once again I had to forgoe the pint of Guiness I had promised myself and this was my last night on the other side of the Irish Sea. Oh well it's a good excuse to go back again.

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