This really is a road, at least on the map. It is to the north of Malahide Harbour.

June 14 to June 20 2005 Wicklow to Bangor

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Day 20 June 14th Wicklow to Temple Bar, Dublin

For the start of week four we had some great help from the Hostel manager. He not only recommended a decent hostel in Dublin but phoned to confirm bike storage and make the booking. We don't usually book ahead but on the other hand we tend to avoid large cities if we can.

Today we have to cycle into Dublin. It is payback time for the quiet rides we have had along the coast during the past two days. We had convinced ourselves that it would not be too bad. We were wrong. Even leaving Wicklow was pretty horrible on a narrow overcrowded road. This came as a surprise because last night we had made it almost to the town centre on country lanes.

The unpleasantness was enhanced by navigational problems. So far on this trip the Irish, unlike our rather slow officials in Dorset, direct traffic to the roads they want it to use. This has meant that the coast road has not been signed because alternatives exist. We therefore turned off early onto an unmarked road. Still, we would much rather have this problem than experience the race track coast road we have west of Weymouth.

The coast road became progressively busier and by the time we reached Greystones was unpleasant. Worse still was a huge hill before the descent into Bray for lunch on the beach. At Killiney the Stoker took over navigation and proceeded to find a huge hill. This puts paid to two commonly held views, the first being that if there is a hill anywhere near then the Management will find it. And in view of the effort the Stoker put into pedalling up it, that she does not do so.

We followed the coast road around Dublin Bay into the centre. Fortunately our GPS has detailed maps of Dublin. Most of the rest of Ireland is a desert as far as Garmin is concerned. These maps made getting to the hostel much easier. It still has to be said however that cycling in Dublin should only be attempted by confident and experienced city cyclists. The Management spent the worst half of his life cycling in central London. He claimed to enjoy the cut and thrust of cycling in Dublin, even on the tandem. There may have been moments when the Stoker closed her eyes. She certainly kept her elbows tucked in.

The hostel, Kinlay House, was clean and provided everything a tired cyclist needs. It is very basic and, like most city hostels, mainly full of young people of every nationality. The traffic outside was very noisy but as usual we were tired and sleep came easily.

Day 21 June 15th Dublin to Bettystown

A very basic breakfast was provided at the hostel. We went down early for us, expecting all the kids to be still in bed, as they do. To our surprise the dining room was crowded and noisy. Then all of a sudden it emptied. They all went outside and got onto a tour bus. It did not say Saga on the side but it looked just the same. Out of curiosity we asked at the desk where it was going. They had no idea. The Management suggested Ireland but he failed to raise a smile. It is hard to imagine that any young person with talent and ability is going to waste a year like this. It's got to be better getting on with life.

We left the hostel and our route took us down O'Connell Street. It felt like the nice bits of London's Whitehall and Tottenham Court Road combined. The new Monument of Light, a stainless steel needle reaching high into the sky, is superb. And just beside it the Stoker found a statue of James Joyce. Neither of us has managed to finish reading his work with enjoyment. Listening to it being read is quite another thing. It sounds wonderful but we still don't understand it. Anyway the Stoker's grandmother was a Joyce and therefore she claims ownership of JJ's work. It could account for the percentage of this that is readable.

On the way out we followed as nearly as we could the new Dart tram and train line. This worked well and we also had cycle lanes on the road for much of the way. Once out of the city we were again back on the 200,000 scale map. Our route along the coast could have been drawn by a scribbling two year old as it zagged and zigged in and out of the rivers and estuaries. At one stage we were on a road washed by the tide. The Stoker preferred to walk. She was worried that the Management would fail to keep her upright over seaweed.

By the end of the day we began to feel that Bettystown was a mirage. On the first approach, on roads that were on the map, we were blocked by an army camp. The guard at the gate was uncooperative about letting us through. We suppose that their big red and white radio aerial and single runway airport need constant guarding to ensure national security. Or perhaps being in charge, rather like SUV driving, gives them a power which is lacking in more important areas.

This pushed us onto a road which we thought might be a motorway. It was not but the anxiety was there. On the second approach the correct road suddenly said it was a cul de sac. It was. There was a river, not marked on the map, in the way with only a railway bridge over it. It has to be said that given 20/20 vision or a magnifying glass it would be possible to see this on the map. The Management may have failed in this respect but in the end we did find a pleasant B&B with nice sea views.

Day 22 June 16th Bettystown to Dundalk

It is sad to say that the Rannoch B&B at Bettystown gets our Fawlty Towers award but the Chinese restaurant in the village was good if overpriced. Though when you talk to people here they seem prepared to pay a lot for very little.

We waited until about eleven o'clock because it was raining and we thought it might stop. Even after watching the BBC forecast we were not sure. Have the BBC produced their new charts just to get at Irish, Scots, Northerners.... and us? They have always of course ignored the very existence of anywhere south of the border in Ireland. Now they have also denied the existence of synoptics. It is impossible to see what is happening to the weather. Come back Michael Fish, all is forgiven.

It did stop raining and we followed the coast road into Drogheda. The 19th century railway bridge across the estuary is impressive. We went on into the town and climbed out to the north. The map showed pleasant lanes towards a village called Ballymakenny. We tried a couple of roads without success but eventually found one which seemed right. Signposts here are few and far between. It became, however, a dead end after 3km. A friendly man walking his dog stopped us to give us the bad news at the top of a hill. At least we were glad we did not do the descent.

We retraced and short of going back into Drogheda and taking the coast road had little alternative but to take the main road north. It could have been worse. With a view to linking the Republic to the northern time expired outpost of the British Empire a motorway has been built. The road was still busy but very wide with North American style hard shoulders.

The Stoker, whose night time reading at the moment is the Rough Guide, found a famous place called Monasterboice. She had never expected to get there because it was up the main road where we don't go. But this time we did and it was only a short detour from the route.

The tourist attraction is a round tower 110 metres high in a graveyard with a couple of very interesting and very old high crosses. The standard archaeologists' spiel about round towers does not make sense. That is unless our ancestors were completely dotty. We prefer to think this is more likely to apply to the "experts". They think that the towers were used to store valuables and to retreat to in times of trouble, particularly from the Vikings. So the Viking gets out of his boat and scans the area for round towers. Seeing one he goes up to it and easily gets rid of the locals who can't get out. A small bonfire does it nicely. Without even the need for a bit of raping and pillaging he helps himself to the treasure. He then sails off to Brittany to spend it in the sun playing those awful bagpipes on the way. Probably.

Still, we would never have got there if we had gone the right way in the first place. This of course would not happen if the GPS maps worked here. This in itself casts some doubt on the benefits of GPS and technology in general. We will not go into this here. Sufficient to say we spent most of the rest of the day in country lanes. There was almost no traffic or the possibility of buying an ice-cream. We did get our first proper puncture. A kind local came out with help and encouragement. He offered tea just as we were about to leave but did offer us the opportunity to wash. Both were very welcome.

On into Dundalk we went and found a well run guest house. Again people here are very friendly though it is obviously a rather austere place.

This is the bucket ferry across the entrance to Strangford Lough. It scooped us up in Strangford and deposited us in Portaferry.

Days 23 and 24 June 17th and 18th Dundalk to Hilltown

Travelling in Ireland, whichever part, is very much about the people. There is always time to stop and talk and most people still greet each other even across the street. For the cycle tourist this can be a double edged sword. In order to leave, even at our lateish starting time, one needs really to set the alarm half an hour early. We don't of course, and consequently leave very late each day.

Today the young lady running the guest house had lots of information and advice. She did not have a firm grasp of local geography or the needs of cyclists. But she tried her best and the enjoyment of this country would be diminished without this.

Escaping from Dundalk and its road works was urban. Once away from the town we were in the lanes which criss cross the border with the "north". We stopped at a junction to make a route decision. It must only have been a minute or two before a car had stopped and advice was being given, although we knew exactly where we were on this occasion. We wanted to try to follow a road to keep us near to a railway line. This is often a good policy in a new area. Railway engineers usually found the best routes and they are invariably good by bike.

Crossing the border on country lanes invokes particular feelings. These must have been the roads that the bombers and smugglers followed. They would certainly have been patrolled and could well have been closed. On our lane we identified the border by a crude turn around cut into the bank. The GPS gave the border exactly. Above us on the high hills to our right was a military observation post. We hope it is empty now. If not one wonders what they will make of us and how we are recorded in their log.

Habitation for one or two kms either side of the border is obviously fairly upmarket, with big dogs and closed gates. But further away it changes. It would make an interesting cycle tour to try to follow the line of the border. You certainly wouldn't see much traffic, at least outside the towns.

Once away from the border we headed towards Newry. The general well being of the South is soon absent. We passed a petrol station, still in business but with the structures in disrepair. A large sign in the window said "no credit". Things did look a bit better in Newry, downmarket by UK standards but with some life in it. We are also pleased that so far we have not seen the bigoted display of flags or the painting of the kerbs. Things may have improved since we were here last. We hope so.

Going east out of Newry through the edge of the Mourne Mountains is not easy by bike. The lay of the land does not provide for many west to east roads and those which exist are busy. The lovely country lanes all go north south. There is a road which follows the coast but we decided not to use this, expecting it to be even busier.

We did stray from the roaring highway several times. This involved going up a valley over a ridge and down another valley to join the main road not that much further on. This is a very beautiful area and we think that there could be lots of good cycling here. It does not, however, lend itself to our kind of cycling. We do need a more or less direct route on minor roads or we would get nowhere. Here they don't exist.

At Hilltown we stopped to investigate accommodation, the Stoker going into the local pub to ask. The Management expected a longish wait. He was not disappointed but she eventually returned beaming. The pub, once a coaching inn, had a large courtyard development in what would have been the stable yard at the rear. She had found the best accommodation, certainly on this trip, and we can't remember better in previous years. We had an apartment with a large living room and kitchen downstairs and bedroom and bathroom upstairs. There was plenty of room to store the tandem inside without it getting in the way. The accommodation had not even been advertised on the road. Predictably most units are vacant.

The last time we slept in the same bed for more than one night was in Carnac. We both felt that we would like a day off and took advantage of the superb accommodation.

On days off we usually try to get chores done and the tandem checked over. The Stoker found a washing machine which is a great bonus for both of us. It saves on hand washing which is the Stoker's job and on squeezing the clothes which the Management does and hates. When it came to the tandem we had a little bad luck. During the checking process we found that the rear tyre was again split at the sidewall. We again switched the front to the back and put the lightweight spare on the front. Only problem is that this time the back tyre is the one we bought in France and we don't know whether it is up to the job. There is no realistic chance of buying another tyre tomorrow, it being Sunday in rural Ireland.

The other advantage of these superb digs was that we watched and enjoyed the last episode of Dr Who.

Day 25 June 19th Hilltown to Ballyquintin (near Portaferry)

Today turned out to be a day of mistakes. Fortunately none had seriously bad consequences and we only feel unhappy about one of them.

Hilltown is ribbon development on a main road. These kind of places tend to be built in Scotland and Northern Ireland and are, on the whole, alien to us. So we left the hotel, turned left and freewheeled straight out of town. At the bottom of the hill, going at a good speed, the Management had to decide; left or right. You would think that after a day off he would have already made route decisions. But no, he had just been loafing around and so turned left.

As luck would have it this was not a bad choice. We were on a main road which was deserted. Presumably this quiet was because the Irish were still in bed on a Sunday morning. It should be recorded that the Management was already bad tempered. He would have liked to have left at least half an hour earlier to avoid traffic. He did not, however, bother to pass on this important piece of information to the Stoker. She proceeded at her normal pace....

Leaving the Mountains of Mourne has to be mainly downhill. This contributed towards the next mistake. After going through Castlewellan there is a huge descent. It is absolutely straight and the road is smooth.

Now there was a time, in his younger days, when the Management would have just gone as fast as he could. These days he tries to be more careful, especially in view of the Stoker's fragility. On this descent the speed built up rapidly. The tandem of course always behaves perfectly. The US makers of the BOB trailer say it can only do 28mph. Health and safety and insurance companies again we suppose. It is surprising that we are allowed to ride our bikes at all. Anyhow it got to the point where putting on the brakes could possibly have blown the side out of another tyre. We are becoming more sure that this is the reason for the tyres failing. So he did not brake and the tandem did 78kph maximum. The Stoker was, quite rightly, distraught.

The rest of the route in lovely agricultural countryside and beside the sea compensated.

At lunch the Management, whose job it is not, tried to phone forward to book accommodation. He misdialled a campsite by mistake. Being Ireland he got into conversation and ended up booking a mobile home for the night. After crossing the ferry at Portaferry and doing three Irish miles, 8km to us, we found the site. We are now in a wonderful silent place overlooking the rocky sea towards Scotland. And drinking a pleasant glass of red wine. This was premeditated.

Day 26 June 20th Ballyquintin (near Portaferry) to Bangor

We were awoken by the brightness of the sunshine and its heat on the caravan roof. It was a lovely day and a very beautiful and quiet place to be. No one else was up and every now and again a brown hare lolloped across the site.

We managed to leave a little earlier than usual even taking into account the goodbye conversation with the farmer who runs the site. Once on the road it was an ideal cycling day on an ideal cycling route. We chose to go north beside the sea rather than beside Strangford Lough. Different weather conditions could make the lough road preferable but it will always be a busier road.

The wind and the sun were on our back and the hills were mainly little ones. After a warm up on the country lanes we were back on the very quiet A2 where we stayed all day. We were not far away from the sea for most of the journey. A better coastal ride is hard to imagine. There are white sandy bays confined by low rocky headlands. Every so often we passed through a pleasant village but much of the time we had the coast to ourselves. As we got further north we began to see the hazy coast of Scotland on the horizon.

Making good time we went into the library at Donaghadee to use the internet. Apart from the normal housekeeping things we needed to book the ferry to Scotland. Once we would have just been able to go down to the quay here to get on the boat. It is the nearest place to Scotland and the original ferry port. As it was we went down to the harbour and ate our lunch in the sunshine.

The short distance to Bangor is on busier roads and needs to be done. Bangor itself is a pedestrian and cyclists' nightmare. Obviously it is laid out by the brainless and thoughtless. Like many people in the province they appear to be living in the 1950's. Those days are long gone when it comes to road planning, recycling, housing and lots of other things including politics which are done badly here.

The management experienced the above at first hand. The Stoker found a fine B&B with a comfortable room overlooking the harbour, where the Waverley paddle steamer is currently moored. The Management went off into town to buy a new tyre. It was not pleasant but he enjoyed being welcomed back with tea, scones and jam. It is the first time this trip that we have experienced this once normal welcome at a B&B. And we also have tea and coffee in the room. That is progress here.

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