August 8-9 Liverpool to Belfast
Time to head over the water to Irish shores. We rode through Albert Dock to board the early ferry ‘cross the Mersey in order to catch the big ferry over the Irish Sea. The ferry came in and was chokka block with cyclists and commuters and I watched the man in charge of the ferry landing greeting nearly every one by name. “Morning Phil, y’oright Paul? Morning Anne.” It was lovely to see what was clearly a daily routine and regulars being greeted as they disembarked. Two ferry loads came over before we could get on and take the trip in the other direction.
Up the steep ramp on the other side and then off down the road to the main ferry terminal. We rode in and joined the lanes of car traffic waiting to board, as we’ve done on every ferry we’ve been on, but this time we were waved away and directed to take the bikes into the ferry terminal and board with the foot passengers. We walked into the terminal, took the bikes through the departure lounge and then we were directed to a trailer. We had to put the panniers in the luggage trailer and then the bikes were on bike racks, on their own trailer, being towed behind. That was a new way of doing things. Then we had to take a bus from the terminal, down to the ferry, the bus actually reversed onto the ferry, we all got off, went up the escalator into the ship and there we were. It was all quite different from the roll-on, roll-off arrangements we’d been used to.
We settled in for the eight hour voyage and it sure was a busy shipping lane we were in. All manner of ships went past and we passed wind turbines and oil rigs. As we approached Belfast dock, we were greeted by…sunshine! Fabulous!
Down the escalators we went, onto a mini bus for a trip from the ferry, down to the Belfast terminal and this short ride was worth every second for the driver we had.
“If this is your first time here,” he said, “this is what our weather’s like all year round.” We all smiled.
When we arrived at the terminal he announced, “Your luggage is available on the left, make sure you smile on your way off and if there’s any complaints about my driving they can be written on a twenty pound note.” There was no way any of us could get off that bus without a smile!
The bikes were safe and sound on their trailer, we loaded them up and set off for the 7km ride into the city. We pedalled off through the dock area and the docks seemed to go on and on and on. After 3 km we were still in the docks, then we had a turn to take us down to the main road, but as we prepared to make the turn, we were confronted with this…
The detour sent us all the way back the way we’d just come, down another road and we were eventually arriving in the city and zipped through some traffic, to arrive at our hotel, after a longer ride than expected. It was getting on for 8pm but it was still really warm. How great! So, from ship to road and wheels, we had arrived in Belfast.
From Belfast, we plan to ride south, but we wanted to see a bit of Northern Ireland before travelling down the island. Knowing we just couldn’t get to places in reasonable time if we did it all on the bikes, and with the weather today starting with wind and horizontal rain, we hired a car to have an outing up the coast and travel north of Belfast. The Giant’s Causeway has been on our list of places to visit ever since our last trip, when a passerby told us about it. I remember it well because it was one of my prize dunce moments. I was sitting in a park waiting for Steve when a man walked up and asked about the bikes and our trip. He had an obvious Northern Irish accent and I told him about where we’d been and that we hoped to get to Ireland.
“You have to go to the Jantz Causeway,” he said.
“The Jantz Causeway,” I said.
“No, Jantz Causeway.”
I was a bit befuddled for a moment until the penny dropped and I felt like a complete dill for not understanding the accent.
“Oh, the Giant’s Causeway,” I said, “I’m sorry, I’m a bit slow on the uptake.” In our Australian drawl, we pronounce that word “jiyent” and I couldn’t believe I’d been that dopey, to not pick up on what he was saying. So I remember the encounter well! We didn’t end up getting to Ireland last time and everyone to whom we’ve ever mentioned our intention of going, has told us to see The Giant’s Causeway, so we thought we’d better have a look.
Steve drove off into the wet and we took the coast route, travelling through little towns, with magical scenery. We had green hills, lined with dry stone walls, sheep dotting the green and veritable rivers of water cascading down the cliffs and hills and then the churning brine of the sea on our other side. The only downside was it was virtually impossible to take any decent photos on account of travelling at car speed rather than bike speed. There was a lot of flooding on the road and through one town I even saw sandbags in front of the driveway of one house. We drove through lakes of water across the road, then through avenues of trees, thick fog and the scenery continued to be fabulous.
Arriving at the Giant’s Causeway, the sun came out! The forecast had said there would be a brief period of fine weather in the middle of the day and it seemed we had timed it perfectly to have sunshine for our visit. It was pretty speccy, seeing the hexagonal rocks so beautifully tessellating and the huge basalt pillars. We both commented that it reminded us somewhat of the east and north-west coasts of Tasmania though, with the boulders and the colour of the rocks. We put our Tassie rock-hopping skills to use and walked over the rocks, before climbing the hill back to the top. It was worth the trip!
The other place I’d wanted to visit was Londonderry. That’s been on my list of places to get to because I wanted to see the murals that are such a symbol of The Troubles. All I’ve really known of Londonderry is its history of conflict, that and The Derry Girls! (Another comedy on Netflix I can highly recommend)! So we drove through Bushmills (of whiskey fame) and then took ourselves over to Londonderry. It had rained on the way and then the rain stopped again, for us to have a walk around. Great timing once again! It really gave me pause for thought, to stand on the streets where, for so long, the peace we were experiencing just wasn’t a part of life. We saw the street where Bloody Sunday had happened and as well as the murals, we saw the graffiti and slogans that remain from that period. I did smile though, that a new addition to the murals is actually one of The Derry Girls!
We also walked along the city walls, because the city has more than its stories of conflict. Londonderry is the only completely walled city remaining in Ireland and these were built between 1613-1618.
Our drive back to Belfast was again in pelting rain. At least the rain seemed to arrive each time we were in the shelter of the car and stop each time we wanted to get out. Perfect!
So here we are in Belfast, ready to start our Irish adventure. We have another couple of days here to have look around before moving on. It seems we’ve already had some of the best Ireland can offer…humour, friendly people and stunning scenery, if this is a taste of things to come, we shall have a very splendid time indeed!