August 12 – Belfast to Portadown
What an absolutely magic day. It couldn’t get much better. An absolutely top ride, with great places to pedal and more people to put a smile on the dial. A ripper day!
We set off reasonably early, hitting the pedals before 8:00am and we were straight away in the thick of Belfast commuter traffic. “Watch the bus!” I called to Steve, as we zipped along, in and out of traffic, stopping in lanes of traffic at traffic lights and then trying to power off across intersections. “Bus on the right,” I called again, as we rode down a bus lane to get to a turn down a street. We zipped, we turned, we had arms sticking out to the left and arms sticking out to the right as we indicated this way and that. Steve did a champion job of navigating our way out of the city and I just hugged his back wheel, calling out every now and again to notify him of any approaching traffic hazards. “You need to pick a side,” I finally called as we neared the edge of the soup of commuter traffic, when Steve began riding on the right hand side of the road, with a car approaching from behind. A swift manoeuvre and he was back on the left side and we made it out of peak hour and onto a cycle path unscathed, with heartbeat returning to normal and just the slight residue of an adrenaline high.
Then we had the most fantastic path. Plus…the sun was shining! Yep, blue sky and sunshine! It was chilly, but it was clear and fine and sunny and brilliant! We had a traffic free path, beside a canal and the Lagan River, with trees and flowers lining the bank. Wonderful! We passed other cyclists, walkers, runners and many a dog out for their morning constitutional.
We passed under bridges, under arches, along narrow little foot bridges and under trees. It was just the most fabulous place to ride and all the time under that super sun.
As I pedalled along the path, a cyclist came up behind me and I heard, “You’re on a wee tour then are ye?”
“Yes,” I said as he came alongside, “six months.”
“Six months! Where have ye been?”
So I filled him in on our sequence of countries, as we pedalled side by side. Then we caught up to Steve and stopped and chatted. “Are y’enjoying it?” he asked.
“Loving it!” I said, “and days like this are just magic.”
“Australian? New Zealand?” he asked.
“Australian,” we said.
“Well, yer brought de wedder, wit ye,” he said, it that most lovely Northern Irish accent.
“I think you’ve turned it on for us,” I said, looking up at the sun.
“Well, enjoy y’selves,” he said as we pedalled off in different directions.
We passed through Lisburn and the path continued, so we pedalled along, beside the trees and beside the river bank and all it needed to make it perfection would have been to see Mole or Ratty from Wind in the Willows, it was that sort of scene.
The path eventually ended and we were on roads, but they were quiet country roads, mostly single lane beside hedges and passing farms. The drivers were A1 brilliant. They passed us carefully, sat behind us when it was too narrow to pass and we pulled over at every opportunity to let them past. We would give a wave of thanks to them for being patient and they would give a wave and a toot on the horn back to us. Every single one of them, without exception, was fantastic and patient and careful.
The country roads gave us some ups and downs, as they undulated through the countryside. As I was pedalling up a hill, I heard a loud, “Helloooo.” I looked around me to see where the voice had come from because it seemed to have come from the other side of the hedge. As I passed the end of the hedge at a farm gate, I looked and there inside the farm, was a man hanging washing inside a shed and he was giving me a full, outstretched, windmill arm, wave above his head. He must have seen me coming up the hill before the start of the hedge and called out. How lovely and what a friendly sight to see.
“Good morning,” I called back and waved, as he continued to give me a big windmill arm wave as I passed by. I topped that hill with the biggest smile!
We rode into Moira and the day continued on its brilliant theme, with a lovely park for elevenses. Moira Demesne was laid out by an MP in the 17th century and it’s 40 acres of open parkland with trees, gardens, picnic areas and playgrounds. A very special place for a town to have.
We found ourselves a table and stopped for our elevenses and it was at that time, the sun began to disappear. It seemed its allotted time had run out and a few spots of rain began to fall, the darkening clouds came over and the wind picked up. Nora came off the reserves bench and went into action in defence, as a preemptive manoeuvre in case that darkening sky dumped its load on us.
We pedalled off, up and down some more country hills and the sun held out for a little longer, peeking through, even as the clouds swelled and turned from white to an ever darkening shade of grey. It wasn’t long before they opened up and down came the rain. We spotted a bus shelter (how many times have they come to our rescue!?) and pulled in for a bit of shelter while Steve pulled out the Orange Wonder and we were both slicked up and ready to go again.
We rode into the town of Lurgan and with the street narrow and busy, we took to the footpath to get out of the way of traffic. Steve pedalled off ahead and I brought up the rear. I saw a lady walking towards me so I pulled over to the side of the path to get out of her way. Just as I was saying, “Sorry,” she said the same thing to me. “No, I’M sorry,” I said, “I’m in your space.”
“Are you on a trip then?” she asked.
“Yes, six months. We started in Croatia back in April and we’ve been in Northern Ireland for about four days and loving it,” I said.
“Well dat’s grand,” she said, “d’yer have someone wit yer?”
“Yes, my husband’s up there somewhere,” I told her, pointing up the street.
“Oh, well dat’s good. You have a good trip and enjoy yerself,” she said with a parting smile.
I then saw a man walking towards me, so pulled into a driveway, to get off the bike and walk it, so I would keep out of people’s way and just as I was about to walk off, the man walked up to me.
“Can I ask you a question daughter?” he asked.
“You can indeed,” I said.
He then leaned in, as if he was going to whisper something. “Oim a little bit drunk.”
“Oh. OK,” I said with a laugh. This fact was not unknown to me, on account of the fumes that knocked me ever so slightly sideways.
“Can I ask ye daughter, where are ye headin’?”
“South,” I said, “towards Dublin.”
“Dublin! Well dat’s a hoondred miles away!”
“Not that far today,” I added, “just Portadown today.”
“Oh, Portadown, well dat’s joost a wee while down de road. Where are ye from daughter?”
“Australia! Well, yer a long way from home.”
“I am, yes,” I said, smiling at this memorable encounter.
“Can I ask ye daughter. Life. What’s dat all about?”
Life?” I asked.
“In general,” he added.
“It’s there to be lived,” I said, not quite sure what to say to such a simple but quite profound question!
“Live t’day and te hell wit tomorrow,” he said.
“Well, seize the day,” I said.
“T’ank ye daughter, t’ank ye,” he said and walked into the driveway of the building we were standing in.
I continued walking up the street and must have looked a sight because I was absolutely beaming. Walking along the footpath, pushing my loaded bike, seemingly on my own, with just the biggest grin on my face. That was one of the most interesting encounters with a local I think I’ve ever had. What a charming, if a little tipsy, man he was! That was a chance encounter I’m glad I chanced upon!
As we rode out of Lurgan and with a few kilometres to go to reach Portadown, the rain really came down, the wind got up and the temperature took a nose dive to 10C (yes, it is still summer)! We considered waiting it out inside a tunnel, but decided to push on, not knowing if it would end up getting even heavier. Arriving in Portadown too early for our B&B, we sought shelter in the only place we could. We spied a window table in the local fast food chain, so with bikes outside where we could keep an eye on them, Steve ordered his fries and Coke, so we had a legitimate reason for bagging a table and I chomped on my BYO contraband veggie sticks hidden under the table and we dried off as the rain came down outside. Finally, we could walk the bikes up the road to the B&B, store the bikes under the stairs and dry off properly inside while warming up with a post-ride cuppa. We began trying to make plans for our next ride, with issues arising with accommodation options. Campsites are scarce, although we haven’t had a day without rain for so long, camping hasn’t been an option for ages and hotels are few and far between too. So we tried to make plans about where to go and where we might find a place to stay, as we continue our ride through Ireland, but there are certainly some challenges as far as where we might end up each day. We’ll figure something out though!
What an absolutely champion day! We had fabulous sunshine for most of it, we had a wonderful path and then country lanes that took us up and down and around the Irish countryside. To top it off, we had brilliant drivers helping us out and then encounters with friendly, charming and completely delightful people. I mean, what’s not to love about all that! Yeah, there was rain and it got wet and windy and cold, but bah to that, because the rest was just fabulisimo! The song might tell us that “Irish eyes are smiling” but this Tasmanian face was absolutely beaming!
Distance ridden: 58.5 km
Time in the saddle: 4 hours 12 minutes
Weather: chilly, sunny, then grey, then windy, then rainy, then cold – about 15C down to 10C