|For three days in June (20,21,22) my wife and I rented a BMW R1200GS from Irish Motorcycle Adventures Of Comber Northern Ireland (a wee bit south of Belfast) and took to the road to see the Emerald Isle. The bike was in prime condition with only 20,000 km on the dial and came equipped with a Garmin Zumo 660 all programmed with the routes and stopover locations for resting the bones at night. Now for those of you that have never ridden in the UK (or other European opposite side roads) let me tell you that it is different. Not so different riding on the left, but signage in Ireland's larger and smaller centres is all but non-existant. Without the GPS I would have been wandering for days not knowing where I was going. Even the GPS had it's limits and at roundabouts with several lanes, it was easy to get ahead of the Zumo with any kind of speed the traffic runs. Confusing and frustrating at times. But once I got out of Belfast proper and on the open road things improved immensely. I'd never ridden a boxer twin, and after a quick test spin around Stephen's (the rental operator) neighbourhood to get the feel of it, I was suitably impressed and comfortable with the bikes handling and suspension. The control swithches would take some time but better than either of my two Harleys ever were. So with the bags all stowed (and rather full) off we went on our Irish adventure. There wil be pics later on, but I'm writing this at the office and my photos are on the pc at home (slow day at the mines)
The first leg took us up the Causeway Coastal Road along the Northeast shore enroute to the Giant's Causway and many scenic and famous attractions. The day was warm (by Irish standards 18*c/65*f) and a mix of sun and cloud. After several cups of tea, herself needed a washroom shortly after departure so I pulled into a petrol station. "Sorry Mum, no public facilities here, ye need to drive down the road a piece to the rest stop, be a few kilometers" OK, duly noted, no bathrooms in service stations. Larne is a scenic oceanside town and the road along the coast is a winding, twisting serpant of asphalt that was just made for motorcycling. Believe me when I tell you that Deals Gap and Mulholland Drive and the like have nothing on Irelands roads for the canyon carver in you. These are serious corners and don't trust the posted speed signs! Some of these switchbacks and sweepers will challenge Moto GP racers. The tighter corners have signs with arrows on them: 1 arrow = heads up; 2 arrows = slow the heck down; 3 arrows = get on the binders now! What makes it exciting is about 80% of the corners are blind and with a series of them running in sequence, the ride is demanding and exhilarating. We stopped at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge and stretched our legs, and then carried on to the Giant's Causway. WE didn't make the treck down the path to the cliffs, as we'd done enough of a hike at the bridge (ATGATT is not meant for two and three mile hikes!) and the trams were shut down so we just looked from the viewpoint. Missus has pictures from here trip a few years back so. I sort of wanted to tour the Bushmills distillery but bikes and grog don't mix so bummer there too. Back on the road we headed for Derry for our fist night on the road and it was raining by the time we hit the city limits. Imagine, rain in Ireland! Total distance travelled Monday, 148 miles; elapsed time 7.5 hours, 5 actual riding time. You don't get anywhere fast in Ireland.
The next morning we headed North to Malin Head, the most northerly point of the island, in the rain. Now it wasn't raining hard, but is made for porr photo ops, but the wind didn't blow and we managed to snoop around and get a couple shots in spite of the drizzle before heading back south and towards the western side and coast. Once south of Derry, the roads really got narrow and twisty, and in the wet I was serioously concerned about traction limits but the aggressive tread on the GS's tires proved very good in the rain covered surfaces and never once did the bike get squirmish. WE opted for the secondary road through Glenveagh National Park and it would have been fantastic if we weren't in the rain and mist. At times we were actually in the clouds the ceiings were so low, but the twisting undiulating route was an incredible ride even without pictures. We stopped at a filling station in a town called Currymanerrigh during a brief respite from the rain, and found that English wasn't the first language there, they speak Irish Gaelic (there are several areas where Gaelic is the spoken language in Ireland) but will converse in English, well their version of it anyway. A word on fuel, how's $7.00 a gallon grab you? 19 pounds Sterling to fill the tank that was just about 2/3 done! From there we continued through the rolling countryside into Donegal Town for the night. 170 miles, 8 hours. My wife was saddle sore, but dry, but me bearing the brunt of the weather (GS has minimal fairing for rain cover and I forgot my rain liner in the suitcase) was as they say 'feckin' soaked. Our B&B was fnatastic, more like a Victorian decor hotel than a guesthouse but oh so welcome. We went into town for dinner and a bit of Irish cheer and music at a local pub before retiring.
Wenesday got real interesting. Punched in the route on the GPS and off we went, early start so I figured that with the sights and stops we had planned, we'd be back at the rental shop by 3 or 4 pm. Well, Doofus wasn't paying attention and programed route 3 (3rd day right?) and off we went. About noon I couldn't figure why we were still following the coastline instead of through the orchards of County Armagh. Well when we stopped to consult the map and check the route program, turns out it was #13 route to get us home, not #3! Oops, sorry dear, gonna be a long day now. Almost a hundred miles and 3 hours added on. Now I have to say that after my initial scolding, my wife calmed down and hung in there like a real trouper as we got ourselves back on track and in the right direction. Until it started raining again, then the mood kinda changed a bit but all in all, she did very well. So we missed St. Patrick's tomb, and settled for a view of Killeagh Castle as we rolled on through Armagh, Newry, and Downpatrick before riding back up to Comber to drop off the bike at a tad past 6:30. 9.5 hours and 270 miles, so much for the easy day's ride.
It was overall a fantastic 3 days of riding trough my ancestral home (on me Mam's side) and our travels actually took us through the town where my great grandfather lived as a lad during the famine years. Ireland is a magical land, with rugged seaside cliffs, verdant hills and valleys, historic castles and cathedrals, and wonderful people. Oh yeah, and Guinness!
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