Bicycle Bangernomics, breakages and repairs

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Lough Gartan

In the motortrade the term ‘Bangernomics’ is frequently used to describe the practice of running older, quality cars on the cheap. The phrase comes from a book written by James Ruppert on the subject of running old cars. It can be done for those of us who are prepared to get our hands dirty and fix things ourselves. A large part of any garage bill is usually labour, not parts. Do it yourself, ideally with second hand parts and you can save a lot of money. The important part is knowing the difference between a viable repair to something that has plenty of life left in it and something which is likely to be a bottomless money pit. It’s the approach I’ve always taken to motoring.

It’s also the approach I also take with my cycling. I’ve ridden thousands of miles on bikes many of the modern fashion-conscious cyclist would most likely throw in the dump (which is where I’ve found many! It’s amazing how many people throw away old bikes, many of decent quality, because they think it’s not worth repairing.). It’s even easier to run an old bike than an old car as it is easier to fix them and parts can often be switched between bikes from different manufacturers and different eras with a little creativity.

It makes sense to do this from my point of view. I’m not particularly weathy and could never justify the cost of some modern bikes. I’m not racing anyone so I don’t need the latest, greatest bike. The durability of older components is generally better than what is used today. I favour reliability and durability. It is entirely subjective but I also just simply have a preference for the style of older bikes and feel no attraction for modern road bikes in particular. I personally feel that when you have stripped and rebuilt something yourself you have an attachment that just can’t be formed for something bought of the shelf. There is also the opportunity to experiment with different gear systems or whatever when you are building up your own bikes.

I will provide exhibit A, my early 1980s Record three-speed roadster which I’ve written about often on this blog. It’s a basic gents utility bike built behind the Iron Curtain and very much a budget bike when new. It was workmanlike but decent enough quality and it actually rode pretty well. I’ve owned it for about twelve years at this point and I paid just €20 for it. I have used it a lot, have covered thousands of miles on it, even including a few tours. In the days when I had a commute of over forty miles round trip, I did do it on the Record three days per week during the summer months. I rode it enough to have worn out three Michelin World Tour tyres on the back wheel.

Keel Strand - Wild Atlantic Way

Naturally I did spend money on it. I did replace the sprocket with a larger one to alter the gearing, an inexpensive and worthwhile thing to do to any Sturmey Archer equipped bike as most seem to be too high-geared from the factory. I did change the basic dynamo lamps for better Busch and Muller lamps with standlights (you can’t put a price on your own safety in my opinion. Good lights are always worthwhile if you ride at night). I did replace the front wheel with an alloy rimmed wheel in the interests of better braking and safety, a relatively cheap and very straightforward upgrade to any bike which has chrome rims as polished chrome makes a poor breaking surface in the rain. When I bent the rear wheel beyond repair, I replaced it with a new alloy wheel with one of the modern Sturmey Archer hubs. I had worn out the bottom bracket so I had converted to square taper and did some other things to improve the bike as I documented here.

Achill Island

So it was with some sadness that I’ve been foreced to retire it from service. Also, a bit of a shock given what happened without warning. I was climbing a hill out of the saddle and there was a loud crack and the bike suddenly felt funny. I stopped and got off and didn’t immediately spot what had happened. The bottom bracket shell had broken. There was no rust around it. The break appeared to fresh the whole way around so wasn’t the continuation of a crack that had developed over a period of time. Proof that steel frames can also fail without warning. It was about forty years old and had been well used during my ownership and it cost me so little in the first place. Still annoying though; despite it’s lowly value, the bike was very useful to me and one of my most used bikes. I was able to ride it gently for the eight miles or so back to base, sitting on it to freewheel down hills, walking it up hills and riding it gently on the flat.

Broken bottom bracket shell

I haven’t entirely given up on it just yet. I keep threatening to attempt a welded repair. My concern is that the heat from an electic arc welder would melt the braze in the joints where the frame-tubes join into the bottom bracket. I don’t have brazing equipment and don’t know anyone else who has. The bike has such low value that it’s not worth paying someone else to fix it. If it had been something of value like a curly Hetchins or something, then it would be financially viable to send it of to a frame builder to have a new bottom bracket shell brazed in. In this case, I suspect a professional frame builder would laugh if I sent them this! The other option is to find another frame and re-home the components.

I may be pondering a possible DIY attempted repair just for an experiment as much as anything else (and I don’t really have anything to lose) but in the meantime it left me without a roadster for pottering about on. I do have my Rudge and much as I love it, rod brakes don’t cut it in modern road conditions. They’re fine in the dry but useless in the rain and it tends to rain quite a bit in this country.

Dunlewey Church

I pulled my old Kalkhoff from the back of the shed. I’ve written about this in the past and this is a genuine skip-rescue bike, one of several passed on to me by a builder friend who was working on a house and rescued the Kalkhoff and several other bikes from a skip and kindly passed them on to me. I serviced the Kalkhoff at the time and as the back wheel was bent beyond my ability to repair it, I replaced it with a wheel with a Sturmey Archer hub, added some dynamo lights and rode it as a winter bike at the bike and probably covered a few thousand miles on it. Then I decided to have a play and re-instated the original Sachs derailleur, added a second sprocket to the sprocket to the hub to give myself six gears. I wrote about my hybrid gearing setup here.

Glencolumbkille folk village

I even did a little overnight tour on the Kalkhoff with this hybrid gearing setup – an overnighter to Glencolumbkille. The bike rode well enought considering it’s a basic hi-ten frame with basic components but was never ideal as the frame was a little on the small side for me and the bars were lower than I would ideally like. I decided to fix this by replacing them with a set of North Road bars I had lying around. This effectively turned it into a roadster. I did borrow the sprung saddle from the Record. I may yet borrow the alloy rims and maybe the square taper chainset (but as mentioned, I haven’t completely dismantled it just yet as I may attempt to weld it).

Something concerning that I noted when I removed the old drop handlebars from the bike was once the bar tape was removed, it was worrying how rusty the bars were and how deep the itting was. There is no doubt their strength would have been compromised. It really is worth inspecting components on older bikes, especially if they were stored somewhere damp and corrosion allowed to take a hold. A broken handlebar would be an unwelcome surprise to put it mildly.

Kalkhoff

With the North Road bars in place, it looked more like a roadster already and it gave a comfortable riding position. The bike had survived well in several years of “resting” and didn’t really need anything other than a check over and some oil on the hub and the chain and a good clean. So I started using it a bit and did a few rides of approximately thirty miles. I found it comfortable and it rides well. It was only a basic five speed road bike originally and somewhat oddly for a bike of it’s type, runs on 26 x 1 3/8“ wheels. The paintwork is tatty but original. I am still running the hybrid gearing system. It works but I have mixed feelings about it as it spoils the simplicity of a standard three speed, probably without too much of an advantage in real terms. I gain one extra high gear really with the other two filling the gaps in the standard three speed hub’s wide range rears. It can be useful, and it is a great conversation piece as few know what it is but I’m tempted to remove the rear mech and the smaller sprocket and return to normal three speed specification.

Sach-Huret derailleur

Then, I suffered another catastrophic failure! Somewhat ironically it happened in more or less exactly the same place as the Record frame broke, again as I was climbing out of the saddle. It was the bottom bracket which failed this time so not as bad a frame failure but I was left with a long walk home as I couldn’t ride the bike at all this time. It also failed with a bang and without warning, the pedals just suddenly felt loose. Something very unusual had happened. The bottom bracket adjustable cup had simply broken in two; the very end along with the lockring had broken away leaving the rest of it still inside the frame. I have never heard of this happening before (nor has anyone else I’ve spoken too).

Broken bottom bracket cup

It is difficult to understand why this might have happened. All I can simply suggest is metal fatigue. Even if it was a manufacturing defect I would have expected it to fail many years ago. I know the cups were in good condition with no deep wear rings or gouges or anything like that and it is a good quality German made part and not some spurious remanufactured rubbish like a lot of cheaper replacement cycle parts today.

Broken bottom bracket cup

It was to be a simple and inexpensive fix this time. I have lots of spare bits and pieces and I was able to just simply swap out the failed part for one of the spares I had in my box of random cycle parts. The bike has a cottered chainset. Much is written about the difficulty with working with cottered chainsets but I have never found them to be that much hassle. In simple terms, remove the nut and washer. Then put the nut on again until level with the top of the threads. Support the crank from underneath (but make sure the pin has somewhere to come out. A piece of steel pipe of between the crank and the floor is ideal as the pin can drop into the pipe). Then hammer the pin out. A typical sixteen ounce carpenter’s claw hammer is best I find. The import thing is to strike it hard and accurately. The shock will drive it out. I see many people who seem to be afraid to hit these type of pins, either on bicycles or other applications. If you just hit it with gentle taps it won’t budge and you will end up rivetting it in place and cause a much bigger problem.

With both cranks removed I was able to remove the bottom bracker spindle before removing the remains of the threaded part of the cup using a blunt chisel to drive it around until it was out enough to get a grip on it. I guess many would probably insist I should have removed the fixed cup for inspection and cleaning too but I don’t consider it necessary unless you need to replace it. It is perfectly possible to clean it in situ. Then apply grease before inserting the ball bearings, one at a time. A normal cup and cone bottom bracket like the one on this Kalkhoff will take eleven quarter inch ball bearings. Then apply some more grease. You can fill the adjustable cup with grease and eleven ball bearings in the same way.

Ball bearings
Bottom bracket cups

Then you can put the spindle back in place and screw in the adjustable cup. Note that the adjustable cup has a standard right hand thread and the fixed cup on the driveside has a left-handed thread (unless it’s old French or Italian which have right hand thread on both sides – usually!). Work gently to ensure the balls don’t fall out of place. Also pay careful attention to ensure the cup starts on the correct thread as it’s surprisingly easy to cross-thread a bottom bracket cup. Never force it. If it feels very tight at the start, try again. Not relevant in this case but be very careful you have the correct cup type if working on a Raleigh (which had their own unique thread standard) or an old French or Italian bike which are metric threads rather than the more usual 1 3/8“ x 24 TPI standard cycle thread.

Adjust the cup until it spins freely with no free play. In reality, as any bike you will be doing this on will more than likely be old with a few miles on the clock, it may not be possible to get it 100% so you may have to compromise slightly. Then put on the lockring to keep it locked in place. Hold the cup in position while tightening the lockring and ensure it doesn’t tighten. Then check the adjustment again. The tools needed for these job varies as there are a few designs out there. I find German bikes are conveniently designed to take standard spanners (although you will need a very big one for the lockring but pipe pliers will work). My replacement cup was the more typically British design with pin holes for a pin spanner and lockring which needs a C-spanner but you can manage with a hammer and punch and pipe pliers.

You often find bottom brackets (and hubs and headsets) were originally fitted with caged bearings which hold the balls in place. I personally think they are best removed and thrown in the bin. Their only purpose it ease of assembly. Using cages mean you have less balls on each side which will wear more as there are less to take the load and also I have seen bottom brackets destroyed when the cage got out of shape and damaged the cup or the cones.

You can then refit the cranks. With cottered cranks, (which have what I consider and unfair reputation. They only give problems if not installed correctly), you need to be aware of how they work. The nut does not pull them into place. The thread is not strong enough. This is the mistake many make. If you just tighten the nut, they will come loose and cause problems (and never ride with loose cotter pins as you destroy the cranks). They need to be hammered (or pressed if you have the correct tool) into positon and the only purpose the nut serves is to hold them in place. Also pay attention to the angle of the flat part of the pins. On new pins, it may be necessary to file them to a shallower angle so they have better contact with the spindle. Both sides need to be exactly the same or else the cranks won’t align. There is a wrong way to put them in as the threaded part can then catch on the hem of your trousers as it goes around. It’s easy to get confused and it will make no functional difference whatsoever but it can cause them to catch your trousers if you ride in loose-fitting clothes.

Cottered crank

Support the crank underneath when hammering to avoid damaging the bearings. Push the pin in and tighten the nut (but don’t over do it as it is easy to strip the threads) and then a few hard and accurate hits with the hammer. Then tighten the nut and repeat. Do this a few times until the nut stops coming loose. That should then be good to go although it’s worth checking after a few rides.

With my skip rescue bike now fettled with second hand parts from with very little money spent to create a perfectly usable, working bicycle, I can look forward to happy miles over the winter. Yes it’s a bit rusty but I don’t need to worry about it getting dirty on mucky winter roads (and I have decent full-sized mudguards. Many modern bikes don’t even have space to fit them). I can also go shopping and not worry about my bike being stolen. I also am not losing money in depreciation. Above all, I have the enjoyment of saving things from the dump and the learning experience of putting it all together again. We’re being told to reduce waste and recycle but I see many bikes with plenty of life left in them, sometimes even quite valuable ones being scrapped as nobody wants to be bothered fixing them which is not very green. Also old bikes have a history and a story behind them.

Achill Island
Record 3 speed
Kalkhoff
Glencolumbkille stones of Ireland
Kalkhoff
Kalkhoff

Connemara

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Connemara

August and September had brought me a new position at work and training and a temporary change of working hours had meant no days off and less spare time for cycling than I would have liked. September has always been my preferred month for touring but I couldn’t do it this year due to my work committments.

I was determined to get a short tour in before the end of the year. I decided I’d like to explore Connemara in bit more details. I booked a few days off work when I could and booked a few nights in a hostel in Cong. I had an appointment in Sligo on the way down on Thursday morning so there wouldn’t really be much opportunity to do much on Thursday so I would have Friday and Saturday. I would only really have these two days cycling so was planning long, all day rides of what I would call quality miles – through pleasant surroundings on quiet roads. I would be coming home on Sunday so would see what I could do on the Sunday.

I have touched on the Connemara area before – first when riding along the coast from Westport to Galway city on my Brompton and more recently on long day rides when basing myself in Westport. It was tempting to ride the Doolough Valley or the Sheffrey Pass as they are among my favourite routes but I decided to stay a bit to the south. One of the rides I was planning was an amalgamation of rides I had done in the past, the other would overlap a little with the first one and include a short section of the route I did when cycling the Co. Galway coast some years ago but the inland sections would be all new to me.

The weather didn’t appear very promising as I left Sligo at around lunchtime following my appointment to continue the journey to Cong. It was very heavy rain. I decided to take an indirect route and to drive around most of my planned ride for Saturday. A little reconnaissance in a way. I have done long rides since my accident but I still haven’t worked up to being fully confident in doing them which is why I decided to use the wet afternoon to take a look at what I would be getting in to.

It eventually stopped raining and it was dry but overcast when I did arrive in Cong and check into my hostel. I walked into town later to buy a few bits and pieces and get something to eat. There was a live traditional music session advertised in one of the pubs too which I wanted to see. I like Cong, it’s a lovely town with so much history, friendly people, a few nice bars and it’s surrounded by truely outstanding natural beauty.

Cong

Today, Cong is possibly best known as the setting for the highly acclaimed 1952 John Ford motion picture – The Quiet Man, starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara. You don’t need to look too far to see what inspired Ford to film it in this location. He had relations in the area and it’s said that he spent over twenty years trying to persuade Hollywood film studios that a film set in Ireland would work. Even then he “borrowed” some of the budget from Rio Grande which he was also working on with John Wayne at the time to shoot The Quiet Man in Technicolor. He wanted to capture the colours of the landscape. This is why Rio Grande was filmed in the cheaper black and white film at a time when it was rapidly going out of fashion. Ford’s dogged determination paid off when The Quiet Man became an enormous box office hit and an enduring classic.

The Quiet Man
John Wayne and Maureen O'Hara

It’s most unlikley Hollywood will ever be knocking on my door so I will just concetrate on cycling! The following morning looked reasonably promising. The forecast had given the possibility of showers in the morning and a dry afternoon. As always, I tend to be up and about pretty early and it was just a little after nine o’ clock when I was ready for the road. I had my lunch and my waterproof jacket in my saddle bag. I always like to be prepared. Today’s ride wasn’t going to be too long so I aimed to make it a leisurely pace.

The Corrib Queen

From Cong I made my way towards Clonbur on the R345 which touches on the shores of Lough Mask as you make your way towards Finny. I was blessed with an amazing rainbow over the lough, right on the Galway/Mayo border, but I couldn’t find a way to photograph it as I would have liked.

Lough Mask

From Finny, you begin quite a bit of long, gradual climbing around Lough Na Fooey. Lough Na Fooey offers what I consider amongst the finest views anywhere in Ireland. This is a very lightly trafficked road (out of tourist season at least) so you have it all to yourself. There is such a sense of remoteness but also a sense of the realisation of just how small a human being is in the great scheme of things. I’ve always been drawn to travelling through remote areas.

Connemara

The weather was to take a turn for the worst around here, quite high up. A drizzle turned into torrential rain and visibility reduced considerably. It was also quite stormy with a very noticeable headwind. I had put on my waterpoof coat but my feet were very soon saturated in water. The coldness was noticeable too. Summer is definitely gone for another year. I went for a little walk along the sort of sandy beach on the shore of Lough Na Fooey. You can see small fishing boats tied up. This whole area is of course famous for it’s fishing as well as other things. The whole place took on an eerie mystical beauty in the misty, overcast conditions, proof that Connemara is beautiful regardless of weather conditions.

Lough Na Fooey

From there you begin to slowly descend towards Leenane and the Killary Fjord. This is a route I like a lot, even in the pouring rain. In fact the rain added to the beauty as the recent high levels of rainfall meant all the small mountain streams were cascading down the mountainsides with force that leaves no doubt about the power of nature. Eventually you arrive in the village of Leenane, also used a film location for the film “The Field” which was directed by Jim Sheridan and based on the play by John B. Keane who was definitely one of Ireland’s great playwrights.

I like Leenane, which is a small but very picturesque village on Killary Fjord, one of Ireland’s three fjords and in my opinion the most beautiful. Leenane (or Leenaun) comes from the Irish language Líonán Cinn Mhara, meaning ‘valley at the head of the sea.’ Famed for it’s beautiful location in the deep U-shaped Maam Valley, it has attracted many artists, writers and tourists over the years. Settlements in this area date back for thousands of years which can be seen by the ancient tombs to be found on the mountainsides where the many shades of green are dappled by the ancient grey stone walls and white woolly backs of the many sheep which graze the hillsides. I never grow tired of the view out across the fjord and surrounding high mountains and the contrasting colours. Even in the October mist and drizzle, it is still a view like few others.

Killary Fjord

I had lunch but it was starting to rain heavy. I was at about the halfway point of my ride and in no hurry so decided to wait the shower out in a cafe and enjoy a rather nice slice of cheesecake before continuing. One way in which Connemara tends to differ from most other regions in Ireland is the lack of roads to choose from. Most parts of the country have an incredible labyrinth of roads to choose from but in Connemara route selection is much easier simply because there are only a few roads to pick. They are pretty quiet for the most part (at this time of year at least) and are all beautiful.

Connemara

My return route to Cong would be different but the first few miles from Leenane would be the same, I’d be staying on the R336 directly to Maam rather than taking the road past Lough Na Fooey this time. There is some climbing initially for the first few miles leaving Leenane on the R336 but it’s nothing too straineous, a long drag of several miles rather than really steep gradient. It’s no trouble at all when you have a triple chainset like I have on my Townsend. This is actually an easier road to ride with less climbing, I had deliberately opted to the difficult bit on the road out so would have an easier return. Even so, I was surprised how quickly I covered the journey back to Cong; a product of less photo stops, improving weather weather, less gradient and now a tailwind rather than a headwind. I was back in Cong with fifty-four miles covered and plenty of daylight to spare.

Cong

After a shower and changing my still soaking wet clothing I went for a walk around Cong before looking for my evening meal. Cong, from Cúnga Fheichín meaning “Saint Feichin’s narrows” straddles the Mayo/Galway border and has a long history. The ruins of Cong Abbey date from the twelfth century and were an impressive example of the stone mason’s art. Behind the abbey the river is crossed by a narrow stone bridge and standing on it watching the river flow past in the shadow of many very old trees is the a perfect example of the tranquility of being at one with the natural world. I know of few places that give such a feeling of peace. It’s easy to see why early Christians came here.

Cong Abbey

I had a lovely and very reasonably priced meal in Ryan’s Hotel before listening to live music in Danagher’s Hotel bar which I found very friendly and welcoming again. When walking back to the hostel, Cong was to provide me with yet more natural delight as the moon was just perfectly positioned to be seen between the turrets of the gates of Ashford Castle and give a scene which might have came from some old horror film! Ashford Castle is now a five star hotel set in extensive grounds. I actually would love to cycle around them and see the castle for myself but there always seems to be someone in the gate lodge during the day and I may not be allowed in. I suppose I should have asked. Ashford Castle can be traced back as far as the thirteenth century but was extensively modified and modernised over the years, especially by the Guinness family when the estate was purchased by Arthur Guinness’ grandson in the 1850s. The Guinness family invested heavily in the area and the estate and gardens, even running steamboat services to Galway city on Lough Corrib and the attempt to build a canal which failed as it couldn’t hold water due to the impervious rock types. The remains of the canal can be seen today. The Guinness family welcomed many high profile guests to Ashford castle during their ownership including the future King George V, then Prince of Wales. It was sold in 1939 and opened as a hotel shortly afterwards. I don’t think my budget would run to staying in Ashford Castle but it’s good that it has survived.

Moonlight, Ashford Castle

I had been undecided on how to approach my day two ride. I would be going to Leenane again and then going roughly along the coast towards Carna and Ardmore. From Cong, the ride distance would touch about a hundred miles. I wasn’t entirely sure I would be fit enough to ride such a distance. I made the decision to drive to Maam and park at the little harbour there and cycle my route from there. It would be just over sixty miles and the bit I would be cutting out would be the route from Maam to Cong which I had cycled the previous day anyway. Doing this removed any time restraints so I would have more time and not need to try and get back before it got dark. I hope to be able to do a century ride again in the not too distant future but I am still not as fit as I was before breaking my ankle in five places last year.

I left Cong quite early after breakfast and had no difficulty finding a parking space at the little harbour at Maam. Maam, or Maum, properly called An Mám (the pass) is a small village located on the shore of Lough Corrib at the southern end of Maam Valley. This is part of an area known as Joyce Country, named after the Joy family who were originally from Wales and were the main family in the area for centuries.

Joyce Country Drive

What is now known as Keane’s Bar was oringally a hotel built in 1820 by the Scottish civil enginer Alexander Nimmo. Nimmo was born in Cupar, Fife in 1783. He came to Ireland in 1811 to work as an engineer on draining peat bogs, probably on the recommendation of Thomas Telford. Nimmo certainly left his mark on Ireland; his noteable works include Dunmore harbour in Co. Waterford, Cobh Harbour in Co. Cork, Knightstown on Valentia Island in Co. Kerry, The Sarsfield Bridge in Limerick and Roundstone harbour in Co. Galway. He did a lot in Connemara including building the first roads in the area, linking Galway to Cliften in the process. I believe most of the roads I would be cycling today would have had origins with Alexander Nimmo. As the day went on I would marvel at how he managed to find fairly straight, flat routes through such a mountaineous terrain. He worked on the design of over thirty harbours in the West of Ireland. He died in Dublin in 1832 at the age of forty-nine. He definitely left a lasting legacy of engineering greatness behind him.

I had the choice of doing my proposed loop clockwise or anti-clockwise. I decided on anti-clockwise and turned towards Leenane on the same route as I had done the day before. I had a pretty strong headwind which was probably good as I should have a tailwind-assisted ride back again (but how often does that actually happen?). My promising day had clouded over again and there were a few threats of rain but it never really developed. The sun was starting to shine as I made the descent in Leenane.

Thatched cottage, Leenaun

In Leenane I would be turning on to the N59 towards Cliften. I normally avoid the national primary routes but there was no other option. The N59 isn’t too busy anyway, especially out of tourist season. Drivers in south and west of the country and generally much more respectful towards cyclists than those in the north in my experience.

Killary Fjord

As it was a nice morning and I had plenty of time I decided to continue on to have a quick visit to Kylemore Abbey. This part of the N59 must be one of the most scenic national primary roads as it sweeps long the coastline of Killary Fjord. I stopped at Killary Harbour for a short time to admire the view. The tourist board tells the humourous story of a visit by King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra on board the Royal Yacht in 1903. They met with locals. The Royal Irish Constabulary were supposed to be providing undercover secruity disguised as cycle tourists but it didn’t really work as they were all dressed in identical clothes and saluted the King and Queen as they passed by.

Killary Fjord

Some miles later, Kylemore Abbey on the shoreline of Lough Pollacapall came into view. I wouldn’t be visiting the abbey on this occasion (I had visited earlier in the year anyway while I was recuperating) but I came just to admire the view. Kylemore Castle, on it’s beautiful loughshore setting with the mountains behind was originally built in 1868 as a home for Mitchell Henry. The Henry family sold it to the Duke of Manchester in 1903. The Duke was later forced to sell it to cover gambling debts and it was bought by Irish Benedictine Nuns who had been based in Ypres but had been forced to flee Belgium during hostilities of WWI. It has remained as an Abbey ever since and the extensive gardens and walks as well as seeing the interior of this beautiful Victorian building is well worth a visit but really needs a whole day.

Kylemore Abbey

I retraced my steps along the N59 until I reached the junction with the R344 which would take me past yet another of the beautiful lakes in Connemara (Lough Inagh) on my way to Carna. You also see Derryclare Lough and Glendollagh Lough. This road was quieter than the N59. It is necessary to briefly rejoin the N59 at Glynsk before turning on the R340 to continue the journey to Carna. This is a pleasant route and is mostly pretty flat. There are places where you can go up forest tracks and I could see people hiring out fat tyred e-bikes to use on the forest tracks. I did stray into the forests a few times for a few miles but had no idea where the tracks were going so always returned to the main road. One of the reasons I like my old-school mountain bike as a touring bike is that it can easily venture off the tarmac if desired.

N59
Lough Inagh

The rest of the journey through Carna (with detours to beaches), Ardmore, Kinturk Lower, Kilkieran, Screebe and Maam Cross was leisurely and pretty uneventful. I was back at my car much earlier than I had intended but the route was flat by Donegal standards and I was able to maintain a reasonable speed without putting in too much effort. Today, with detours, was much longer than the previous day’s ride. I had covered about eighty miles. I didn’t feel too bad but I was pleased I had made the decision to bring the car to Maum as I think I would have really struggled to add another thirty or forty miles on top of what I had done (and the road between Maum and Cong is much hillier). I drove back to Cong and had a shower and went and got something to eat.

Turf

I had really enjoyed my few days and was sorry to leave. I had considered doing a few miles somewhere on the Sunday but it was torrential rain and strong winds and wouldn’t have been pleasant. 130 miles is probably sufficient for one weekend. Touring tourist areas out of tourist season is a good idea I think and there is still sufficient daylight at the moment to get decent rides in.

Connemara

During the weekend I also celebrated the landmark of covering ten thousand miles on my Townsend since I refurbished and reworked it into a touring specification. Yes it’s pretty heavy and in no way anything fancy but it works well for the sort of riding I do. It is stable when loaded and a very strong frame and the wide 26“ MTB wheels are probably more practical for touring. The cantilever brakes are tricky to set up in the first place but give much better braking power than calliper brakes on a road frame. It really is possible to build a very good touring bike on the cheap and early steel mountain bikes are a great base to start with. I am looking forward to the next ten thousand.

Killary Fjord
Pat Cohan's pub, Cong
Cong
Stone breaker
Leenaun
Cong Court House
Connemara
Old P&T Telephone box
Cong Abbey

The Fort of the Heather

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Thatched cottage

It is always a good idea to experiment with new routes or new variations of our normal local routes and is something that I know I don’t do often enough. A lot of my cycling takes place in regions west of the Lough Swilly and when I ride around Fanad I can see the Inishowen peninsula across the water on the east the Swilly I but very rarely go there for any reason, something I was pondering recently when I attended a concert in Malin town. Inishowen is the part of County Donegal which I know least well. The return of the ferry service operating between Rathmullan and Buncrana opened up interesting possibilities which I hadn’t considered before. I decided I would like to visit the military museum at Fort Dunree, north of Buncrana. I had cycled there once before years ago during the Inishowen part of my Wild Atlantic Way journey en-route to Malin Head but it was a grey, dreich day and the museum was closed. It would be nice to see it on a clear day.

With this is in mind, I planned a route which would take me from Letterkenny along the west of the Swilly to the town of Ramelton and on to Rathmullan where I’d catch the ferry to Buncrana and then complete the journey on the east shore of the Swilly heading north from Buncrana to Fort Dunree. Inishowen of course has much more to offer and many scenic places but I haven’t done that many long rides since my accident so I’d keep my mileage targets modest.

Townend BX-40

The ride along the Swilly to Ramelton is one I’ve done before many times although usually in the opposite direction. The main route between Letterkenny and Ramelton (R245) is often busy and not a nice road to cycle on but there is a labyrinth of minor roads which run alongside it and are usually very quiet but sometimes hilly. It is possible to put together a nice route and have views of the Swilly. Lough Swilly would dominate today’s ride. It’s the second deepest natural anchorage in the country and has a long maritime history. It is tecnically a Fjord (one of only three in Ireland – the others being Killiary in Galway/Mayo and also Carlingford in Louth). There were many small ports and ships once came as far inland as Port Ballyraine in Letterkenny (I believe most of the poles bought by the Irish government from Norway for the electrification of Rural Ireland Scheme came to Letterkenny and were then transported by rail to wherever they were needed).

Lough Swilly

You also pass the ruins of Kildonnell Friary along this route and I made the short detour for a quick walk around. There is always something fascinating about old churches and graveyards. The friary was founded in 1471 by the O’Donnell clan who were the ruling clan of Donegal. It’s believed the church may date back even further. From the Friary to Ramelton is a beautiful ride if you don’t mind one or two sharp climbs.

Lough Swilly
Kildonnell Friary

I have always considered Ramelton the most picturesque town in Donegal. Ramelton dates back to ancient times but the modern town really developed in the eighteenth century with the Ulster Plantation. Ramelton has the oldest Presbyterian Church in Ireland. It was once the most prosperous town in Donegal and a busy port with the quayside lined with mills and warehouses. The coming of the railway to nearby Letterkenny meant that Letterkenny began to prosper whilst Ramelton began a slow decline and so many beautiful eighteenth century buildings are now in a poor state of repair but thankfully work on restoring some of them has began.

Ramelton
Ramelton

I followed the coast road from Ramelton to Rathmullan. There are inshore options which for this route which are very quiet roads to cycle on but the volume of traffic seemed light so I continued on the easier, faster route. Rathmullan is a popular seaside resort, also with a long history and has been a defensive position at times in the past too (which can be seen by the Martello Tower). Rathmullan is where the Flight of the Earls took place in 1607 when the last of the Gaelic Chieftains fled Ireland to the Continent to escape persecution from the English and it brought an end to the old Gaelic way of life and arguably paved the way for the Plantation of Ulster which followed. Today there is a monument in Rathmullan to mark this signifigant event in Irish History. Rathmullan has always been a nice place to visit with a sheltered beach and views across the swilly to Buncrana and Fort Dunree. Knockalla Fort is located further around the coast and originally formed one part of the defences of Lough Swilly.

Rathmullan

I was in good time for my ferry. Having to wait for a ferry here on such a nice day is no hardship as you can enjoy the view of the beach! I treated myself to an ice cream whilst I was waiting. It would of course be much less enjoyable in the pouring rain as there is no shelter at the ferry slipway. It was a calm day too and the surface of the Swilly was almost mirror-like. The crossing on board “The Spirit of Lough Swilly” was serene on such a calm day. The crossing takes about thirty minutes. There was no extra cost for taking a bicycle on board. I was actually one of several cyclists. These type of ferry services across bays and inlets are great for cyclists as they can greatly shorten routes and sometimes avoid busy roads.

Rathmullan
The Spirit of Lough Swilly

I had a long chat with a Scottish family who were over on holidays to visit relatives in the area on board the ferry and could compare notes thanks to my recent trip to Ayrshire. We arrived safely in Buncrana. When travelling on a ferry by bike, the smart thing is to let all the motorised traffic go first so you then have quiet roads. I made my way slowly along the seafront in Buncrana. Buncrana has always been a popular seaside destination and it’s easy to see why.

Buncrana (Bun Cranncha, meaning ‘foot of the (River) Crana’) is the second most populated town in Donegal. The town originally developed around the defensive tower known as O’Doherty’s Keep at the mouth of the River Crana. The current main street was built in 1718 by George Vaughan. The town became important in the textile trade but that industry is now gone. The remains of O’Doherty’s keep can still be seen and it dates from the fourteenth century. It was granted by the English to Henry Vaughan who built Buncrana Castle and the original parts of the modern town. The impressive six-arched stone bridge leads to the castle. All this makes an interesting walk although I wasn’t going to have time for that today. I only had time for a very quick look.

O'Doherty's Keep
Buncrana

In 1798, Theobald Wolfe-Tone, leader of the United Irishmen and architect of the 1798 rebellion was captured and held at Buncrana Castle. A plaque remembers the fate of Wolfe-Tone today. In the 1800s, there was much tension in the Buncrana area relating to attempts to expel various land agents from the area as well as tensions between Protestants and Catholics and Dublin Castle were forced to station troops in the area. In the late 1800s, Buncrana began to grow as a tourist town after the opening of the L&LSR (Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company) railway link between Buncrana and Derry city. I think the final train ran in 1953. The railway station still stands and is now a popular bar and restaurant. Buncrana was also the first town in Doengal to have an electricity generation scheme. There is actually a lot to see in Buncrana but I would be only passing through today.

Wolfe Tone memorial
Wolfe Tone memorial

It was here near Buncrana on the shores of Lough Swilly in 1748 that naval officer and slave trader John Newton cried out to God for mercy as his ship was battered by a severe storm and he was convinced that he was going to die. He survived and he gave up slave trading and began to study theology. He wrote the famous Hymn “Amazing Grace” as thanks to God for saving his life during that storm. Today you can follow the “Amazing Grace Walk” and the birth of one of the most widely known Hymns is commemorated int eh tourist information board.

Amazing Grace walk Buncrana

I proceeded north along the east bank of the Swilly towards Fort Dunree. This is where Inishowen starts to get interesting. I love cycling on little single track roads like these, especially when there is very little traffic. I probably would not like it as much on a Sunday when people go for a Sunday drive. You have it all here with the lush greenness of the relatively low terrain near Buncrana and the sea views leading towards mountains and bog. I was feeling good and happy with the way I was riding so made the decision to continue on past Fort Dunree for a bit to see where I would end up. You come to a nice beach and there is a monument to the memory of the crew of a Wellington Bomber which crashed in fog into the Urris Hills near hear in 1941 when it was returning to Limavady with the loss of all on board.

Townend
Plane crash memorial, Urris.

From there you continue up towards the Gap of Mamore which leads through the Urris Hills and reaches about eight hundred feet above sea level at the highest point. Understandably it is a tough climb although it’s not as bad from the Buncrana side. I decided to keep riding to see how I would get on. I used my low gears but I was surprised to reach the top and even more surprised to have overtaken another cyclist on the way up. I’m pleased with my fitness considering I’m recovering from injury. I did stop at the top though. I thought that if I went down the other side it would take me a long time to come back up again (as that is the really difficult side of the mountain) and I wanted to look around Fort Dunree and to not end up under pressure to make the last ferry. There was of course another option to go down the gap, continue to Clomany and then return to Buncrana via the inland route but the whole point of this trip was to visit the fort so I was going to do so. The sad part of course was missing out on the incredible views from the other side of the mountain. An idea has formed in my mind to do this route but continue on to Malin Head and spend the night at the hostel there and ride back using the inland route to Buncrana the next day but that will be for another weekend.

Gap of Mamore

Fort Dunree (Dún Fhraoigh meaning “Fort of Heather”) was built opposite Knockalla Fort on the western side of Lough Swilly as part of defences built during the Napoleonic Wars. Lough Swilly was considered important to the Royal Navy due to it’s deep water and relative safety and the fort was enlarged and improved over the years. Ships were sheltered in the Swilly during WWI including the fleet which was to see action at the Battle of Jutland under Admiral Jellicoe. Due to it’s strategic importance and deep water, Lough Swilly was one of the “Treaty Ports” which were retained by the Royal Navy following the establishment of the Irish Free State in 1922 following the Irish Anglo Treaty. An agreement between the British and Irish governments in 1938 meant the Treaty ports would be given back to the Irish and British forces would withdraw. Lough Swilly was the last of the three ports to be given back and in October 1938, British forces left Lough Swilly and the 26 county Irish Free State for the final time. Ironically, Sergeant O’Flynn, of the Royal Artillery, who took down the Union Jack, and Sergeant McLaughlin, of the Eire Defence Force, who raised the Irish tri-colour were brothers-in-law. The Irish Army used Fort Dunree until 1990 and now it is a museum.

Dunree Head

Fort Dunree is well worth a visit. There is the military museum to see and also a cafe, the outdoor displays of large guns once used in defence as well as a Panhard armoured car once used by the Irish Army. There are also a lot of nice walking routes to choose from if you have more time and didn’t have a dodgy ankle. Mine was only ever going to be a relatively short visit, especially now as I had used up time extending my ride up the Urris Hills. I sat on a bench and ate my sandwiches while pondering what it must have been like for military personnel to have been stationed here in times long past. It must have been a lonely and difficult to reach spot prior to the coming of the motor car.

Fort Dunree

I made the return trip back to Buncrana, passing the Laurentic Inn in Linsfort although I didn’t stop. The pub is clearly named after the S.S. Laurentic. The S.S. Laurentic was probably the most famous shipwreck in the Lough Swilly area. The Laurentic was built in Belfast in 1908 to sail the Liverpool to Quebec route for the White Star Line. It was an interesting ship which combined the early use of low pressure steam turbines with reciprocating steam engines. On the 25th January 1917, the Laurentic had called at Buncrana en-route from Birkenhead to Canada. She left Buncrana at 1700 hours and 1755, the ship struck a mine at the mouth of the Swilly. The ship was successfully abandoned but it was extremely cold with temperatures as low as -13C and many died from the cold and exposure on board the lifeboats before they reached land at Fanad Head. 354 men lost their lives in the disaster. There has always been controversy over the secret cargo the Laurentic was carrying. There were gold bars on board to the (1917) value of GB£5,000,000 which was being used as a payment for armanents to the US and Canada. In the years following the loss of the Laurentic, Royal Navy diving teams worked to recover the gold but some still remains unaccounted for. The wreck of the Laurentic has remained a popular destinations for divers. It is now protected as a historical site uder Irish Law as it’s over a hundred years old and permission should be sought before diving. I suspect if the missing gold was down there, it would have been found by now.

Buncrana lighthouse

I arrived in Buncrana in good time and I could watch the ferry making it’s way across the Swilly. I always prefer to be early for ferries, buses, etc rather than be on the last minute and risk missing it. The return journey to Rathmullan was also peaceful and uneventful and again I was one of several cyclists on board. There is no doubt that cycling is growing in popularity even in the car-centric north of Ireland. It was still warm on board but ominous black clouds were starting to gather overhead. Rain had been forecast and it looked like it wasn’t too far away.

Buncrana pier

Again traffic didn’t seem very heavy so I took the main road to Ramelton. I had decided to take a different route back to Letterkenny via Kilmecrennan. I stopped just outside Ramelton at one of my favourite places where the River Lennon passes over a weir (the Salmon Leap). A few spots of rain could be felt on an upturned palm.

2022-08-05_09-38-26

I continued on my way and the heavens opened. I was well and truely soaked when I got back to Letterkenny and had to pour the water out of my shoes! I had no waterproof jacket with me but at this time of year when it’s still warm there is no real need as I’d just be soaked in sweat instead of rain as waterproof clothing doesn’t breathe very well (at my price point at least). It’s being warm is the important bit. Getting completely soaked in December can be a very different thing as you also end up being very cold. I had covered just over eighty miles when I reached home again, my longest ride post-accident so far. I felt fine and may even have exteneded it a bit if it hadn’t come on such torrential rain. I was happy though, despite the soaking. My fitness is definitely improving and I’m slowly losing the weight I had put on when I was out of action. I also enjoyed my day in the Buncrana area and I will work on other plans on what I can do before the ferry stops for the winter.

Fort Dunree
Ramelton Town Hall
Dunree Head
Panhard armoured car
Fordson Major
Buncrana
Townend BX-40
Dunree

Buses, Bromptons and paddle steamers Part II

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For Buses, Bromptons and paddle steamers Part I – Click here.

Day 4: Largs to Ayr – bike and bus!

Ayrshire coastal path

Monday morning in Largs dawned bright and clear with blue skies if a little cold for the time of year and I was looking forward to the return trip to Ayr via the coastal path and NCN 7 as things often look different if you do a route in a different direction. I was also planning on making the time for a proper visit to the Scottish Maritime Museum in Irvine.

After breakfast and loading up, I set off on my way, stopping briefly to buy some supplies in a shop and having a last look at Largs harbour before before beginning my journey properly. The weather conditions were perfect for me and it was nice to be able to ride away from traffic. There were a lot of cyclists and walkers out on the paths and it’s good to see people out taking exercise. It proves that if useable facilities are provided, people will use them.

Largs

Then about eight or ten miles into my odyssey I became aware of something rubbing on the back wheel so stopped to investigate. I discovered that the tyre seemed to have come off the rim at a particular point and it was a miracle that the tube hadn’t bust. I couldn’t continue like this, I’d have to take the wheel off for further investigation.

I do like to promote hub gears but there is no doubt it is a derailleur geared rear wheel is much easier to remove at the roadside. There is also a chain tensioner on a Brompton and they have a reputation for being a difficult to remove the rear wheel but I think the difficulty is over-stated, it just takes a little longer and there will be the need to re-adjust the gear cable afterwards. (Try a rod-braked roadster with a chaincase if you want to experience a difficult to remove rear wheel!) You will end up with oily hands though after handling the chain tensioner (or perhaps I don’t clean things as much as I should).

What I found was that the tyre had seperated at the bead as the rubber had pulled away from the wire for about a two inch stretch of the beading. Why did this happen? I don’t really know. I had only fitted the tyre last August and it hadn’t covered that many miles. Perhaps it was damaged during fitting without realising or had been damaged in storage or delivery. Perhaps it was really old stock that had started to deteriorate or was a manufacturing defect. I’ll never know the reason and it doesn’t really matter but it presented me with a bit of a problem.

Brompton tyre failure...

I atempted to use a tyre boot and it all seemed good until I had ridden another few hundred yards and the tyre had further seperated from the beading adjacent to where I had booted it. This clearly wasn’t going to work. What to do? There wasn’t really a huge amount I could do. I walked the rest of the way to West Kilbride in the hope that there might be a bike shop there but I couldn’t find one. There was nothing else for it. I removed the bags and folded the bike up and got the bus back to Ayr. I knew that there was quite a large bike shop in Ayr as I had rode past it on my way out of town on Saturday. I didn’t think it was very likely that they’d have a 16″ x 1 3/8“ tyre in stock to suit a Brompton but you never know and if not, I was sure they could order me one.

He didn’t have a tyre in stock and claimed it was impossible to get one. A search online revealed that there was a bike shop in nearby Prestwick but they didn’t open on Mondays. There wasn’t much I could do. I was luckily able to check in early to the B&B I had booked for two nights so I could get rid of my luggage and sick bike and go for a walk. I walked along the path to Alloway to the Robert Burns cottage. It was closed by this time (I knew it would be anyway) but I enjoyed the walk. I made the return journey to Ayr.

Mouse, Burns Museum

I’ve been in Ayr several times over the years and have always liked it as a town. Ayr can trace it’s history back to 1205 and it was an important harbour and market town in that period. It developed as holiday resort with the coming of the railways in 1840, both for it’s impressive beaches and it is also a famous resort for golfers. It is also famous as the birthplace of the world-renowned poet and songwriter, Robert Burns, who was born in the cottage his father built in the suburb of Alloway in 1759. Literacy tourists in search of Robert Burns is probably a big part of Ayr’s tourist industry. Ayr also has a lot of impressive architecture and beautiful building. There are some historical buildings too such as the remains of the Citadel built by Oliver Cromwell’s army in the seventeenth century.

Ayr

Day 5: In the footsteps of Robert Burns

Burns

The following morning after breakfast I took a bus to Prestwick to visit the bike shop in the hope that they might be able to help. I could have phoned but I had time and it was only a very short bust bus journey of about ten minutes. It was a wasted journey though as again, they had no tyre and stock and claimed they couldn’t get one until at least next week which was no use to me. I got the bus back to Ayr. This would be my last day in Ayr anyway. I had booked a B&B in Stranraer for the following night. I decided I had two options, I could visit or phone every bike shop in Ayrshire and they probably couldn’t help me anyway or I could order a tyre from Ebay for click and collect at Argos in Stranraer for me to collect when I got there. This is what I did. I would have been happy to have paid extra for next day delivery but nobody selling Brompton tyres seem to offer that service. I’d have to wait until Thursday for my tyre.

It was still quite early. I walked to Alloway again with the intentions of visiting the Burns museum, something I had originally planned to do anyway. I had a route of around thirty miles planned that would have taken in things related to Burns as well as seeing the Electric Brae and other sights on the Ayrshire coast but obviously that as well as my planned day on the Isle of Arran weren’t going to happen without a tyre.

Robert Burns' Cottage

I enjoyed the visit to the Burns Museum though. As I arrived in Alloway at around 12:30 and I decided to eat in a local cafe before visiting the museum. Afterwards I made my way to the visitors’ centre. I’ve long been an admirer of his work. He was born in Alloway in 1759, the oldest of seven children. At the visitor centre you can learn about what life would have been like in the eighteenth century and some of the things that inspired Burns as well and what his life would have been like. There are really several parts to the a visit to the museum. There is the modern building which traces his life, the thatched cottage where he was born and the Burns Monument and Memorial Gardens, and also the famous “Brig O’ Doon” and “Alloway’s auld haunted kirk” which both feature so prominantly in one of Burns’ masterpieces – the long, ghostly narrative poem, Tam O’ Shanter.

Brig O' Doon
Alloyway auld kirk

The Burns moumument was built in the early 1820s on a slope overlooking the River Doon. I believe there were already gardens there prior to the building of the monument. It is an impressive monument, now recently restored. You can climb steps to the top where you get a good viewpoint over the River Doon and the Brig O’ Doon, a single arch stone bridge which dates from the fifteenth century and it was this bridge Tam O’ Shanter had to cross on his drunken, ill-fated journey home from Ayr. The bridge is very narrow and was replaced in 1816 with a new bridge nearby and the plans were to demolish the old bridge but the growing popularity of Burns and influx of literacy tourists so it was saved (thankfully). The haunted Kirk was already a ruin by the time of Burns’ life so it fitted into his story. His father William Burnes is buried in the Churchyard. Burns himself is buried in Dumfries. Part of Alloway Auld Kirk dates back as far as the thirteenth century although most of it dates from the sixteenth century. It fell out of use in 1690 after the parish joined the Ayr congregation and has been a ruin ever since.

Burns monument
Burns monument
Burns monument

In Ayr itself you can visit the Tam O’ Shanter Inn which is probably the hostelry referred to in the poem. It dates from 1749 and has a thatched roof and is a very characterful building. Of course they use the Robert Burns connection to their advantage and there are many inscriptions and references to Burns in and around the building. Burns, without a doubt, is one of the most important figures in the history of Scottish and English literature with many of his poems and songs still being widely known over two hundred years after his death. At the museum you can see a list of others who have claimed to have been inspired by the Bard of Ayrshire. The list includes William Wordsworth, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Ludvig Von Beethoven, Maya Angelou, John Steinbeck, Michael Jackson and Bob Dylan. Praise indeed for the “Heaven-taught ploughboy.” What is also impressive was the sheer volume of work he produced in his short lifetime. Such is the regard that Burns’ is held in internationally that the Soviet Union even released commemorative stamps featuring Robert Burns.

Tam O' Shanter Inn, Ayr
Tam O' Shanter Inn

I just had a relaxing evening when I got back to Ayr but had an amazing sky to watch again on what was actually the Summer Solstice. I enjoyed watching the sun start to set over Ayr harbour. My phone camera doesn’t do the sky colours justice.

Ayr Harbour sunset, 21/6/22

Day 6: Ayr to Stranraer

The following morning, my options for things to do were a bit limited as I had to check out of my B&B and I had a bike I could wheel around as a luggage carrier. I enjoyed a bit of people watching on the seafront and brief chats with random dog-walkers and other cyclists. I decided to go to Stranraer early and hopefully check in early to my next guest house so folded the Brompton up and got on the bus. I couldn’t manage to reach the B&B on the number provided so I was unable to make arrangements to leave the bike there so all I really did when I got to Stranraer was to sit outside a cafe, watch the world go by and eat too much cake until I was able to get in touch and get checked in. My tyre was due the following day before 1pm, I was hoping it would come as early as possible.

Welcome to Galloway

Day 7: Stranraer and Portpatrick

Loch Ryan

The following morning I went for a walk along the Loch Ryan coastal path for a bit and then went back to town and visited the park, museum and castle. I had considered taking a bus Girvan and maybe a boat trip around Ailsa Craig if possible but decided against it as too much hassle and more than likely as soon as the bus left town, I’d get the eagerly anticipated text to inform me that my tyre had arrived; which was why I decided to see what Stranraer had to offer.

St. John's Castle in Stranraer

Quite a lot actually. Stranraer (An t-Sròn Reamhar in Scots Gaelic – “the broad headland” ) is the second-laregst town in Dumfries and Galloway and is located on the shore of Loch Ryan. Until relatively recently it was a busy ferry fort to reach Northern Ireland until P&O and then Stenaline moved their operations to nearby Cairnryn, I think the reason was because Stranraer had a tendency to silt up. It’s a shame though as the port connected with the railway line which would have made the sort of trip I was doing very convenient. Stranraer played a large role in WWII and was a base for flying boats which helped protect the North Channel during wartime as it was the main shipping route to both the Clyde and the Mersey. Going back further, Robert the Bruce began his campaign to reclaim his kingdom from here in 1307. The Castle of St John or Stranraer castle is an early sixteenth century tower house, built by Adairs of Kilhilt who originated in Ireland. The castle has survived and served a number of purposes over it’s long life. In it’s time, it has been used as a home, a court, a police station and as a military garrison during the “Killing Times” of Covenanter persecution in the 1680s. During the Victorian era, the castle was modified to serve as a prison, and it was used as an ARP base during the Second World War. The castle was refurbished in the late 1980s and is now a museum. I enjoyed my visit to the castle and it is well worth negotiating the rather tricky spiral staircase to get the great views of the town and Loch Ryan from the top.

Lock Ryan from the top of St. John's Castle

The town’s museum is also well worth a visit. You can see a lot from down through the ages – from stone age and bronze age axes and other tools and weapons right up to stuff from the twentieth century. The importance of agriculture in the area is also seen with examples of old wooden ploughs and other farm implements. Cattle and dairy became important to the local ecomomy and there are many different types of butter churns, cheese presses and other tools of the dairy industry on display. Also on display are some old bikes including a penny-farthing, a Pedersen bicycle and a boneshaker. I was asking the curator if she knew anything of the history of the bikes but she didn’t apart from that they were all donated by local people. The boneshaker and the high-wheeler are of course the ancestors of the modern bike, the Pedersen is an interesting alternative design to the conventional diamond-framed roadster and is actually very comfortable (I have ridden a modern version belonging to a friend).

Boneshaker, Stranraer museum
Paedersen bicycle, Stranraer museum

At around half-past one I eventually got my anxiously awaited text message to let me know my tyre was at Argos and ready for collection so I made my way to Argos to collect the tyre. I then walked back to the B&B to fit it to the bike. With the time needed to pick the tyre up and then to walk back and fit it, it was just after three o’ clock when I was eventually ready for the road. The new Continental tyre was a very easy fit on this rim and a much lighter and better quality tyre and has a reflective sidewall, a great idea in theory but as I found out to my cost last year, all the lights and reflectives in the world are completely useless if a driver doesn’t bother to look where they’re going in the first place.

Brompton

I didn’t really want to go too far at this time of the evening so decided to visit Portpatrick which I had heard good things about. The direct route isn’t very far (about eight miles I think) but I decided to explore the peninsula a little and follow the coast road up Loch Ryan as much as I could so I followed the road towards the golf course and Kirkcolm. I found myself looking across at the P&O ferry sitting in port across Loch Ryan at Cairnryan. I had no particular plan and went down many small side roads, most of which ended up at dead ends and ended up being a bit lost when I met a courier delivery driver who stopped with me to ask for directions as he was trying to deliver a parcel and had got lost. I told him I had no idea where I was either which wasn’t very helpful but was the truth! I regret not taking a photo of a field full of Galloway cattle that I saw as although I saw a few others during my riding around Galloway, they were always mixed in with other breeds.

Brompton, Corse wall lighthouse.

I managed to reach Portpatrick by this indirect route although it was further and slower than I had thought like this (around thirty-five miles) but it was a nice ride, if confusing at times, and it felt good to be able to ride my bike again after Monday’s tyre problem. Portpatrick is an attractive little fishing port which dates back about seven-hundred years. It is about twenty one miles from the coast of Northern Ireland, and although sunny, it was a hazy day and I couldn’t really see it very well. Portpatrick was founded on fishing and the harbour is still the focal point of the centre of the town. It’s a very nice harbour area too. It was originally the main port for connecting with Ireland until the 1850s when Stranraer took over due to it being prone to stormy conditions in this part of the North Channel. Today, on a evening like this, I could have sat at the postcard-like harbour in the shadow of many characterful building in the evening sun and just watched the world go round. I did for a short time and ate a snack but I had to return to Stranraer but I took the main route back this time – this part of the A77 doesn’t appear to have much traffic anyway and the drivers are extremely respectful in Scotland.

Brompton, Portpatrick

Day 8: The Mull of Galloway

Mull of Galloway trail

For my last full day on the Rhins of Galloway I decided I would ride to the Mull of Galloway – Scotland’s most southernly point. I had a suggested route from a book by the publisher Collins called Cycling in South West Scotland which I had picked up in a second hand shop some time ago and had brought with me (it also provided the Burns route around Ayr which I had hoped to do). The suggested route was about forty-three miles but I decided to add to it, partly doing a lot of what I had done the evening before without the excusrions down the minor roads and a few other diversions.

Brompton

After initially going East again along Loch Ryan I would cut across the peninsula and almost back into Stranraer again before going down the west side via Lochrans towards Sandhead and then further down the coast. There is some very nice coastal scenery around here and the roads seem to be very quiet. There was a very strong headwind though so it was a very slow first or second gear grind for a lot of it but I was in no rush so it didn’t matter too much. The day wasn’t as nice as previously either as it was often quite overcast but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment. If we only cycle in perfect conditions we’d only cycle about three days per year!

Brompton

I made a detour of a mile or so to visit Kirkmadrine Chapel which houses the Kirkmadrine stones which date from the earliest days of Christianity in Scotland. The eight Kirkmadrine Stones include three of the oldest Christian memorials in Scotland, dating to the 500s AD. I was expecting to find standing stones but they have been moved behind glass to protect them from the elements but I actually found it difficult to see them in any detail due to sunlight reflecting from the glass. The church dates from the nineteenth century I think. Oddly enough, the word Kirk which I always associated with Scotland has Irish/Viking origins. There is a lot online about the history of the Kirkmandrine stones.

Kirkmadrine
Kirkmadrine Stones

I re-traced my steps to the coast road and continued on my way into the headwind, eventually reaching the Mull of Galloway. Here you will find a headland with a lighthouse. The lighthouse is interesting in itself as it is one of many around the Scottish coast designed by Robert Stevenson, the grandfather of another of Scotland’s celebrated literacy figures – Robert Louis Stevenson. Robert and his son were great lighthouse engineers. This particular one dates from 1830. The signpost informed me that I am just forty-two miles from Belfast at this point. There is a visitors’ centre which I decided I would like to have visited but wouldn’t have time as it had taken me much longer than expected to get here due to the strong winds.

Galloway lighthouse
Mull of Galloway

I ate the lunch I had taken with me in whatever shelter I could find from the wind before re-tracing my steps along the singletrack road which takes you the last few miles to the lighthouse and headland. At least the wind was behind me now but the weather was deteriorating – getting more overcast and colder. I would be taking a different route back via Port Logan before eventually re-joining part of the route I had used on the way out. There were a few climbs but nothing too serious and the coast around Port Logan is also very nice. The roads are extremely quiet here. It’s a low population area and the tourist traffic (not that I seen a huge amount of it) is on the west side of the Rhins of Galloway.

Brompton

I made a return to Portpatrick but it was very different from the previous evening as there were now no people sitting around the harbour or outside the bars and cafes. The wind had sent them all to take shelter and it was starting to rain now too. I was well and truely soaked by the time I reached Stranraer again but wasn’t too bothered as I had dry clothes waiting for me and appreciated a nice warm dinner in the Custom House bar all the more. I was pleased with today despite the weather. I had still enjoyed it, the route was a nice one and I had ocvered over seventy miles, my longest ride since before my accident so I felt pleased with that.

Portpatrick

Day 9: Home again. Haste ye back!

After a final ride along the harbour and the Agnew Park I then rode the six miles or so to the ferry port at Cairnryan along the A77 and was in good time for my sailing. It was still pretty windy and the ferry crossing was quite rough at times but fortunately I seem to have been blessed with good sea legs as being on a rough boat has never bothered me or made me sick in any way. The journey home was uneventful, again taking the train to Derry.

Brompton

I had enjoyed my week in Ayrshire, Dumfries and Galloways. Sailing on the Waverley was something very special for me. It is something I would definitely repeat given the opportunity. My cycle computer showed me that I had cycled 181 miles on Scottish soil; it should and would have been about an extra eighty or hundred miles but for the tyre issue. Considering Brompton tyres are so small, I am wondering is it worthwhile to take a spare tyre on a tour. I guess the chances of a tyre failing like that is very rare in the first place and in the UK at least I was still able to source one easily enough even if I did have to wait a few days. My Robert Burns loop and the Isle of Arran as well as the Scottish Maritime Museum and Electric Brae will have to wait until another occasion. There is also a recommended route between Stranraer and Ayr via Newtonstewart but I believe it is very hilly which is why I didn’t plan it this time as I’m still recovering from injury and I was riding a three speed. I enjoyed the Mull of Galloway and feel there is a lot more to explore there too. It’s not somewhere I would have thought of going before but it has a lot to recommend it as a cycling destination. I like taking my bike to Scotland as it’s usually possible to find quiet roads and the standard of driving is so much safer than it is at home. I’m very pleased to be able to do this at all and look forward to getting fitter and stronger and doing more long rides and a few tours in the future.

Welcome to Drummore
Agnew Park
Agnew Park
Portpatrick
Brig O' Doon
2022-06-29_03-44-30
Portpatrick
Swans, Agnew Park, Stranraer

Buses, Bromptons and paddle steamers Part I

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Brompton

Being laid up for several months gives time to think and to plan and I guess like most people, I have my list of things that I’d like to do. With a love of steam engines and old machinery in general and loving to see these great machines of the past at work, I felt I would like to sail on the P.S. Waverley. The Glasgow based paddle steamer is the last ocean going paddle steamer in the world, the final survivor of a large number of similar vessels which once plied their trade on the Firth of Clyde and other coastal areas, transporting tourists and holiday makers on pleasure cruises to scenic and hard to reach areas before private cars and foreign holidays became more affordable. A lot of hard work and fundraising has been done over the years to save the Waverley from the same fate as her sister ships which were de-commisioned and scrapped as they became expensive to repair and run in the early 1960s as falling numbers of passengers meant pleasure cruises on the Clyde were no longer profitable. The Waverley soldiered on until the early ‘70s before being sold to the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society for the price of £1 and there began a long process of finding the funds required to keep this iconic ship and piece of social history alive and carry out much needed restoration work.

I made the decision that I’d like to go Scotland to sail on the Waverley, when I began planning I needed two crutches to walk. I planned to go in June as I was working on the assumption that I would be able to walk better by then and I would be able to drive. My plan was to take the car on the ferry. I booked the ticket to sail on the Waverley for June 19th from Largs as I thought it was easier than actually going into Glasgow. I’m not really a city person.

Waverley

It has been a pleasant surprise that my recovery from injury has been such that when the time come, I am able to cycle perfectly well, perhaps not with any great speed but I can do decent distances and cycling doesn’t cause my ankle any pain whereas it does get sore if I walk around on it all day. I felt confident enough to cycle rather than take the car. This was good. It is more enjoyable to cycle than to drive (for me at least) and it also works out considerably cheaper which is an added bonus. Also because I was going to Largs and the Ayrshire coast, I knew there is a decent rail service linking the main coastal towns in the south-west of Scotland. If I really did struggle, putting the bike on the train would be an alternative.

A potential problem cropped up with the threat of rail stikes and very limited services on Britain’s rail network. The plan I had put in place required a train from Stanraer to Ayr on the first day. Looking at the timetables online showed a greatly reduced service with two early trains and one quite late. The best laid plans of mice and men… I made a last minute decision to take my Brompton as I can fold that up and put it on a bus. Thankfully, Ayrshire also has an excellent bus service. The internet makes it easy to plan rail or bus journeys in another country.

Day 1 Travelling to Ayr

The first day was pretty uneventful and even a bit tedious. I loaded the Brompton up with luggage, using the front mounted T-bag and also a saddle mounted Carradice saddle bag. The front bag probably would have held everything but I prefer to split the load a bit more evenly as I am concerned about over-loading the front luggage block of the Brompton. I’ve toured with this setup on the Brompton before and it works very well I think. The front bag removes easily and is easy to carry off the bike. It is straightforward if a bit of a fiddle to undo the leather buckles on the Carradice bag and I fit a shoulder strap to put it on my shoulder. The bike can then be folded and fitted into it’s own bag for carriage on a bus (I know Bus Eireann insist on covering folding bikes, not sure if Stagecoach in Scotland would require this but I took the bag and used it as a precaution).

Brompton

I caught an early morning train in Derry which took me to Larne Harbour with a change at Yorkgate and was in good time for my midday sailing to Cairnryan.Two hours later I was in Cairnryan. I rode the short distance to the bus stop in Cairnryan (I found out later that the buses actually go into the ferry terminal so I didn’t need to do this) and waited on my bus. It was grey, misty and drizzling rain (from the ferry it had been difficult to see the coastline due to the mist) but the forecast was for the weather to get better. Weather of course is always the potential problem but I was equipped for all weather conditions. You don’t come to Scotland (or Ireland) for it’s excellent weather. It happens, but not very often.

Larne to Cairnryan Ferry

Stagecoach service 360 took me to Ayr. The approximately fifty mile journey seems to take just a little over two hours and includes trips into many housing estates in Girvan. There is no doubt a train would have been faster and more comfortable but at £8 for the ticket, I feel it is excellent value for money and there is the added bonus that the bus goes up the A77 coast road and continues on the coast through Turnberry and on to Ayr so you get to see the Ayrshire coast and the iconic and beautiful Ailsa Craig in all it’s splendor. Not even the overcast weather could hide the natural beauty. I’ve seen it several times over the years but still am struck with awe on the approach to Girvan as Ailsa Craig comes into view. I was tempted to get off the bus for a walk along Girvan sea front and wait for a latter bus for the rest of the journey but I resisted. I really would love to cycle the A77 some day but I fear it is just too dangerous as it carries quite a lot of traffic and has many corners and hills with poor sightlines and many drivers drive faster and with less attention than they really should.

Ayr seafront

I arrived in Ayr at around a half past five. After re-assembling my bike and luggage I rode the short distance from the bus depot to the accommodation that I had pre-booked for the night. I had been to Ayr before on previous occasions and had a reasonable idea where I was going so didn’t bother looking it up on GPS. I was amazed at the respect for cyclists shown by Ayr motorists as I rode in rush hour traffic. After checking in, I had a shower and change of clothes before taking a walk along the Ayr’s famous seafront with it’s miles of golden beaches before getting something to eat and then relaxing. The drizzle and greyness had cleared and it was a nice bright evening. I was even treated to some interesting colours as the sun set.

Ayr

Day 2 – The Ayrshire Coastal Path – Ayr to Largs.

The weather forecast was right. Saturday dawned bright and sunny with the potential of being a real hot, summer’s day. After a walk along the seafront before breakfast, I packed up and prepared my bike for the road. I had planned to cycle up the coast to the seaside resort of Largs. I was planning to do it off-road if possible. Online research suggested that the northern part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path was passable by bicycle although there didn’t seem to be any offical guide lines on this. I would give it a good try anyway! The distance would be about forty miles but I had all day to do it. My first rule of cycle touring is to always try not to put yourself under pressure for time! The Ayrshire Coastal Path runs longside and sometimes joins with Sustrans National Cycle Route 7 for a large part of this journey anyway so I wasn’t expecting any problems initially but they might come later. I was really looking forward to this ride.

Ayrshire coastal path

Both NCN 7 and the Ayrshire Coastal Path are parts of much longer routes. I joined them on the seafront in Ayr as it was near where I had spent the night. Following the NCN 7 route signs from the seafront you initially have to go through the town (as you need to cross the bridge over the River Ayr) before heading north towards Newtown-on-Ayr and Prestwick before going inland for a bit and then going back to the coast at Saltcoats and on to Ardrossan.

Ayrshire coastal path

I have driven through all these places in the past and didn’t consider them particularly interesting but it is very different when you cycle. You see it differently, you have the time to see what you miss when you drive. It’s why I love cycle touring so much. In a car you are going too fast, you can’t stop on a whim as it’s not always possible to park safely, you can’t interact with the people you meet along the way. The sense of sheer ecstacy I felt as the day unfolded and I surveyed the many beautiful beaches along this route can be barely be described. I was so worried a few months ago that I might never be able to do this again. I felt such a relief to feel I was touring again.

Ayrshire coastal path

Also the realisation that it is sometimes best kept simple. It’s true the Ayrshire coast is mostly reasonably flat but today at least, it was pretty windy so slow going in places. I found the three-speed Brompton perfectly adequate. I love these bikes; the ease with which they can be folded up for transportation and storage and yet they are pretty decent to ride. In truely hilly terrain it would be different with a limited gear range but in normal terrain, I don’t find it any more difficult or tiring than a normal three-speed sports roadster with twenty-six inch wheels. They also carry luggage so well, a huge advantage that all small wheeled bicycles have. I was carrying a reasonably heavy load but it doesn’t seem to affect the handling of the bike at all. If I put this weight on the type of typical steel road frame I often ride, I’d be aware of it making the bike feel cumbersome and top heavy. With small wheels the weight is carried lower down so it doesn’t do that.

Ayrshire Coastal path

Riding a Brompton wins you friends too as people often want to know what it is. Despite being a bit windy, it was a warm sunny day and many people were out walking and cycling and if you are clearly a cycle tourist, people like to know where you’ve come from and where you’re going. Also, after two years of Covid restrictions, it is also nice to see people getting out and about and exploring again and enjoying the good weather.

Old OS mile stone.

At Irvine, you pass the Scottish Maritime Museum. I did stop for a look around although I didn’t actually go in. I just had a look at all the outdoor exhibits. Scotland, of course has a great maritime past and some of the world’s greatest ships were built on the Clyde, an area once renowned for ship building and other heavy industry including many railway locomotives and the beautiful cantilevered Forth Bridge. It may be near Edinburgh but it was made by a company in Glasgow. Steam hammers, rivetters and other tools from the shipywards are on display around the grounds and it’s fascinating to look at the sheer size of them. The Waverley would have been built using tools like these. Shipyards were dirty, noisy and dangerous places to work.

Scottish Maritime Museum
Scottish Maritime museum
Scottish Maritime museum

With my leisurely riding, sometimes unsurfaced paths and endless photo stops I was actually running later than I had planned but I was enjoying myself immensely. This was proving to be one of the most enjoyable routes I had ever done on a tour. It was mostly off-road and traffic free apart from through the towns along the coast (and the respect shown to cyclists from drivers is so different compared to the north of Ireland). I had already made my mind up to do it in the opposite direction on the return and this time to make time to visit the museum in Irvine. It wasn’t to be but I’ll come to that later.

Brompton

From West Kilbride, you leave the NCN and join another part of the Ayrshire Coastal Path which partly runs along the coast from Portencross on either very quiet roads or gravel paths before eventually following a cycle path which runs mostly along side the A78 trunk road. It is a pretty decent facility and keeps you away from the stresses and dangers of the high speed traffic on the A78, (although it didn’t seem particularly busy on this evening at least). Eventually I arrived in Largs, located the B&B I had booked before going for a walk and getting dinner in a pub. With some small diversions off my signposted route and a slight navigational error, I had covered just over fifty miles for the day so a decent day’s mileage for touring. There were no big climbs but there was a noticeable headwind for a lot of it.

Largs is a well-known seaside resort. It’s located on the Firth of Clyde and is just over thirty miles from Glasgow so has always been a popular resort for the people of Glasgow. (The growth of places like Largs and other seaside resorts as well as the popularity of cruises on boats like the Waverley started in the late Victorian period when factory workers were allowed to have a weeks holidays for the first time so in places like Glasgow where there was a huge working population, there was the demand for railways and cruise ships for recreation as people could have a holiday for the first time. We take so much for granted today.) The name Largs comes from An Leargaidh in Scots Gaelic which translates as “The Slopes.” Settlements in this area go back a long time to the Neolithic period and the town has links with the Vikings. In 1263, a battle took place between at Largs between the Vikings and the Scottish army. The battle is commemorated by the “Pencil Monument” about a mile south of the town and is built in the form of a round tower. Largs played an important part in WWII.

Pencil monument Largs

I found the modern Largs a pleasant town with many interesting buildings, a nice beach and the pier from which a ferry service operates to Great Cumbrae. The pier is also a regular berth for the Waverley (paddle steamers are difficult to dock and not every pier is suitable) which of course was the reason I came here.

I had really enjoyed this ride, I was starting to feel like a cyclist again and it’s great to be on the bike in beautiful surroundings on a clear sunny day. Nothing else gives the same feeling of freedom as cycling. After everything that has happened in the past few years with the Covid travel restrictions and then being injured it is such a great feeling to be touring again.

Largs

Day 3 – At sea – Largs to Ardrishaig

The day dawned bright, sunny but windy. It wasn’t particularly hot for the time of year but it was clear blue skies, good visibility and beautiful torquise coloured sea. I wouldn’t be boarding the Waverley until about midday so I had went for a walk after breakfast and it was lovely to see such bright weather. I had wrapped up warm though as despite appearances it hadn’t warmed up much and I was expecting it to be colder at sea.

As the time came close, I made my way to the pier. There didn’t seem to be that many people at first but suddenly there was quite a crowd and the Waverley came into view. I was surpised by how much speed it carrying, certainly much more than I expected. The docking procedure is something worth of watching. One of the downsides of paddle ships is that they can’t move themselves sideways and have poor manourverability in general so ropes need to be thrown ashore and then tied before using the winch to pull Waverley into the pier to allow boarding.

The Waverley was untied from the pier and we were now at sea. Many people quickly disappeared below deck as it was quite cold and windy but those of us of a more weatherproof nature remained on deck. Despite the strong breeze, the sea was quite calm which was good. Waverley travels very smoothly and is much faster than I was expecting. You can hear the noise of the huge 216 inch diameter paddle wheels in the water but it is soothing and rhythmic rather than annoying.

The 693 ton Waverley was built by Shipbuilder A. & J. Inglis of Glasgow (part of Belfast’s Harland and Wolff group) and named after Sir Walter Scott’s first novel. She took her maiden voyage from Craigendoran Pier to Loch Long on June 16th 1947 and was originally operated by the London and North Eastern Railway company and later the Caledonian Steam Packet Company alongside other paddle steamers called the Lucy Ashton, Jeanie Deans and Talisman which I think are all named after characters in Scott’s novels. Waverley was actually the second ship to carry the name Waverley as it was built as a replacement for the original 1899 Waverley which was sank by enemy action in 1940 during the Dunkirk evacuations with a loss of almost four hundred lives. Paddle steamers actually played and important role in both world wars as they were useful for clearing mines as they don’t sit as deep in the water as most other ships. The original Waverley and her sister ships performed this role in both World Wars as well as being used during the Dunkirk evacuations and other troop carrying duties. Today, a little brass plaque visible on the outer deck remembers the tragic fate of the original Waverley.

Waverley

Below deck you can see the beating heart of Waverley, the large triple expansion steam engine built by Rankin & Blackmore of Greenock. It is fired by oil and not coal as might be expected and runs at about 180 PSI of steam pressure. The bore of the smallest cylinder is 24“ and the engine has a stroke of 66“ It is rated at 2,100 horsepower and achieved speed trials of 18.34 Knots (approximately 21 MPH) at 57.8 RPM. Steam engines produce their maximum torque at much lower revs than internal combustion engines. It is fascinating to stand and watch the engine working and how it all operates; something you can’t see with any modern engine. You hear the clangs as instructions are telegraphed through from the bridge. The crankshaft drives both paddle wheels directly with no gearing and no differential which is the reason for the poor manouverability as the paddle wheels can’t turn independently of each other. It isn’t ideal I suppose but it works. Tthe reason these type of ships were used for coastal excursions was because they could sail in shallower water.

Back up on deck it is nice to just sit or stand and watch the scenery pass by. My Scottish geography is nowhere near good enough to name all the places we passed. I regret forgetting my binnoculars. I noted that a few other passengers were following the progress on OS Maps which would probably have been a good idea if you were interested in knowing the exact route but personally I wasn’t too bothered. Sometimes it’s nice to know exactly where you are, other times it’s nice just to admire the view without ove-rthinking it. Boat trips are a great way to see the coastline and I personally have always found being on board a boat very relaxing. I think it’s just about being able to take the time to relax, sit back and enjoy it. Like cycling, the speed on a boat is slow enough to take the time to enjoy it. On the Waverley, the large steam engine runs at very low revs and is very smooth and quiet and the noise of the paddle wheels in the water provide a relaxing rhythm in the background. It is definitely a nice experience to travel by paddle steamer and different from a modern diesel powered ship.

Waverley
Waverley
Waverley

It took about three hours to reach the small port of Adrishaig where we would be going ashore for about ninety minutes. The wind caused problems with trying to tie the Waverley up as the wind blew the ropes back to the boat and the people on the shore couldn’t catch them. The wind was also causing the boat to drift away from the pier so we had to go back and re-enter the harbour a few times but we got there eventually with perserverance.

Waverley at Ardrishaig

Ardrishaig is a nice little harbour town and it was nice to have time ashore to explore a little. I’ve been there once before when I cycled the length of the Crinan Canal as a little aside from cycling NCN 78. The name Ardrishaig is derived from the Scots Gaelic Rubha Àird Driseig which means “promontory of the small bramble.” The pier and harbour were built in 1873. There was some sort of event or market taking place in the town on our visit with stalls selling arts, crafts and some very nice food. There were pipers on the pier to meet us when we arrived and whilst we were ashore, a group of school children were taken on a trip up Loch Fyne on board the Waverley.

Ardrishaig
Ardrishaig

There was the same problems with the wind when trying to tie the ship up at the pier when they came back for us but again perserverance won the day. The return journey was made on a different route taking us past the Isle of Arran and the Kyles of Bute. The wind dropped and suddenly it was a glorious warm summer evening with many more people spending time out in the open. Below deck there is a bar and restaurant and the Sunday roast dinner I had bought earlier was very nice and very generous in terms of portions.

Waverley

The Isle of Arran looks very beautiful and I was starting to form a plan to cycle around it. I believe the distance around the coast road is about fifty or sixty miles so it’s possible as a day ride. The return journey was more peaceful without the wind and it was now possible to hear the guide over the tannoy system point out places of interest as we passed. On the way out, his voice got lost in the wind. I had had a very nice day and it was with genuine sadness that I walked ashore in Largs again and watched the Waverley steam off into the horizon.

We can reflect that on the year of it’s 75th birthday, it is a truely beautiful ship and it’s brilliant that it has survived against all the odds to hopefully give enjoyment to many more for many years to come. Perhaps rising fuel costs and climate change concerns may make flying abroad less attractive in the future and cruisers may yet again return to coastal areas. New ships will be more efficient and easier to maintain but I doubt they will have the elegance and beauty of the Waverley which dates from a time when things weren’t just functional but were designed to be beautiful to look at as well.

Waverley

My final night in Largs was a peaceful affair with a walk along the beach and putting my plans in place for the next few days. I had booked two nights in Ayr where I had hoped to visit things connected with Robert Burns but hadn’t thought much further ahead than that. I had no decided that I would cycle south along the Ayshire Coastal Path since I had enjoyed it so much on Saturday but would make time to visit the Irvine Maritime Museum for a proper look around this and I would get an early morning bus to Ardrossan with the Brompton for a trip to Arran the following day and then go in search of Burns on the Wednesday. It didn’t quite work out like that though….

Part II is here

Ayrshire coastal path
Brompton
Waverley at Ardrishaig

A Moulton Standard

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Dr. Alex Moulton 1920 – 2012

I’ve always had a special interest in small wheeled bicycles. I believe that they should be much more common than they actually are as they have many advantages over their larger wheeled cousins. They are especially good at load carrying as the smaller wheel means luggage racks can be mounted lower down so that any weight doesn’t interfere too much with the bike’s centre of gravity. This makes them good for touring and also for utility riding such as a shopping trip.

Using components of similar quality, a small wheel is stronger and is therefore less likely to buckle or suffer from broken spokes and also lighter which means it is easier to accelerate the wheel up to speed which helps to make the bike much more nimble in urban traffic. Small wheel bikes usually feel easier to ride up hills for this reason.

A small wheeled bike is also shorter overall and takes up less space to store and is much easier to carry and manouvre which is a potential benefit to people who live in terraced houses or apartments and may lack the storage for a large bike and may need to carry it up or down stairs.

The traditional diamond framed bicycle which has been around in one form or another since James Starley’s original Rover Safety Bicycle has it’s design compromised by the need to package the large 26“ – 28“ wheels normally used, especially in the smaller frames sizes and often leads to toe overlap with the front wheel. The diamond frame bike also needs to be made in a variety of sizes with different stand-over heights and top tube/reaches to suit riders of different sizes.

The reasons that large wheels have traditionally been favoured is that they tend to ride better over bumps which was an important consideration before sealed road surfaces became the normal; especially so before the invention of John Dunlop’s pneumatic tyres, and also because of the issue of gearing. The Ordinary or Penny Farthing had evolved because it allowed a higher gear for faster cruising. Starley’s use of a chain drive on his Rover Safety Bicycle allowed the same gear ratio with a wheel half the size which made it much safer and easier to ride. The development of both hub gearing and primitive derailleur systems in the early years of the twentieth century meant that it would be possible to use smaller wheels and still have a range of useful gearing.

The British engineer Dr Alex Moulton began to question the design of the traditional diamond framed bicycle in the mid to late 1950s, prompted by the Suez crisis and energy shortage, he saw the benefits of cycling over driving. He had a background in aircraft design, rubber products (which were his family business) and also suspension design. The bicycle had remained basically unchanged at that point for about seventy years and saw the potential advantages which I have listed up page in using a smaller wheel.

The potential downsides of rough ride quality he felt he could overcome with a simple rubber cone based suspension (Moulton had designed the rubber cone suspension design used in the original Austin Mini and the the later hydrolastic and hydragas systems that followed for other BMC/BL/Rover Group front wheel drive cars and the mid-engined MGF). His work on the Mini with his friend Sir Alec Issigonis highlighted the advantages of moving to a smaller wheel size and compact rubber cone based suspension in terms of freeing up a lot of space in the car’s interior. He aimed to do similar for cycle design.

Calling on his knowledge of aircraft design to create a very simple but strong frame design which was different in it’s construction from traditional lugged and brazed bicycle frames, he came up (after several other designs and prototypes) with what today is known as the F-Frame Moulton and it’s the ancestor of every other small wheeled adult bicycle that has come since such as the Raleigh Twenty, the Brompton, the Dahon and the Bike Friday.

The main advantages were the lower centre of gravity (especially when loaded), the strong, light and fast to accelerate sixteen inch wheels, the shorter overall bike length (Moulton used a very long wheelbase for the bike, partly to distinguish it from a child’s bike and I guess partly for stability and ride comfort but the small wheel size reduce the overall length of the bike), the convenient rack systems back and front for carrying luggage and also the fact that it only needed to be manufactured in one frame size which could be easily adjusted so that almost anyone could ride it comfortably. The frame was an open design too with all the strength in the in the oversized bottom tube which made it much easier and safer to mount than the diamond frame (and stronger than the typical “lady’s frame” of the time). A handle to carry it carefully located at the centre of gravity was included to make it easy to transport upstairs into apartment blocks etc. Despite what some think when they see one, the Moulton did not fold but a take apart version did appear later.

The Moulton was launched at Earls Court in 1962 and the response was overwhelming. After an early agreement with Raleigh didn’t work out he created his own factory to build the bike. Just like the Austin Mini, the Moulton bicycle became a huge fashion icon of the 1960s and the factory couldn’t build them fast enough. A subsidiary of BMC also started to build them for Moulton but there were quality issues. It quickly spawned copies like the Dawes Kingpin and the Raleigh RSW16 which although charismatic in their own way were technically inferior.

Moulton was also keen to promote the sporting potential of his small high pressure tyre combined with suspension bicycle and in December 1962, John Woodburn broke the London to Cardiff record on a Moulton Speed, the first of quite a few sporting achievements for the bike and led to the creation of the Moulton Speed 6 which was the first bike to have six speed derailleur gears. A Speed 6 is a highly prized collector’s item today. The majority of the original Moultons had the 4 speed FM version of the Sturmey Archer hub gear. Hub gears are very suited to small wheelers as it avoids running an easily damaged derailleur close to the road.

In the late 1960s, Raleigh did buy Moulton out although he remained as a consultant he continually carried out small improvements to the design, Raleigh were never really committed to the bike and pruned the range down to just a single model and sales fell away. They had there own small wheeler too in the form of the Twenty which although not as technically interesting or as good to ride was much cheaper to build and to sell and sold in big numbers. Moulton eventually ended up buying his business and patents back from Raleigh and beginning again with a much different design – the space frame – which used thin tubes to create a lighter frame. Variations of it continue in production today but second time around, Moulton concentrated on high end, higher quality rather than high volume production so they’ve never sold in the same numbers as the original F-Frame.

1964 Moulton Standard

Given my love of small wheeled bikes, a Moulton was something I’ve always wanted to own. I didn’t even care which model in a way. I had ridden ones on short rides in the past and was impressed and always fancied having one of my own to get to know it better. When the opportunity came up recently to buy a 1964 Moulton Standard at a very reasonable price, I grabbed the opportunity with both hands. It wasn’t an immaculate example as it was in regular use and had some tweaks. The bars had been replaced with mountain bike type straight bars with bar ends, the wheels had been build with Brompton alloy rims and also a square taper Brompton chainset had replaced the original cottered cranks. None of this bothered me, in fact they are very worthwhile improvements as the brakes work better on alloy rims and they are lighter and a square taper chainset is stronger, lighter and easier to service than cottered chainsets.

I picked the bike up in Ballymoney and ventured for a ride around the cycle path system in Ballymoney, including time watching trains coming and going at the station from the top of the impressive looking Sustrans bridge over the lines. It took a little time to get to grips with the gearchange as the original Sturmey Archer four speed shifter has been replaced on this bike with a friction shifter of the type usually used on derailleur systems. Gear adjustment was always very tricky and problematical on the four speed Sturmey hubs so this is possibly a better solution although it took a little practice to use it smoothly. I’m sure grinding the gears is not good for the hub!

Ballymoney Station

I was able to fit the bike into my small car without removing the wheels which was a good start and highlights one of the huge advantages of a small wheeled design. Once home I made some adjustments to the riding position and getting it to my satisfaction. Yesterday, when I had time to spare, it was time to take it for a longer ride to see what I really thought of Alex Moulton’s brainchild.

River Foyle

I had no set route but made my way through Castlefinn, Ballindrait, St. Johnston, Carrigans and eventually to Derry via the cycle path which runs along the Foyle from Carrigans on the route of a former railway line. I took a slightly different route home and had covered over sixty miles, more than I had planned but I enjoyed myself despite some heavy showers and the fact that it seems very cold for June. As the miles clocked up, my respect for the bike kept growing. It is just so comfortable and easy to ride. My average speed probably wasn’t very high but this was through sometimes very hilly terrain on a pretty stormy day and I am also not as fit as I was. I was very happy with the ride and how I felt afterwards and the bike exceeded all my expectations. It just highlights my point that small wheeled bikes should be more common.

1964 Moulton Standard

I enjoyed the route too, on mostly pretty quiet roads with enough gradient to keep it interesting. I always like riding the path along the river Foyle too. It’s always nice to get completely away from traffic. I did go over the Peace Bridge to Ebrington Barracks in Derry and I think it’s great that Derry has all this shared space away from motor vehicles for people to enjoy walking or cycling.

Derry peace bridge

I am definitely very happy with my purchase and very impressed with the design of the bike. I feel it is one of those things like the original Ferguson tractor that was just brilliantly conceived and every aspect of the design was considered and pretty much perfected. You can see this by the “carry handle” that is included in the frame between the seat tube and the main chassis member right at the centre of gravity. Pick the bike up using it and just feels so well balanced in your hand and easy to carry like that. Compare it to how awkward it can be to carry a normal bike. I also found that many random people I met along the way wanted to know what the bike was and where I got it from, clearly the design of it was such that sixty years later, it is still catching people’s attention and piquing their interest. I was trying to decide whether or not I prefer it to my Brompton but it’s not fair to answer that as they appeal in different ways. I do think it’s fair to say though that if the Moulton hadn’t been designed, then the Brompton probably wouldn’t have been created either.

Moulton at Raphoe Castle

I think something that needs to be said regarding the F-Frame Moulton (and also applies to the Brompton to a certain extent) is that it needs time to acclimatise to them and like any other suspension bike, they need to be ridden with a smooth, circular pedalling action to get the best out of them. Otherwise the tendency is to bounce up and down. (This is true of any bike anyway but a bike with suspension will make poor pedal technique much more obvious, as will a fixed wheel bike). I knew that before hand as I had ridden one before but only for short distances. What came to my attention during yesterday’s ride is how good a Moulton actually works in practice. On a short ride, it seems okay, a little weird but nothing special, yet as the miles build and I get a feel for it, my respect continued to grow for it. You stop even noticing the suspension. It just all feels very smooth, even on the often poorly surfaced minor roads that I was riding on.

Now I find myself hankering after a spaceframe Moulton….

The Meenglass
1964 Moulton Standard
1964 Moulton Standard
1964 Moulton Standard
1964 Moulton Standard
Tree sculpture

A Short Tour

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Lough Beagh

Thankfully my recovery has continued without any issues. I will have a further checkup in September but all seems to be okay apart from some residual stiffness. I was told at my last checkup in March that my recovery is about six months ahead of schedule which was put down to my high level of fitness pre-accident. I have been gradually building up activity levels although I am still being careful as I was told not to overdo it by the surgeon and certain activities like running, jumping, skipping or even walking on uneven ground are still out of bounds although my physiotherapist was insistent that the fracture couldn’t be displaced now. Not overdoing it is such a vague term but I am pretty active most days. Indeed, if I sit around my ankle gets really stiff and is always stiff first thing in the morning. It seems to be easier to keep moving.

I have built my cycling up to a reasonable level and cycle about one hundred miles most weeks, sometimes more although it all fairly gentle riding spinning low gears. I am at least starting to lose some of the weight I put on when I was laid up and doing it doesn’t seem to cause my ankle any problems. I had done several rides of forty or fifty miles in length so felt maybe I could venture on a short tour and the June bank holiday weekend with a good forecast seemed a good time to do so. I had happy memories of last year with a trip to west Donegal and staying in a very nice campsite in Crolly called Sleepy Hollows (which I would happily recommend) so decided to got here again.

Glenveagh Bridal Path

I would only be going for Sunday night as I had something else I needed to do on the Saturday so there would not be time for the Arannmore Island trip this time but two days was probably enough for now to see how I would get on with a loaded bike. The camping equipment I have is not ideal for cycle-touring as it’s bulkier and heavier than the more expensive equipment that the committed back-packer or cycle tourist would choose but it’s adequate for my needs as I usually find covered accommodation for longer trips anyway and i can work with it for an overnight or weekend trip. I also elected to take a folding camping chair that I have. It’s very light but bulky but with a dodgy ankle, comfort has become important to me now.

Leaving Letterkenny, I followed one of my usual routes to Churchill along lightly trafficked roads and on to the birthplace of St. Columbkille where I can join the bridal path to Glenveagh. It’s probable that it would be faster to cycle on the longer but well-surfaced road rather than the gravel path but I just find it nice and peaceful to get away from traffic for a few miles with the added benefit of beautiful mountain and lakeside scenery. I actually left later than I had originally planned as the day was so hot and I didn’t really want to ride in the strong mid-day sun and my fair Celtic skin doesn’t like a lot of sunlight. From Glenveagh I turned right on to the R250 to make my way to Gweedore. It’s a faster road than I like really but there aren’t many other options for roads in this part of Donegal. I’ve never found it a bad road to cycle on though. It’s wide and drivers tend to give a lot of space.

Dunlewey

It also passes some of my favourite vantage points in the entire county. I never grow tired of the views across Lough Dunlewey and The Poisoned Glen with the derelict church deep down the valley at the lakeshore and also the views of Errigal as it stands solitary and dignified, soaring over 2,500 feet into the sky. I hope my ankle will recover well enough to allow me to climb it again as the views are spectacular from the top. For now I will just have to be content with enjoying the views from the roadside.

Errigal

It is necessary to join the N56 but traffic wasn’t too heavy and the road is wide. If I had left earlier as originally planned I probably would have taken a less direct route along the coast via Bunbeg but I was running later and riding at a true tourist’s pace (which is best to take everything in. Racing around on tour is silly in my opinion). The N56 is nice too, especially now at this time of year with so many different colours, the bogs, rivers, lakes and the ever-present Errigal in the background. Being laid up for a time has renewed my appreciation of the beauty of the natural world. Time spent cycling through beautiful surroundings is always quality time. You miss out on so much if you travel by car.

Gweedore, Co. Donegal

There’s quite a bit of climbing around here as you are passing through the Derryveagh Mountains but it’s mostly gradual so didn’t cause me any problems. Today was notable for the absence of any kind of wind, not even a gentle breeze – very unusual for this road but on such a warm, sunny day the heat was stifling. As you pass through Crolly (the home of the famous Crolly Dolls – it seems an unlikely place to build a toy factory but it was a thriving industry once), you can see the embankment above the level of the village where the Letterkenny to Burtonport railway once travelled. I hope that one day that all of this former Londonderry and Lough Swilly Railway Company line will be opened as a greenway. Some parts of it around Creeslough and Falcarragh as well as at the Burtonport end have already been worked on.

Annagry, Co. Donegal

Just outside Crolly I turned off the N56 on to the road which leads to Annagry and Carrickfinn. The Sleepy Hollows campsite is located on a small side road but I continued until Annagry first and bought some supplies in the shop there before going to the campsite to check in. I had covered approximately forty miles. The weather was still amazing and the campsite was less busy than I thought it would be. I had thought that there would have been live music in nearby Leo’s Tavern which is one of Donegal’s most famous music venues with connections to many of the famous artists that originated in the area like Enya, Clannad and Daniel O’Donnell but they haven’t started live music yet as things are still recovering from Covid. At the campsite I met a very interesting Swiss couple who had travelled from Switzerland via France, Belgium, England and Wales to Rosslare and then around the South and West coast of Ireland and would be going to Larne and to Scotland before making their way back to Dover on motorcycles. It would certainly be a interesting and varied road trip and one that was taking a lot of time as they were properly exploring and covering modest mileage each day. It was nice to talk to people sitting around the campfire on this warm evening although the dreaded midges were to put in an appearance.

Camp fire

I had a peaceful night’s sleep. This is a peaceful area where you can hear the birds, etc and it’s a very well run campsite. I went for an early morning stroll along the path that leads from the campsite along the river bank before breakfast and packing everything up. This is the downside of cycle-camping of course. It’s so much easier just to hand the key to the receptionist as you leave but there are other advantages apart from the cost. It’s nice to pare life back to it’s bare essentials sometimes and to leave the hustle and bustle of the modern, busy world behind and there are few simpler pleasures than waking up out in nature on a nice morning. Of course, in Ireland the weather isn’t always like this…

My plan for today was to return via different route. I would cycle along the coast via Carrickfinn and Burtonport to Dungloe and then veer inland via Doochary and back to Letterkenny. It would be a longer day and a tougher day in terms of gradient but I felt I could do it. It didn’t seem to be as unbearably hot as it was the previous day either. From the campsite I made my way towards Carrickfinn, where you find one of the nicest beaches to found in the country and you also pass Donegal Airport, often voted to be the most scenic airport in the world and I can see why that would be the case. I really must try to fly into the airport some day just to see this area from the sky.

Carrickfinn Airport

I went for a walk along the beach which was practically deserted apart from a few early morning dog walkers. I decided I wouldn’t have the time today but it is also worth visiting the Boat Strand which is a few miles further on and is truely stunning. From Carrickfinn I then made my way to Ballymanus Strand which is another nice beach. There is a monument to the person killed here when a mine washed up on the beach in 1943.

Ballymanus Strand

I carried on the coast road to Kincasslagh and visited Cruit Island, a small and scenic island with a landbridge to the mainland and it’s always worth a visit. I didn’t spend too much time there as I had further to go but there are a few small roads on the island that deserve further exploration.

Cruit Island

From Cruit Island I made my way to Burtonport. This is where you can catch the ferry to Arannmore Island, something well worth of doing for a day trip. With so many stops it had taken me a long time to cover the twenty-five miles or so between the campsite and Burtonport. I had something to eat in the Harbour Cafe before continuing on my way to Dungloe. I used part of the Railway walk route from Burtonport to where it joins the road again. This is a route which follows the old railway line.

Dungloe

Dungloe or An Clochán Liath is main town in the Rosses area of Donegal. The modern town developed in the mid eighteenth century. The proper Irish name of the town – An Clochán Liath translates as the “grey stepping stone” and is a reference to the grey granite stone which lies in the river bed and was the only crossing point until the bridge was built in 1782. Today the town is an important shopping town in the area and also a popular tourist destination and the Mary from Dungloe festival has become a popular annual event. Given that it was a bank holiday weekend I would have expected this area along the coast to have been much busier but perhaps more people would be out and about in the afternoon. The roads had all been very quiet.

Dungloe, Co. Donegal.

From Dungloe I re-joined the N56 but there is now a seperate cycle path that runs alongside the busy national primary route. This has been an ongoing thing as the road has been upgraded and improved, the cycle path has been developed alongside it. I had ridden part of it a bit further south a few years ago and found the surface ridiculoulsy rough, even when riding two-inch wide mountain bike tyres but I have to say this newer part of the cycle route is much better executed. I guess they’re learning as they go along and listening to feedback. It is still a great facility and avoids the problems of ridng on high-speed main roads or else taking time-consuming detours on to often hilly and indirect minor roads which is a pleasant way to cycle for the tourist who isn’t in a hurry but not helpful to someone who is riding for utility purposes and has somewhere to go in a reasonable time frame.

A few miles south of Dungloe I turned onto the R252 for Doochary. I have always liked riding this road. It takes you through some very remote areas before reaching the remote Rosses village of Doochary and then going on to Finntown. It does have quite a lot of climbing though as it’s a mountainous region and the final few miles before reaching the village has a very sharp descent going around many hairpin like bends. This is known as the “Corkscrew” and definitely somewhere where you need good brakes. Thankfully the cantilever brakes on my Townsend mountain bike are up to the job. Cantilevers can be a challenge to set up initially but they do work very well once set up.

Doochery, Co. Donegal

In Doochary, I turned off the R252 and on to the R254 which would take me to Churchill. Just leaving the village you can see the famed salmon fishing river for which Doochary is famed. The R254 is one of my favourite cycling routes and it was such a joy to be well enough to ride it again. Mostly all single track and lightly trafficked (and what traffic there is is likely to be slow moving or have four legs and woolly coat) it snakes it way alongside a mountain crossed by many small streams and waterfalls as water cascades down the mountain side and there is a lot of bogland and a few small lakes.

Townsend BX-40

It is quite steep though as you ride through the Derryveagh mountains and at the high point you can see down into the deep glen of the Glenveagh Estate with Lough Beagh in the distance. It is possible to ride the gravel path which leads to the castle but I was feeling tired now and I didn’t really fancy the very steep parts of the loosely-surfaced path on a loaded bike so I continued on.

I detoured briefly through the Gartan Estate on the shores of Lough Gartan before making my way back home on minor roads. I had covered around one hundred miles over the two days, the second day was definitely tougher and I felt tired afterwards. I guess my fitness still isn’t what it was prior to the accident but it was a hilly route on a loaded bike and I had a strong headwind all the way from Dungloe which made it into an eight miles per hour slog at times; even on the flat. Over the years I have come to the conclusion that there is actually a strong mental element to cycle touring; you need a reasonable level of physical fitness and stamina but you also need the mental strength to keep going when the conditions are tough such as when met with a strong headwind.

I really enjoyed my little overnight trip to the Rosses and I feel much happier having got one small tour under my belt since recovery from my injuries. I know I was lucky with the weather but I enjoyed it immensely: the mountains, the bogs, the sea, the loughs and rivers, the vivid colours of the Irish landscape on a clear summer’s day and also the friendliness of the people I encountered along the way. Cycle touring is a great way to meet people as people are often interested in what you are doing and how far you are going. There is so much of interest and beauty all around us and many people are in too much of a hurry to see it. I am lucky to have such a beautiful coastal region within cycling distance and the added advantage that it’s rarely excessively busy. If I had been somewhere like the Dingle or the Ring of Kerry on a bank holiday weekend I would have had considerably more traffic to deal with. I am looking forward to my next tour which should be very soon.

Cruit Island
Annagry, Co. Donegal
Cruit Island

Recuperation

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Brompton

It is true that we don’t always appreciate the small things and that we aren’t always grateful enough for what we have got until it has been taken away. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been blessed with good health and have enjoyed a high level of physical activity. I’ve never really been driven by goals in terms of what I wanted to achieve but I’ve always been active, have enjoyed being out and about in all weathers; over the years just being out in nature has given me a lot of genuine enjoyment. It was therefore, very difficult to adjust to being laid up. and spending over two months pretty much house-bound. My ankle was broken in several places following the accident and my left leg now contains a substantial piece of metalwork and quite a few screws. The driver who drove into me has been charged with careless driving which does at least restore some faith in the justice system in this country but there is much more needs to be done to educate drivers to respect cyclists. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure as the old saying goes. Most people are fine but there is a subsection of self-entitled drivers who have zero respect for anyone else and there is also very little in the way of road policing.

It was with some relief to have had the plaster cast removed and being told I can begin to slowly start weight bearing and to work with the physiotherapist on restoring flexibility. I will probably never regain full flexibility in that ankle and I’ve been told it is likely my ankle will always be slightly swollen and I will always have the scars from the operation. Even so, considering the severity of the injury, I have made good progress and have been walking several miles every day (albeit slowly compared to how I used to walk and still with a limp) and have been slowly starting to cycle again. I have been told that my recovery is about four or five months ahead of schedule which is put down to my high level of fitness prior to the injury.

I haven’t been given the go-ahead yet to fully resume normal activities but walking on smooth surfaces where there is little chance of injuring my ankle again is okay and cycling is actually recommended since it is non-weight bearing. Early on in my recovery the physiotherapist had me starting to use the exercise bike and I bought a cheap turbo trainer on her advice to use at home. I set it up with my flat bar Raleigh Vitesse in the shed and I did use it, half an hour every morning and occasionally in the evening as well. I did find it helpful to my ankle and it was good to take some cardio exercise again but I have to say I never fell in love with it. I yearned for the open road. As soon as I got approval with the medics to ride on the road again, the turbo trainer was forgotten. I don’t think stationary cycling is for me…someday soon I must remove my Vitesse from the turbo and take for it a ride on the road where it belongs…

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I started with a short one mile ride on the Brompton and have gradually been building it up but trying not to overdo it. In fact I am surprised how well I feel on the bike despite the long lay up and the weight I have put on but I am wary of doing too much. I was told to do it little and often and not risk some sort of overuse injury. I actually feel I could go and do fifty miles but it’s probably not advised. I’ve stuck with the Brompton for now as it’s easy to ride and suits leisurely cycling. I’m not worried about speed or anything at the moment. I just want to turn the pedals for now and exercise my ankle and hope the flexibility improves further.

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In some ways I’ve found the mental health impact of the injury has been more difficult to deal with than the physical injury. It does take away confidence. As I started getting out and about again there is always the worry that I am doing too much or doing something that risks causing further injury. I still remember how terrifying it seemed after I had had my plaster cast removed and was fitted with a support boot at the hospital and told to walk across the floor with crutches but putting weight on my injured leg – the first time in about three months. I was actually scared to put it on the floor at all. Even now when I can walk without crutches I still feel the need to carry one on longer walks and I’ve left it behind me in places on several occasions which proves I don’t actually need it but I feel happier with it. It hasn’t helped that the Orthopedic consultant tells me to be careful yet and don’t put too much pressure on it whereas the physiotherapist is encouraging me to do more. The physio tells me to stand on the pedals cycling uphill for example to build my muscles again but that would be going against the advice of the consultant. It’s hard to know what to do really. I’ve found it hard to get back to normal in other ways too as I often feel self-conscious about limping around the place or going out in public or where there are crowds as I had bad experiences in my early days on crutches as a tiny minority of selfish people show zero respect and push past you on pavements etc.

I had concerns about being confident enough to cycle on the roads again following being knocked off by a car but I haven’t found that a problem. I just feel so pleased to have my freedom back again and look forward to extending distances and slowly getting back to normal. I still shy away from the hilly routes I used to favour but am slowly starting to feel more confident about them. My fixed wheel Raleigh Pioneer which is the bike I was riding when the collision happened has been repaired for me by the local bike shop at the expense of the driver who hit me but I haven’t even looked at it. I would not feel happy riding fixed wheel or even anything with clips and straps until I have been given the go-ahead from the Orthopedic consultant to resume normal activities. Perhaps I’m just being over-cautious.

Brompton

Over the past month or so I have gradually built up a bit from my initial one mile ride and regularly do around ten miles most evenings now; combined with a three mile walk every morning. I even fitted in a weekend away in Westport as I was determined to make use of the double bank holiday weekend at St. Patrick’s Day. It was nice to see somewhere different after being largely housebound for three or four months. I did visit Kylemore Abbey (by car)and seen round the house and grounds and enjoyed my day and I was pleased that I was able to comfortably complete the eight Kilometre signposted hiking route in the estate as well as walk all over the walled gardens and grounds. It really is worth a visit as there are many beautiful things to see and a lot of history. The whole area is also stunningly beautiful and I love riding here. I might plan a more detailed tour of Connemara when I’m able and I will write more about Kylemore Abbey and it’s history.

Kylemore Abbey
Gothic Church, Kylemore Abbey
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The following day I did cycle. I took the Brompton along the Greenway. I had planned to only go as far as I felt comfortable with and possibly get the bus back to town again if necessary but it wasn’t necessary. I didn’t quite go as far as Achill but did go beyond Mulranny, and I did cycle back again to Westport again too so felt happy with myself as it was by far and away my longest ride since the accident; a distance of about forty miles although mostly pretty flat as it’s along a disused railway line. I never grow tired of the views of Clew Bay from along the Westport Greenway, especially the later sections around Mulranny and Achill Sound.

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When I go home again it gave me the confidence to start riding further and I did do a thirty mile ride involving some climbing on Sunday and as mentioned, I do around ten most evenings. The weather has been so nice and sunny lately and i have got into the habit of cycling a local loop of around ten miles and stopping at Beltany Stone Circle to watch the sun set. It involves a very short, steep climb which I still walk but otherwise causes no problems and I enjoy the sense of piece and serenity of just watching the sun set. I love the sense of mystery that the likes of the stone circle creates as we don’t fully understand why it was built but it’s probable that it had spiritual and religious significance. It’s easy to understand why they picked this spot to build it and I like the fact that it’s not widely known so it never gets many visitors so we locals can enjoy the serenity and the views.

Brompton
Sunset at Beltany Stone Circle
Sunset at Beltany Stone Circle
Sunset at Beltany Stone Circle

I’m pleased with my progress and look forward to extending my riding distances and maybe being able to plan a few simple tours – something I thought I wouldn’t be able to contemplate at this stage. It also amazed how much enjoyment is found from just walking or cyling (outdoors!) and being aware of nature and all it’s beauty. People are in too much of a hurry and miss out on so much. I thought that before my accident and I am even more aware of it now.

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Ballycroy, Co. Mayo.
Doolough Valley
Kylemore Abbey
Gothic Church, Kylemore Abbey
Brompton

A GOLDEN AGE OF CYCLING

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A sort of book review and the random ramblings of a laid up and frustrated cyclist.

In all things, many enthusiasts look for what they see as a golden age. Perhaps what they remember from their youth when everything seemed so simple and carefree. Perhaps some other time, based on tales told by their elders. Perhaps some period in the past of great change when people’s idols were active such as people will look at the music of The Beatles and other 1960s pop groups as a period of great creativity in the music world. Did any of these golden periods ever really exist or are we looking through the rose-tinted spectacles?

1951 Rudge

When was the golden age of cycling? It’s very difficult to answer that question as it’s so subjective. Again for many it will resort back to what we remember from our youth when the summer days were long, sunny and carefree.

I have rarely ridden a bike and not enjoyed the experience. I never grow tired of the feeling of freedom and the open road. Henry Ford and the monster that he created has ingrained the thoughts in people’s mind that a car gives you freedom. It can do but in a limited way. Cars cost a small fortune to keep on the road, cause traffic congestion and come complete with a load of legislation for their use. They are responsible for over a hundred deaths per year in this small country alone. They never give that feeling of adventure (especially as they have become more sophisticated over the years) or the connection to your surroundings as you travel. Ride a bike and you can escape the traffic jams, the noise, the pollution, the stress of driving and enjoy true freedom and the feeling of being at one with your surroundings. By travelling more slowly you can appreciate the beauty of nature and notice things you will speed past in a car. You can stop on whim to look at something that interests you whereas it’s not always safe to stop in a car without somewhere to park it properly. The best of it is that it costs so little money to enjoy cycling. Any bike of reasonable quality, correctly maintained and which fits and is adjusted properly to suit the rider and has suitable gear ratio(s) will give every enjoyment. One of my pet hates is the way cycle magazines, etc push the idea that you need to spend thousands on bikes and gear. If you aim to race, then it may be so but for utility, leisure or touring riding virtually any practically designed bike will work.

Connemara

The thing that spoils cycling today and I guess makes many look back with nostalgia at times past is the volumes of traffic that is frequently encountered nowadays in many places. It’s not even about the volume of traffic; it’s more to do with the aggressive attitude and sometimes open hostility that a small but sizeable minority of drivers have towards cyclists and the apparent apathy of the government to do anything much about it and the attitude of many is that it is cyclists who make the road dangerous! Cycling in heavy traffic can be nerve-wrecking at best and sometimes downright dangerous. A common comment I get from many people I meet when out cycling is that they’d love to ride but are scared of the traffic. I perfectly understand why someone would think that. I think this is sad and needs to change.

It’s why I tend to avoid the main roads and seek out the quiet roads. One of the good things about most parts of Ireland is that there is an abundance of minor roads which have very little traffic and offer an enjoyable cycling experience. There are never any guarantees with anything though and I write this whilst recovering from a badly broken ankle sustained when a driver decided not to bother stopping at a STOP sign at a junction and hit me side on and claimed he didn’t see me. It’s not that he didn’t see me but that he failed to even bother to look but sadly this blasé attitude towards the safety of cyclists and pedestrians is prevalent in Irish society with little political will to change it.

It’s why it’s nice to cycle somewhere traffic free like my trips in September along the Royal Canal and the Westport Greenway. It’s why it’s very easy to look back to times before the automobile took over our roads as the possible golden age of cycling. I sometimes think one of the reasons why I like to use and restore old bikes is that when I look at a vintage bike it conjures up images of open roads and less rushed way of life. I look at modern carbon bikes and find them ugly but also they are built purely for racing or wannabe racing and not suitable for the sort of cycling I want to do.

1951 Rudge alongside River Roe

I like reading books on cycling, it’s history or other people’s stories about their own tours. I while back I bought a book called “A Golden Age of Cycling (A gentleman’s adventure on two wheels” written by Shaun Sewell and I have read it while resting my broken ankle. It is based on the diaries of a keen cyclist called Charles James Pope who seems to have kept journals of his tours and other rides in the period 1924 – 1933; in other words a potential golden age of cycling when bikes had improved enormously from early efforts but traffic levels would have been a tiny fraction of what they are today and the speed of cars then would have been much slower. Having a huge SUV driven by an impatient driver come and breathe down your neck on a single track road is intimidating due to the sheer size of the thing alone. An Austin Seven or Morris Eight would be much less frightening. Of course there was no driving test and the standard of driving would have much worse than today in many cases and cars had poor lights and poor brakes and people happily drove whilst drunk.

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Charles Pope was born in Hammersmith in 1879. In the years following his service in the first world war, it seems he caught the cycling bug and fell in love with using his bicycle to escape the stress of his life in the hustle and bustle of London behind him and escape to explore rural England and Wales (and trips to the Scottish Highlands and Germany, Austria and Switzerland are also documented). His cycling was simple – a rain cape, a large-scale map and the CTC handbook with it’s list of cyclist friendly guesthouses was all he needed. It’s obvious he didn’t approve of the way England was changing as roads and bridges were being changed to make them more suitable for cars and higher speed traffic and things like petrol stations were starting to pop up in every village. He does seem to have held cars and their drivers in contempt.

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Because so few people in Ireland cycle-tour nowadays I often feel people are surprised but impressed that I have cycled long distances on my own carrying luggage and moving from place to place. In the interwar years it would have been very different as so many people used a bike as their only mode of transport and many people used it to explore. We take ease of travel for granted now but before the bicycle many people never left the area they were born in. Charles Pope would have been one of many and it’s obvious from his diary that he met many other touring cyclists as he travelled around.

I really enjoyed reading this book and the account it gave of a bygone way of life; one that I in some ways have inadvertently tried to re-create for myself! Riding for the sake of riding, riding to explore – not riding just purely to achieve stats on some GPS tracking device thing. Riding a normal bicycle in normal clothes, visiting places of beauty and stopping in quaint villages for tea and cake or pint of ale. Unfolding the map and wondering where to go next. Having the time to talk to the strangers on the roadside. Just getting on with it without complaint regardless of weather or the difficulty of the terrain.

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He doesn’t say a huge amount about his bicycle other than it was a Merlin. A quick search online hasn’t given much if anything on this manufacturer but I will investigate more. He had gears. One of the photographs shows the bike and I would describe it as a cable-braked sports roadster. There seems to be a a toptube gear changer on it so it would suggest Sturmey Archer or BSA hub gear. He talks about his low gear of 49“ so it was geared higher than I would have chosen but he was probably more prepared to walk up hills. I do have really low gears on my Townsend which I usually tour on nowadays but sometimes it gets to the point where it’s more efficient to get off and walk. It depends on the length of the climb and amount of luggage. You can do a lot with just a Sturmey Archer AW if you gear it properly and know how to use it to best advantage.

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More than anything else it shows what can be done. On a simple three speed bicycle of the type that people today would say would only be suitable for riding a mile or two to the shop he often clocked up more than a hundred miles per day, often at a decent enough average speed. Remember that in that era, very few roads in Britain would have had a sealed surface which makes his distances and speeds when he needed to hurry all the more respectable.

If you read all the cycling press today you would be eating all sorts of special diets and relying on energy gels to do those distances. Charles seems to have fuelled himself mostly on beer, bread and cheese – most diary entries seems to refer to stopping at pubs for beer, bread and cheese.

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I definitely enjoyed the book but I think it would be more enjoyable for someone who was familiar with the places he was writing about. Some I have been to but I have never been to Wales and don’t know large parts of England. It’s great that he kept this record for future generations to read and to understand what cycling was like in that period. It’s not clear why he stopped his diary in 1933 but it’s possibly because he got married at that point although he did continue cycling. Sadly his contempt towards the motor vehicles that were changing the England he knew and loved for the worse (in his opinion) were to prove prophetic as he was sadly a victim of a hit and run accident in 1951 which ended his life.

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As I sit here with my leg resting on cushions following an operation to put plates on my ankle I look forward to when I can ride again so I can once again ride the routes and visit the places dear to me and to look forward to a tour somewhere to experience something new. If possible, I will probably do a tour somewhere on a vintage three speed in memory of Charles Pope. Right now I really do miss the autumn rides in glorious Technicolor.

1951 Rudge Roadster
1951 Rudge - River Finn

Lough Eske

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I had been experimenting a few times this year with rides towards Barnesmore in the Bluestack mountains and various routes to get there via Meenglass and from Castlederg. I did write about one previous such ride touching on Trusk Lough, Meenglass and various points along the former CDR-JC railway line which passed through the gap on it’s way from Strabane to Doengal Town. I also did a further ride early in September on my Viscount where I rode through the Gap and then via minor roads to Laghey and then back again on the other side of the mountains. This was an interesting ride and the terrain and the scenery is good and the roads quiet but on the day I did it, the weather turned out to be really horrible and I didn’t get to photograph it as I’d have liked so I intend to do this again in the future with better weather and better planning as I made it up as I went along that day and managed to get hopelessly lost in a remote area in a torrential downpour. I still enjoyed the ride though!

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I was also interested in routes along Lough Eske, a tranquil and picturesque like near to Donegal town itself and I could also tie into another railway theme as the “Drumboe,” one of the surviving steam locomotives from the Donegal Railways was being returned to the former Donegal Station House, now used as a museum to Donegal’s railways. The weather also looked promising for my day trip.

I cycled through the maze of minor and pretty much traffic-free routes that climb away from Ballybofey and the Finn Valley towards Trusk Lough and Castlederg. It is hilly but this is some great cycling terrain that I have only really started to explore quite recently despite growing up reasonably local to it. There are so many roads, I am still working out which goes where and often confuse myself and get slightly lost. At many places you can see the remains of the railway infrastructure where the road crosses over the former railway line. I really wish Donegal County Council would get their act together and convert this old line into the type of cycleway that have proved so popular and attracted many tourists in Mayo, Waterford and other places where abandoned railways have been converted into cycleways

I like Trusk Lough, it’s not a very large lake, used as a drinking water supply and is peaceful and has gravel tracks laid along a lot of the perimeter for people to walk and many people come here to walk their dogs. If there aren’t many pedestrians, as was the case today, I take the liberty of riding the lakeshore paths. This is what I like about using this old mountain bike as it is very adaptable and can be ridden on most surfaces as it’s got low pressure two inch wide tyres.

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From Trusk lough the landscape becomes more isolated and bleak in a way and Barnesmore Gap starts to come into view. I love the terrain around here – the high mountains with the glacial-cut pass going through them, the blanket bogland, the rivers, streams and Lough Mourne although today I wouldn’t be passing Lough Mourne. This part of the road is part of the Northwest Passage cycle route and it does use the main Sligo bound N15 for a few miles through the gap itself. I generally prefer not to ride on National Primary Routes but there is a large and generous hard should here to use as a cycle lane so you don’t need to mix with the cars but it’s never that pleasant to cycle due to the noise of the traffic.

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As you ride through the gap you can see the raised embankments where the narrow-gauge line ran alongside the road to your left as you go west. The line operated between 1882 and 1959. You also can see the stone artwork which shows all the placenames of Donegal as they were recorded in 1835.

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From there, you continue a few more miles before reaching Biddy’s O’ Barnes which could probably be considered one of Donegal’s most famous public houses and dates back to the eighteenth century. There are stories that claim the pub is haunted. It was originally a coaching inn where travellers could find refreshment and rest their horses and it has remained a popular stopping place for travellers ever since. I saw no reason to break a two hundred year old tradition and stopped and bought a sandwich and a drink at the bar and enjoyed it alfresco. Cyclists need rest and fuel just as much as horses!

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Shortly after leaving Biddy’s you cross the N15 and take a minor road which will take you into Donegal Town if you follow the Northwest Passage signs. I however had elected to go the longer route around the shores of Lough Eske. Lough Eske (from Loch Iasc – the lake of the fish) is small lake northeast of Donegal Town and is around nine hundred acres in size. The powerful O’Donnell clan had a stronghold on a small lake on the lough, part of which still remains. Following the Flight of the Earls (when the last of the Gaelic Chieftains fled Ireland), the land in this area was granted to Sir Basil Brooke during the Ulster Plantations. Brooke rebuilt and extended Donegal Castle but another manor house was also constructed on the shores of the lough by the Scottish Planters. In the mid nineteenth century, this manor house was re-designed as fine Elizabethan style mansion. It was the work of the Derry- based architect Fitzgibbon Louch at the request of Thomas Young. It is this building which is known as Lough Eske Castle and has been put to use as a very exclusive hotel, certainly way beyond my means but as I discovered, I could go and cycle around the grounds. The castle and gardens are very impressive and I noted that they seem to provide modern hub-geared Pashleys for guests to cycle around the grounds on.

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From Lough Eske castle I cycled the final few miles into Donegal Town. I didn’t actually go into the town centre on this occasion as I didn’t need to as the old railway station was my target destination. The two storey former railway station was built in 1889 and remained in use until 1959. Today it is used as a railway museum. It has always been something on my to-do list to visit it. It wouldn’t be open properly to the public today however but my main reason for this trip was to see the home-coming of the Drumboe. The engine dates from 1907 and like it’s sister engine “Meenglas” was named after the homes of former chairmen of the CDR company. CDR-JC had displayed forward thinking in the pioneering use of diesel powered railcars for most of their passenger services and the end of the 1940s the steam locomotives were only used for freight or occasional special excursion passenger trains. Some of the other locomotives had been taken out of service by then but Drumboe had been given an overhaul and would remain in service until the cessation of all CDR-JC railway services on 31st December 1959. The Drumboe would pull the final train service to ever run on Donegal’s once extensive narrow gauge railway network when it made it’s final journey from Strabane to Stranorlar at 8:30PM on 31st December 1959.

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I believe it was used in lifting the tracks and sleepers as the railway line was lifted. Most of the rolling stock was bought by an American collector but shipping it to America was to prove expensive and problematical so Drumboe slowly deterioriated in the former Strabane station until the late 1980s before being donated to the railway museum. It was taken away to Whiteabbey for refurbishment and refit and is now restored to a standard that it could be put back into steam. Hopefully one day, funding will allow the this to happen and for some tracks to be laid for it to run on. There is no doubt it is a beautiful engine, so bright and colourful in the birght red of the CDR railway company. It is amazing the crowds of people, young and old who had come to see it being lifted into to place by a large crane. I believe it weighs in the region of fifty tons. People had also been checking it’s progress on the journey here the previous day using the museum’s Facebook page and going to see the lorry which transported it. It’s strange how no other method of travel has ever been so romanticised as the era of the steam railway.

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I made my way home again, mostly using the same route that I had used to get here. I would liked to have used the same route I had used on the Viscount on the other side of the mountains a month earlier but I had spent far more time than intended around the grounds of Lough Eske Castle and also looking at Drumboe. Now into October, daylight would be against me so I took the shorter, faster option. A further option would be to go via Pettigo and Lough Derg but that would take even longer. These are options for rides that could be done in longer days. I had enjoyed this ride, a total of just over seventy miles completed seeing lakes, rivers, mountains, bogs, castles and steam locomotives. There is a lot more to do locally than many people realise.

Unfortunately a few days after completing this ride I was knocked off my bike by a driver who failed to stop at a junction and am currently recovering from a badly broken ankle so it could be quite some time before I am able to do any more cycle touring but I look forward to when I can ride again, I would actually be happy to just be able to walk right now.

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