In another in our series of adventures on bicycles, I head up to Belfast to take in Strangford Lough, the Mourne Mountains and Carlingford. Not only is this a gorgeous part of the world, you’ll get to make an international journey on a ferry with your bike!
For this adventure I decided to stay overnight, so that I could take my time and take in the scenery. This was at the start of September and we had a very unseasonably warm period, and I didn’t fancy sweating my a*rse off and getting sunstroke. The journey was 205km in total:
- Navan to Drogheda
- Drogheda to Belfast (Train)
- Belfast to Comber, on the Comber Greenway
- From Comber along the West side of Strangford Lough
- From Strangford Lough to Newcastle
- Newcastle and the Mourne Mountains
- Carlingford Ferry
- Carlingford to Dundalk
- Dundalk to Drogheda (Train)
- Drogheda to Navan
Navan to Drogheda
There are several routes with various levels of traffic and hills. I decided to take the direct route, along the main R153 road to Kentstown, Duleek and to Drogheda train station. The photo below doesn’t look it, but it was very foggy, so I was hi-viz’d up and all lights on.
Train from Drogheda to Belfast
The inter-city train from Drogheda has a special bike carriage, about the size of an SUV. Today it was at the back of the train, but I’m told it can also appear at the front.
There are hooks on the ceiling, so you can hook your front wheel on there. My bike is heavy and was loaded with luggage, so I leaned it against the wall of the compartment.
My guess is that you’d get up to ten bikes in there, at a push. It’s also big enough for a cargo bike, so my luggage-laden e-bike was no problem.
I paid €11.59 for a one way ticket, with the option to change up to 70 minutes before the scheduled journey, which takes around 90 mins. Some trains have power and USB sockets, and the train I took had a cafe car.
Belfast and the Comber Greenway
The Comber Greenway takes you from Belfast city centre out to the quaint town of Comber, a journey of around 10km. The Greenway is segregated from traffic, but does cross several roads where there are traffic signals.
There were a couple of places where I didn’t pay attention and ended up slightly lost. First at the East Link Road, you have to cycle across a pedestrian crossing and then turn left, cycling on the pavement. Then at the roundabout (see above) the signage isn’t great (or more likely, I wasn’t paying attention!)
The Greenway doesn’t bring you in to Comber – you’re left beside a main road with the instruction “Cyclists Dismount”. I wonder if they expected Cyclists to walk several hundred metres into town?
The small town of Comber is surprisingly pretty, and while sitting in the square eating lunch I met the person who had organised several historical plaques.
Strangford Lough to Newcastle
From Comber I made my way down quiet country roads along the shoreline of Strangford Lough. By this time the temperature was around 25 degrees celsius and there was hardly a cloud in the sky.
Luckily, Daft Eddie’s Bar happened to be on the way, so I was able to cross the short roadway across the lough to take a break and have an ice-cold beer for medicinal purposes.
The National Cycle Network zig-zags around the southern end of the lough, but at this point I was keen to head to my B&B, so ended up on the A22 and A25 – where there are no hard-shoulders and plenty of impatient drivers. My advice – take the zig-zag route. Luckily, I made it to Newcastle without incident, to my overnight stay, The Brier’s Country House, which I can’t recommend highly enough. The view of the mountains is absolutely stunning, and the place itself is an absolute steal.
Newcastle and the Mourne Mountains
The clouds were low over the mountains as I set off on day 2 of my trek. A short cycle from the B&B is Tollymore Forest Park, which is just fabulous. This looks like an epic place for camping!
The road turned upwards from here, and it’s a gentle (and sometimes not-so-gentle) uphill journey up to Spelga Dam. It’s times like this that I really enjoy having the option to flip on the battery and get a little assist.
The downhill journey is equally as thrilling. Note: unless you like inhaling a fly at 50km/h you’ll want to keep your mouth firmly shut!
The ferry goes from Greencastle (in the North) to Greenore (in the South). Or is is the other way round? Anyhoo, the ferry leaves Northern Ireland every hour on the hour, costs €7 one way, and takes about 15 minutes. Also, it’s an absolute delight.
After crossing into the Republic of Ireland (there are no passport controls by the way) it’s a short ride to the tourist town of Carlingford, where there are public toilets, and lots of options for food & drink.
Carlingford to Dundalk
From Carlingford I headed back out along the coast road, which is busy with fast-moving traffic, including HGVs from the port. Where there’s no hard shoulder, it’s pretty hairy.
Unfortunately there aren’t too many options here. You could also head North on the Greenway to Omeath and then along the estuary Greenway to Newry. This route was closed for maintenance on the day I was there, so I took my chances with the traffic.
Dundalk to Drogheda (Train)
I was a bit behind schedule heading to Dundalk city centre, so built up a sweat – only to be informed that the train was 55 minutes late. Still, it gave me a chance. tofill my water bottles at the free water fountain, and sit on the bench watching people arrive late and realise that they could still get the Dublin train.
The train was a Northern Ireland Translink train, where bike storage was in the middle of the train. Luckily there was only one other bike, so I lobbed mine in and off we went for the 20-ish minutes down to Drogheda.
Drogheda to Navan
My legs had just about gotten used to relaxing on the train before I was again on the move from Drogheda train station.
For the journey home I took the back roads and meandered my way home into the low-hanging evening sun.
What You Need To Know
Book your ticket well in advance on Irish Rail. The fully flexible ticket costs about a euro more, but for me it’s well worth it, to have the option to change days/times without penalty.
The route from Belfast station is in the city centre. If you’re not familiar with city-centre cycling, or even if you are, take care.
The coastline of Strangford Lough is fabulous, but surprisingly hilly towards the southern end. And don;t be fooled by the more direct A22/A25 route – take the zig-zag back roads.
Carlingford ferry goes on the top of the hour from the North (think about the hands of the clock, if like. meyou can never remember which way round it is!)
The roads to Dundalk are really very hairy, and I’m fairly used to fast traffic. The route via Newry is much nicer.