Ride: Cycling around the Antrim Glens
Terrain: Hilly for the first 50 kilometers as you ride inland and across the glens. There's no avoiding it - and you wouldn't want to anyway, because it's spectacular. Your legs will curse the day you were born, but your eyes will rejoice. The path down to Waterfoot and the coast is a speedy downhill riot, and then it's flat all the way back to Glenarm.
When we opened our eyes the next day, the first thing we heard was the stillness.
There was no rain, no clouds, no dampness. The sky was blue, the sun was shining, and...wait a minute. Where did all these cyclists come from?
Group after group whizzed past our window in a blur, looking like they were in the middle of the UCI Road World Championships. And as we sat in the dining room enjoying the delicious salmon breakfast that Peter had cooked for us, we learned that today marked the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive. With three routes of varying length and difficulty along the iconic Antrim Coast and 1,400 participants, it is one of the biggest road races in Northern Ireland.
By coincidence, today was also the day that we had decided to tour some of that very same course on our tandem – but in the opposite direction. So we were most likely in for friendly banter and heckling, as "normal" cyclists shook their heads in astonishment at the sight of us meandering past.
But first - let's fix the bike, shall we?
This was a strange one, and fiddly to fix. There's a little spring inside the shifter which applies a ratcheting force to the cable as you flick the levers, and it had come out of place, which was a problem as it wasn't apparent where it was meant to go. A bit of Googling later and we figured it out, but the spring had lost some of its tension, and getting to the lowest gear seemed to be beyond its capabilities. So the second-lowest cog would just have to do, possibly for the rest of the trip.
It was a beautiful, clear morning as we pootled along the Antrim Coast road.
We rode towards the direction of town and turned right onto Munie Road, a quiet, winding street that led us steadily up Glenarm itself. For a few minutes, it was just us trundling by on this lazy Saturday, climbing higher and higher, keeping company with the cows, and taking in the glorious views.
It was absolutely breathtaking.
The thing about living in a city that's as flat as a pancake (with the biggest hill being Teufelsberg, and even that's man-made) and in the middle of a country is that you don't get to see much of the sea nor anything at an elevated level. So this is a real treat for us, and something we really look forward to with each day's ride. What's a few leg breaking climbs when you get to the top and see this?
Then all of a sudden, we heard a whizzing sound that's synonymous only with chain rings.
They were coming.
There were cyclists of all shapes and sizes streaking past us in their finest kit in defined groups, single file, and occasionally the odd loner. Hundreds of them flew downhill in fine fashion, looking focused and determined to keep up their cadence. Yet, no one could resist cracking a smile at the sight of us loonies huffing and puffing our way uphill on our tandem.
"You're going the wrong way!"
"She's not pedalling!"
"Quick, let's catch their tailwind!"
Welcome to the wit that is Northern Ireland.
Eventually, we came to the town of Broughshane which was the perfect halfway point for lunch. The thing about wee places in the countryside such as this is that there aren't often any restaurants per se. But that's OK, because there's always a pub, and usually they'll sort you out. The Thatch Inn turned out to be just the ticket, serving up huge portions of good honest grub at bargain prices. This was meant to see us through the rest of the ride, but all we wanted to do after a feed like that was take a nap.
After finding it in us somehow to get back in the saddle, we set off towards Waterfoot along the coast. Our plan was to ride through Glenariff Forest Park, but we lost an hour visiting a bike mechanic we happened upon along the way to see if he could do anything about our dodgy gear shifter, which by this point had stopped working once again. He tried valiantly but was as stymied as we had been earlier. So like yesterday's trip, we were stuck in an in-between single speed gear that would see us to our final destination, but had to be straightened out again before we set off tomorrow.
At this point, the sun was setting and we were still 20 km away from Glenarm. Luckily, the majority of this was downhill, and as we raced against the dimming light, we made sure to stop and appreciate the sights ahead of us.
Once back in town, we decided to partake in a Glenarm tradition of getting Chinese takeaway delivered to the local pub. This time, we went for the other one, aptly named The Coast Inn, where the proprietress offered us plates and utensils for our food. Another example of small town kindness that we're seeing more and more around here.
Next up: Ballycastle.