Ride: Newcastle, Northern Ireland to Portaferry, Northern Ireland
Terrain: Flat and beautiful, with each bend revealing a scene lovelier than the last. Follow the A2 along the coast. We got diverted at one point, but the view was so good that we were glad of it. Some slight drumlins to be sure, but this is easy riding compared to a couple of days ago. Keep in mind that whilst you're by the sea, decent-sized towns are few and far in-between so plan your lunch break accordingly. Most importantly, relax and enjoy this one. You're almost done.
Continuing our trend of easy last rides, today was no exception. We woke up to a calm sea and the sun shining its rays into our window. The storm had finally passed and it looked like today's journey would be smooth sailing. Or so we hoped.
The Beach House completely outdid itself with the breakfast on offer - we had a table to ourselves in the sunny parlour and gorged ourselves silly on our Ulster fry (what are we going to do without them when it's all over?) whilst discussing a crucial instrument found on the tables of B&Bs everywhere in the UK: the toast rack. Made of stainless steel, with slots for each individual slice, Jess fell in love with the tidy orderliness of it. She demanded that we pick one up here to take back to Germany with us, which induced much eye-rolling from Neil and some muttering about uptight Hyacinth Bucket pretentiousness that Jess didn't quite follow.
After settling the bill, we packed up the bike and were on our way. What a glorious morning it was turning out to be, with cloudless blue skies and a clear sea view as we hugged the coast. The Mourne Mountains, hidden by clouds yesterday, suddenly seemed close enough to induce a slight sense of claustrophobia. It's a truly stunning setting, and we remained rooted for a minute enjoying the air so crisp and sharp, it felt as if it would pierce right through our noses.
To get out of town we followed a combination of the 99 bike route, A28, and A2 along the coast. The path is clearly marked and light enough on traffic that you will have it to yourself for much of the time. With the exception of a couple of insignificant drumlins, it's flat the whole way, with a smooth asphalt carpet of a road. Take your time with this one – virtually every corner brings a new spectacular vista, and you'll hear yourself saying "Whoa" a lot, especially when you come across Tyrella.
Part of a beach and dune conservation scheme, Tyrella Sands is a flat, wide, two kilometre stretch of land in Dundrum Bay, County Down that could compete on looks, if not on climate. with the best beaches of South East Asia. At least on a Thursday morning in September, it's a very quiet, peaceful part of the world. We were lucky enough to experience it alone.
We were making slower progress than expected due to constantly gawping at the scenery, but we didn't care, we were in no hurry. At halfway or thereabouts, we stopped for a quick tea break in Ardglass, which is a blip so small on the map that the grocery store, hardware store, convenience store, and post office are all the same establishment. There was many a curious and amused look thrown our way as we waddled around in our lycra amongst the locals in search of some soft drinks and snacks. Outside, we overheard a man tell his friend, "I wonder what sort of lonely hearts ad he put out to find her."
Yep, we're weird.
This ride was so enjoyable that before we knew it, 40 kilometres had flown by and there we were at the Strangford Ferry terminal, ready to go across the water to Portaferry. The ride is less than a mile long, and costs £1 per foot passenger, with bikes free of charge.
"Apparently so", said the conductor, as if it was the first time it had ever happened.
The seven-minute trip affords stunning panoramic views of the lough, but it glides by in a flash and even Seasick McGee Jess couldn't feel a thing. This ferry runs every 15 minutes between 8 AM and 11 PM and is popular with the locals, carrying around 500,000 people per year, which is about a third of the population of Northern Ireland.
Onward and upward through one final hill, and then we were there.