June 23rd, 2017 – Antrim, Ireland to Girvan, Scotland ~160 miles
I spent too much time planning today’s route last night, but the staggering amount of comfort Vy and I experienced at our Bed and Breakfast mean I still wake up ready to go. We had the fortune of staying at Ballyharvey B&B a few minutes outside of Dublin, and I highly recommend that you stay here if you’re in the area and you’re looking for a place to spend the night. They have a covered parking area that they let us park the bike in overnight, and it is one of the few spots all trip where I had absolutely no concerns about the overnight safety of our Triumph Explorer.
Northern Ireland decides to throw a little rain our way, but it clears up before it can become a nuisance. That’s good news, because we’ve got a trifecta of sights to see and two of them require a bit of hiking to get to. We start with Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge, which was originally built by salmon fishermen.
Nowadays there aren’t many salmon left in the area, so it’s become a tourist attraction instead. It is popular enough that the National Trust limits how many people can visit at a time, and they do so with timed tickets that have the potential to sell out. We arrive just after opening time at 9:30 am, and get one of the first slots.
The current version of the bridge cost more than £16,000 when it was built in 2008. It might be modern, but it still feels rickety. Tourists occasionally cross the bridge one way and are too terrified to come back across – they have to be brought back to the mainland via boat.
The rope bridge is a fun experience, but it’s our next stop that we’ve been waiting for ever since we left Los Angeles. Giant’s Causeway is just 15 minutes to the west, and it’s the surreal result of volcanic activity about 50 million years ago. The name comes from an Irish folk tale that the formation is what remains from a causeway built by a giant named Finn MacCool in his quest to fight a Scottish giant that challenges him. The Visitor’s Center at the monument plays a short video that tells the tale:
Ignoring the legend, Giant’s Causeway is actually a collection of approximately 40,000 basalt columns and the way they are organized is fascinating.
The visitor center is an architectural work of art that is clearly inspired by the famous geographical feature. It’s also a bit of a rip-off, which might be because the center cost 18.5 million pounds to build! You can actually walk to the Causeway for free but most first time visitors wouldn’t know that. Instead, you have the privilege to pay $11 and change to watch the video I shared above, walk through a gift shop, check out a couple of informational panels, and grab an audio guide.
There are cheap buses that will take you from the visitor center to the Causeway for a nominal fee, or you can shuffle your feet for about a mile and get down for free. I am lazy and willing to pay, but Vy loves to walk and she convinces me that we should hike down with audio guides to get the full experience. With hindsight, I can say that (as always) she’s right.
A quick interruption for a look at my Forma Adventure Boots. They are fantastic for a trip like this because they’re comfortable, waterproof, and tough enough. The differentiation here with so many other ADV-style boots is how flexible they are just above the ankle. Because of that, these are unexpectedly comfortable for all the hiking that Vy is making me do.
Vy summits the tallest columns, which presumably gives her a view like the Finn McCool, the giant.
On our way out, we dealt with a different type of giant animal. This is what Northern Ireland calls a traffic jam:
Turns out, the Explorer XRt is an excellent camera platform. I mentioned earlier that this bike is jam-packed with electronic whizbangery, but I’m surprised to find that the feature I’m using most is the one I originally thought was the biggest gimmick: Hill Hold. The concept is simple – if the bike is on and you’re at a stop, simply pull the front brake lever all the way in and the Triumph will apply the rear brake and keep it on until you pull the lever in again (or shut off the bike). This is a godsend when it comes to taking photos. Normally I have to turn a bike off and leave it in gear.
Now, I just engage hill hold, take the photo, and I’m immediately back on my way. This is especially convenient because the Explorer always seems to take a couple of seconds after you turn the ignition on for the fuel pump to prime before you can actually get the starter to turn over. Nevertheless, we take most of our photos off the bike – like this quick and slightly blurry snap of a DeLorean DMC-12. As a child of the 80s, I was obsessed with this car until I learned how anemic the PRV (Peugeot-Renault-Volvo) motor was. At first I am surprised to see one on the road but then I remember that these were actually built just a few miles ago in Dunmurry, a suburb of Belfast.
Game of Thrones fans may recognize this road – the rest of us can just consider it a beautiful tree tunnel in Northern Ireland called The Dark Hedges. The weather was gloomy when we left our beautiful bed and breakfast this morning, but it uncharacteristically cleared up. Vy thinks (correctly) that this photo would have been cooler if the weather was crap, but I’ll take the sun any time.
We visit the Dunlop Memorial Garden, which is depressing and inspiring at the same time. Joey and Robert Dunlop were two brothers and local motorcycling heroes that lost their lives during motorcycle competition in 2000 and 2008, respectively. Robert passed away during qualifying for the 250cc race of the North West 200. Two days later, his son Michael raced the event, and won. Michael’s become a legend in his own right – he currently holds the Isle of Man TT course record as the only person to ever complete a lap in less than 17 minutes.
Getting to Scotland requires another ferry, and this time we are taking the Stena Line out of Belfast. We get back to Belfast with some time to spare so we decide to get lunch in a barge.
It’s a cute spot with excellent service and the beer menu hits the spot.
Back on land, I spot a little bike that I’ve never seen before. It’s called the Bullit Hunt S and from a distance I like the simple style and small displacement – but up close it looks cheap and Chinese-made. Upon further research, it looks like that’s the case.
Just like with our last ferry trip, the employees are ready to tie down the Explorer before I can get out of my Aerostich. I’m not complaining.
Vy walks around to check out the rest of the boat while I start cataloging the photos from the day. I hope getting a head start on this will mean that I’d get the posts up quicker…but it’s now the end of October as I tell you about a trip from June so my bright idea clearly didn’t help very much.
Eventually I decide it’s foolish to spend time on the laptop when there’s things to see in a country I’ve never visited before, so I head outside and watch bird watch as the sun sets.
We enter Scotland and are greeted by…you guessed it, more sheep.
When Vy and I travel in the US, we take it for granted that we can ride late into the night if necessary and then pull up at a hotel with no reservations. We can’t get away with that here – instead we’ve been booking each stay (typically at a B&B) the night before. Because they’re family-run, we need to ensure that we check in at a reasonable time, so we don’t stop much on our way to the interestingly-named Auld Creamery. We are greeted by a wonderfully-sweet host named Linda, and she makes sure that we are taken care of. She gives us some advice about where to visit tomorrow, and Vy and I retreat to our room to plan our route – and book tomorrow’s Bed and Breakfast. Looks like we’re heading to Edinburgh!