How our new trail celebrating Belfast's heritage began

Belfast: a hull of a city
After learning about the Tales of the Trails project in Wales, our engagement officer for Northern Ireland, Josh Murray, wanted to do something similar. Call it fate, but it just so happened that the National Lottery Heritage Fund NI was looking for projects to support

Before starting with Cycling UK my experience of cycling had always been as a sport and a way of keeping fit. Don't get me wrong, I've always enjoyed the social aspect of going on club rides and stopping at cafes.

In fact, if I were to categorise myself as any type of cyclist now, I would definitely say I'm a cafe cyclist. For those of you who aren't familiar with this term, it's someone whose main focus when cycling is to get to the cafe to taste the coffee and cake.

However, I'm now a year into my role with Cycling UK, and my outlook has completely changed. Not only do I believe cycling is a great way to go about your day, it's also a great way to explore, find new places and see things in a different light. 

This leads me to explain how Routes and Roots came about. My colleague Gwenda Owen in Wales had developed Tales of the Trails, a project providing opportunities for people to learn about the history and heritage of an area whilst riding their bikes. 

I thought this was fantastic, and really wanted to do something similar in Northern Ireland. It just so happened that the National Lottery Heritage Fund NI had an application process open to apply for funding, which enabled us to set off down the same path.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK's head of campaigns, Keith Lilley from Queens Heritage Hub, and myself put our heads together. We also got in contact with our members to see what ideas they had, too.

There were many suggestions floated, some extremely good ones, but the one we kept coming back to was a journey from East Belfast to Sailortown, connecting two communities in Belfast while also taking in the maritime history and heritage along the way. Both these areas - and everything in-between - are world famous for their maritime past. From this the the Maritime Heritage Trail was born.

The Harland and Wolff shipyard, including the yellow cranes, Samsung and Goliath, are iconic features which dominate the Belfast skyline. It's where ships including the RMS Titanic were built. These areas were historically a hive of activity, with the many different industries shaping the place and people, associated with maritime culture; linen mills, ropeworks, shipyards, distilleries and tobacco factories to name a few. 

There are books, websites and articles to use for research, but there is no comparison to being able to speak to those who have the knowledge and first-hand experience of the stories and history we want to tell

Josh Murray, Cycling UK's engagement manager for Northern Ireland

The route will take riders to Sailortown, the area where the dockers and their families would have lived in cramped conditions alongside transient seamen from around the world.  

As the project has developed further, we have been supported by our partners, Eastside Partnership, Sailortown Regeneration and Maritime Trust. Making these connections has enabled us to turn our vision for the project into reality. Working with these partners has helped me learn more about the areas, the communities and the stories of maritime Belfast.

Of course there are books, websites, articles that I have been able to use for my research but there is no comparison to being able to speak to those who have the knowledge and first-hand experience of the stories and history we want to tell. 

Our aim for the project is to encourage as many people as possible to take part in the journey, take in what the area has to offer in terms of landmarks and features, but also learn about the history and heritage; what these places used to look like and the people who used to live and work there. 

The funding for the project distributed on behalf of the Department for Communities, aims to kick-start the recovery of the heritage sector in Northern Ireland following a year when it has been massively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Maritime Heritage Trail will include various points of interest, and can also be walked. We are working with Belfast Bikes to showcase the services they offer, enabling even those who don't own a bike to take part in this journey. 

We are putting together a documentary film including interviews with our partners, and people who used to work and live in the areas. This will all be available on our website along with other interesting information. The finishing touch will be a launch event, so keep your eyes peeled for more news about Routes and Roots.