Travellers' Tales: Belfast and beyond

John Robson enjoyed an off-season tour in Northern Ireland

South west Scotland, where I live, is blessed with great cycling country and quiet lanes. It’s also well positioned for a trip across the Irish Sea to Northern Ireland. So when a window of settled weather was forecast over the winter, I took the opportunity – and a ferry from Cairnryan to Belfast.

This does involve sharing the bowels of the ferry with lorries, then navigating the bike route into Belfast through the dockland. But with helpful ferry staff and clear directions on the cycleway, it was safe and uncomplicated.

I stopped over in Belfast for a dose of historical and cultural distraction; highlights include the Titanic exhibition and The Troubles tours. The plan was then to use a short circular tour of the Lough Neagh Cycleway as a taster for future trips to the north and west coasts.

The route out of Belfast to Lisburn along the flat Lagan towpath was a bird-watcher’s delight. It also gave glimpses of its industrial heritage, with former mill buildings scattered along the way. A series of backroads bypassed Portadown and, as the winter light faded, I detoured to Cookstown for an overnight stop.

Day two of my 120-mile clockwise circuit was north to Toome and then around to Antrim. The route doesn’t hug the shores but rambles through gentle, undulating Irish farmland, with the Lough appearing regularly into view. I had lunch in a courtyard tea shop at Antrim Castle Gardens, then embarked on the last leg to and through Belfast for the evening ferry sailing.