Having such motivation to travel and see other countries, it is perhaps surprising how rarely we’ve been to Northern Ireland, just about an hour away from Dublin. Of course, to call it another country is to enter a political minefield with some, but it is what it is.
Growing up – when “The Troubles” were unfolding – I could count on one hand the number of times we crossed the border. However, it has been selling itself very effectively – from classic attractions like the Giants’ Causeway and its golf courses to new favourites like Belfast’s Titanic Centre.
It’s also established a strong reputation for outdoor and adventure activities, and we had a taster of this a few months ago at Castlewellan mountain biking trails. About 30 minutes from Newry, it was home to blue trails – ideal for beginners, but with red trails also available for those who want a tougher test.
Enthused, we headed back up to try Rostrevor – red and black trails, but (we believed) an achievable bridge in standard.
Firstly to Rostrevor itself – a little village 15 minutes from Newry with a lively music scene and a hospitality almost without parallel in the warmth of welcome on this island in my experience. We ate in Maisons, a newish restaurant which was excellent, and the highlight of a pub crawl was The Clough Mór Pub.
We stayed in charming little glamping pods a little outside the village – clean, and excellent value – and a fun experience, even for only one night.
However, the purpose of the trip was the red trail at Rostrevor MTB. The park was busy with clearly experienced cyclists. For us novices, the set-up was somewhat chaotic and haphazard, the exact opposite of what we’d been met with at Castlewellan. No trail map available from the bike hire centre (a must, it transpired), and mix-ups with bike hire and uplift departure.
Nonetheless, on a day of mixed weather, we eventually got the uplift service and set off on a long red trail. Well, we certainly were at the limit of our capacity, as an initial 40 minutes of climbing on a wet and slippy day revealed. However, the pay off was spectacular views over Carlingford Lough back towards the south.
The trails bring you through a wide variety of terrain including soft forest paths, rock gardens, boardwalks, gravel paths and more. Thankfully it was relatively quiet for us, so we were able to walk up the steeper sections unobserved! The downward sections were a blast even if – as the video below demonstrates – it wasn’t without its pitfalls. The rest afterwards in the pods and food and drink in the village felt well earned at the end of it all, and it left a feeling of a true challenge and one that you would want to take again. Not least as a further opportunity to use the GoPro! Perhaps a chest mount would be a better option than the helmet cam….
It also ably demonstrated how Northern Ireland is maximising its environment. Ballyhoura in Co Tipperary has an excellent centre, but nearer to Dublin we don’t have anything of this quality. Those rarely taken visits are on an upward trajectory.