My plan was simple: ride to Birkenhead, take the overnight boat to Belfast, meet with Kyle (the ringleader) for breakfast, ride, camp overnight, ride, and get the overnight boat back again.
Stena Line ISF operate the ferry service, and the overnight boat leaves at 22.30 and gets in at the early hour of 06.30. Boarding commences well in advance of departure, so although I arrived at 19.30 I was in the Mersey Seaways's snack bar soon after with a group of three other motorcyclists from Norfolk on their way to the Antrim coast.
The boat is best described as basic, although the cabins were clean and comfortable, the food was pretty poor, and they ran out of glasses in the bar...
An 06.30 arrival means getting up about 05.30 (they kick you out of the cabins at 06.00), but I didn't quite get around to breakfast on the boat. Fortunately it was only a half-hour ride to Kyle's house for an
Ulster fry :)
From there we headed over to the Donegal coast, picking up another two others along the way. The sun was out, the roads were clear, and it was a wonderful run through the spectacular scenery.
Photo by Terry Irvine
We were camping at the Sleepy Hollow camp site, which was very aptly named, and they'd kept plenty of space for us, including reserved parking for the bikes. After pitching our tents, I unexpectedly tested
mine... Well, it had been an early start and a poor night's sleep...
Photo by Eugene Gillen
Time for an afternoon ride. There are a lot of gravel tracks in the area, so instead of the area we were expecting to ride (a half-hour ride away) we explored the new tracks while trying not to get stuck in the peat bogs!
Somehow one of our group managed to get lost, as did the person sent to find him. Just when we though we'd found the local equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle, we were reunited up a side-trail. Quite how the wrong turning had been made is a mystery.
Unfortunately some of the longer trails through woodland were closed for forestry operations, but they'll be there for next time.
On one section of trail through an area there they'd been cutting peat, I beached the bike on top of a mound - that takes some doing with the 990, and a bit of a shove to get it off again (and all on video!).
With Saturday's plan taking shape, we headed back to camp for a cuppa in the evening sun before retiring to a local pub for a superb steak and plenty of local ale (not Guinness - I don't like it).
Saturday morning, and a trip to a local petrol station cafe for a decent cooked breakfast. The other riders joining us spotted our bikes as they rode past, so came and joined us. Everyone was on a KTM 9x0 Adventure, except one brave chap on a Suzuki V-Strom 650.
Photo by Terry Irvine
Knowing the trails a bit better than yesterday, we strung them together more smoothly, found a few more, and generally enjoyed ourselves.
One of the hills was home to a wind farm (isn't there enough wind already without farming more?) and the view was amazing. The track up to it was a mix of steep bits, not-so-steep bits, some gravelled, some sealed - I almost threw myself over the bars on the way up when I found a larger rock in the road (the only one for miles).
Lunchtime approached so we headed in to a village for lunch, and found the Seaview Hotel a short distance inland. Toasties were the order of the day, and the landlord was able to suggest some trails we could try - even taking Kyle in his car to show him where they were. Sadly they were the closed forestry ones. Undeterred, he called another chap who's a rally driver and knows the area well, and he came over to the hotel to talk to us about the trails too - that doesn't happen over here!
We were getting back on the bikes when someone noticed that my front tyre looked a bit soft. Flat, in fact. Fortunately I'd stuck a front tube in my luggage just as I was leaving home, so it wasn't long before we'd changed the tube and found a four-inch thorn stuck in the tyre. Impressive!
The others had gone for a ride while we changed the tube, so from there we decided to return to the camp-site. I was booking on the overnight ferry at 22.30 from Belfast, so after striking the tent I set off in hot persuit of the chap on the V-Strom. It was a very brisk run through the mountains, joining the main roads in Northern Ireland and I got to the ferry terminal just after 20.00.
Once on the boat, the Lagan Seaways, I found myself in the queue for cabins behind Guy Martin - the TT rider and star of the BBC series "The Boat That Guy Built" - who'd misplaced his boarding card. He headed off to the restaurant while I made do with the snack bar again (the food was better, but still not brilliant).
As it was Mum's birthday I went on deck to give her a call to the accompaniment of Celine Dion's greatest hits on the PA system: hearing the theme from "Titanic" whilst on a ferry is... well, not ideal if you're a nervous passenger (which I'm not). Although looking at it another way, we were just a few hundred yards from the place RMS Titanic was built.
The crossing home was uneventful, if slightly rougher that the outward journey, and I didn't see Guy in the morning - perhaps he jumped off as we passed the Isle of Man?
Arriving early at Birkenhead, it was 06.30 as I left the port for the ride home. I was the only bike on board, and it had been well secured with three wheel-chocks and two straps. I guess they don't see bikes all that often!
Some excitement on the ride down was finding the load-liner of a pick-up between lanes 2/3 on the M6. I thought a call to the Highways Agency was in order at the next emergency phone - and before I hung-up I could see an incident unit on the scene. Glad it wasn't dark and wet or it could have been nasty, although the traffic was very light.
A brilliant weekend, well worth all the travelling.
Some footage from my helmet camera.