This weekend saw the first Gran Fondo Giro d’Italia NI cyclists take to the roads of Northern Ireland choosing from the 177km Mourne Route, suitable for the fittest riders or the more leisurely 58km Strangford Route achievable for novice cyclists. Gran Fondo events are closed road sportives aimed at amateur cyclists which take place around Europe and worldwide but are limited in number to keep them unique. This legacy event, following last year’s visit from the renowned Giro d’Italia, has been scheduled to return again to Northern Ireland in 2016 and 2017.
With dramatic scenery, stunning coastline, a vast, varied landscape and an excellent selection of cycle routes suitable for all abilities, Northern Ireland is an ideal location for a short cycling break.
As we celebrated National Bike Week this week, it’s an ideal opportunity to plan your next cycling trip so here’s a selection of various cycling routes from right around Northern Ireland to give you some inspiration….
Ballycastle to Giant’s Causeway – This route commences in the coastal town of Ballycastle and follows the Causeway Coastal Route passing some of its well-known landmarks along the way including Carrick-a-rede and the spectacular ruins of Dunservick Castle. This scenic cycle also traverses some of the same stretch of route that the 2014 Giro d’Italia took when it visited these shores last year.
Foyle Valley Cycle Route – This award-winning, 21 mile cycle route connects the historic Walled City of Derry to the towns of Lifford and Strabane on a mix of traffic-free paths and quiet country roads. The route commences under by the city walls and runs parallel for some time along the River Foyle on the resurfaced track bed of the Great Northern Railway.
Slieve Croob Cycle Route – Commencing in Castlewellan, Co. Down this cycle route can be quite strenuous although worthwhile, as you can take in some very attractive countryside with stunning views of the Mourne Mountains and Slieve Croob Mountains. Some key attractions along the way include Castlewellan Forest Park, Drumkeeragh Forest, Dundrum Inner Bay and Murlough Nature Reserve, Murlough Beach and Dundrum Castle.
Loughshore Trail – This unique fully signposted bi-directional 113 mile cycle route encircles Lough Neagh and goes through a selection of quiet country lanes and mostly flat terrain. The route provides breathtaking views and passes an array of nature reserves, parks, marinas and historic sites such as Ardboe Cross and Randalstown Castle.
Strangford Lough Cycle Tour – This 82 mile circular route around Strangford Lough, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, offers stunning views from the Ards Peninsula across the Irish Sea with both Scotland and Isle of Man visible on a clear day. It also encompasses a short ferry crossing from Portaferry to Strangford village, passes through the National Trust’s Castle Ward Estate and the final leg travels by Scrabo Tower and Country Park.
Castle Archdale Family Cycling Route – Situated 15km north west of Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh this 6 mile cycle route weaves its way through 230 acres of mature forest situated on the shores of Lower Lough Erne, enabling the cyclist to explore over 1000 years of history.
Belfast City Bike Tours – These tours led by local guides, offer a fun, eco-friendly way to see the city. The City Tour commences in the Cathedral Quarter and includes many places only reachable by bike. The Titanic Tour focuses on sites in the famous Titanic Quarter and includes a trip along the river with the Lagan Boat Company. The Hilden Brewery tour takes you out of the city along the Lagan towpath towards Lisburn, where you can stop and take a tour of the Brewery and enjoy some lunch before returning.
Newry Canal Towpath – Running along parallel to the historic Newry Canal this 20 mile route stretches from Bann Bridge in Portadown to the Town Hall in Newry passing a number of interesting sites including Moneypenny’s Lock and Museum which highlights the magnificent flora and fauna along the Canal.
Strule Valley Cycle Route – A 37 mile cycle route which meanders through two of West Tyrone’s most scenic valleys, it passes Gortin Lakes and includes an optional off road section through Gortin Forest on the western gateway to the Sperrin Mountains.
Mourne Foods & Films Cycle Tour – This unique self-guided tour by bike exploring a range of locally produced foods and famous filming locations in the beautiful Shimna Valley. The tour has been devised by the Enniskeen Country House hotel in Newcastle Co Down, in association with local food producers and other tourism partners, to showcase the wonderful artisan food in the region and also the many breath-taking locations in the locality which have been used in global filming productions such as Philomena, Game of Thrones, The Fall and Dracula Untold.
For further information on cycling breaks and Bike Week events in Northern Ireland go towww.discovernorthernireland.com/cycling.