We spent our first night in Ballycastle. During dinner, Ian from Irish Cycle Tours stopped by to introduce himself. The next morning, after my first Irish “brekkie” of bacon, eggs, grilled tomatoes, and black and white pudding, we biked from Ballycastle to Portballintrae and made our first stop at the Carrick-a-Rede rope bridge off Ballintoy.
For my first bike tour ever, I was pretty surprised (and pleased) that all I had to do was rideâ€”I was free to follow the map that was given to me and pedal at my own pace. Everything was provided for, including a helmet and a small bag for our cameras and water bottles. The map mentioned a mile of uphill biking, but it failed to say that the next four miles had more than a dozen smaller hills! I was forced to walk my bike most of the time because I was not prepared for a full workout. My big Irish breakfast just went through me. The weather did not make it any easier; rain pelted my face, my raincoat was soaking wet against my back, and I was fighting 65-mile per hour winds. We were all pedaling downhill to make it to Carrick-a-Rede, which became the trip’s joke for the next seven days. I was disappointed with myself for not being strong enough to bike the entire way. I felt better, though, when I realized that no one in their right mind would push on with that weather, but I did!
From the parking lot, I had to walk about a mile downhill to catch a glimpse of the rope bridge, only to be stopped by one of the National Trust guards because of the strong winds. I saw how high and angry the surf was thousands of feet below, and it was probably best that they’d closed the gates. I walked back uphill to meet the rest of the group for tea instead. During tea, we all rested our butts off and read about Carrick-a-Rede. The rope bridge is eighty feet above the sea, and it provides access to the tiny island across the chasm for salmon fishermen. Carrick-a-Rede translates to “rock in the road,” the road being the sea migration route of the salmon. Across is Puffin Island, which supported a colony of puffin birds but has since been renamed Sheep Island because it was used to graze sheep after the birds moved on. We also saw from afar Rathlin Island, which is still inhabited by less than a hundred people whose ancestors have resided on Rathlin for hundreds of years.
The weather was not getting any better, so we all decided to give up our bikes and end our bike tour. We stored them in Ian’s van and instead drove by what is left of Dunseverick Castle, a castle from the 1500s said to have been visited by St. Patrick. We could have seen other small ruins on the island, but the call of a pint of Guinness was louder than any other tourist stop around us.