a little over 14 years ago, sergeant brian and myself took the now defunct campbeltown to ballycastle ferry as the start of our cycling expedition to watch the prologue and first stage of the 1998 tour de france in dublin, republic of ireland. willy voet had a bit more hassle than either of us at the very beginning of that particular race, but he was perhaps a touch better prepared than either the sergeant or myself. to begin with, the intention was to ride to just south of the border and look for somewhere to stay the night. if you consider that the tour takes place in july, a traditional holiday month, neglecting to arrange somewhere to stay, based on having no idea how far we'd manage to ride was a less than auspicious start.
i'd be hard-pushed to recount our exact wheeltracks; with the dates also being close to ireland's traditional marching season, we decided to give belfast a wide berth and ride the western side of lough neagh. i'm really glad that we took this option, for aside from more peace of mind (the troubles were still in great play at the time) the scenery was utterly fabulous, and though we rode past one or two burned out barricades, we also travelled along many idyllic country roads populated with tractors and providing views of cattle and sheep in fields.
that's what ireland is all about.
though we were incredibly lucky to find an ideal overnight stop just inside the irish border, the major error which almost ruined the second day's pedalling was failing to realise that southern ireland measures distances in kilometres, while northern ireland sticks to the more british mile. thus, having figured that the distance to dublin was around 80 miles, coming across a road sign that stated dublin 130 was a bit of a shock. the things you ought to know but simply don't.
our visit to dublin was condensed into an available period of time, and with a ferry to catch at ballycastle on tuesday, getting lost on the return journey and taking us through a town which had been the scene of fatal violence at the weekend was not the ideal way to enjoy ireland or allow liberal time to enjoy the view.
things have changed in ireland quite considerably since those days, opening up the entire isle to those keen to view all it has to offer from the saddle of a bicycle. to this end, paul benjaminse has collated a compendium of maps, photographs and salient information that will allow both the experienced and less experienced to find their way with ease and to see most everything worth seeing. his prescribed route leads from belfast in the north outwards to the west coast and then southwards through tralee and on to cork, before taking a left turn north to dublin. unless they've altered something in the road system since 1998, it is perhaps no suprise that the bit between belfast and dublin has been avoided. i have nightmarish recollections of riding the gutter while being constantly passed by rather large trucks travelling at speed.
benjaminse opens with fairly persuasive reasons as to why anyone with a bicycle would be keen to investigate the country via this mode of transport. this incorporates salient information that the sergeant and i had completely overlooked such as season, climate, accommodation, food and pre-trip preparation. fortunately, in 1998, i had the foresight to pack some spare spokes and a cassette remover, for my companion broke a spoke only a mile or two outside ballycastle and i'd to effect a repair in the rather well-equipped garage of our first evening's accommodation hosts.
the author has also taken account of the fact that many of his readers will not necessarily have the period of time required to undertake the entire route at one sitting, therefore it's possible that the occasional alternative form of transport might be required, such as bus or train. however, for those who intend riding at least one or two bits of the route (which interestingly seems to avoid much of the middle part of the country) benjaminse cheerfully makes great play of the sights and sounds than can be seen and heard along the way, a narrative that is interspersed with many relevant colour photographs.
the format of the book is both impressively clever and infuriating at the same time. though the cover would suggest a book approached in regular fashion; ie portrait orientation, on reaching the acknowledgements page, it is rapidly discovered that the whole thing is, in fact, formatted in landscape proportions, thus allowing its spiral bound pages to open flat inside the plastic envelope atop a handlebar mounted bar bag. yet throughout all 123 pages, the page numbers pretend that the book is still portrait.
as one who has, on occasion, designed books, would it not have been more pragmatic and aesthetic to have formatted the whole thing in landscape orientation? that most of the pages are populated with easy to read and cleverly consecutive maps, makes it a more than practical mathod of covering whichever part of ireland you choose to explore. i'm not that keen on the two column setup on what is now quite a wide page, but that's more personal preference than typographical malpractice. the back cover opens out as a gatefold, allowing a graphic of the complete route to be seen at one time, in context of each individual day's travel
from a parochial and nationalistic point of view, i'd like to take brief exception to the penultimate paragraph regarding transport to ireland from the uk. if i might quote; "Alternatively, if you don't like flying there's always the boat and train via either England or France. From Stranraer you can catch a boat to Belfast seven times a day.... though it may seem a tad obvious to me, perhaps it is less so to mr benjaminse, but stranraer is in neither england nor france, but scotland.
just so's we're clear on that point.
niggles aside, and i doubt there's a travel book written that won't annoy someone for whatever reason, this is a very cleverly laid out book, one that has taken into account that its intended readership is that of cyclists, and that while riding a bike in pursuit of a proscribed route, there is little opportunity to flick through something that adheres closely to the more regular fare. each section ends with a list of cycle shops and repairers and a comprehensive selection of accommodation providers for that specific area. paul benjaminse has, in effect, done pretty much everything for the intrepid cyclist apart from turn the cranks and change the gears. apart from those albeit not entirely inconsiderables, the only thing left to do is to ride on and admire a beautiful part of the world.
wednesday 4th july 2012..........................................................................................................................................................................................................