Recommended Ride: Northern Ireland (Belfast-Portstewart-Bann Valley)

Founder of Energise E-bikes, Ray Wookey, and his son Tim took a trip to Northern Ireland in May for a few days of sightseeing and cycling.

In this blog post, Ray tells us what they found...

(Tim and Ray Wookey on the Northern Irish coast. Image: Author's own)

Tim had visited N. Ireland recently on business and was so impressed he suggested a father and son trip to take in Belfast and a cycle tour of the the northern coast of Northern Ireland.

We have our own e-bikes but in order to simplify the trip we left those at home and decided to fly by Easyjet from Gatwick to George Best City Airport, Belfast, where we picked up a small car to travel the short distance to a city centre hotel.

It was thirsty work travelling so The Crown Liquor Saloon (below) with 150 years of history was our first stop for a sandwich lunch and, surprise, surprise, a pint of Guinness. Then we took a walk round the city, which is well organised, clean and very attractive.

(The Crown Liquor Saloon, Belfast. Image: Visit Belfast)

We dropped into the City Hall which is a beautiful chamber full of history and has exhibitions detailing the background to the city and highlighting prominent citizens.

We then stumbled into Kelly’s Cellar (below), an old pub with a large outdoor area, in Bank Street. In the sunshine, we sampled more Guinness, and listened to a great three-piece band with a party atmosphere. We had a great time talking to 4 Irish welders who work in the shipyards, and to round off the day we headed for an Italian meal before a well-earned rest.

(Kelly's Cellar. Image: Author's own)

(Bank Street, Belfast. Image: Author's own)


Day 2

The following day we took a half hour walk to the Titanic Museum but before going in for our pre-booked time slot, we enjoyed a wonderful coffee in the Titanic Hotel (below), which is in the former headquarters of Harland and Wolff, the shipbuilders who created the Titanic. The hotel is architecturally interesting and worth a visit in its own right, and is adjacent to the museum.

Gallery | Titanic Hotel Belfast
(The Titanic Hotel main entrance. Image credit: Titanic Hotel Belfast)

On to the main event – the Titanic Museum. Wow. This museum is a beautifully presented and stunning building which houses a rich heritage of Belfast history, not just the shipbuilding. All sorts of industry and commercial enterprises are represented. Everything was very slick and organised.

(The Titanic Museum. Image: Author's own)

We recommend that you allow 1 ½ to 2 hours and book in advance. Make sure to take the pod ride experience within the building, to really see, hear and sense the heritage of the dockyard. It makes for a wonderful experience and is worth the trip alone.

We walked back into the city centre to drop into another of “Belfast's oldest pubs” to discover a 10-piece Irish Band playing fabulous music for Tim and I in an otherwise empty room (video below). Bliss! Naturally we had a pint of Guinness each while enjoying the terrific live band.

We found a taxi on the street and agreed with the driver that for £30 he would take us for 1 ½ to 2-hour trip round the “troubled areas”.

We saw a “peace wall” - a tall barrier separating a Catholic Nationalist community from a Protestant Loyalist community - as well as murals commemorating the troubles and we visited the memorial grounds.

It would seem our driver was involved. He told us of a time that he was put in the back of an army vehicle by an agitated soldier. Our driver had feared that he would be shot but in fact he and the soldier ended up having a friendly chat!

We then retrieved the car from free-all-day Sunday parking and headed up to Portstewart on the northern coast on great quiet roads taking no more than1 ½ hours.

We had booked into the quirky boutique Port 56 guesthouse. We had a lovely room and a warm welcome from Theresa and Rob for whom nothing was too much trouble.

We took the short walk into town and had a drink at The Anchor deciding to eat at Villa Bar and Grill (below) in Portstewart, which was good and a bit different.

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(Villa Bar and Grill in Portstewart. Image: Villa Bar and Grill)

Day 3

The following morning, armed with a full Irish breakfast, we took the car to Portrush and linked up with Ricky who runs Alive Adventures (below) who do bike hire and surf training.

(The rental e-bikes at Alive Adventures. Image: Author's own)

Ricky was ready for us, and we collected two Bosch-powered trekking electric bikes (above) with huge batteries and large frames. After set up, we cycled east along the coast reaching the Giants Causeway (below) where we were able to cycle our bikes past all the plodding pedestrians right to the main site. Once on the Causeway we explored on foot and took our mandatory photos of this world-renowned natural phenomenon.

(Giant's Causeway. Image: Author's own)

(Giant's Causeway. Image: Author's own)

Retracing our route we had lunch in the Bushmills Inn prior to booking into the 1 hour tour of the Bushmills Whiskey distillery (below) which is worth doing and very educative.

Bushmills Distillery - 2020 All You Need to Know BEFORE You Go (with ...
(The old Bushmills distillery. Image: Tripadvisor)

After a wee dram we set off back to Portstewart to eat in the evening at Amici a popular Italian restaurant on the front.  Booking is a must here. We were able to cycle to the restaurant as we kept the e-bikes overnight at our B&B, where we were kindly allocated a room to store them safely and dry them out.

Day 4

Next day we set off south to Coleraine to cross the river Bann (below) and then cycled north to Castlerock for coffee and to, once again, dry out. By this time the rain was quite significant. It is Ireland after all, and the green comes from somewhere!

River Bann, Portadown © Chris Andrews cc-by-sa/2.0 :: Geograph Ireland
(The River Bann. Image: Geograph Ireland)

We took advice and headed for a pub called “The Point” which was miles away on Malligan Point; a bleak area populated by not much aside from a large prison. Soaked by the rain, we eventually reached the pub only to find it was very closed.

We turned around and cycled the 10 miles back for the train station at Bellarena. We saw the crossing lights flashing and thought we were just going to miss the once hourly train but thankfully the conductor spotted us and, bedraggled, we gratefully climbed aboard and travelled back to Coleraine.

After a drink and sandwich, it was a wet cycle back to Portrush to drop the e-bikes off, pick up car, then drive to Portstewart.

We took our evening meal in Me and Mrs Jones (below). Their marketing says, “expect the delightfully unexpected” and we wholeheartedly agree. They have spent a fortune on the place, and it shows. What a revelation! We followed the nice meal with a few Irish coffees, which saw us into slumber.

(Me and Mrs Jones hotel. Image: Me and Mrs Jones)

Day 5

Again, good breakfast, we set off in the car on the Eastern coast road and took a most beautiful coastal route round and back to Belfast. We stopped at the rope bridge Carrick-a-Rede (below) which is a National Trust site. It's a ½ hour walk downhill to the bridge with steep climb back so it's not for the faint hearted but we think it's well worth it. Thankfully there is a coffee place to refuel yourself.

(The bridge at Carrick-a-Rede. Image: Author's own)

For lunch, we couldn't find many pubs serving food, so we had to find a golf club for lunch and a drink leaving plenty of time to get back to Belfast for a final tour.

Using that time, we were able to visit Stormont which houses the Northern Ireland Assembly. The building is very impressive and despite all the rooms being "closed" we we were given our own tour by a helpful attendant. Some long-awaited sunshine saw us back to the airport to drop off the car and fly back to Gatwick. All very easy.

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In summary, N. Ireland is a great place for a cycling break and Belfast city is a super place for a visit. It is all very scenic and unspoiled. Everywhere is so tidy, clean and organised!

Sadly, we were not blessed with the best of weather. It was quite damp cycling, but we made the most of the time on bikes, and once again, the e-bikes were a revelation. The two e-bikes, with Bosch systems, were well made, and the battery capacity was awesome.

Tim spent most of the time in Eco mode (the lowest level of electric motor assistance), as he is fit and of course a lot younger. We had a great time, and it was terrific spending time with my son who was really good company. He summed it up saying “Everything went really well in all aspects with the exception of the cycling” which of course was meant to be the main event. You can organise everything but the weather, I suppose. You can’t have everything. Overall though the trip was a success and highly recommended. There are many quiet roads and, in many instances, plenty of cycling lanes.

- Ray. 

For a ride like the one that Ray and Tim took, a trekking electric bike would work best. They have good battery capacity, strong motors, front suspension, and the ability to carry luggage. Crucially, they work well on roads as well as off-road. 

Explore the range of electric trekking bikes here: Trekking | Energise E-Bikes (