We sent Mikko Nieminem for a Bimble on one of his favourite roads, the Antrim Coast Road, Northern Ireland. Here’s what he had to say:
You are tempted to stop and take photos at almost every bend and every village, but I managed to push on until Carnlough before jumping off the bike and sniffing the air for a brew. The next stop was at Cushendun, a village with Cornish-style houses designed by Sir Bertram Clough Williams-Ellis. Not quite what you’d expect to see in Northern Ireland…
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The ride took a little diversion from the Antrim Coast Road to incorporate a bit of the Torr Head Route to get to Murlough Bay, a beautiful and wonderfully quiet little spot at the end of a single-track road. It’s a detour from the main road, no doubt about that, but it’s one definitely worth taking. From Murlough Bay I headed to Ballycastle. The stretch from Ballycastle to the end of the route is absolutely peppered with things to see, and if you want to make sure you don’t miss anything, a day will not be enough.
The first stop after Ballycastle was Ballintoy Harbour. It’s just a little skip off the route, and well worth taking. The coastline looks rugged and unforgiving, and on a cold winter’s day you wonder how badly people must have wanted to get out to the sea to build a harbour here.
The main attraction around this part of the country is in no doubt. The Giant’s Causeway draws the crowds from near and far. Most will pay £10 to park at the visitor centre and walk or take a shuttle bus to the stone formations. Nothing wrong with that, but just as easily you can park next door at the Causeway Hotel. It costs the same £10 for cars to park there, but you can fit a couple of bikes in one parking place and split the cost – and if you go and have drinks or food at the hotel, you get the parking off your bill. So, you park, have a sandwich, and then wander down to the stones.
The Giant’s Causeway is made of about 40,000 interlocking stone columns. Whether they were stacked there by an ancient volcanic eruption or quarreling giants is up for debate, but either way it is an impressive sight. After the causeway, the next obvious place to stop is the old Bushmills distillery, just down the road. Possibly the oldest distillery in the world, it has a great shop and pre-booked tours if you are into your whiskey.
The original plan had been to carry on to Portrush and Portstewart before turning back towards Belfast, but it was getting late, and there was still somewhere I wanted to see before heading home. So, I abandoned the coast and headed south to Ballymoney and Joey’s Bar, a place that used to be owned by none other than Joey Dunlop. Filled with racing history, the bar is nicely located if you want to explore the NW200 route.
From Ballymoney I opted for the quick route to Belfast, because even when the riding is good, there’s no shame in calling it a day. Either way, there’s no doubt the Antrim Coast Road is one of the finest routes to ride at any time of the year. But just because it is so good, riding it in winter means that there are a lot fewer people on the roads and crowding the attractions at the roadside. All you need to do is to dig out your heated jacket and gloves, book a crossing, and off you go. And if you do, send us a postcard!
Description: The route covers roads great and small. This is not a fast ride; the roads can be busy, and they are best enjoyed at a leisurely pace. There are plenty of places to stop along the way for coffees, culture or a very cold dip in the sea.
Distance: Under 100 miles, even with some detours.
Time: Allow a full day so you can have plenty of stops for photos, coffees and lunch.
Fuel: We filled up in Belfast before the ride, and made it back before refuelling, but there are plenty of fuel stations on the route if you need to fill up. For example, Larne, Ballycastle and Bushmills are good places to stop for fuel.
Cafes: There are plenty of them on the route. We stopped at one in Carnlough to escape a shower, but you’re never far from one on this ride.
Curiosities: The absolute must-see on this ride is the Giant’s Causeway, but there are also places like Dunluce castle, Ballintoy harbour or Joey’s Bar to see if you want to go a bit off the main route.
Stena Line offers a great way to cross over to Belfast either from Cairnryan or Liverpool. The ferries are modern and comfortable, with an option to upgrade your journey with a cabin or access to a lounge. There are services from films to spas, and from shopping to gaming.
Talking about the crossing, here’s a pro tip: The Stena Line ferries are full of things to do from shopping to cinema, and all manner of dining options, so you won’t get bored, but the smart money goes for the Stena+ lounge access. It only costs £20, but includes comfy seating plus all the snacks and drinks you can manage. You have over two hours to get your money’s worth, so it basically pays for itself.
For further information visit www.stenaline.co.uk
WINTER KIT HIGHLIGHT
There are not many bits of riding kit that I value more than a good pair of heated gloves. On a cold winter’s day they keep your hands nice and warm, and doing that, they make the whole ride so much better. Keis kindly provided heated kit to keep me warm on the Great Winter Rides, so I had a pair of heated G701S ‘Shorty’ gloves on this ride (£190, www.keisapparel.com). The gloves are ace on their own, and even better when combined with heated grips – bliss!
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