Road trip: Northern Ireland
Get away on the cheap
This spate of balmy weather has had us pawing at the office windows and dreaming of foreign trails. Unfortunately,with THE ALPS still out of action for at least a month we’ve had to look elsewhere for our trail fix.
Well, a quick Google will tell you there’s never been a better time to pop over to Northern Ireland for a mucky weekend. P&O is currently offering a 30 hour return for one car and three passengers from Cairnryan (Scotland) to Larne for £145. That’s right, you and two mates can escape our shores and have a thrash and a lash in Northern Ireland for less than 50 quid each, bargain right?
But what do you do when you’re over there? You may be surprised to learn that Northern Ireland has a burgeoning scene (as you can see from the above video) with three National standard trail centres within 90 minutes’ drive of each other and a plethora of different riding styles catered for.
Rostrevor has risen to fame over the past few years as the location for Gee Atherton’s Red Bull Foxhunt, but there’s more to this trail centre than manic, mass-start racing. Unfortunately you can’t ride the full Foxhunt route all year round but you can spend a good half day on the uplifted downhill runs that make up its bottom third.
Mega Mission is an A-Line esque jump trail with terraces of tabletops connected by slingshot switchbacks. On The Pulse is an altogether trickier affair – a steep, techy and rocky ribbon that will challenge even the best riders to keep their flow.
Also at Rostrevor is a lung busting red trail that has 400m of altitude and a final descent that seems to go on for days. The climb can be a bit of a killer so if you’re on a big full-suss we recommend you pay £5 for a single uplift and get driven up most of it. If you want a shorter, sharper challenge then the 19km black trail cuts off a large segment of the red with a more hectic descent back to the trailhead – just make sure you stop off at #KodakCorner for some guaranteed Instagram likes.
Just 30 minutes’ scenic drive from Rostrevor is the Castlewellan trail centre. This offers a blue trail and a red trail with two black options.
The blue is a gentle panoramic trail that offers stunning views of Castlewellan Lake, which the red splits off half way around. The fun really kicks in on the first red/black split and will carry on around the whole route. Makes sure you take in Dolly’s Chute and then enjoy the Moorish Return to the trail head.
The third National trail centre in Northern Ireland is Davagh Forest. This is roughly 60 miles from Rostrevor and Castlewellan but don’t let this put you off.
Davagh Forest may only be able to boast a 7.5km blue and a 18km red, but don’t be fooled into thinking this makes it boring. The Davagh Forest red is renowned for its fast and flowy nature and also features a number of orange graded technical slabs to test your bike handling skills. Our favourite section is Run Ragley Run, named after the hardcore hardtail brand.
Other things to do
Northern Ireland also has a handful of Regional trail centres including Blessingbourne and Castle Ward but, if you’ve a couple of hours to kill before your ferry back, we reckon the best thing to do is head to Barnett Demesne on the outskirts of Belfast to sample the only official jump park in Northern Ireland
There are six graded lines to nail and a couple of hours sessioning will be enough to find your flow.
Places to stay
Of course you’re going to need somewhere to rest your weary legs (and sup on a few cheeky bevvies) after a long day’s riding, but Northern Ireland has you covered with a smattering of mountain bike friendly accommodation in reach of all the National trail centres.
For Rostrevor we’d recommend either the Whisteldown B&B for a characterful sea front stay or East Coast adventure pods for a more lo-fi experience. Best of all both of these are offering discounts if you quote MountainBike30 when booking.
A full list of mountain bike friendly accommodation can be found here.
To make things even easier, MountainBikeNI.com is packed full of impartial advice on planning your mountain biking trip to Northern Ireland this year and includes useful information such as detailed trail guides, interactive mapping, event listings, photos and videos as well as local recommendations on where to eat, drink and stay near the trails.
Planning on extending your trip to Northern Ireland, check out Ireland.com for some ideas of other things to do and inspirational places to visit on the Emerald Isle.
For more information on this 30 hour return ferry offer, click here.