Bruntsfield to Ballyshannon – or bust!

A return trip to Scotland, eighteen years after completing an international teaching exchange at Denny High School, morphed into a plan for a bike ride taking in long-held yearnings to visit some of the Scottish isles, and Borders region, along with parts of Ireland. This blog is intended to be a record of how the trip progresses as well as a resource where various maps, apps and links will be stored.

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My Travel Motto

‘When things don’t seem to be going so well – just wait a moment.’

Left Derry a little disappointed at not managing to catch any Gaelic football or music. Sure enough, that evening I found myself watching a Friday night local game, after having a great chat about the Irish economy, along with varied other topics at the pub in Ballybofey, just a few doors up from where I stayed. The next day made it to Donegal Town and sampled the local cuisine at the ‘Taste of Donegal’ festival before retiring to the ‘Bull and Whistle’ which was packed to the rafters for the Mayo v Dublin semi final.

The crowd were pro Mayo to a person. Apparently Dublin are seen as a bit of a mix between Carlton and Collingwood, and despised accordingly. Mayo were well behind for most of the game but finished strongly to bring home a draw, much to the very vocal delight of the crowd.

What are these things? And why are the roadsigns all now in kilometres instead of miles?

The Ballybofey boys going around.

The ‘Taste of Donegal’ Festival

This family won best product of the ‘Taste of Donegal’ Festival. We shared stories of apple juicing (my juicing experience from ’86’ at Main Ridge finally coming in handy!

A quick medieval weaponry demo at the Donegal Castle on the way to the ‘Pig and Whistle’.

Early on the crowd had given it away, but Mayo stormed home for a draw! Great excitement!


The ride from Limavady to Derry was long and challenging. Heavy rain gave way to a never ending procession of steep hills and dales. The history of Derry is interesting given 'The Seige of Derry' and 'The Troubles'. The pub scene was a lot more intimidating for an individual than I have been used to, and I didn't really find the music or sport that I had hoped for. Ah well! You get that when your travelling.

Derry is a walled city. This is one of the four gates. The Catholics lived outside the walls in surrounding areas including The Bogside, where 'Bloody Sunday' took place. Murals in that area commemorate 'The Troubles'. Headlines in the local papers indicate ongoing antipathies.

Bernadette Devlin

Bloody Sunday victims.

Ongoing tensions.

About to enter a forest path.


Downhill Beach House and on to Limavady

With sun shining and wind from behind, the ride from Ballycastle was a dream run. Passed the heritage listed Giants Causeway and the fantastic beaches of the Antrim coast. Arrived early at Portrush where booked into a 10 bed dorm room and so visited the Tourist Information Office. She suggested I push on 12 miles to the Downhill Beach House. The night at the Beachhouse turned out to be a highlight. Great host William who was up for a chat and very supportive of my trip. Seemed to have the place to myself. Interesting historical area.

The next day to Limavady turned into a bit of a trial with the biggest hill climb of NCN 93, and the rain starting, making the descent quite treacherous. In the end the extra miles from the day before were appreciated.

Interestingly, Limavady is very proud of itself as the home of ‘Danny Boy’. The house where the song was written is opposite the Alexander Arms where I stayed. Unfortunately relentless American hip-hop on the menu at the hotel!

Danny Boy written two doors up.
The Downhill Beach House
Train line along the coast.
From the top of the hill, rain on the way!
Left hander at Castlerock
Nice VW
Route map – the good day!
Route map – the challenging day!
A ‘different’ weather forecast!
Just goes to show that some things are the same world over – when school goes back the weather nice weather arrives.

Next week: There is a real chance of the weather settling down next week with the Azores High building up northwards towards Iceland and steering down a coolish but mainly dry northerly airflow over Ireland. Certainly some scattered showers are likely but the dominant weather is more likely to be dry conditions and good sunny spells. Good drying as well in the moderate northwesterly winds. Temperatures from 14 degrees along the north and northwest coast and high ground to at best 18 degrees in the east and south. The nights chilly with minima in single figures and perhaps rural ground temperatures dipping below zero.

Some photos from earlier on.













Port Charlotte to Port Ellen and then Ballycastle – Northern Ireland

A bit of a heartbreaker with headwinds all the way and a long ten mile monotonous straight, uphill, into the wind section. Just on arriving at Port Ellen received a message that the ferry had been cancelled so checked into a B&B on the main street.

Some good education on the whisky industry was available from the pub 3 doors down, and a chance to meet some sailors from England and Ireland who were on stopovers.

Next day rode out to see the ‘Kidalton Cross’ (see below), while waiting for the 5 o’clock ferry to Ireland. Arrived in Ballycastle where the ‘Lammas Festival’ was in full swing. Crowds of people wandering aimlessly up and down the streets and every pub (and their were lots) with burly Irish boys spilling out onto the road.

Heartbreak Highway
Port Ellen at last!
The B & B
The Pub
The road to Kildalton
The Kildalton Cross
The Kildalton Cross is a monolithic high cross in Celtic cross form in the churchyard of the former parish church of Kildalton (from Scottish Gaelic Cill Daltain, “Church of the Foster Son” (i.e. St John the Evangelist) on the island of Islay in the Inner Hebrides, Scotland. It was carved probably in the second half of the 8th century AD, and is closely related to crosses of similar date on Iona. It is often considered the finest surviving Celtic cross in Scotland, and is certainly one of the most perfect monuments of its date to survive on western Europe. The cross and the adjacent roofless medieval parish church are in the care of Historic Scotland (access at all times). A simpler cross of late medieval date stands nearby. (Wikipedia)
The church at Kildalton.
Perhaps the most prestigious of the Islay Distilliries. Last nights whisky education session at the pub determined that another tour and tasting was not required!!!
The ‘Lammas Festival’
The Auld Lammas Fair is a traditional fair held in Ballycastle, County Antrim, Northern Ireland every year on the last Monday and Tuesday of August. It is associated with the Lammas harvest festival. The fair has been running for nearly 400 years, dating back to the 17th century. Various goods are traditionally sold at the fair. These include livestock and traditional foods such as Yellowman, a local variant of honeycomb and dulse, a type of edible seaweed. A ballad written by local shopkeeper and bog-oak carver John Henry MacAuley enhanced the local fame of the fair. MacAuley was also a well known fiddler, but died in 1937 before his song became famous. On 28 August 2001 a Royal Ulster Constabulary officer discovered a large incendiary bomb in the centre of Ballycastle whilst the fair was running. After the area was cleared British Army bomb disposal experts defused the device. The attempted attack was initially claimed by the Red Hand Defenders. However, the RUC later suggested that it was carried out by the Ulster Volunteer Force. (Wikipedia)

To Islay

The ride from the east to west coast of Aran was truly spectacular. Through the cute little village of Corrie and then up high over a pass under the brooding peak of Goatfel. I discovered that midges can bite while you are riding. It seems they smash into bare legs and the bite before the wind rips them away.

Higher and higher!

Lochranza Castle

A 30 minute ferry from Lochranza (where the well known castle ruin is on the estuary) to Kintyre. 15 kms on the bike then a second ferry to Port Askaig on Islay. A very pleasant 20 miles to Port Charlotte ended with a battle into a howling gale.

Ferry at Lochranza

Leaving Aran

Ferry from Kintyre


Arrival at Port Askaig on Islay

Had a bit of a rest day at Port Charlotte Hostel. It's an old converted distillery (of course). Just a lazy 30 km's to the remote village of Portanhaven.

Portanhaven, and beyond that…. Canada!




The Isle of Arran

Some rain was always expected on this trip….. but Day 3? A challenging day negotiating out of Glasgow, a punishing hill that resulted from straying off the route, and most of the day on busy roads. Hopefully this should be the only day where those main roads need to be used. Then the rain which necessitated burning a few hours at the ferry terminal before heading out to the Shore Haven hostel just outside Brodick. Arrived pretty wet but good drying facilities.