Just as Dubliners and its visitors are now discovering, with the arrival of Dublin Bikes, cycling definitely makes us smile. Is it that ‘get back in touch with nature’ vibe (albeit not really a feature of Dublin), feeling like a child again, or just slowing down to take in the world, that makes us feel good about ourselves? If you are enjoying the new Dublin Bike scheme, then start thinking further afield. Cycling holidays are about as green as it gets, not only by their carbon neutrality, but because bikes often take you to places you wouldn’t otherwise explore, bringing much needed tourist income to those areas.
I am not talking yellow jersey 200k a day cycling holidays either. You can find those in any cycling magazine. But the sort of cycling holidays where you just pack a couple of panniers, put your bike on a boat or train, get off at the other end, and discover the powerful peace to be found in pedalling your way into unknown territory.
My most recent experience of this was in Scotland, (as featured in The Irish Times, 16.05.09), when I travelled with Scottish cycle holiday company, Velodays (www.velodays.com) and spent an amazing few days exploring Perthshire. I was met off the train with a Veldodays bike and GPS, transferred backpack to panniers, and took on 50k-ish a day adventure, full of the highs only the Highlands can provide.
If you want to treat yourself to a bracing break in the saddle before the clocks change another option is to put your bike on the Rosslare ferry and head for Fishguard, which is the start of Wales’ Celtic (West) Cycling Trail (see www.sustrans.org.uk for maps). A great eco-location to stay is Preseli Venture Eco Lodge, located 10k from Fishguard, with pickups arranged if necessary. You could just stay there, but as they are activity specialists, you could get your bikes there and combine cycling with coasteering, for example, for really getting down, dirty and drenched (www.preseliventure.co.uk).
Closer to home, if you haven’t discovered Strangford Lough in County Down yet, then get those panniers packed. The Strangford Lough Trail leads you around the back roads of this exquisitely tranquil, and utterly underrated part of Northern Ireland. Starting in Comber, County Down, the trail (132kms circular) is made even more accessible now by the Comber Greenway, an 11kms cycle track along a disused railway, from Belfast city centre to Comber. Spend a weekend doing this trail to really enjoy the Loughscape – I recommend one night at top notch eco-B&B Anna’s House (www.annashouse.com), just outside Comber, with the best breakfast ever to put you on the road (the only danger is you might not want to leave), and the second at the Portaferry Hotel (www.portaferryhotel.com), a family-run institution right on the Lough’s shores, where you can see the eponymous ferry arrive to take you across the Lough for more exploring. See www.cycleni.com and order their excellent book on all NI cycling routes.
For the more adventurous, put your bike on the ferry at Rosslare (Irish Ferries carry bikes, €5 each way), and head to Cherbourg. One hitch is that you can’t put your bike on the Rosslare train at the moment. Go figure. So try Bus Eireann instead, who, depending on space, will stick it in the boot for €11. It’s a great buzz cycling down the ramp ahead of all the cars, navigating your way through Cherbourg, and onto the Cherbourg Cycling Trail, or La Manche à Vélo – 230kms of off-road cycle trails (Voies Vertes) on disused railways or towpaths, 35 cycle loops, each around 20kms long. The first Voie Verte starts at Rocheville, 20kms outside Cherbourg. For details see www.mancherandonnee.com, but there is also great English language info on this trail on www.brittany-ferries.co.uk website, (but note that they do not actually sail from Ireland to Cherbourg, only to Roscoff in Brittany).
The list of Euro-cycling opportunities is endless, and I confess I have a bit of a habit of collecting cycle maps just to escape in my dreams, if not always from my desk. If you want to do the same, a great starting point is Eurovelo, the European Cycle Network. You can get more info on their work at www.ecf.com, but their website is a bit heavy going, so I recommend buying their maps from UK’s cycling organisation, www.sustrans.org and start planning your next expedition.