Saturday, May 12, 2012

Traveling from Dublin to the Antrim Coast, with Luggage and a Brompton

Dublin-Belfast Luggage
I am staying in a remote area on the Antrim Coast in Northern Ireland, near the town of Ballycastle. Getting here from the suburbs of Dublin was quite something, though very much worth it in the end. I had with me three pieces of luggage: A suitcase on wheels, my fully folded Brompton bicycle sheathed in a cloth cover, and a Carradice City Folder bag that can also be carried as a shoulder bag. I am an average sized female with below-average upper body strength, and lugging these 3 things around on my own through the various segments of the trip was doable. I rolled the suitcase in my left hand, carried the Carradice across my chest messenger style, and carried the Brompton by the frame in my right hand. This last part was the most difficult for me. The Brompton weighs over 20lb and I can only carry it in one hand for so long, especially if I am also dragging other things at the same time. But again, doable.

As is probably obvious by the rolling suitcase, this is not the sort of trip where I planned to ride to the train station and to my destination upon arrival. I am not touring, but rather traveling with a bike, which I intend to use once I settle in. I will be here for a while, staying in the same place the entire time, and so I wanted to be comfortable, have plenty of clothes to change into, and have all the camera equipment I wanted with me. I thoroughly researched the transportation situation in advance and determined that for the last leg of my trip, a bus could drop me off within walking distance of the place I am staying despite its remoteness. There is also a local commuter train (DART) that stops just down the road of where I stayed in Dun Laoghaire and goes directly to the train station in Dublin. I was a little nervous of course that things don't always work out in reality as they should, but I had an emergency taxi fund just in case. 

Enterprise
The main leg of the trip was taking the train from Dublin to Belfast. These leave from Connelly Station in Dublin and they run roughly every hour on weekdays. I knew that it was supposed to be hassle-free to travel to Northern Ireland. But I didn't expect that it would be quite this nonchalant. There was nothing about the ticket purchasing or boarding experience to indicate that we would be crossing a border. I simply bought a ticket to Belfast. No one asked me to show ID. No one asked why I was traveling there. 

The train station itself was a remarkably calm place compared to other train stations I have been to in large cities. No pushing, no yelling, quiet, everyone incredibly courteous. A few people tried to help me with my luggage at various stages. I wasn't struggling with it, so I think the motivation might have been a sense of fairness - that they had none and I had three pieces, so they might as well carry some of mine to even it out. 

Luggage on Train 1
On the platform I saw a man with a folding bike and a couple of large bags. He must have been watching me also, because when the train arrived he pointed to an entrance indicating that I should use that one. I did, and it contained a nice empty luggage compartment. I easily fit both my suitcase and my bike on the middle shelf. I then sat nearby with the Carradice bag on the floor next to me.

Once the passengers settled in and the controller checked everyone's tickets, a trolley cart was brought by selling food. I bought a hot tea, and the server asked whether it was okay to give me change in pounds sterling, since he was out of change in euros. This was the first indication that anything would be different at our destination.

Dublin - Belfast Train
The train from Dublin to Belfast proceeds mostly along the coast, and the views are beautiful. The sun even came out. I relaxed and felt pleased at how well everything was going. 

An hour and a half later, the train broke down. We waited inside for 15 minutes as they tried to fix it, but were finally asked to disembark. It was then announced that we would be switching to a local service commuter train for the remainder of the journey, and that this train was waiting for us on a platform a short walk away, accessible by multiple staircases. An elderly lady beside me poked me with her elbow, winked, and said "Welcome to Northern Ireland."

I braced myself for the ordeal of multiple staircase climbs with a suitcase and a Brompton, but thankfully there were lifts, so it wasn't that bad. However, the commuter train was crowded with locals and did not have luggage compartments. I stacked my things in a corner near one of the exists, found a seat from which I could keep an eye on it, and hoped for the best. 

At length we arrived in Belfast. I expected a busy station and a rush to get off the train, but there was neither. No one shoved me or even expressed annoyance at my things being piled in front of an exit. My suitcase was promptly placed on the platform for me by a huge hand whose owner I didn't even have a chance to glimpse, and I quickly grabbed the bike, worried that who-ever tried to help with it would try to pick it up by the (bottomless) bag. 

Connoly Station, Dublin
The Belfast Central Rail Station is very small. There is a ticket stand, two tiny coffee shops, and two bank machines: one dispensing pounds sterling, the other dispensing euros. The one dispensing pounds was out of order. As luck would have it, I hadn't brought any cash in GBP, figuring I'd easily withdraw it here. So I bought a coffee, paid with a 20 euro note, and got the change back in pounds. A few others had the same idea and the coffee shop became the currency exchange booth.

Speaking as a visitor, it felt a little disorienting that there was nothing acknowledging a border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and yet there was suddenly a different currency system. A local radio station was playing, and in between songs the announcer said something like "the weather across the United Kingdom is beautiful today" and that too felt odd, since at no point had there been signs or announcements mentioning the United Kingdom. It's hard to explain, but the dichotomy feels confusing. 

Luggage on Train 2
At the Belfast Central Rail Station, I bought a ticket for the local train to a place called Ballymena, which was the closest train station to my destination. These trains also ran very frequently, which impressed me given how sparsely populated County Antrim is. At the end of each train car, there was a section dedicated to bikes and baby strollers, with liftable seats. I easily stored my luggage there. The train route from Belfast to Ballymena is mostly inland, and there I saw saw some light industry and some farms. The landscape in this area looked a little stark compared to the Eastern coastline.

Up until this point it had been sunny, but as soon as the train stopped at Ballymena and I disembarked, it began pouring. Thankfully the Ulster Bus terminal was just across the road and it was covered. I carried my luggage there and found the Ballycastle bus stop. According to the schedule posted, the next bus was due to arrive in just 5 minutes. I was alone in the terminal except for a man in his 60s, who was pacing back and forth nearby. So far in Ireland, I have found it impossible to occupy the same space as someone else without ending up having a chat with them, and this was no exception. Within minutes I learned that the gentleman was a retired policeman who lived in the area and enjoyed a free bus pass on account of being a pensioner. Glancing at his watch, he gleefully announced that my bus was already late and that I was lucky if it showed up in the next half hour despite was the schedule said. "He's probably stopped for a sandwich, or having a chat with his mate," the man speculated cheerfully. However, the bus pulled up only a few minutes behind schedule. 

Incredibly, it looked like I was to be the only passenger and the driver suggested that I simply toss my luggage onto the front row of seats. That is what I did, then sat down next to it. 

We traveled 27 miles from the inland town of Ballymena to the coastal town of Ballycastle, as the weather alternated between glorious sunshine and dark skies with pelting rain. We passed mostly farmlands with lots and lots of baby lambs. Occasionally there was a village center, then back to lambs. They were beautiful and fluffy and I began to get sleepy counting them. 

As we approached the coast, the driver asked me where I wanted him to stop. This sort of stunned me, but he assured me that he had nothing better to do and might as well take me to my door so that I didn't have to walk. As a dramatic view of the sea opened up in front of us, I told him the address and that is where he dropped me off.

And so finally there I was, with my suitcase, my Carradice bag and my Brompton, ringing the door bell of my new residence. At this point I was utterly exhausted. But all things considered I think the trip went well. I left Dublin at 7:40am and arrived at Ballycastle just past 12:30 in the afternoon. I managed fine with my luggage, and now here I am settled in and with my own bike on the Antrim Coast.

The transportation system in Northern Ireland is impressive as far as density of coverage and the frequency with which the local buses and trains run; I had not expected anything nearly this good. For anyone interested in traveling through County Antrim, you can definitely do so without the hassle of renting a car. Prices for buses and trains are reasonable, and the stops take you not only to local village centers but also to remote scenic locations along the coast such as the Giant's Causeway. Traveling with a folding bike should not be a problem, especially if it's one that folds up as small as the Brompton. For anybody considering visiting the Antrim Coast in this manner, I highly recommend it.

46 comments:

  1. Thank you for a most wonderful day of travel. I was "there".

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  2. for what it's worth, if one doesn't mind mercilessly loading the easywheels (and they CAN bend)one can use a half folded brompton and a large front touring pannier as a trolley of sorts, it's useful when touring since it means one doesn't have to leave anything outside when, say, popping into a museum/cafe/whatever takes your fancy between two destinations, i.e. sort-of heavy credit card touring..

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    1. In my experience nearly half the businesses deny me entry when I try to bring in the bike in this manner. Fully folded and covered with the cloth is the safest method I've found.

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  3. You must have a photographic memory, given the amount of detail you packed into your report.

    Ah the joys of Ulsterbus and Ballymena (which is near my hometown)! Yes the journey to Ballycastle is great. I always seem to get soaked or blown away by the wind when cycling round there, but the scenery is great.

    I do have one question though .... how on earth where you able to get decent web connectivity on the move to make your twitter updates? Your cell phone bill must be huge!

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    1. "how on earth where you able to get decent web connectivity on the move to make your twitter updates? Your cell phone bill must be huge!"

      Oh no, zero cell phone bill.

      My iphone is disconnected from all cell phone reception, so I can have it on and it doesn't "roam" on foreign networks. However the wifi is connected. This means that any time I am in a place with free wifi, my phone is connected to the net. Otherwise, it functions as a pocket camera. I post instagram pictures and stuff on twitter in bursts, usually when I am in a cafe or at the place where I am staying; loads of places have free wifi here.

      For phone calls I have another phone - cheap, small, ancient. It is unlocked for international SIM cards. I bought a 10 eur SIM card in South Ireland and that is what I am using for calls.

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  4. Having recently ridden a borrowed brompton (the new larger model with the rack and not ti at that) and been obliged to carry it up and down a few flights of stairs, I can sympathize with it being a bit of a challenge to carry for any length. I'm glad you managed without overly much difficulty.

    I am absolutely fascinated by your trip thus far, eagerly checking my rss feed frequently to see the latest post. Traveling abroad with a bike has been a dream since I started riding a few years ago, so your "living the dream" in my estimation. How long are you staying, I wonder? Your referral to your "new residence" has me wondering...

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    1. The larger model - Do you mean with the taller handlebars?

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    2. Yes, I read also that the frame for h models is somehow larger as well, and while I can't be certain, it seems true based on my recent experience trying to fit the borrowed h type into my dad's carrying bag versus putting his m type inside. Its very difficult to fit the h inside without another person to help zip it, while the m seems to have much more space.

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  5. My dad's grandfather was from that area and I've wanted to visit ... I think staying and biking will be a most lovely way to be a part of the community!

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  6. It seems a pity that the Brompton can't double as a rickshaw luggage carrier. Just tie up all the luggage to the bike and wheel it along. But that would probably raise eyebrows in airports.

    I imagine there probably aren't that many cyclists who'd have that particular need arise in any event.

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  7. i'm guessing others have already noted non-google-friendly "bromtpon", repeated in title and post...

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    1. Actually it's a Bromtpon that I've got. They are not exported to the US normally, very rare things...

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    2. They're the ones with the unicorn fork.

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  8. Ooh. I don't know what you're over there for but you make me a little envious. We're having the loveliest spring here with just the right amount of everything(sun,rain,breeze,flowers,etc...) but your pictures and descriptions have me wanting to slip out the door with my passport and a carry-on. One of the things I enjoy most is seeing how well the shape of the space I take up fits into things somewhere else...

    Spindizzy

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  9. Enjoying your read on your travels in Ireland looks like Dark Hedges is in your future! Thanks for sharing. Glenn in the NW

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  10. I always found folks in Ireland very friendly if one was alone and not in a big group, and very loquacious. :) Looks lovely! I'm looking forward to seeing your posts on N. Ireland, as I lived there for a couple years, a long, long time ago.

    I'll be leading a tour back to Western Ireland in July, and I can't wait. It's just such an easy place to like: so beautiful, friendly, and relatively cheap.

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    1. Ha yes, I imagine the reaction to a group of boisterous teenagers would be a little different. I'd love to visit the West Coast sometime.

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    2. Yeah, the teens didn't really care about interacting with the locals :).

      I think my tour this summer with grown ups will be different, as older folks generally want to connect with the culture. But I love travelling with teens, as they're just willing to do anything, without any worries.

      Frankly, I just like travelling :).

      You should definitely try Western Ireland sometime. It would be good for "bike exploring," as your new post puts it. Email me if you ever decide to do it. I have plenty of tips on where to ride and how to avoid the 50mph headwinds!

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  11. You were the sole passenger on a bus going to a small coastal town? If you were in New England I'd be having "Shadow Over Innsmouth" flashes.

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  12. Yup, agree with all. This is a very relaxing blog. Hope the trip continues well. Oh, remember, you are just a short ferry trip from Scotland which is very like ireland but has better coffee :-)

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    1. I saw and photographed a piece of Scotland yesterday, from across the water : )

      The coffee situation here is not bad at all actually. I am drinking some right now in a seaside cafe with free wifi; no complaints.

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    2. Excellent :-) If you do get itchy and get across to Scotland, I'd recommend a vist to one of the bike parks. Kirroughtree and Glentress are jewels in the crown of scottish cycling centers. Your bromptom might be a wee bit under-equipped though. Stay well and enjoy your trip.

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  13. I am impressed, but also slightly worried that you are traveling entirely on your own. How do you find Northern Ireland as far as safety?

    Beth

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    1. It is certainly safer than any place I've ever traveled within the US. I feel entirely comfortable here on my own.

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    2. I traveling alone dangerous? That isn't even a notion I've ever entertained for an adult traveling in Europe.

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    3. An American accent is a guarantee of safety in Northern Irleand - all the Irish love the States - they have so many relations livng there! Even my English accent would be entirely safe in Northern Ireland now. I worked in Dublin during the 70's and once you have adapted to their pace of life you realise how wonderful the Irish people are.

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    4. I don't exactly speak with an American accent, but feel quite safe anyway.

      "all the Irish love the States..."

      Really? Not that people dislike the States here. But I would say they have mixed impressions.

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  14. Great to see you're enjoying it over here. I don't recall reading if you're veggie or not, if not make sure you have a good ulster fry with White pudding. If you are, make sure you eat some good soda bread! Have fun!

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    1. I used to be more or less vegetarian until this happened. Love white pudding, soda bread, and also the style of potato bread they have here (soft, pancake-like). I guess it's a good thing I ride my bike a lot!

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  15. Hmm, something's wrong if you're lugging the Brompton about over longer distances, rather than rolling it on its "elbow wheels"! You might be a good candidate for the rear rack, fit with 4 casters, if you find the L-type's 2 insufficiently stable. These 2 videos explain, demonstrate: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=34f4i7d4A-c ; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g4le4mSFssQ . Variation with more luggage - note that the slipcover could conceal the bike in this configuration while retaining luggage trolley functionality: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cleverchimp/3391062189/in/set-72157622596145551

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    1. But would you really call carrying it across the street or down a train platform or up a staircase long distances? That's the extent to which I've been carrying it.

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    2. nice flickr pic...my only caveat is that i knackered the axles on the easywheels that way, and for some reason just can't get it symmetrical again (with the seat post banging more than it should)...for all it's uber functional design I always end up wishing the easywheels were more robust

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    3. Derf, I believe Brompton has beefed up the tubing to which the easy wheels attach in recent years. My 2004 Brompton has bent like yours; my 2008 has not.

      Velouria, I carry it up stairs, but seldom more than 10 feet in other circumstances. You have an extra piece of luggage that doesn't fit on the bike (tsk! :-)), so I can see how it's a bit more awkward...

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    4. Velouria, i think you should have a peek at Brompton's touring pannier, it's not as aesthetic as that front bag you have, but it doesn't half swallow vast amounts of luggage...

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  16. Travelling by train and folding bike is a nice way to go. I've done it myself but it seems more lovely when you describe it!

    The part I enjoy most is unfolding the bike at the other end and riding off. Half nerd, half freedom. I feel like a dog being let off the leash.

    Thanks for keeping the blog, I really enjoy following.

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  17. What a lovely bunch of people travelling with you. Vey kind of the busman to stop where you wanted too.

    Your Brompton probably did a little smile when you unwrapped it too! :D

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  18. Great to see that you are comfortable in Ballycastle. That's where I started school and I go back every year to stay in the Coastguard's tower, where my grandfather was coastguard. You'll find that every exit from the town is uphill and the amazing Torr Road is one of the steepest in the whole island, but the views are astonishing. I've read that the Brompton is not very exciting for down hill runs, so you might have the struggle without the reward. Belting downhill on my Ridgeback on the road from Cushendun was close to the sensation of flying. I hope you have a lovely time.

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    1. Oh no. I've been to Torr Head today and I do not believe you rode in that area downhill on any sort of bike! Good God, how can they label that as a cycle route?

      And yes, I've noticed that every exit from the town is uphill! Love it here. Can't believe you stay in the coastguard tower and have that family connection.

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    2. I rode the Torr Road to Cushendun and back by the inland route; that's where the great long downhill is, about five miles of it, if I recall right.
      You might like to extend your interest in old delivery bikes with a visit to Donnelly's Butcher in the Main street. They have their old delivery bike in the window and Donnelly senior will tell you how he rode it as a boy delivering meat to the convent and the hotel.

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    3. I spotted the Donnelly's butcher bike straight away, but assumed it was just a storefront prop. Thanks for the background story.

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  19. BTW you'll get the bet fish and chips in the world in Mortons, by the harbour, on the west side.

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  20. I rode around Northern Ireland serveral years ago with my racing bike, small backpack and a large bag for all my luggage. I would stay somewhere for a few days and do day rides and then when I went somewhere else I took my large bag to the bus station and it went on the bus as a parcel and I picked it up the next day. That was a good way of 'touring' around because if it rained I wasn't forced to continue on until I was ready and I never booked anything too far in advance. And you don't have to carry all that stuff on the bike. Camping would be foul because it's too damp. They seem to get a shower of rain just long enough to get everything soaked through and then it dries out and they get another shower of rain. There's a constant dampness that never stops. You wish it would just rain and get it over with. That's how it was when I was there.

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  21. Enfields and Elswicks and Sports Specials oh my!

    'Twere very heaven.

    The smiles tell the story.

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  22. This looks like such an interesting trip so far. I'm glad that you're able to post as you go and share your travels with us.

    Good to hear that the transit there is useful. Not so in Scotland, but I heard that Ireland has a great train system, so now I want to start planning a train trip of Ireland someday. :)

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  23. love your recent travel set of photos +descriptions. they continue to have your perspective and is always nice to find specific linear details, but in various locations.
    keep them rolling xxom

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  24. Hello,

    Regarding your Carradice City Folder, does the plastic quick release and two pouches (along with metal buckles) on the bag dig into your back as you carry it slung around messenger style?

    It looks really convenient when its on the bike but is it comfortable to carry on foot?

    Many thanks for your comments

    Best,
    Samuel

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