Iskaheen to Enniskillen 110 kms
Tús maith leath na hoibre. An early start makes all the difference. Getting the gear sorted and the bikes properly loaded made for much more efficient cycling today on this longer stage. Yesterday I found the weight distribution was all wrong with too much weight in the front panniers. Lesson learned.
One thing that struck a chord yesterday was the issue of Mica in Donegal houses. It was truly shocking to see the number of homes affected by this mineral in building blocks causing walls to crack and crumble. In some cases homes have been abandoned. It is a major problem and some realistic form of redress is needed for those affected.
We looked forward to visiting Derry and we weren’t disappointed. It’s so improved from when I visited in 1986 while on a family holiday in Bunbeg, County Donegal. Phil Coulter captures the essence of Derry so well in his favourite composition ‘The Town That I Loved So Well’:
We’d need to spend a few days in Derry to do it justice; one of the oldest and most historic cities on the island, its beginnings reach back to the 6th century when one of Ireland’s greatest saints, Colmcille, founded a monastery at Doire. Worth noting the Carlow connection here – he was educated by St Finnian of Clonard – who was born in Myshall and became teacher to the stars of Irish monasticism!
The walled city of Derry has many attractions; it is the only fully intact walled town in Ireland and guided tours of the murals of the troubles is among the attractions. The beautiful Peace Bridge, a walking and cycling bridge, opened in 2011 links the Unionist Waterside with the Nationalist Cityside on the opposite sides of the River Foyle and is a must to traverse.
Our time in the City was too brief and we had to keep moving south. That proved very easy with a terrific underused bike path along the west bank of the River Foyle and we quickly sped onwards.
I was very impressed with the beautiful flower displays in the villages back over the border in Donegal of Carrigans and Saint Johnston as we roughly followed the Sustrans Cycle Route 92 (which links Derry, Omagh and Lifford). These are great routes to plan a journey around as they avail of the quiet country roads. It wasn’t long until we reached Lifford, on the Donegal side of the border and Strabane on the Tyrone side.
To mark the new millennium a cross border initiative saw the commissioning of a unique art installation on the border between Lifford and Strabane entitled ‘Let the Dance Begin’. It consists of 5 semi-abstract figures each approximately 18 foot in height representing dancers and musicians, great unifying and popular art forms throughout the locality. The site was hugely symbolic as it was here the old border checkpoint was located. When we visited the five musicians were adorned with massive hooped jerseys of the Noah’s Army Foundation, set up in memory of 14 year old school boy Noah Donohoe who sadly lost his life in Belfast.
We left Strabane and head out via Sion Mills into the hill country surrounding Castlederg. A lot of huffing and puffing in the scorching heat up those climbs but the route turned out to be fantastic – virtually traffic free and great surfaces. I prefer to rely on paper maps than using Google on the phone – Google is a disaster for cycling on country roads and has a mind of its own!
But there was a gap in my map coverage and we were winging it along the ‘sunlit uplands’ of Tyrone and Fermanagh! The views were incredible and at one stage we could clearly see as far as Ben Bulben in Sligo.
Incidentally all the supermarkets we were in were fully stocked and none seemed affected by the dreaded ‘NI Protocol’!
Our target for the day was Enniskillen and we were glad to finally reach our destination after a long day in the sweltering heat. Stayed in a lovely B&B, Drumcoo House, on the outskirts of Town. Day 2 done and dusted.