When I first arrived in Belfast, with the help of my dear friend and bike aficionada Christina, I bought a gorgeous creamy silver-blue hybrid bicycle. It has proved to be the best big purchase I have ever made. I’ve never been a huge biker. I had a bike at Elon, but only really rode the mile to and from school, and that was only when the weather was nice and gas was expensive (I know I’m a terrible environmentalist). But I never explored on my bike- it was just transport, but this beautiful blue bike is my chariot to adventure. Anytime I feel restless or tired of city sounds I can whizz through the botanic gardens, past the gym, straight for the Stranmillis towards my favorite part of Belfast, the Lagan towpath.
The Towpath is a 9-mile greenway, devoid of cars and city sounds, that runs along the River Lagan between Belfast and Lisburn. Most of the path clings right up next to the river, but every now and then it cuts through a lovely wooded park or a parking lots and passes some great spots. One of my favorites is the Lock Keeper’s Inn, a café style restaurant leisurely nestled next to the towpath between the red and gray bridges. Next to the café is the actual Lock Keepers residence, which you can tour some days, as well as a charming little nature museum. The café has recently received a lot of press as it is the business development of Iris Robinson’s former teenage lover (Click here to read all about it-it’s big news up here). But regardless, it is a great place to stop for some tea and a scone on a sunny day. I prefer the picnic tables outside where I can do a bit of people watching.
A few miles from the café the path get very rural. Grazing cows lazily watch me cycle past and I have to resist the urge to stop at the occasional farm and offer my services just for the chance to examine their amazing topsoil (I’m such a nerd-I know). Further down is where I always see a shy pair of wild swans. They never let me get their picture, ducking into the grassy bank when they see my camera. After 7 or 8 miles I usually turn back, though once in a while I go into the City of Lisburn, but I find it shocks me out of the natural dis-reality of the path. I like maintaining the green, winding river dream world for as many miles as I can.
I find that I’m not a terrible biker. In most things I’m pretty uncoordinated, despite all those years of dance lessons, but I can make sharp turns on busy streets, weave past little running children on the path and stop centimeters before squishing yippy dogs that dart into the trail. I remember the freedom of first learning navigate a training wheel-less bicycle. My bike was pink and white then, aptly named the “Breezy,” which I loved because it was what my Grandma Nana called me. I remember learning to keep balance in the driveway of International House with my dad. Our driveway at home was too steep and treacherous with the busy road at the end, but IH was perfect, flat, with only a few potholes. Dad would hold onto my seat giving me just the momentum I needed to go gliding in front of the flagpole. Of course with my success I got a fist pump and an “Alright!” Later, I would circle the parking lot attempting daredevil feats such as riding side-saddle, cruising with both legs swung to my left. Or riding while standing going down the hill to the nursery. I loved whooshing past the waterfall, hugging the curb, dodging the potholes until I reached the nursery pond where I could watch the baby swans and geese find their own footing.
All that hard work paid off and now look at me! Christina and I are planning a ride around Northern Ireland, which boasts the most extensive cycling network in the UK. Up here you can ride for hundreds of miles on greenways, coastal paths, and safe in bike lanes. I think it will be a great way to get a feel of the countryside. Who knows, maybe I can show off with some side-saddle riding.