Dromara, County Down to: Mourne Mountains, Northern Ireland
Last of my favourite routes, though not the least! Challenging B roads with poor surfaces in places esp. nr. Slieve Croob Essential: * Ireland North Ordanance Survey Holiday Map 1:250,000 #1. (1 + 4 miles) (or better) Nice to have: **Mourne Country Outdoor Persuits Map 1:25,000 (2.5 = Mile) . Pillion or other biker(s) to argue about the route! Routefinding will be the problem until you've done this before, or unless you can get a reasonable map. -
Start off from Dromara village (* 328, 349) in County Down. To get there,from Belfast M1 West to Sprucefield, A1 South following Dublin signs until Dromore. At Dromore take the first exit left, down a hill to a petrol station and immediately left to go due East in the Ballynahinch direction. Continue down this road for roughly 4 miles until you come to some angled cross-roads, there is a grey-painted house at the junction, with a kind of green in front of it, railings and an old cottages on the right, and a stand of big old trees, the settlement is called Ballykeel on the map. Turn right for Dromara (South).
On a clear day you should see your first destination, the 523 meter hill, Slieve Croob. Carry on down this road,a wonderful pegscraper on the sharp righthand corner at the bottom (opposing traffic notwithstanding). Unless you enjoy your beef incredibly fresh, watch out for cows crossing in 1/2 mile. Ride through Dromara and straight out the other side (great Fish & Chips incidentally). (from the Ballynahinch direction, follow signs for Dromore and then Dromara. Turn left when you reach the T junction at the end, in Dromara.) Keep going. S-Bend over a humpback bridge is a signal to gas it for a few yards afterwards, followed by a sharp left, and sweepers that open up, toclose down again (left) as you come into the village of Minnis.
Easy , now turn first left over the obvious bridge by a telephone box well before you get to the church. This narrow road carries straight on, weaving a little as it passes some cottages, until heading straight up the side of Slieve Croob. It IS straight here, but I'll bet there's a sheep or goat with your name on it waiting for you to wear it alive or dead like a jumper here if you go totally radge . Further up, the road narrows and theres some challenging bends before you get to the car park for the footpath to Slieve Croob. If you need a break you can stop here, and on a good day have views all the way over Belfast with the Antrim hills in the far distance, and Lough Neah on your left. Loose asphalt demands care unless you enjoy picking your bike off the ground (he said knowingly). Further up the road you come to a T-junction, take the left, downhill.Pass a junction to your right and you come to a sharp 'S' with dodgy road surface.When the road straightens our head accross the moorland for the trees. Speed could cause you to leave the saddle or become mildly airborne. Sharp left bend under the trees. Carry on down the hill. Some way over the brow, with a line of trees on your left, slow down for a lefthander. You're taking an immediate right (past a newish house at the bottom of a slope) for the obvious gap in the hills on your right. The surface here is cack, andthe junction doubles back on itself and is steep.
Easy! Reversing this junction is nigh on impossible due to the surface and angle - a bike has been dropped here for that reason. This road is almost single track with a disconcerting strip of grass down the middle in parts. Gulp. Most of the surface is OK unless its covered in tractors, tourists from the nearby lodge, or cattle, though. Enjoy. Up anddown, quite a few narrow bends. Emerge grinning at the end of the road, a T-junction, over the other side of the hills, as the road broadens out noticably. Left, and down the hill, towards the Mournes on the far horizon. Keep going down hill and eventually over some crossroads - the road ahead seems to go straight through someone's farm! Follow the bends up the hill and through the woods. As you keep going up the hill you come to a junction with a steeper gradient to the right which is overhung with trees (is that like a hangover?). Again, someone has thoughtfully carpeted the centre line with grass, occasionally also with leaves and maybe some ice. Yum yum. This road eventually deposits you at a T-junction. Left, down the hill a few yards to another 'T', and then right down the hill. Horses use this stretch of road and may try and cut off your exit - watch for ka ka and novice riders who would love to dive onto your bike for a lift. Follow the road up to a T-junction. Right into Castlewellan. Up the hill and through the town. After much shops, a mini-roundabout is a signal to turn left, with a pub on your right and petrol station on your left. Out of the built-up area, the road is wide and mostly straight.This is the A50 to Newcastle.
Just over a mile, and you come to an obvious staggered junction with white line boxes, and a filter to turn right. Take the right turn to Bryansford ( **346 333) the B180, also signposted (I think) to Hilltown. Carry on up through Byansford and past Tollymore Forest Park with views between the trees of the Mournes on your left. Roadsigns moot the possibility of wildlife encounters, but not Volvos reversing from farms into your path. Ignore any such provocation. Keep going out of the trees, (past a turn to Kilcoo on your right) thence second on your left, maybe signposted Spelga / Kilkeel. Or maybe not. Take this lefthand turn and head for the heart of the Mournes.The map says this is the C132. Yeah, right. You're following the banks of the Shimna river into the mountains. Keep on past the pine trees before Fafanny Dam / reservoir (Ger-Granville!) under the shadow of Butter Mountain. (is this like the EEC Butter Mountain ? Hmm ?).
Crack throttle as necessary. Geddup that hill, avoiding Sunday motorists looking at scenery and trying to smear you into it.The road levels out, and starts to descend Crocknafeola Woods and ultimately Kilkeel to the South. But I've a better idea for you! And this is the real point of the trip. Turn right (B27) (towards Hilltown), almost back on yorrself, towards the woods and Spelga dam / reservoir. In good weather a van provides icecream, tea, coffee snacks ?.So if you're itchin' for a break best take it now. Bikers with custom bikes and horns glued to open-faced helments might like to stop off at the Slievenamuck woods by the Reservoir, for a quick pagan ritual or maybe sandwiches. Next is not for pussies, the inexperienced or severely myopic without rectifying opthalmic attention. Head down the Selga Pass. If you crash here, you will sculpt your own tombstone from the surrounding landscape before you stop. There are some severe changes of direction, and a steep S-Bend half way down , most bends suffering from an alarmingly tightening radius which can leave the unwary stranded in the wrong gutter. As the severtiy of the pass lessens, so the bends open up before on more tightening line on a lefthander. By the time you get to the bottom your eyes will be extruded on stalks out of your helmet like a couple of cartoon boiled eggs. Great. When you start leaving the hills with Hen Mountain on your left, I take itas a good opportunity to stop, and clean the old soiled leathers. Crackin' Grommet-cheese. Because its time to turn around and go back UP the pass. The extra weight over the driving wheel here means that one could if one were inclined (ha!ha!) lean off the bike for extra traction with much more impunity. Those with aforesaid Viking-Biking helmets will recognise the return journey as Valhalla. Now, Clive, you're just going to have to do this all over again....
When you get back to the T-junction act the top past Selga dam, you haveseveral choices. Turn right is commendable if you want to take a left after a 3.1/4 miles downhill run, singposted Silent Valley, and ultimately on to Newcastle. Returning (left) in the direction you have come (north) offers other tasty morsels. Run down past Fafanny Dam (no, I can't believe it either) past an obvious left turn brings you almost unexpectedly to a X-roads. Take the narrow road to your right under the foot of Slieve Meelmore, along the other side of the Shimna river this time. Some low-speed peg scrapers. Watch for armchair hikers in cars who will probably scowl at you. There are several public car parks on this road, and people do just pull out. Eventually come to a wild and narrow switchback over a bridge. At the T-junction turn right and back to Bryansford. When you get to Tollymore Forest Park, and Bryansford (avoiding aforesaid Volvo driver again), you can if you want turn right towards Newcastle. There's a Caf' on your left if you're with your well-behave girlfriend. If not you can huff and puff about the exhorbitant cost of entry into Tollymore Forest Park (on your right) for motorcyclists, the take advantage of dirt-cheap but basic cooking in the Caf' there. Bargain. As for the rest of it, well, Write to the Site and suggest a route home! Butyou may well be caught by the lure of the Dromara Hills from the other direction, and the prospect of those bends coming DOWN from Slieve Croob!!! Arooobah!
Bala to: Trawsfynydd
A corking 130mph blast through Snowdonia and the Cambrian Mountains on perfect clear roads and just enough twisites to keep it interesting! Better still, a petrol station at the end of the road to refill for the blast back, believe me you'll need it :)
Andover to: Newbury
I am blessed that this is the road I get to travel to work on every day. OK, most of the time I wimp-out and take the car, but on the bike, it puts a smile on my face. Here it is. As you leave Andover under Enham Arch you are tempted by a short stretch of dual carriageway interspersed with a couple of fast clearview roundabouts - get the tyres warmed up here. Give it a quick blast on the short stretch of open road between Andover and Enham, but watch out 'cos this road holds flood water for days after rain. Steady through Enham and don't be tempted to wind-it up too quickly 'cos the first right hander is tight. Now you can go. Into the dip and then into the forrest stretch (some nice twisties - watch out for pheasents and deer) before emerging high above Hurstbourne.
If the conditions are right and you are on the road early in the morning, you may now be given a real treat as you aften get a cloud inversion in the Valley below. It looks stunning as you descend from clear skies into mist. The drop into Hurstbourne is quite steep, over the bridge, lovely double-s (slow though and steady for villagers). As you come out of the village you get a clear view up the hill - wind it back here and burn-off the slowbies. Fast right hander at the top and then power on down the straight past Essebourne Manor. The next bit I find tricky. A sweeping downhill righ-hander through the forrest, followed by a moderatley tight lefty at the bottom. I don't know if its a slight unfavourable camber, or 'cos I've seen two many cars ploughing fields here, but that combo plays on my mind and I always tighten-up! Now a couple of fast bends and up and downy bits (good stuff) before a long up-hill straight through the trees (this looks stunning coming the other way). At the top, another combo, this time a lefty, followed by a down-hill right and then a fast left, before hitting the straight past the Yew Tree. Steady thro' Highclere, under the A34 and onwards into Newbury.
If you do this in reverse, watch out for speed-traps: (i) as you come out of Highclere and (ii) at the bottom of the hill as you enter Hurstbourne. Have fun. About 15 miles of it.
Theale to: Christened Kneesliders
Head North East from Theale on the A4 and just before you get to Junction 12 of the M4 you'll come across a great, on-camber roundabout with a clear view of traffic from all directions. Warm up here but this one can be quite busy so take the right exit off and you'll find yourself at an Industrial Estate with two linked roundabouts which are perfect for first-time sliders. On a Sunday there is almost no traffic there, we saw three cars there in half an hour, one of which was a security patrol who seemed more than willing to turn a blind eye...
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