Reflections from a Bike
“I think I’ll try a lap of the Lough”. My husband nearly chokes on his tea. “Lap Lough Neagh? On the bike?”, he says, as his brain tries to catch up with my latest idea. “Yes, why not, something to achieve before my 60th birthday.” “Are you sure you can do it?” He is thinking of my diabetes and my deafness. Cycling 100 miles around the Lough would be a hell of a challenge. But the look of doubt on his face was enough; that’s it, I’m going to do it!
My journey begins at the Washingbay, an early morning mist rising from the Lough. As a child, I used to stand at the water’s edge and look across to the other side; how far away it seemed. Until recent times, the waters here were used for healing; pilgrims still come to the Holy River for cures. (I’ll maybe need that later…) The Ferry Road, once a busy route to Dublin, is a quiet backwater now. Though it is said that at night, the clatter of horses’ hooves can still be heard; a ghostly coach rushing to the (long gone) ferry. Coney Island comes into view; the power of the scenery leaves me breathless with wonder. (Or maybe that’s just me puffing up a hill?).
Next stop Oxford Island, time for a break, and to admire the swans. My route hugs the shoreline; virtually traffic free. These roads might have been carved from the ancient tracks of fishermen going to and from the shore, or animals travelling to pasture. I recall my father and grandfather pedalling along here for work. These days, most of us cycle for pleasure. It’s so peaceful and quiet, no sound but birdsong. Legs tiring, I have a rest at the café in Antrim Castle Gardens, contemplating a carved memorial to the wolfhound who saved the life of Lady Langford in 1607. Back on the bike, I pass the fisheries co-operative at Toome; a reminder of the livelihood the lough brings to local people.
Soon, I’m at Ardboe High Cross, looking in wonderment at the 1,000-year- old carvings. Sitting near the Abbey, I feel this is truly a special place. Time stands still. From here, I see the other side of the shore again. Wow, I’ve made it, only eight miles to go!! 60th birthday?? Like the miles around the lough, it’s just a number; the flow of the lough puts life into perspective. It reminds me of Yeats’:
“I will arise and go now, for always night and day
I hear lake water lapping with low sounds by the shore;
While I stand on the roadway, or on the pavements grey,
I hear it in the deep heart’s core”.
(WB Yeats: Lake Isle of Innisfree)
Cycling has been a fantastic way to view the Lough shore; to take time out, see the hidden parts; to sense its peace. Sometimes, the more we hurry, the less time we have.
Ah, what a day!