Why I Do the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive Every Year

Posted on July 25, 2018 @ 3:08 PM in Cycling

Aran Sheridan will be taking part in his 8th Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive on 8th September 2018. We spoke to him to hear his highlights since he started and find out what it was about this event that brings him back year after year.


It all started with training for a charity cycle from Galway to Omagh in June 2011.

After the training for that and the buzz and enjoyment a few of us decided to keep cycling.  It was shortly after we noticed the very first Giants Causeway Sportive being advertised and 3 of us thought we would give it a go.  In for a penny in for a pound was my expression as I signed up online for the ‘Giant Killer – 115miles’.



The first year the first 35mile loop was reversed.  The climb out of Ballintoy was cruel and at this point I should have realised it was going to be a tough day for a complete amateur.  On the second loop the first big climb of the day was a struggle quickly followed by the 4 mile grind up Gaults Road.

About halfway round I asked the question, "What does sportive actually mean?"

To be honest the food stops in the first year was a bit of a joke that kept us amused.  You had the choice of bananas or fruit cake and I don’t like fruit cake. It was tables in carparks or on the side of the road at one point. Half way round it was half a banana or half a slice of fruit cake.

I was not equipped as the bike had 53/39 front rings and a 12/25 rear cassette.  I really struggled on the steep climb over Layde Road between Cushendall and Cushendun and was not prepared for what came next and was completely blown away when in the distance I could see riders crawling up the first hill on the Torr Road. 

I got about a quarter way up before I was off walking.  My legs just couldn’t turn the cogs anymore.  This was my first time on the Torr Road and it was my first walk of many that day.  The struggle to get off this road and away from this coastline was indescribable as were the views.  The first year there was no Easy Street. Eventually I made it to the finish line and swore I’d never do that again.

Halfway home in the car I then decided that I had to do it again the following year just to see if I could conquer Torr Head.


Back again to see if I could conquer it. I came up on my own his year as everyone bailed out with all sorts of excuses. The changes for this year saw the first 35mile loop reversed so starting up the steep hill at the Marine Hotel. 

The food stops had greatly improved with proper stopping points and if I remember correctly the variety of cakes was fantastic. Again the views and the scenery did not let us down as this has to be one of the most scenic sportives in the country.

I came this year with knowledge gained in the previous year and changed my front chainset changed to a 50/34 and 12/25 cassette.  The 4 climbs on the Torr Head Road would push me to my limits but slowly I conquered each one in turn with my lungs screaming, heart pounding and legs aching.  After crossing the ridge over and out from what can be described as hell the last five miles mostly downhill into the finish in Ballycastle was euphoric.


The year of the storm.

Two of us drove to Ballycastle, parked and sat in the car looking out at the howling wind and rain. What a morning for 115 miles. Some people got back into the car and turned for home. We signed in and started anyway.

Out the road we met people turning back.  Nearly got blew off the bike as we came around a corner before Carrick-a-rede.  At the Dark Hedges we were drenched as the rain bounced of the road the height of the axles.  Persevered on and in the afternoon it dried up.  On approaching Torr Road we were told that due to the weather the road was officially closed but legally open so we carried on. Halfway round Torr Road the sun actually came out and we had to stop to take the coats off.

I’ll remember this one as the Chain Reaction Jaguar was in front of us on Torr Head lifting the motivation signs (It’s only gravity / Lance Armstrong thinks this is a doddle etc).  One guy was in the back of the jag estate taking pictures and keeping us going.


Who changed the route on the Torr Road!?

The most memorable thing that happened this year was that somebody changed the route direction signs on the Torr Road.  With three of the four Torr climbs done and already mentally starting to celebrate and congratulate yourself when a sign appears directing us down a road to the right just before climbing the hairpins on the last climb.  I said to James Moore ‘this doesn’t look good’.  I was correct.

Instead of the usual road traversing across and up the hill this road went horizontally across and then turned straight into the hill.  My ignorance took over and I just kept grinding away until I noticed I was the only one still on a bike as everyone was walking.  I decided to take a break and wait for James before attempting the near impossible task of trying to get started again on what must have been a 16% gradient.  If the normal route was bad this was worse. 

I thought they wanted to make it harder and it was only afterwards realized that somebody had moved the signs.


As far as I can remember 2015 was a largely uneventful year which is a good thing. It still demanded a big effort as it’s a tough day in the saddle.


Again 2016 was a reasonably good year with the weather doing its usual to try and spoil things but it always seems to come good in the afternoon.


New starting/finishing venue which has better parking and facilities. The weather was okay but the roads in the morning had a lot of standing water. On the first major climb on the 2nd loop there was actually a river of water coming down the road towards us maybe an inch deep but later it cleared to a lovely afternoon.  The foodstop was relocated to a brilliant venue in Glenarm and the variety and quantity of food available was super.  First class job to all involved.

The slightly earlier foodstop was a good idea as in past years I know I was always running low on energy and looking for the food stop in Carnlough to come sooner as the coast road nearly always has a headwind to make it just that little bit harder.

We had a good group up this year and as usual Torr Road proved to be the pinnacle of the day.

There is just no other road in Ireland that comes close to the views and the challenge that this road lays out for you.


O’Connors Bar this year for some food and a few beverages before heading home and it didn’t disappoint.  Good food and lively atmosphere.


Bring it on.

Good luck everyone.


If you'd like to sign up to this year's event, visit GiantsCausewayCoastSportive.com. There are 3 routes available, all taking in the stunning scenery of the North Coast - 35 miles, 85 miles and 115 miles.

Aran Sheridan
Aran Sheridan  Cyclist

Completed the Giant's Causeway Coast Sportive 7 Times (so far!)

Top 4 Mountain Climbs For Beginners

Posted on July 23, 2018 @ 12:43 PM in Walking

Sometimes the prospect of climbing to the top of a mountain can be a little intimidating to beginner hikers. The good news is it doesn't have to be - discover some of Northern Ireland's best summits with our guide to the top 4 beginner climbs.

1. Divis & The Black Mountain, Belfast, Co. Antrim


Located just a stones throw from Belfast City Centre, the trails on Divis are ideal for those looking to experience mountain views without the mountain climb. The highest point in the Belfast Hills, Divis stands at 478 metres (1,562ft) and boasts views across Northern Ireland as well as stunning panoramic views over Belfast.

The Divis Summit Trail, 3 miles circular will take on average between 50 mins & 1 hour 30 mins to complete. We recommend taking a detour from this trail and following the Divis Ridge Trail to experience more of the amazing cityscape views before re-joining the summit trail.

2. Slieve Donard, Mourne Mountains, Co. Down

Slieve Donard

At 850m (2,789 ft) Slieve Donard is the highest of the Mourne Mountains. Boasting spectacular views on a clear day it is no surprise this mountain is a popular challenge for visitors and beginner hikers. We recommend those who take on this summit have a good level of fitness and wear suitable clothing and footwear for a mountain climb. Check out WalkNI: Slieve Donard Summit via the Glen River, 2.9 miles (one way) for a full route description of this trail. 

3. Cuilcagh Boardwalk (Legnabrocky Trail), Co. Fermanagh

Cuilcagh Boardwalk

One of the most popular walks in Northern Ireland, the Cuilcagh Boardwalk (Legnabrocky Trail), 4.6 miles linear (one way) provides a unique journey to the top of Cuilcagh Mountain. Situated in the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark the extensive boardwalk is most suited to those with a good level of fitness and some experience of walking in the hills. Installed to help protect the rare blanket bog from erosion this linear route is quite isolated and showcases the scenic wilderness of Cuilcagh Mountain.

The Trail meaders along a quiet farmland track before traversing a wooden boardwalk that consists of a steady climb to the mountain face. Here a stepped boardwalk climbs through steep terrain and boulder fields before reaching the summit plateau.

Please note:

  • No dogs are allowed on this walk.
  • There is no access to the summit Cairn beyond the end of the boardwalk (You will still experience the same amazing views from viewpoint).
  • There is a £5 charge for those wishing to avail of the private car park at the beginning of this walk. Alternatively, walkers can park at Marble Arch Caves Visitor Centre nearby.

4. Slemish, Ballymena, Co. Antrim


Follow in the footsteps of Saint Patrick to the summit of Slemish (1.2 miles circular). Aside from its natural beauty, in local tradition the mountain was the site of the Saint's slavery, where he spent 6 years herding livestock fro Mulchi, the local chieftain.

This route follows grassy track from the Slemish Car Park to the base of the mountain before following rocky terrain to the summit (some 1437ft above sea level!). This short ascent is reasonably strenuous, however your efforts are more than rewarded with fabulous views that are sure to re-energise any tired legs. For a gentler descent, walk across the grassy summit and hike down the south face of Slemish. You can then traverse back across the south western side of the mountain picking up the route back to the car park.

Despite being only 1.2 miles in length this rocky ramble should take around an hour to complete, leaving plenty of time to take in the jaw-dropping views. 

For more walk ideas check out WalkNI.com

Jayne Woodrow
Jayne Woodrow  Marketing Officer & Active Clubs Coordinator for Walking

Jayne joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in March 2014. She oversees the marketing and communication on WalkNI, OutdoorNI and Walking in Your Community Project. Most recently she has been working with Parkrun Ireland & UK to introduce the 'Walk @ parkrun' initiative.

Get Into Watersports with Get Wet NI!

Posted on July 20, 2018 @ 11:05 AM in AdventureCanoeing

We’re well into the summer, but there are still loads of opportunities out there to try a new water sport and Get Wet! We've listed just a few we thought you might be interested in below.

Ladies Beginner Wakeboarding Lessons - 28th & 29th July

For only £10 per person, Cable and Wake will introduce you to the high adrenaline sport of wakeboarding. With one to one coaching, this girl’s only course will teach you to glide across the longest cable wakeboard run in Ireland.

Children's Water Ski Day - 28th July

Meteor Water Ski Club are running a Children's day for only £15. Guaranteed to get your little one's excitement levels through the roof as they sail across Lough Henney with experienced coaches. Suitable for ages 8 and older. Be sure to contact the club by emailing enquiries@meteorwaterski.com

Go Rowing with Lagan Currachs – 28th July

Lagan Currach’s open rowing has been incredibly popular. Suitable for adults and children aged 12+, you’ll get the opportunity to row a community built traditional currach with a crew of 12 down the river Lagan. They’ll provide you all the equipment (including tea and biscuits!) – all you need to do is turn up with some warm and waterproof clothing.

The Big Bann Canoe Challenge – 18th and 19th August

An annual tradition now, the Big Bann Canoe Challenge takes you through the ancient highway of the Lower Bann by canoe. Paddling from Portglenone to Drumaheglis across two days (with an overnight camping stop at Movanagher Lock) you’ll be guided by a team of qualified coaches. Available for all ages and abilities, provided you’re medically fit for the distance. Complete the challenge to earn the right to say “I’ve been Banned!”

Stand Up Paddleboarding Course – 18th August & 29th August

This popular course does what it says on the tin! The fast growing sport of Stand Up Paddleboarding provides great exercise and a brilliant chance to get out on the water and enjoy yourself. Games, yoga and paddling tips will all be included, but pre booking is essential as spaces are expected to go fast.

Inclusive Paddles – 26th July, 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, 30th August

A welcoming, easy paddle for people of all abilities, including those with disabilities. The Erne Paddlers will guide you through the basics of canoeing and kayaking during these Thursday evening sessions, leaving from the Lakeland Forum Canoe Steps.

Women on Water Sailing Programme – 24th July, 31st July, 7th August, 14th August

Another great course for women only, Ballyholme Yacht Club’s 4 week course is intended for people without any sailing experience. Just come along, meet new people and learn a fantastic new skill. All your equipment will be provided and there’ll be an experienced sailor present at all times to show you what to do.

For a full listing of the events taking place as part of Get Wet NI, please visit GetWetNI.com.

Ethan Loughrey
Ethan Loughrey  Mountain Bike Officer

Hardest thing about Mountain Biking? Definitely the trees.

Trail Maintenance And Why We Should Help

Posted on July 17, 2018 @ 1:30 PM in Mountainbiking

Trail maintenance can sound boring, but you'd be amazed how enjoyable those days can be. For the sacrifice of a few hours, a group of strangers can come together to make a real difference to our local trails. Gareth Beckett, from the MTB Tribe podcast, explains why he got involved with the local MTB trails team.

Ever wondered why your trail centres are always in great shape? Well it's because of people like John Howard (Trail Ranger for Davagh) and a team of dedicated volunteers, who take time out of their day to help maintain their local trails.

Have you ever thought of helping out yourself? Well, I have. So I got in contact with Ethan at MountainBikeNI to find out how to get registered and get involved. The process was super easy, took a few minutes and was completely free. Ethan then emailed me when the next maintenance day was happening, I said ‘Yes Please’, and went to help out.

The day was well organised and after meeting at the trail head and a brief safety chat we headed up the mountain to the area we would be working for most of the day. There are a number of different jobs you could be asked to do, anything from repairing holes, rebuilding berms, clearing fallen trees, cutting back foliage- the list go on. On this particular day we were split into two different teams, one working on the lower part of Big Wig, with the other working on the upper half. We also had the help of a quad bike to get the gravel we required up to the top end of the trail. When the quad was not available we used wheel barrows to transport the gravel and after a few of those being run up the hill it was nice to see the quad return. Our job for the day was to fill in break areas that had worn down, some corners that had been well used and a couple of small berms that needed repaired.

It was all enjoyable work and nothing too taxing. You don’t need any experience, just a willingness to do your part and have a laugh while doing it. We had a great spread laid on for lunch, with more than you could eat, a couple of coffees and a good chat with the other volunteers. After lunch we continued our repairs on Big Wig while the other team moved to another area that needed attention. The day finished around 4 pm and gave us time to have a blast down the newly repaired trails (with an uplift to the top of course!).

So why should you help out?

Most of us bikers just show up, gear up and go without stopping to think of the effort that goes in to maintaining these trails. Volunteering gives you a whole new appreciation for the work that goes into both designing and maintaining these trails. It is great to see how the whole process works and why our help is needed to keep the trails maintained the way we have grown to love. You get to find out what really goes into keeping our trails open all year round and what we as users can do to help. It doesn't take a lot of effort or a great deal of time but it means that we can all enjoy this thing called mountain biking 365 days a year. You get to be a part of what goes on behind the scenes- keeping our great trails not only open but safe, maintained and fun to ride and FREE!

But most of all, you get to give something back. It’s just a little thank you for all the hard work that people put into making mountain biking such an enjoyable past time. And to top it all off, you get to meet people with the same passions and interests as you, you build new friendships, have a good laugh and help improve something that just keeps giving back. The guys at Chain Reaction Cycles also have a rewards scheme for all trail rangers that help at two days or more in the year.

So please, get in contact, get involved and help out your local trail centre!

If you want to hear more about what goes into keeping our trails open visit: www.mtb-tribe.com and listen to podcast episode number 31 with John Howard (Davagh Trail Ranger). We chat about everything from how you can help, to funding for new phases of trail.

If you'd like to get involved with your local trails team, visit MountainBikeNI.com where you can download the two relevant forms. Then simply email them to us at info@mountainbikeni.com!

Gareth Beckett
Gareth Beckett  Producer of MTB Tribe Podcast

Gareth is a keen mountain biker and runs the popular podcast, "MTB Tribe". On here, he interviews people involved in every aspect of MTBing life; from international champions, to retired pros, to local trail builders. Download it free on iTunes or wherever you get your podcast from.

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