A Stones’ Throw Away Part 1 | Hutchens Explores Northern Ireland.

With the season over, Team Wideopenmag’s Chris Hutchens wasted no time and hopped on the ferry to Northern Ireland.

The short crossing offers a variety of trail centres within 90 minutes’ drive of getting wheels on terra firma.

Part 1 sees Hutch check out Davagh Forest and Blessingbourne Estate.

Words by Chris Hutchens | Photos by Martin Kennedy.

The patter of rain turned to hammering on route to the P&O terminal in Cairnryan. Had we set off for a mini adventure of saturated riding and cold days? October might seem like an odd month to venture across the waters to Northern Ireland but over the last few years a blossoming riding scene has grown around a community of riders and through a passion of mountain biking. There was no promise of dusty trails but an assurance of incredible all year round mountain biking. I was excited to start the winter months riding new trails.

The Ulster fry warmed the cockles on the early ferry into Larne filling our ravenous paunches in preparation for a few days of riding. Northern Irelands akin to giants. The legendary Titanic being built in the dockyards of Belfast and the Giants Causeway, a worldwide visitor destination all hailing from these parts. Could the trail centers become iconic giants in their own right, and most importantly compete with UK mainland trail centres?

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The P&O Cairnryan to Larne ferry was fast and efficient with just enough time to devour a full Ulster Fry. The two and a half hour ferry ride, relaxed and smooth provided the much needed comforts before what would be back-to-back days riding at some of Northern Irelands hottest trail centers. This gave Martin, rugby player/biker cross photographer and I a chance to assess the plan for the coming days.

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Northern Ireland welcomed us with warm arms and the tease of a potential pot of gold around every corner. Rainbows were the ever enchanting backdrop to our trip. Davagh Forest Trails – did someone ask for rocks?

Key Stats – 16km red with some awesome black features, 7.5km blue trails with a pump track and skills course right at the trail head. Changing facilities and toilet but no café, yet!

After a comfortable hour and twenty minute drive to Davagh, one of Northern Ireland’s three main trail centers, our guide warmly welcomed us for the day. Niall Convery, local resident and hardtail shredder, ensured we hit all the right trails. No café facilities exist on site but the shelter, toilets and ample parking provided all we needed to kit up and get down to riding weight. For all the details, and local offers on Accommodation visit the MountainbikeNI Davagh Forest page.

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Davagh Forest trails start gentle with a mix of single track, tarmac and forest road to carry you up to the high points of the centre.

With over 26km of trail there’s something for everyone and a warm up on the skills area and pump track started our ride perfectly, in the dry. Davagh continued the theme of giants as we climbed up to the summit of Beleevnamore Mountain before riding the Big Wig Jig trail onto the Giants Bed trail. The Architrail designed red run provided a perfect flow for the limited gradient on offer with features to test the more experienced rider while offering the perfect trail for any aspiring Richie Rude, or Greg Callaghan.

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Niall stopped for a breather and to show me the main trails from the top of the climb. Plenty of options to keep it interesting.

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Local knowledge meant I was chasing Niall most of the time and trying to keep up. The trail design is perfect and the descents run effortlessly. Starting from the same summit, much to Martins disappointment for having to lug his camera bag back to the top, Run Ragley Run descent down in a similar fashion to the other red, just with a little more speed and experimental lines to hit all the way down.

Niall kept it smooth on the hardtail making light work of the rock rollers and harder sections on offer.

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Rocks on the red. Thankfully still grippy in the wet!

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Berms were one of the big features of the day with support available to hold up the new Forth Road Bridge. The latest addition to the trails is the stream trail, aptly named from its previous wet trail guise. A short loop that we lapped a few times and chased each other down. Just this section would be worth the trip across from the UK mainland.

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No imitations here. Just pure flow and fun delivered by the stream trail. Rocky Endings Nestled away in Davagh forest are some incredible gems of rocky outcrops. Not quite rampage there still a buzz to be found from rock slaps.

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Eagles Rock emulated something out of Canada. Pick a line and commit! The trails utilised what is a relatively small hill and manage to create phenomenal flow and challenge on all of the graded tracks on offer. From Blues to Reds and the occasional Black feature any rider will have a great day, or even two out here.

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The trails run well on any bike, perfect for a hardtail and enough rough to want your full suspension trail bike.

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Plenty of rock drops to catch any rider who’s off guard. Every rider needs to be on duty in Davagh.

Blessingbourne Estate Mountain Bike Trails – blessed by variety and perfect for all. Key Stats – 4km of blue trail, 8km red trail and pump track with Café, Toilet, Bike Hire and Accommodation all available on site.

Our adrenaline was still flowing from the trails in Davagh and with Fivemiletown just over an hours drive away the trails at Blessingbourne Estate were a welcomed sight. We couldn’t hit our comedown and plateau, we needed another boost of adrenaline. Blessingbourne, although not having a defining hill, makes up for it with some superb trail design and building. I can assure you that you’ll be surprised by the trails.

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Blessingbourne Trail Head and Pumptrack area get you ready for the loop ahead. Nick from the Estate shows me the routes. A central trailhead area caters for and works perfectly as a central hub. The nearby self-catering apartments run by the estate also provide convenience for the trails and trail head. Check out their current 2016 accommodation deal!

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The variety of vegetation is incredible in Blessingbourne. Bamboo making for the perfect Panshot.

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Black features appeared throughout the red route. This was attempt number 3!

While some trail centres have a defining view or trademark trail the incredible differentiate that Martin and I noticed was the constant change of undergrowth. From bamboo, to oaks and into pines there was always something to set the trail apart; the autumn colours and vibrant greens ensured we knew we were in Northen Ireland, and that winter was imminent.

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Martin railing some of the sculpted berms in Blessingbourne which link to deliver heaps of fun! Short loops and an easily navigated trail make Blessingbourne the perfect trail centre for groups, beginners and those looking to gain coaching advice. If you’re the next big thing in mountain biking don’t rule these trails out though.

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A slight role reversal for a morning. Martin hits up the features of Blessingbourne. Amongst the flowing trails there’s gnar around the corner and a Crocodiles Back ready to attack.

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After a lot of riding we treated ourselves to some local cuisine for Lunch on route to Rostrevor. Part 2 sees Martin and I venture to Rostrevor mountain bike trails. Keep an eye on Wideopenmag.co.uk for more ideas on where to ride!

Getting to Northern Ireland

For all the information about the mountain bike trail centres in Northern Ireland visit –http://www.mountainbikeni.com.

P&O Ferries run regular ferry services, up to 4 per day, between Cairnryan and Larne and Liverpool and Dublin. For sailing times and services visit the P&O website.

Why not make a weekend of it and check out the 30 hour P&O offer which runs until the 15th of December 2016 here?

Discovering Northern Ireland

From chic, city boutique hotels to rustic rural retreats and from self-catering apartments to outdoor glamping, Northern Ireland has a wonderful variety of accommodation for all tastes & budgets.

To book a short break or to find out about Northern Ireland’s visitor attractions, accommodation and things to do, visit www.discovernorthernireland.com.

Davagh location:

Blessingbourne Country Estate location:


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