On Location | Belfast Urban Trails and City Life
On the sixth day of our Irish MTB tour we headed out of the sparsely inhabited Northern Irish countryside into the busy heart of the Belfast City outskirts, to check out Barnett Demesne urban trails and pump track, plus a bit of riverside tarmac trail leading all the way into the city centre. It was to be a very different day as the hectic pace of city life brought us back to civilisation, what exactly could be made of a small woodland track surrounding a massive sports village, it certainly was unique!
The small four kilometer track has been dug and stoned up in the woodland that surrounds the very busy city sports arena. The council has done an excellent job of making the trail wind to and fro through the trees, really making the most of the terrain and lack of any real gradient. There were small north shore sections, rocky bits and as many berms as you could shake a stick at, what I would class as a fun family trail for all ages and skills, but still very enjoyable.
There were also an area mid-trail where the locals had cut jumps in the trees, these soon to be demolished on the agreement that the council put more work into the ‘official’ pump track and dirt jumps. Here Coop made the most of things on the very slick clay/sand mixed dirt.
Next up we rode the proper jump spot, where a couple of the local kids were flat out, careless of the afternoon Irish drizzle that seemed to follow us around our whole tour since leaving the south! These were a bit of a half and half affair, half stoned up very well made flowy pump track and half proper dirt jumps. The dirt jumps are about to receive much more work ready for the summer, but un-ride-able during the wetter months. The pump track was a real blast to ride, short but sweet, here Coop had a blast on Doc’s E-bike and was quickly turned from a hater to a lover after about 30 goes in quick succession, racing back up to the top with a large grin every time!
Next up in the pissing rain we took the twenty minute riverside ride from the trails to the very heart of the city, as the trees became sparser being quickly replaced by tarmac and concrete. It was fantastic to see the city life happening from the ‘fish out of water’ perspective of being upon a mountain bike. There is (as expected) so much in Belfast to see and do, we checked out the Titanic museum with the huge boat-building cranes in the background, we got as close as poss in some Audi dealership’s back yard for the pics, only to be swiftly moved on by a real gorilla of a security guard; there’s no messing in Belfast, believe me!
On route back and we notice the odd wall mural from times of the troubles and decided we had to visit the Falls Road area, the heart of all things mental back in the day, this time in the van. We had done a surprisingly big ride by the time we got back to the start of the urban trail, we headed over to the surrounding areas of the Falls Road after once again packing the wheel-less damp bikes tightly away in the back of the van. Driving around these areas really is a stark reminder of things that used to be and all the madness that just seemed normality on our TV news programs back in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s when I grew up. As we checked out the massive and perfectly kept murals, absolutely impenetrable huge police station and the largest city graveyard all from the safety of the van, I couldn’t imagine how crazy it must have been back in those troubled days.
We stayed at some digs right in the heart of the student quarter, vibrant and buzzing with activity, but as we were all tired from all the riding and Coynie and I now suffering from the symptoms of full blown ‘man-flu’ we hit the sack for some much needed sleep.
It was great to see such great efforts had been made to bring the fantastic fun of rural MTB into a urban environment by the local council, plus mixed with the endless amount of interesting things in the city of Belfast, it really is a must when visiting Ireland. I couldn’t ever imagine a council actually encouraging riders to build dirt jumps and keeping an area free for them too, real forward thinking and great to see.
for more info on mountain biking in Northern Ireland go to mountainbikeni.com
Words: Jim Buchanan Pics: Doc Ward