Title inspired by unironedman’s latest post:
Meen; a mountain meadow
Meen is a common townland name and it is usually an indication of hilly terrain. It’s no surprise that many Irish windfarms also have Meen in their name.
In this part of the country it’s hard to avoid hills but most of my recent rides seem to have involved quite a bit of climbing and according to Strava (including today) I’m way ahead on my climbing challenge (98%) vs my distance challenge (58%).
My ride today was very hilly but that was by plan rather than accidentally like the rest of the month. It’s a route that has been on my list for a few weeks as the hillier bits are part of the recent Sperrin Sportive run by nearby Strabane/Lifford Cycling Club. It’s a challenging route but I’m planning an Audax ride on Wednesday and wanted a hilly ride to give me a confidence boost.
The first 25km followed the same route as my Friday evening spin taking me into Clady, over the Glebe climb to Victoria Bridge before a couple of more climbs into and out of Douglas Bridge to Newtownstewart.
At the top of the Glebe climb out of Clady I could see across to the hills in the distance and the TV mast I’d be climbing to later. It looked very lumpy from this vantage point.
The river at Victoria Bridge is one of my favourite local views and with the river low today it was particularly scenic.
There were a few anglers and I watched one guy casting for a few minutes before heading on.
At Newtownstewart I made a slight route error. I turned left on the usual road to Gortin and ignored my beeping Garmin as there’s only one way to go. After a couple of 100m I remembered I’d decided to use a more rural road on the other side of the river when designing the route. I couldn’t be arsed turning back and decided to go on as the two roads eventually meet about 5km up the way.
The road rolls nicely all the way to Gortin. It’s mostly agricultural land but very scenic and especially so today with the sun shining. Just before Gortin there’s a very deceptively steep climb. It looks easy but felt tougher than it should have. Looking down it was a 10% gradient and I was pushing 280W. No wonder my legs were moaning!
The last bit into Gortin is really lovely. It’s a winding descent on a good surface with streams to one side and a mature forested area to the other. I was barely into the edge of the village before I was out again on the Plumbridge road. Gortin sits nestled in a small valley at the foot of the mountains and close to the popular Gortin Forest Park. The road from Newtownstewart was busier than expected with traffic so it looked like lots of people were there enjoying the sunny Sunday afternoon.
gortin glen forest park © tripadvisor
Approximately 1km outside Gortin the route turns right on to a new road for me. This is the scenic driving route to Barnes Gap (not to be confused with Barnesmore Gap between Ballybofey and Donegal Town). It was lovely. It’s mostly a single lane road that rises along the side of the Owenkillew valley with fabulous views across the valley to the wooded far side. The surface is very good for such a minor road and with lots of trees and high hedges it was sheltered and cool for most of the time.
After about 5km the road becomes a lot more minor and starts climbing more significantly. The terrain takes on a more mountainous look and it was clear I was approaching Barnes Gap. It was a nice steady climb and really enjoyable. At the top the Gap is really narrow with hills on both sides before it drops down the other side and into the Glenelly Valley. This was a fantastic descent with twisting roads through wooded areas and an almost new tarmac surface. I wanted to let the bike go free but I was wary of the road being my first time on it and not knowing what was ahead. I still noted 45km/hr on the Garmin screen. At the bottom of the hill there was a great parking area with toilets, a shelter and picnic benches. I stopped for a stretch and a bar before refilling my bottles at a tap kindly pointed out to me by a guy who had been MTBing in the local area.
The next section was beautiful and easily the best part of the day. The road gradually descends along the side of Glenelly Valley with views across and down to Plumbridge. The surface was smooth and fast and virtually traffic free. I loved it!
Arriving into Plumbridge the real climbing is straight in front. As you leave the village on a short descent the road ahead rises like a wall with the first of 4 climbs to the TV mast. Within the space of 100m you lose all your speed and hit the lowest of your gears with a 13-14% gradient that seems to go on forever. The road eventually levels out a bit and on the top I passed an unusual memorial looking across the landscape towards Bessy Bell that I climbed a number of weeks ago.
Shortly after this the road drops again. This is the theme of this challenging climb. The first three climbs are all followed by a significant descent cancelling out much of the hard earned height of the previous climb. This can be mentally very challenging also as it’s frustrating to lose so much of your hard work and have to repeat it all again.
The worst of this is between the third and final climb. The descent is long and fast and incredibly enjoyable (I hit 65km/hr here today) before you have to face the hardest climb of the day once again seeing 13% on the screen. The first time I climbed this road I thought the 3rd climb was the last. The forest at the top hides the descent and the mast looks very close. Dropping back into the steep valley and having to climb out the other side was soul destroying that day. At least today I knew what to expect.
The TV mast itself is 305m tall and the tallest man made structure on the island of Ireland. It’s lit at night with a series of red lights up its length and is a very visible landmark and a very welcome sight when travelling home from Dublin, indicating the journey is almost over.
After a brief stop at the top there is a great descent into Strabane that I wasn’t able to enjoy to the full. Coming over the hill I was now on the exposed side and very susceptible to the strong, blustery breeze. The road constantly changes direction as it winds down the hill meaning I had to control my speed so as not to get blown off course by the changing breeze.
Back in Strabane I was getting hungry and decided to stop for food. I’d been carrying a sandwich in my bag all day, seemingly for nothing, but finally it had a purpose. In the first shop the young assistant provided no assistance and watched me waste 3min getting a tea started and struggling to get hot water. When I eventually asked what was up she informed me that the machine was switched off for the day. Why didn’t she say something sooner! I left with a real hump 😆
Getting a good but expensive (£2.40!) cuppa at the next shop I enjoyed the warm afternoon sunshine while eating the staple of any irishman’s diet – a good old hang samwich before enjoying the last 20km home with a tailwind for most of the way. Of course after a day of challenging hills I finished with one last 1.6km climb to home.
click here to view on strava
On a more functional note I seem to have cracked my hydration on the last few rides. I’ve always been bad at drinking enough on rides but I have been stopping to pee mid ride this last few weeks suggesting I’ve finally nailed it. Either that or my prostate is playing up!
Header image source: pinterest.com