Diarmuid is a teacher at Grosvenor Grammar School in Belfast, a father of 3 and a wheelchair user for nearly 30 years. He talks about how handcycling has revolutionised his daily routine to the point where he’s sold his own car. His unique experience of travelling around Belfast challenges many myths about cycling as a viable form of transport, for people of all abilities..

While in university in 1984 I suffered a spinal injury in a hill walking accident. I was at university preparing to go into teaching, so I was lucky that after taking a year out the adjustments I had to make in life didn’t throw me off my career path. I’ve been teaching in Grosvenor Grammar School in Belfast for about 20 years now. It’s really encouraging to see Grosvenor trying to get a cycle to work scheme organised for the staff.

Diarmuid - Why I Cycle

Continue reading “Diarmuid: Why I Cycle”

As part of Bike Week, local people who cycle our streets share their stories, fears and hopes. Kelly from Belfast gives her experience of cycling the school run with her children and how, despite less than ideal routes and road conditions, cycling has simply become part of life..

I own a couple of bikes – my old faithful mountain bike which I’ve had for a long time, and last year my husband bought me a ‘Real Classic’ bike for my birthday. It’s a modern bike with a vintage styling and I love it. It’s a thing of beauty as well as being practical. I have a child carrier on the back for my youngest son, and he adores it. It also has a basket on the front which makes it really handy for trips to the shops. I’ve cycled for fun since I was a child, but have cycled as a means of transport since my university days, 12 years ago.

Kelly - Why I Cycle

My main cycle route tends to be to the school and back. My oldest two children, who are 7 and 5, ride their own bikes and I take my 3-year old on my bike. We are fairly fortunate in that we don’t have too many roads to cross, but because we are cycling at busy times of the day we tend to stick to the footpaths as it’s just far too dangerous for me to take them on the roads. There’s no way I could cycle safely myself and supervise them on the road at the same time.

The kids love it

As I’m sure is the case for most families, life is busy, so getting time to exercise outside of the day to day routine is tricky, so we made a decision a while ago to try to stay fit and healthy as a family. I see the school run cycle as a form of exercise for me and the kids but it is also something we really enjoy. We get a lot of enjoyment from being outdoors together and I believe they are learning valuable skills on road safety and physical well-being during our cycles.

We tend to cycle for leisure at the weekends and during summer holidays too. It’s a free activity during a long summer break, which is always a bonus and the kids love it. Even if it’s just a cycle to the local park for a play, we always feel great after a bike ride and less guilty when we stop for ice cream!

We do have a car – I wouldn’t expect the kids to cycle to school in the rain, as they would have to sit in school all day with wet clothes, but if it’s dry, we are out on the bikes. We will even cycle to the shops if we are only getting a few items. They love getting to lock up their bikes at the bike racks – it’s all part of the adventure for them!

For the most part our cycling is enjoyable, and something I think we will always endeavour to do. People always smile when they see the kids out on their bikes with me, and my own bike has been a great source of admiration for the other mothers at school. I’ve even seen a few other mums cycling over the past few weeks as the weather has improved and I think that’s great.

I am wary of road cycling

I did have one ‘run-in’ with a pedestrian on the morning school run. He was walking his 3 dogs and one of my sons rang his bell to alert him that we were on the footpath behind him. The man turned abruptly and shouted at me and the kids that we should be on the road and not cycling on the footpath. The children were very upset to see their mum being shouted at and I felt very intimidated but did try to explain that there was no way I could cycle on the road with children so young. There are no cycle lanes around the school and the area is very busy with traffic. The irony was that as he was busy shouting at me, one of his dogs ran onto the road and the traffic had to halt. So in actual fact he was the one causing bother. I hope he had a pooper-scooper now there’s a real issue on our streets!

As the children get older, I know I will have to educate them on cycling safely on the roads. I am wary of road cycling myself though, as so many of the cities cycle lanes are blocked with parked cars. I also have a few friends who cycle as a means of transport much more than I do and when I hear some of their horror stories – bins blocking city centre cycle lanes, aggressive bus drivers, oblivious car drivers almost squashing them – it puts me off a little I must admit.

Cycle lanes should always be kept clear

At the moment, my cycling is limited to a very small area. Mainly because my children are so young and can’t go too far, but also because I am apprehensive about negotiating roads. If we want a longer cycle we tend to put the bikes in the car and drive to a cycle path and then we can cycle with a bit more ease, although sometimes our slow pace irks the more adept cyclists. That doesn’t really bother me, the way I see it, we all have to start somewhere and build on our abilities.

I suppose one thing that might be useful is to educate drivers when they are learning on how to be more aware of cyclists and how to be respectful of all road-users. Drivers can often think they have more right to be on the road, and on other occasions they are completely oblivious to the bike that is alongside them. Cycle lanes should always be kept clear, and I do feel that this should be policed in some way, particularly in city centre areas where it is so busy.

Overall I would say that cycling is just a part of life for us. I hope that as the kids grow up they will continue to have a passion for cycling because of what they have experienced in childhood. It would be great to see more families out and about cycling and to know that it was something families could do together safely in their own towns.

Leisure and tourism in County Tyrone could be boosted by reopening a former railway line as a cycling and walking route. The Great Northern Railway branch line ran from Cookstown, through Coalisland and into Dungannon. Built in 1879, fully enclosing the Lough Neagh basin with railway lines, this branch was closed in 1959.  Creating a new Greenway for walkers and cyclists, local ramblers and active tourists, can create new economic possibilities and health benefits in the region.

Continue reading “Cookstown to Dungannon Greenway”

The towns of Cookstown, Moneymore and Magherafelt were once linked by a railway that now lies derelict. The old line, which winds through the Mid Ulster countryside, could be regenerated to provide a high quality 11 mile walking path and cycle route. This could be an important part of an orbital pathway around Lough Neagh, and a key tourist route west of the Bann.


Continue reading “Cookstown to Magherafelt Greenway”

Nestled between the River Bann and the Sperrins, a disused railway line snakes between the towns of Magherafelt, Maghera, Kilrea and Garvagh. The line was built and operated as the Derry Central line, which fully closed in 1959. The route is still visible today, and presents an opportunity for regeneration. A new cycling and walking path, or Greenway, could be opened on the former trackbed, providing a healthy infrastructure for the Mid Ulster area and a boost to tourism.



Continue reading “Magherafelt to Garvagh Greenways”

Magherafelt, Draperstown and Desertmartin are linked by the former Draperstown Railway, which shut in 1950. Local communities could benefit from regenerating this route and creating a new Greenway to allow walking and cycling into the County Tyrone countryside. This Greenway proposal is part of a wider network over 600 miles across Northern Ireland which, if realised, could bring activity tourism spend to the Draperstown area.

Continue reading “Magherafelt to Draperstown Greenway”

Former Ballymoney to Ballycastle railway

I wrote to the Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN)  to highlight this blog. They are currently seeking responses to 9 Issue Papers which will feed into the development of a Northern Ireland Outdoor Recreation Action Plan 2012-21. I received a very encouraging response, and I would urge anyone with an interest to contribute to the debate. The issue papers can be viewed on the Outdoor Recreation Northern Ireland website.

Continue reading “NI Outdoor Recreation Action Plan”

Potential exists to construct a Greenway from Toome to Magherafelt, on the disused trackbed of the former Belfast and Northern Counties Railway. This important link in an orbital traffic-free path around Lough Neagh could bring valuable tourist spend to Toome, Castledawson and Magherafelt.

The proposed Greenway route begins by linking with another suggested Greenway tracing Lough Neagh to Randalstown. Holding a straight line for the 4 miles to Castledawson, the route has remained mostly undisturbed as seen from satellite imagery. Occasional agricultural land development and industrial buildings encroach onto the former line, but slight alterations and landowner negotiations could resolve these issues.

Continue reading “Toome to Magherafelt Greenway”

A new Greenway connecting Randalstown and Toome is a project which could bring health and leisure benefits to the local population, and be a key tourist link on the north shore of Lough Neagh.


This was the route which first interested me in the former railway lines in Northern Ireland. The railway viaduct dominates the eastern approach to Randalstown, which in recent years had been redeveloped to provide a scenic walkway. This was a link across the River Maine for the Belfast and Northern Counties railway line stretching from Antrim, through Randalstown to Toome and onwards to Magherafelt. I traced the route on Google Maps and began to think of this entire proposal.

Continue reading “Randalstown to Toome Greenway”

DPNCrouteCompleting the main line of the former Belfast and County Down Railway, there is potential to open a 10-mile dedicated cycle and walking path from Downpatrick to Newcastle. Opening access to the Mourne countryside can help to encourage active tourism and encourage healthier lifestyles in Northern Ireland.

Starting from the working heritage railway in Downpatrick, the track bed heads out following near the line of the Ballydugan Road towards Clough. As the proposed pathway crosses the A25, there is potential for linkages to Clough, Seaforde and its Gardens and Tropical Butterfly House. The line then turns South West towards Dundrum Bay, beginning one of the most spectacular walkways Northern Ireland could boast. The old line hugs the coast, extending into the bay at one point (see picture). Dundrum Bay lies at the edge of the Murlough Bay Nature reserve, lending some wonderful tourism potential to the route.

Continue reading “Downpatrick to Newcastle Greenway”