Tyrone and Sperrins Visit: Mountain Biking in Davagh Forest

If anyone had told me a few weeks ago I’d be mountain biking in the Sperrin Mountains on Easter Sunday instead of eating my weight in Easter Eggs, I’d probably have laughed!

Not least because I haven’t been on a bike since I was about 10 years old (20 years ago!).

But, as ever, I love trying new things and experiencing what Northern Ireland has to offer, so off we headed on Sunday morning to Davagh Forest, just 12 miles from Cookstown right in the heart of the Sperrin Mountains.

We met with Craig from Outdoor Concepts (which is the official trailhead provider) who gave us the bikes and talked us through the different gears and front and back brakes. Barry is a regular cyclist so it was no bother to him, but was good for me to familiarise myself before we set off.

Craig then talked us through the different trails, advising us to take the green 3K trail, as I was a beginner. The green trail is good for families and those mountain biking for the first time as it’s more about getting the feel for off-road riding.

For the more experienced thrill-seeking riders, there’s a red trail, which is 16K! It’s a steady climb up the slopes of the Beleevnamore Mountain with some impressive drops, (I’m told). Needless to say, I didn’t see them!

It was such a lovely morning when we took off and as the saying goes, you never forget how to ride a bike!

Riding through the forest and alongside the river was a great experience and a really different way to spend a Sunday morning. It was brill to get out and experience the outdoors from a different perspective!

I can definitely feel it in my leg muscles now though…

 Outdoor Concepts- Davagh Forest

 Mountain Biking in Davagh Forest

 Me mountain biking

VIDEO 1

VIDEO 2

Barry at the Skills Park

Tyrone and Sperrins Visit: Ulster American Folk Park

On Saturday afternoon, as part of our visit to Tyrone and Sperrins, we left Campsie and drove down to Omagh to visit the Ulster American Folk Park.

I can’t remember the last time I had been there (maybe during my school days in the 1990s?) so I was excited to see it now I’m that (little!) bit older and no doubt, understanding the historical aspect of it a lot more.

We arrived about 1.30pm and had a quick bite to eat in the newly refurbished café before making our way around the extensive museum.

If you’re unfamiliar with the site, it’s the story of Irish immigration to America and the tales of the men, women and children who left our shores for what they hoped would be a better life. We saw the type of houses and lands they left behind and the new homeland that awaited them.

The first half of the museum is the “Old World”- the thatched cottages, blacksmith’s forges, weavers cottages, schoolhouses and the religious meeting houses of Ulster.

One of the most interesting parts of the “Old World” is the Mellon Homestead: standing on its original site, it was the small farmhouse in which Thomas Mellon was born in 1813. He emigrated with his parents to Pennsylvania at the age of 5 and would go on to set up Mellon Bank which is an important financial institution in the USA.

Then comes the “Ulster Street”- the type of street that thousands of emigrants would have passed before boarding ships to America. It is a collection of original 19th Century shop fronts.

At the end of the street is the ship waiting to take you “to your new homeland on the American Frontier”. It is a replica of an early 1800s emigrant sailing ship and once you exit, you’re now in the “American Street” and the “New World”- the type of scene in ports such as New York or Boston.

The second half of the museum then focuses on the sort of houses the emigrants would have lived in once they arrved in America- log farmhouses and log cabins, or after a few generations, plantation houses.

It was fascinating to see the difference between their new lives and the ones they left behind and we really enjoyed experiencing the story, particularly brought to life by the costumed characters we encountered along the way.

As it was Easter Saturday, there were many additional Easter celebrations taking place around the museum,  such as a “Spring Fair Day”- depicting April 1915 and the sights, sounds and smells of a busy market day.

There was also an ‘Arms through the Ages’ display (a selection of black powder firearms used during the 1700s and 1800s) and the Bog Standard String Band playing old-time American Folk music.

We spent over three hours at the Park and it was great to see so many families there! A fun day out if you’re looking to experience history brought to life.

“Old World”- Ireland

 

 “New World”- America

 

Tyrone and Sperrins Visit: Campsie Karting

Before two days ago, I’d never been go-karting! And I can honestly say, I’ll be back! On Saturday morning, as part of our visit to Tyrone and Sperrins, we headed to Campsie Karting which is situated in Campsie, not far from Derry.

On arrival we were greeted by Eamonn who talked us through the 400m indoor racing circuit, including the technical corners, and got us set up in our racing gear, such as suits, helmets and gloves.

Then it was straight into the go-karts, myself in position to go first out of the pits, with Barry coming after me just a few seconds later. With only 2 pedals- accelerator and brake, it was time to get racing!

The first few laps we were just getting used to the track (57 seconds and 48 seconds, for example) but by lap 8 I was down in the 30s and raring to go. Soon, I was learning how to go round the corners much quicker, without having to slow right down and adding seconds to my time.

15 minutes later we stopped for a short break and were given the all-important  results. While I had managed one lap more than Barry in the 15 minutes (21 compared to 20), he had managed to get a faster lap than me and so won that section! I was raging!

His fastest was 36.064 seconds, while mine was 36.093 seconds. So, we’re talking a fraction of a second here- it takes longer to blink, Eamonn said! (maybe I’m a sore loser, but I kept reminding Barry of that fact!)

So, that was me- determined to beat him in the second half. The red mist came over me and I zoomed round the track as fast as I could! Concentrating so hard, I was calm, I was focused and I was “in the zone.” Surely I’d won?…..

The second results were in…both of us managed 25 laps in the 15 minutes but he beat me again! His fastest was 31.788 seconds on Lap 23, while my fastest was 32.331 on Lap 10! About half a second faster! Gutted, once again!

I think I did myself proud though, taking four seconds of my time in the second half and not too far behind the fastest of the week- (The Top 12 ranging from 28.980 to 30.134 seconds).

We had such a laugh (even if I was defeated!) as the go-karting is great craic. There are different packages for corporate groups or hen and stag parties, for example, as well as specially designed junior karts for the younger ones. (Just as a side note, it’s not just go-karting at Campsie Karting but paintballing, crazy golf and a shooting range.)

I’ve got the go-karting bug so I’ll beat Barry yet!

 Campsie Karting, Eglinton

 Geared up and ready to go

 400m circuit

 Barry racing 

VIDEO – Me racing at Campsie Karting

 Top racers 

Action packed weekend in Tyrone and Sperrins

As I sit and write this, I’m nursing some sore leg muscles! It’s all because I’m just back from an action-packed weekend in Tyrone and Sperrins which, amongst so much more, included mountain biking. I reckon it’s the first time I’d been on a bike in about 20 years so no doubt, there were some muscles used that hadn’t been used in a long, long time!

It was all part of my trip west to check out what the Tyrone and Sperrins region has to offer in terms of a “staycation”; that is, seeing what’s available when it comes to hotels, attractions, adrenaline-fuelled activities, for example, right on our own doorstep.

Honestly I had such a class time that there’s just too much to say, so I’m going to do a blog on each place we went, because I couldn’t do them all justice in just this one!

But as a quick overview; the itinerary was drawn up and off we headed early on Easter Saturday morning straight to Campsie (Egliton, Derry~Londonderry) for our first stop at Campsie Karting for some fast-paced go-karting. There, my inner Lewis Hamilton came out and I was determined to beat Barry! Check out whether I managed to in my next blog.

Barry and I at Campsie Karting, Eglinton

After the go-karting we made our way down to Omagh where we spent almost three hours discovering the Ulster American Folk Park and the tales of the Irish men, women and children who emigrated to America. It was great to see a typical 19th Century “Ulster Street”, before boarding the ship and exiting on to the “American Street”, reminiscent of old ports such as New York or Boston.

Ulster American Folk Park, Omagh 

At closing time, we made the short trip to Cookstown for a lovely dinner and overnight stay at the Greenvale Hotel situated on Drum Road. I must highlight the Super King Size bed in particular- a perfect night’s sleep! And Barry’s “Mixed Grill”, which was so big, it might be the first time he’s ever left food on his plate!

 Our hotel room at Greenvale Hotel, Cookstown

On Easter Sunday it was up early to go mountain biking in Davagh Forest, with the official trailhead provider, Outdoor Concepts. Davagh is right in the heart of the Sperrin Mountains so a stunning untouched landscape, but we decided on the more gentle “green” trail rather than the “red trail” with narrower tracks and rock slab drops!

 Look at me go! Mountain biking in Davagh Forest

Finally, it was back on four wheels to make our way to the last part of the Tyrone and Sperrins experience- The Jungle NI in Moneymore. There, we took the “Tarzan Tree Top Adventure Course” which saw us cross rope bridges and tackle various obstacles high up in the trees! A few wibbles and wobbles along the way but I made it! We ended the afternoon being strapped inside a giant ball and rolled down a hill- otherwise known as zorbing! I screamed the whole way down but it was absolutely hilarious.

Upside down in the zorbing ball! The Jungle NI

We got back on Sunday evening absolutely buzzing after the whole weekend- from the adrenaline rush of the go karting and hearing the history of our forefathers, right through to seeing the lovely landscape of the Sperrin Mountains by bike and the rush of being thrown down a big hill!

Visiting Tyrone and Sperrins was a great way to spend our Easter weekend and I’d recommend it to anyone looking for that sense of adventure “staycation”.