ABR Ireland Rally 2019

Alex Hilditch, a.k.a Heff, tells the story of this year’s ABR Ireland rally.

The 2019 ABR Ireland rally was our seventh year as hosts for this event. For the last few years we have returned to the Shepherds Rest, Sixtowns Road, Draperstown. It’s a family-run campsite with a modern washroom and toilet block facilities and, most importantly, a proper bar on site.

Colin, the owner, is a fantastic host, with nothing being too much trouble and the Shepherds Rest staff are very welcoming to bikers in general, as numerous other bike rallies are held there throughout the year. 

Gravel coastal roads in Donegal

The Shepherds Rest is located in the middle of the Sperrin Mountains, Northern Ireland, an area of outstanding natural beauty, and not too far from the border with Ireland and County Donegal. This opens the door to a great selection of roads, even the Wild Atlantic Way is within easy reach. 

As normal, planning for the 2019 event began in early January, aiming for the weekend of 10-12 May. Assisted by my co-host Flintlock, and several other members, we got together to plan the forthcoming rally. Having recced several proposed routes and checked out various food stops, the route was eventually selected, with the details being posted on the ABR Forum and a ‘sign up’ thread opened.

A few days before the event, the weather in Northern Ireland had been dismal to say the least, and this may have led to the fall in attendees for this year’s event. With even more rain on Friday morning, luckily it broke before lunchtime and the weather gods looked down favourably and provided excellent sunshine for the entire weekend.

ABR publisher, Alun, chats to Heff at the Shepherd’s rest

Keeping an eye on the forum, it was clear the most of the Adventure Bike Rider team would be attending this year. After my arrival at the venue with Tractorman, and getting the Ireland Rally HQ established, other riders started to appear and I recognised a few familiar faces.

It was now time for us to head over to the bar for some food. Colin kindly offered us a tub of chips with sausages and chicken goujons at £3 each, washed down with a pint or two of the excellent Guinness that Colin somehow manages to pour perfectly every time, together with the usual bike chat and friendly banter with other forum members. 

As with each year, I produce an info sheet which contained the rally information and details for the rideout, so that everyone was aware of the form-up and leaving times etc. These were passed around for everyone to read and to get chatting with those who attended for the first time.

Posing with the guns at Dunree Fort

The ABR team didn’t arrive at the campsite until after 8 pm, but as usual Colin was very accommodating, with most of the attendees having taken up residence in the bar. 

Saturday morning saw the riders start to gather at the front of the Shepherds Rest from around 8:15 am with a departure time 15 minutes later. Some other local forum members turned up just for the rideout, bringing the total number of bikes to 20.

Flintlock would normally be the lead rider, but unfortunately, he was not able to attend. Luckily, Tractorman (Gav) had already stepped up (been volunteered) as lead rider, with me at the rear as last man.

A good rideout should have good coffee stops, and this one was great

The rideout would use the drop off system of which everyone should be aware as it was included in the information sheet. It turned out to be a cracking morning with blue skies and Gav got the rideout off to a great start. Upon leaving the campsite, he turned left, heading off in the wrong direction, which was quickly rectified. It was never mentioned again! 

The group were heading for the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal. Riding cross-country on the scenic route through the Sperrins into Derry, then over the Foyle Bridge. At 234m high, with a span of nearly 900m, it’s the longest cantilever suspension bridge in all of Ireland.

BBQ off a perfect day

The group then turned right, and a few miles later, across the non-existent border into Muff for our first planned stop; breakfast! This was a pre-arranged booking at The Treehouse, where we were greeted with a warm and friendly welcome and World Superbikes playing on several wall-mounted TVs.

They provided a massive ‘Irish Fry’ cooked breakfast, extra toast, with free tea or coffee top-ups, all for €9pp. Bargain. This set the troops up for the day, and we received very positive feedback for the choice of venue and quality of the fare. 

Malin Head: the most northerly point on the island of Ireland

Leaving The Treehouse, we continued in an anti-clockwise direction around the Inishowen Peninsula, picking up the now famous ‘Wild Atlantic Way’ through Redcastle, Moville, to our first viewpoint looking over into Magilligan Point in the north. Bryn got the ABR drone out (a DJI Mavic Air) and flew it around for a while recording some video footage.

I was most impressed with that bit of kit and how it seemed so easy to fly. Then we pressed on through Ballymagarahy, then Culdaff, where the party split into two groups, the road group and the off-road group. 

At the start of the off-road section, the guys encountered a steep, rough but loose surface, which caused some difficulty for a few novice riders. After regrouping at the end of the off-road section, the rideout continued along the very picturesque coastline to Malin Head, which is the most northern point in Donegal and on the island of Ireland.

Malin Head has also been used as a filming location for Star Wars: The Last Jedi. From Malin Head we journeyed to Ballyliffen, continuing to follow the coast road then onward towards Leenane. 

Admiring the views at Magilligan point

We regrouped at the viewpoint at the Gap of Mamore before travelling on to Dunree Fort for our planned lunch stop. Dunree Fort was built during the Napoleonic wars, then fell into disrepair. It was refurbished and seen use in WW1. Currently, it is a museum and has some big naval guns and armoured vehicles on display outside.

Worth a visit if you’re up this way. After a refuel of coffee from the ‘Coffee Cup’ beside the museum, the rideout continued towards Buncrana, then back over the border into Derry. From there, we used a selection of minor roads through Claudy Park then some single-track roads providing some excellent views of the surrounding Sperrin Mountains, and back over to The Shepherds Rest. We covered around 160 miles in total for the day. 

Our arrival time was around 5:30 pm, so it was time for a shower and a freshen up for what lay head. Colin, as flexible as ever, brought our reservation forward 30 minutes to 7:00 pm and got busy cooking our steaks on the outside BBQ.

Mamore gap, one of the most scenic roads in Donegal

Upstairs, in the private function room, we were each served a huge barbequed steak (or salmon by request), sausages, salad, pepper sauce with other pasta and rice dishes. This was soon followed by numerous large dessert options with tea or coffee. All for £18 – outstanding value in my book.

The staff even came to the table offering seconds to anyone who wanted it. This again went down very well with everyone present. Then it was back down into the bar area for a few pints of Guinness and more bike chat. The wrong turn at the start of the day wasn’t mentioned… several times! 

The only downside for the entire event is the fact there is no breakfast available on site on the Sunday morning, but some of the regulars had planned and catered for this. A few others, me included, went into Draperstown.

The departure from the Shepherds Rest is a very relaxed affair, with absolutely no pressure to leave except for those with pressing ferry timetables. Again, the weather gods graced us with a bright, warm sunny morning. So, after saying our goodbyes to old and new friends, it was back to the real world. Here’s to 2020. 

Getting to Ireland 

The ABR Ireland Rally isn’t just for those who live on the Emerald Isle. As a matter of fact, if you live in England, Wales or Scotland, the rally gives you the perfect excuse to make a longer trip out of it. The other guys from the magazine and I (ABR editor, Bryn) travelled over from Holyhead to Dublin, from where it’s around a two-hour ride to the Shepherds Rest. By doing it this way, the journey to Holyhead was part of the adventure as we travelled through Snowdonia. We made the crossing with Stena Line, which offers crossings from as little as £60 for a motorcycle and rider. 

The crossing connects Wales and Ireland and takes three hours 15 minutes, with regular sailing times throughout the day to offer a choice of convenient departures. Arrive relaxed and refreshed for your onward journey by booking one of the great-value en-suite cabins, which start from only £25 single. To make a booking, head to www.stenaline.co.uk.

stena line logo

My first rally

The Ireland Rally was ABR’s ad sales guy, Will’s first bike rally, here’s what he had to say: The main thing I took away from the ABR Ireland Rally was how incredible the island of Ireland is. Donegal is spectacularly beautiful, and I reckon the chap who designed the roads was a biker. This wasn’t very surprising though.

It wasn’t my first time on the Emerald Isle and everyone I had spoken to had said what an amazing place it is to ride around. Heff, Gav, and the rest of the team did a fantastic job of leading the rideout, and I’m sure I wouldn’t have found half of the roads were it not for their guidance.

What did come as a surprise was how enjoyable the journey was. I’ve never looked at travelling to a destination as being a highlight of a trip before. But riding up the A5 to Holyhead and from Dublin to Belfast were about as much fun as I think it’s possible to have. 

The brilliant riding, beautiful scenery, cracking company and the famous Guinness that is just so much better in Ireland ensured the whole weekend was thoroughly enjoyable. The campsite and facilities, not to mention the delicious bbq steak dinner on the Saturday, were all top-notch, and I can’t wait for next year’s Ireland Rally.

Get involved with an ABR Rally Members of the Adventure Bike Rider Forum regularly host get togethers across weekends where the order of the day is having a laugh and getting to know each other while having some fun on two wheels. To see what’s coming up and whether there’s an event you can go to this weekend, check out www.adventurebikerider.com/forum.