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Break for the borderon this Foyle odyssey

By Linda Stewart

Straddling the flowing waters of the Foyle is a 6th century city that now resonates to the sounds of the 21st century.

Londonderry is one of the longest inhabited cities in Ireland, with earliest historical references dating back to the sixth century when a monastery was founded here by the great Irish Saint Columba/Colmcille in 546 AD.

The name Derry changed to Londonderry during the Plantation of Ulster, as the new city was built by the Guilds of London (1613-1618).

This award-winning 21-mile cycle route connects the historic Walled City of Derry to the border towns of Lifford and Strabane on a mix of traffic-free paths and quiet country roads.

Directions

From Belfast take the M2 out of the city towards Randalstown. Join the M22 briefly before this road ends and joins the A6 to Dungiven. Continue on the A6 until you reach Londonderry.

The route starts beneath the city walls in Derry City. It runs parallel to the River Foyle towards the Co Donegal border on the resurfaced track bed of the Great Northern Railway, following National Route 92 signs.

The traffic-free railway section merges with a minor road and takes you through the small village of Carrigans. Here change down gear as the road begins to rise high above the widening Foyle. The descent takes you to St Johnston, where the route begins moving out into the countryside on beautiful rural roads.

A few miles on, cycle over the section of rough track down to where you cross the busy N14. Just ahead is Cavanacor Historic House, President Polk's ancestral home and now home to a renowned gallery and craft centre. It's a good excuse to dismount, stretch out and wander about for a spell.

Cycle back towards Lifford and over the River Foyle into County Tyrone, where you will pass the fantastic ‘Begin the Dance’ sculpture, before ending your journey in Strabane town centre at the Tourist Information office.

The Backdrop

Londonderry is the only remaining completely walled city in Ireland and one of the finest examples in Europe. The Walled City has been designated by the NI Government as a signature tourism project.

These famous walls date back to the early part of the 17th century and are home to Europe’s largest collection of cannon. There are fine views from the top of the walls that encircle the old city in a circuit of one mile.

Running along the line of the former Great Northern Railway, the Foyle Valley Greenway offers picturesque views of the River Foyle. It won the European Award of Excellence in 2003.

The Foyle Valley Railway Museum highlights the outstanding railway history of the city and houses many fascinating exhibits from some of the railways that radiated from the city — Great Northern Railway (GNR), London Midland Scotland (LMS), Londonderry & Lough Swilly Railway and the County Donegal Railway.

Situated near Ballindrait, Cavanacor House is the ancestral home of US President James Knox Polk (1845–1849) and includes an art gallery, craft shop and tea-room.

Seat of Power Visitor Centre is a former courthouse (1746) but now depicts the importance of Lifford at the time of the O’Donnell princes. A visit to the courtroom and dungeons is recommended.

Located between Lifford and Strabane where the rivers Mourne and Finn converge to form the Foyle, the ‘Begin the Dance’ sculpture consists of five huge steel and bronze figures and represents the district’s rich cultural heritage.

Nestling behind a Georgian façade, Gray’s Printers Museum illustrates Strabane’s industrial heritage and famous US associations. It houses an impressive selection of 19th Century presses, a museum and gallery.

Further information

For further information on cycling or any other outdoor activity, please contact Countryside Access and Activities Network (CAAN), tel: 028 9030 3930 or cycleni.com.

CAAN in association with Belfast Telegraph have provided this information. Every care has been taken to ensure accuracy of the information. CAAN and Belfast Telegraph cannot accept responsibility for errors or omissions but where such are brought to our attention, the information for future publications will be amended.

Cycle Name: Foyle Valley Cycle Way.

Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty: Sperrins.

Nearest big town to start point: Londonderry.

Distance: 21 miles linear.

Terrain: Traffic-free paths and quiet country roads.

Access Restrictions: Most of this cycle is on quiet country roads. There are disabled facilities in and around Londonderry City. Contact Londonderry Tourist Information Centre for further Information on 028 71267284.

Refreshments: Café, toilets and refreshments available in Londonderry, Lifford and Strabane.

Publications: Foyle Valley Cycle Route from Sustrans. A free Foyle Valley route leaflet is available from Sustrans on tel: 0845 113 00 65.

Cycle Developed By: Sustrans, Derry City Council, Donegal County Council and Strabane District Council.

Map: Sheet 7 of Ordnance Survey of Northern Ireland Discoverer Series, available from Land & Property Services Map Shop (lpsni.gov.uk).

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