Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Tall Ships

I took advantage of the improving weather today and rode into Belfast to check out the new pedestrian/cycle bridge at the Lagan Weir.  The media were just dispersing and the bridge was open, so I used it for the first time to go to the Dock Cafe for a cup of coffee.  As I cycled down past the Odyssey Arena I was confronted by the first of the tall ships with two oil rigs in the distance at Harland and Wolff for repair.  It is unusual to see three oil rigs in the shipyard at one time as there is another over by the twin cranes Samson and Goliath.  

I took a few photos of the 'Morgenster' before the crowds arrive for the 'Tall Ships' event in Belfast from Thursday 2nd July until Saturday 5th July.  I then went to the Dock Cafe for my cup of coffee.  It is a popular spot with cyclists and the food is good.  

After enjoying my cup of coffee, I cycled down Queens Road to the entrance of the Harland & Wolff Repair Yard.  I took a few photographs of the two oil rigs before retracing my steps.  I could see the masts and rigging of another tall ship on the opposite side of the harbour.  I cycled back over the River Lagan and followed the NCN cycle route out through Clarendon Dock up to Duncrue Street where I turned into the Belfast Harbour Estate and right onto Northern Road. I followed the road round to the road junction at the Harbour exit where I turned left onto Dufferin Road.  I could see the tall ship berthed in Pollock Dock. 

I enjoyed the run today despite the breeze.  I had a tailwind home so it was a comfortable spin back.  There was another tall ship in Belfast Lough off the County Down coast about Bangor obviously en-route to the harbour.  It was nice to see the first of the ships which have arrived.  The event looks set to draw the crowds.

Monday, 29 June 2015

HMS Caroline

Belfast underwent a significant increase in shipbuilding activity during the 19th century with the change from traditional wooden ships to hulls made from iron and later steel. There were 3 shipyards on the River Lagan up until the end of the 19th century when it reduced to 2, Workman Clark and Harland & Wolff. During World War I German U Boats operated in British and Irish waters. The Royal Naval Air Service operated airships from Bentra near Whitehead. The Royal Navy maintained a presence in Belfast and HMS Caroline was moved to Belfast to serve as a depot ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve from 1924 after she was decommissioned and placed in Reserve from 1922.

HMS Caroline was built by Cammell Laird, Birkenhead, her keel being laid down in January 1914 and launched on 29th September 1914 for fitting out. She was completed in December 1914 and was commissioned into service on 4th December 1914. HMS Caroline was one of a number of C Class Light Cruisers and she was to serve as part of the Royal Navy's Grand Fleet based at Scapa Flow and spend her war service patrolling the North Sea. HMS Caroline saw action against the German Imperial Fleet at the Battle of Jutland in 1916. In 1919 after the conclusion of hostilities, HMS Caroline was moved out to the East Indies Station where she finished her active service. After moving to Belfast in 1924, she went to Harland & Wolff shipyard to have her boilers and armament removed for her continued service as a depot ship for the R.N.V.R.  HMS Caroline was returned to Royal Naval active service during World War II serving as the headquarters for the Royal Navy in Belfast. As the war progressed the role and function of the Royal Navy expanded and premises were requisitioned around the harbour and city for naval use. A lot of the ratings wore HMS Caroline hat tallies although not actually based on board. After the conclusion of hostilities HMS Caroline again reverted to her peacetime role as a depot ship for the R.N.V.R. HMS Caroline was given a refit at Harland & Wolff shipyard in 1951. She continued as a depot ship until 2009 when the R.N.V.R. moved ashore and was finally decommissioned out of service in 2011. Her ensign was laid up in Belfast's St. Anne's Cathedral.

At that point the future of HMS Caroline was uncertain as the second oldest Royal Naval warship. Proposals were made to move her to Portsmouth and in 2012 initial funding of £1 million was secured from the National Lottery Heritage Fund towards restoration and the announcement that she was to stay in Belfast. In October 2014 an announcement about a further £12 million towards the restoration of the ship with the planned opening of the ship as a museum in time for the centenary of the Battle of Jutland on May 31st 2016. Restoration work is ongoing with the teak deck planking having been lifted. Paint analysis of the ship has revealed 38 different shades of grey used on the ship during her service. The new information has enabled experts to determine her colour during different periods of her service and determine the exact shade she was painted during World War I.

HMS Caroline is currently berthed in the Alexandra Dock behind the Titanic Film studios where 'Game of Thrones' is filmed. It is easily reached by bicycle. As part of the plans to turn her into a floating museum, the nearby old Harland & Wolff historic Titanic Pump House is to be turned into a visitor centre for the ship. As restoration work is ongoing the ship is not yet open to the public but she can still be seen from the security fencing. For anyone interested in maritime history she will be well worth a visit, alongside the White Star Line tender for the RMS Titanic, SS Nomadic and the Titanic visitor centre.

Revisited HMS Caroline on Monday 30th May 2016, before the 100th commemoration of the Battle of Jutland on 31st May 2016 to be held on board, as the last surviving ship that took part in the sea battle in which 6000 Royal Navy sailors lost their lives, of which 800 were Irish.  The restoration is impressive considering her external condition in 2015.  She is now a world class museum.

Monday, 8 June 2015

A Bit of a Breeze?

The course of life doesn't always run smooth and circumstances can conspire to disturb the settled routine of daily life. This is what has happened with my cycling, not by choice, I might add. So the opportunity to have some 'bike time' awheel with friends, was too good an opportunity to pass up. The date and venue were agreed by phone for the following Saturday as the weather forecast seemed to hint at improving weather. The weather only improved marginally over the unseasonally cold, wet weather, with strong wind and showers on the day in question. 

I chose to ride to Central Railway Station, Belfast as the other riders were all arriving by train. The journey into Belfast was uneventful apart from the grind into the headwind and a heavy rain shower as rode past the Harbour Estate. Despite the headwind I arrived 10 mins before the agreed meet up time. I preferred to spin a low gear into the headwind rather than push a much higher gear. Retaining the ability to spin and stay on top of the gear meant I would tire much less quickly during the ride. 

Meeting up with the other riders was firstly a chance to admire the various bicycles and secondly to catch up with friends. After the initial pleasantries, our ride leader explained the route would take us through busy traffic for approximately one mile along the busy A20 route Albertbridge Road, onto the Newtownards Road at Holywood Arches, where we would pick up the Comber Greenway route out to Comber.  After a gap of around 35 years since cycling these same roads, the volume and density of motor traffic has increased enormously, along with changes to road signage, road junction layout and traffic control. 

The one thing which struck me immediately was the vehicle fumes. This of course diminished once we entered onto the Comber Greenway which follows the route of the old Belfast & County Down Railway main line (closed in 1950) out of Belfast. It crosses a number of main roads, the crossings being controlled by traffic lights, but then quickly takes the rider away from the hubbub of urban traffic. The route was fairly well used by cyclists, from groups of mamils, (middle-aged men in lycra) groups of women cyclists, kids on bikes, through to youngsters taking tentative steps on their bikes with dad. The strong wind was not proving to be much of a deterrent to many folk. The Comber Greenway is also used by dog walkers and joggers too, so it is a shared space, not solely for cyclists. 

I found the route pleasant and following the former railway track bed the gradient does not rise sharply except where a road has to be crossed and the former railway bridges have long since been demolished. However there are no steep climbs on the route, so the nervous can rest easy. I personally found as a relatively unfit rider after a prolonged lay off I didn't have to change out of the comfortable gear I was spinning once, despite the wind. It was a pleasant run out to Comber and the weather was kind without any heavy rain showers.

The Greenway comes out on the Comber Bypass probably where the old Comber railway station had been. I was immediately aware again of vehicle fumes from the busy road. Our route followed the Comber Bypass to a roundabout where we turned right and proceeded along the road for a short distance before taking a road to the left marked as a part of the National Cycle Network (Route 99) for Castle Espie Wildfowl and Wetland Trust

This was to be our lunch stop as our ride leader assured us they have a great cafe and you get 15% discount off your meal bill if you cycle there. It was my first visit and I was impressed by the vistors centre and cafe. There are fine views out over Strangford Lough and of Scrabo Tower from the cafe. The food was good as well. There are plenty of bike parking racks at the visitor centre which was nice to see. Plans for the next ride were made over lunch and bicycle topics discussed. 

The return was made to Belfast after lunch which was mostly into the wind. The journey became interesting once back in Belfast on roads with traffic. The wind was being funnelled between the buildings and the blast of wind as I crossed the mouth of one or two of the side streets blew the bike out into the centre of the carriageway despite my best efforts. Apart from this, return was made to Central Station in good time for the others to catch their various trains. 

After bidding our farewells, I resumed my journey by bike. There was a stand of bicycles for the new Belfast Bike Hire Scheme at Central Station but there were too many cars and taxis dropping off and collecting people to take any photographs. I stopped at the much quieter bike stand outside the Belfast Harbour Commissioner's Offices to take a photograph of the new bike hire scheme. Only one bicycle had been removed from the stand of bikes. I continued the final part of my run, thankful that it was at least a tailwind back.