I heard they were building a motorway through an important historical site, the Hill of Tara, the seat of the ancient Irish Kings, just northwest of Dublin. I also heard there was a group of protesters camped up there doing an ongoing solidarity vigil and keeping a sacred fire going. I thought, “Now that sounds like my kind of place,” and figured I could spend the night up there with them, perhaps even trade publicity, and at least learn from passionate people about real Celtic Irish history. The view from Tara was supposed to be amazing.
On the way up I stopped at the Caprac of Cormac, one of five holy wells surrounding the Hill. I filled a water bottle from the fresh stream coming out, and tied my own piece of sentimental string onto the grate protecting the well.
When I arrived at the summit, however, it was misty and overcast. The view was pretty good, even still, but I didn’t find any teepees or yurts or sacred fires. The lady in the souvenir shop said the protesters had been evicted, but they had moved their camp down into the valley. I followed her directions, but all I found was a huge motorway under construction. Alas, I was too late to try and help. I camped alone that night with a sacred fire of my own.
Next day I looked at my map and saw I was also close to Newgrange, and ancient chamber from the times when druids lived in harmony with nature, and built circles on ley-lines that awakened magic on solstices and equinoxes. It’s been completely tourist-ified, though; the paved entrance had two lanes: autos or buses. The site is accessible only by guided tour, which utilizes a bus to take tourists the kilometer up to the site, and of course they charge to get in at all. I left shortly after I arrived, and took a couple photos on my way out. It reminded me of Stonehenge, grabbing snapshots through the fence.
On, then, toward Northern Ireland. “The Troubles” between the Republic and the North have pretty much ceased – Sinn Fein and the IRA are all but history; so I wasn’t worried about car bombs or ultra-paranoid guards. But I was hoping to cross back into the United Kingdom without having my non-existent visa checked, so I took the smallest road on my map.
There weren’t any customs officials; no police, no border station. There wasn’t even a sign. There was, however, right where the border must’ve been, a pair of “Nor’n Ir’n” fellas who slowed down to lean out their car window and ask if I wanted to buy some new cellphones… I pretended I was Spanish.
As I climbed a steep straight hill that must’ve been three kilometers long(lots of mountains around Belfast), the rain started. I put on my rain gear and it steadily worsened. By midday, nervously braking my way down out of the hills into Newry(I’m a little skittish down the hills since the crash), the freezing rain was pelting me in the face, the wind was blowing sideways, and the gusts were threatening to knock me off the road. I stopped at the public library to check on my potential hosts in Belfast, and I really, really didn’t want to go back out there. The air-driers in the bathroom barely took the chill off, much less dried out my soaking sleeves. After a cup of coffee and some lunch, I had to do it. I’ve been getting up two hours before dawn since the days are so short, and there was still a few hours of cycling left, so out I went into the biting Irish weather once again.
After half an hour I warmed up okay, and made it within striking distance of Belfast by dark. But I was desperate to get out of the rain for the night – if I had to camp in a field, cooking under the vestibule of my tent, with no place to dry out my clothes, then tomorrow would be even more miserable than today.
I found some abandoned buildings, but somebody had put some really sturdy locks on the doors and bricked over the windows. I went next door and rang a bunch of doorbells, to see if anyone could let me in, but nobody answered, so I just hid in the musty disused storage shed surrounded by the rubbish bins. Not the nicest site, but I did have a great cup of tea, made from the water of the holy well of Tara, with real milk instead of non-dairy creamer powder. Luxury!
Up again before dawn, I struck out to Belfast. Thankfully the rain had stopped(for the moment). As usual I took the tiny back roads, about half of which were on my map… and really, none would’ve been better than half. It was confusing, and I ended up taking a few really brutal wrong turns. Those back roads don’t go around the hills; they need to reach the isolated farmsteads so they go right to the top. Well, at least the views were amazing, and I justified it as good training. Soon enough I’ll have to cross the Pyrenees.
Mostly with the help of my compass, I made it into the city, and discovered a bike path that led from the suburbs all the way into the center of town along the River Lagan. I was ecstatic to find a route without traffic, and as I made my way I could feel that joy bubbling up inside, the elation of adventuring into the unknown.
I found the cathedral at the dead center of town, decked out for Christmas, and pushed my way through the international market to the Belfast Welcome Center. I got a map and checked my email, only to realize that my host’s address was back the way I came, south of the city, in a village I had passed about two hours ago. Thanks to being up so early, there was plenty of time to get there, even after fixing a flat on the river path – some Belfast broken glass found its way into my rear tire.
After climbing Pine Hill road(the cruelest combination of long and steep as any hill I’ve climbed in all of Ireland), I arrived. No one answered at the gate, so I went to inquire with the neighbor who was washing his car. David phoned for me, and while I waited he offered me some tea. Of course I should’ve know “tea” means tea and food, but I was happy to accept fruit and toast while I chatted with him and his wife Helena.
Soon Alan and Lisa showed up, and I was taken in for a huge meal, a shower, laundry, and the comfort of a huge duvet on a bed that I actually (almost) fit on!
Lisa works for the Royal Yacht Association of Northern Ireland, and has been working all her contacts(of which she has many) to get me on a sailboat across to Scotland. At this point, we’ve got a boat, we’ve got a skipper, and we’ve got crew, but the weather is not cooperating. That’s the thing with sailing – the direction of the wind is sorta important.
Soon though, I’ll be in Scotland. I’ll cycle to either Edinburgh or Newcastle(or maybe both) and from Newcastle, take a ferry to Amsterdam. I wish I could sail across the North Sea as well, but sailing season is over for all but the craziest mariners, and I really want to be in Holland for New Year’s, if not Christmas.
I guess we’ll see! I’ll let you know how it all works out. For now I bid you adieu.