Belfast, United Kingdom
Yesterday I booked a trip up the Atrim Coast for today and arrangements were made to pick me up my hotel this morning in a courtesy bus. The courtesy bus broke down so they sent a courtesy man instead who led me through the streets of Belfast to the awaiting coach. It was almost at capacity but luckily I snagged the last window seat from which I saw the remaining Courtesy Men herd in the last remaining passengers and then we were off.
Ian, our driver and guide, did not pause for breath from go to woe, regaling us with tall tales and true as we wound our way up Northern Irelands most spectacular coast line under perfect blue skies.
We stopped briefly at a Carrickfergus Castle and then on up the road a way to the sleepy seaside town of Carnlough. While it slept, I woke myself up with my first coffee for the day and re-boarded the bus feeling a little more alert and able to introduce myself to the fella next to me. Unfortunately he was from Birmingham. Fortunately, his accent wasn’t too strong so we were able to chat throughout the day.
On we went passed 7 of the 8 Glens of the Antrim Coast learning of local legends, my favourite being the one about an old lady who lived in a cave making Poitín – an Irish moonshine that has sent many an Irishmen blind.
Up until this point, the scenery had been spectacular and all that you could expect from the Emerald Isle with rolling green hills and craggy cliffs looking out to sea. What I hadn’t expected was Carrick-A-Rede near Ballintoy.
Every now and then you encounter a place so beautiful that it illicits an emotional response – colours so saturated that it barely seems real – the green of the grass as concentrated as the pink of the flowers it ensconsed starkly contrasting with the unbroken blue of the sky penetrating the perfect clarity of the water. Each step I took warranted another photo, so convinced was I of this utopias exponential beauty.
I followed the path to a precarious, “death defying” rope bridge (for which I got a certificate for crossing!) across to a rocky outcrop covered in ground so soft it was like walking on cushions. I won’t lie, it would’ve been a beautiful moment to share but as that’s not my current lot in life, I breathed deeply and accepted it as a moment of contemplative solitude.
Certificate in hand, I climbed back on the bus to find my fellow travels similarly entranced in a blissful daze as we headed off to our penultimate stop and the place we’d all come to see – one of the seven wonders of the natural world – The Giant’s Causeway.
The Giant’s Causeway is a geological formation of interlocking hexagonal basalt columns. The visual effect is Cathedral like yet rather than being austere, it calls out like a playground to be climbed all over.
As I climbed my way to the pinnacle with an ease I’ve never before enjoyed, thanks to a new level of fitness, I was put in mind of the song ‘On the Borderline’ by Sally Seltmann. This song has been anthemic for me during my own ‘troubles’ – the first verse speaking of the pain of loss in a way that resonated in the beginning. Today, it was the last verse that rang true “When I’m standing on a mountain I feel brave and strong” and I felt proud of the distance I’ve traveled – physically and emotionally, to stand atop one of the worlds wonders under my own steam.
The drive back was a subdued affair. Ian lay down his microphone as the passengers let the wonders of the day continue to unravel. I marveled at the fact that I must be one of the few Australians to leave white as a ghost and pick up a tan in Northern Ireland!
Back at my hotel, I didn’t want to waste the gains of the day by staying in nor did I really want to go out by myself. I struck a deal with myself to just go out and see what was happening, if nothing appealed then I was allowed back in to watch TV. Luckily, I saved from that fate by the sound of music flooding out of a nearby venue with an outside stage set up for some kind of festival. I grabbed a beer and enjoyed the live DJ set, chatted to a few locals and established that it was the first birthday party for the adjoining nightclub.
The DJ set gave way to Supremes cover act which I took as my cue to move on. Around the corner I came across ‘The Box’, another club I’d read about and had recommended by one of the locals I’d just met. I went inside to find a thrash metal band – Mental Deficiency – playing. Again, not really my scene but I stayed for a couple of numbers to watch the crowd showing their support in true imitation of the bands name.
I was then lured around the next corner by yet more music, this time and acoustic set by a guy on a stool in the very atmospheric Duke of York pub. There were enough people about that I felt completely free to take a seat and listen without need of another drink. I passed the evening enjoying the feeling of being an observer without feeling any obligation to participate.
When he finished, I turned the corner one more time to find myself back at my hotel having spent the entire night circling the one very diverse and active block!
Although today may have been better shared, I didn’t feel lonely, I felt independent. In the words of Sally Seltmann, today I “(found) my own way, lit my torch and sparkled my own spark… and I’m going to get through”.