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A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 35

It’s the last day of a week long festival at Plumbridge and it is full and buzzing. At least as buzzing as you can expect a carnival in a village of 267 people to get. There are lots of local girls doing their best to avoid the stares of the local boys. The local boys, for their part, were reluctant to be seen by their fellows looking admiringly at the local girls, but  leering and lewdly making vocal their intentions went down well with their friends, and not a few of the local girls themselves.

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The festival itself has bands and  musicians of some stature playing in the evenings. They’re “Rocking by the River” during the week. Sunday is the last day and is a family fun day on the Gaelic Football Field. This appears to consist of half a dozen bouncy castles and a “Plumbridge’s got Talent” karaoke  tent. The day is getting long in the tooth and the admission to the field is £10. It would be balm to rest against my panniers and doze to some fiddle playing, or an air or two played on a harp or the  uilleann pipes. I could even stand a turn or two of Irish dancing. But to come all this way to hear teenagers take it turn and turn about with beer soaked crooners to murder the life out of A Thousand Love Songs or Stay With Me For Good did not appeal.

I’d hoped for a pot of freshly brewed tea and a slice of fruit cake. There was a burger stall but that was the other side of the £10 admission gate. Tightness of sinew and wallet therefore denied me my first Ulster Fête. I don’t think I missed all that much by missing the Sunday but I wouldn’t mind returning someday for some music by a most musical river. Instead of tea and cake I have long guzzles of cola and the last of the bananas against an ancient bridge. A sign said that Newtownstewart was only 7 miles away. Surely they would have a hotel.

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As I left Plumbridge the odometer tells me that I’ve passed 82 miles for the day. It’s the furthest I’ve cycled in my fifties and I feel proud and shattered in equal measure. My throat and chest are rough and rumbling. I’m a little short of wind (in my lungs) but I put that down to the efforts I have made to get here. After 35 miles of nowhere to stay I feel sure I’m going to find somewhere.

The valley is flatter. It’s greener. There is birdsong. I’m in among trees again.

I almost miss the sign. I’ve grown so used to not seeing it. A double take confirms it. Bed and Breakfast. It’s a country farmhouse.

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The last laugh of the day is a driveway long and steep enough to make you unpopular with the paperboy in summer as well as winter. I’m expecting to be turned away, but the door is opened by someone from the past. A perfectly dressed 1950s aunt. She’s delightful and kind and says I can stay but she’ll need to finish dinner with her family before she can complete the paperwork.

The room is neat and pink with single beds and an en suite bathroom with a shower. I let slip a disappointment that there wasn’t a bath and she says I must feel free to use the one in the main bathroom. I feel uncomfortable about this but I know I’m developing some chest complaint and I need the bath after 87 miles of moorland and mountains. My discomfort is increased by the fact that she doesn’t seem to have told the rest of the family that she’s temporarily rented out the bathroom and I get a succession of people trying the handle.

I couldn’t be better looked after than by the lady. She smiles with her eyes over half moon glasses and wears a big wraparound apron of a sort my great auntie used to wear. As I sign in I notice that the last guest was three weeks ago, though she assures me, she regularly puts up cyclists who have crossed The Sperrin Mountains. “You see, there isn’t another bed and breakfast for miles.” I tell her that I had noticed. She tells me to help myself to milk and sugar for tea from the tray. I don’t take in that she means in one of the sitting rooms and get unfriendly looks from other family members who find me looking into a very big, well stocked fridge in the family kitchen.

I try very hard to keep out of the way and spend the evening sipping the rest of my cola and reading William Fotheringham’s biography of Fausto Coppi. I read the entire book in fear of going out of my room again in case I bump into one of the “others”.

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Breakfast is served to me in the room I ought to have gone into for the offered milk and sugar. I sit alone and on my very best behaviour. My landlady is also a teacher. She’s retired and is running the B&B as a business venture. It’s something she does well but I fear it doesn’t compensate for a life of true dedication to tomorrow’s people. I also fear it brings a scant income. I like her very much. I like her especially because she transports me back into the days of my childhood.

I never made a note of how much she charged me. It wasn’t enough. Something like £20, maybe £25. She even knocked some off because I hadn’t used the tea and coffee facilities.

My bicycle isn’t where I left it. It’s been moved to accommodate a car.  I wheel it round the front to pack on the bags. I do this in stockinged feet. This isn’t a house to wear outdoor shoes in. This is a world where druggets and antimacassars still exist.

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Leaving Il Campionissimo behind, I carefully wheel the mule down the driveway to the road and look forward to setting my stall out for the Republic. It’s always a special feeling to ride from your own front door all the way to another sovereign state. I’ve been to Ireland before but never to the north west; and I’ve never ridden there. My throat and chest seem better after a good night’s sleep and a proper sized (small) cooked breakfast. Nothing can go wrong today.

The bike seems a little stiff at first but ok on the downslope that makes up much of the first mile. It is on the uphill that I realise I have a major problem. The back wheel is buckled and it seems pretty obvious how it has happened. It was perfectly fine when I left it. It is rather too well made to have just bent on it’s own. You can see where it has been hit. There is no way that I can go back and complain to someone who has looked after me like my own auntie for £20, when it is her son in law or daughter who has reversed their car into it. And, anyway, there is no way I can be absolutely sure. And there is a big chance it was done by accident without realising the damage.

I trust that Newtownstewart is big enough to have a cycle shop. I need a new wheel.