A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe …Part 37
Omagh was a feast of helpful people. Everybody from the woman who served me chicken and chips to the man who poured a coffee “with an extra express to keep you going” were incredibly obliging. The Halford’s boys had made it their mission to get me riding again by teatime. When I dropped the bicycle off they took it in turns to spin the broken wheel, smile, tut a couple of times and agree that “You’d not be going far on that one.”
When I eventually pay for it – new wheel, new chain, new gear parts, a full service and an afternoon’s labour, the price came to £65. I was staggered. I was prepared to pay £200.
I said how delighted I was and expressed my heartfelt thanks. The main man said it was an honour.
I had said I was worried about the wheel collapsing under me and being stranded. “I don’t mind pushing the thing but I don’t fancy carrying it.”
“Sure”, he agreed “You’d not want to be carrying it.”
“Would anyone stop to help if I was stranded?”
“Oh, round here they would. Further east you’d be left for certain, but here in the west you’ll find us good folks.”
I certainly did.
I had not planned to visit Omagh. I’d gone out of necessity and found myself obliged to stay for four hours. If every hour of my life had enriched me as much as each of those four, I’d be up there with Nanci Griffith and Kris Kristofferson. I’d know what I was feeling and I’d have the words to put it down. I’d have become a good man.
The town that helped me when my adventure was in trouble and the person who helped me when life was a little harder than I could manage have a great deal in common.
It’s 3.30. Just a matter of enjoying a bicycle that works properly, whose gears don’t creak and jump on the downhills, whose wheels go round and whose front is pointing towards the border with the Irish Republic. I’ve given up all hopes and plans of getting to Sligo. I’m struggling with what I thought was a chesty cold but now feel sure is a more serious chest infection. This journey is to advance my health, not ruin it. I’m going into a light headwind. I’m finding the roads quieter; even the A roads. I want to go just as far as I can on the condition that I don’t feel tired when I get there. I’m in a fine mood, on a good bicycle enjoying the end of a warm, bright afternoon.
I follow the Clanabogan Road as far as The Drumlish Road which is a good deal quieter and promises a ride through Lack. My friend Jon and I once cycled twenty miles out of our way in Normandy to take photos of each other at a place called Bastard. When we got there it was too small a settlement to have a place sign. I was working on weak puns “I’m going to Lack for nothing”, and pedalling along with good legs and no wind.
It came and went. A pretty place with the essentials; a pub, a corner shop and a place to buy calor gas. As I pass one place, another becomes the target, and so through Ederney and Kesh where I nearly take a wrong turning. There’s the whole of the west of Ireland waiting for me and I nearly miss it.
Once past Kesh the road becomes one of the best I have ever cycled. I normally avoid main roads, but if you’re on one with not too much traffic you have the pleasure of a smooth flat surface. Non cyclists may be surprised at how much difference the top of the road makes. Cyclists and non cyclists alike couldn’t help but revel in the views. Lower Lough Erne is quite the most dazzling lake I have ever seen. I was brought up near the English Lakes and love them dearly and the memories of playing The Last of the Mohicans in the woods and swimming in Coniston and Windemere when I was young. But they had nothing on this for sheer size and splendour. Rydal and Grasmere did wonders for the likes of Southey, Wordsworth and Coleridge. Out here in the west the sight of a lake is known to get a poet beating out the rhythm just the same.
I contemplate what a wonderful view it would make first thing in the morning, but I’ve got that feeling you get when the day is showing signs of closure and you haven’t worn your legs out. I just want to keep going.
There’s a bed and breakfast on Lusty Beg Island. It seems an opportunity not to be missed but I sail on by. You actually cycle across causeways and a small string of islands though you don’t necessarily notice it. Water, sunlight and green willow is enough for me. The sensation of moving forward. I stop to look out over the lake and fall into conversation with a woman a little older than me who looked as if she’d read a bit of Yeats in her time.
“Will I need a passport?”
“No. Sure, during the troubles there was a checkpoint on the bridge at Belleek and they’d ask you what your business was. But even then they didn’t ask to see your passport.”
“Will Guest Houses and Hotels take English money?”
“Sure, we’ll take anything round here.”
“Will my card work in the bank machines over the border?”
“If you’ve some money in your account it will.”
The rest of the journey is pretty much perfect. I have the new experience of motorists waving in acknowledgement of my right to be on the road rather than waving to point out some shortcoming in my technique or dress sense.
In the shop in Belleek I buy milk and ask for a recommendation for where to stay. That was before I see a hotel by the bridge. It does me a double room with a bath for the price of a single, lets me park my bike in the gym. “Let me take your card number,” says the receptionist, “The machine isn’t working. If it isn’t working tomorrow I’ll walk you up to the bank machine. I could show you around.”
There isn’t a hint of lack of trust; simply helpful friendliness. the one downer is the arrival of a bus load of pensioners fro Surrey.
Before long I’m under a mass of bubbles reading a Susan Hill book; The Small Hand; that I’d picked up in Asda in Larne. It seemed a long way away and a long time ago. A whole country away.