A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 43
There was a quietness in the evening. The buildings and thoroughfares announced a substantial city. The population suggested a big and contented village. This wasn’t a gastronomic tour but if it had been I wouldn’t have suffered through lack of choice. I’d been told about the quality of the seafood out in the west. Here there seemed to be good food, of every kind, around every corner.
Most of my days began with enough food for the day in the form of a lavish breakfast. After that it was merely a matter of topping up. I’d taken a strong liking to cheese, to oatcake biscuits and to apples. The combination satisfied taste and texture and sat lightly on an overworked stomach. I didn’t mind working my gut, on overtime, to digest yet another monstrous fry, so long as it had the rest of the day to recover. Once I’d stopped exercising I wanted to lightly and safely graze.
Hotels were going to stretch my budget; restaurants would have taken it to pieces. And, anyway, I don’t much care for solo dining. There is something wasteful in not being able to share the experience of good food. I imagine Heston Blumenthal makes himself a decent snack but I doubt he prepares and serves himself full dinners.
By eight o’clock I’m enjoying an alfresco supper by the banks of the river. In addition to my usual oatcakes,and cheese, I’ve picked up a punnet of blueberries. They’ve had quite a press as a super fruit. I’m not expecting wondrous things from them. I bought them because they were going cheap. As usual, I am slightly disappointed. They promise to be everything a bilberry is except bigger. They may be full of all sorts of goodness, but I’d choose bilberries any day.
Several swans, some swallows and a pair of yellow wagtails provide the floorshow. The gentle flow of the river provides the drone to the traditional music crossing the water from a pub on the other bank. The last time I was in Ireland I followed the mandolins and fiddles all over the County Clare and drowned myself in the black stuff. This time I was happy to spend an hour listening. The players were good and were playing for the benefit of each other, it being a little early for the crowd.
I dropped a berry in the stream to catch a little silver trout. There were fish rising. Further up stream fishermen settled in the gathering dusk. This was the middle of a major city. It didn’t feel a bit like England. It had a special magic brought about by a different pace and a different set of values. Not slower and more mellow, this isn’t an over-romanticed idea of Ireland, but, perhaps a little more in tune with the world around.
Darkness descended and I sat on. No one was in any hurry. No-one was disturbing the darkening streets. I could make out the great and little bear as I made my slow and contented way back to the hotel.
A mug of hot chocolate and a few more chapters of Inishowen sent me to sleep. The day hadn’t been without incident. Had given me ample opportunity to practice getting in a bit of a tizzy and then realise the futility of it. I’ve had a fine old day. I’ve crossed my first border, visited the oldest town on the island, traced the roots of Rory Gallagher and William Allingham. Traced the journey of The Spanish Armada, uncovered stories of great brutality and hatred. I’d visited the grave of one of the truly great poets of the twentieth century and almost doubled my reading of him. I’d spent time among the good people of Sligo and got a tourist’s feel for a very fine city. I’d been filled with frustration as things went wrong and filled with admiration and gratitude when un-looked for acts of kindness set me straight and on my way again. I had experienced a fall of evening as peaceful and lyrical as any I can remember and I fell asleep a tired and happy man.
I had a ream of notes ready for the man in the post office. It was the first time I’d got to post my morning letter into a green post box. I queued politely behind two others and a helpful man allowed generously for my unfamiliarity with polite and helpful post office staff. I was thrown. There were four people working behind the counter and not one of them had a “position closed” sign up. I was definitely not in England.
He sold me an envelope and a stamp for 27 cents. It didn’t seem enough. The post box had E:R on it. (Edward VII). It really wasn’t all that long ago that Ireland had been a part of Great Britain. The idea seemed preposterous.
My only problem was that I was not well. I had to get myself within reach of places I could abandon the tour if I had to. I was going to keep going as long as I could but recognised that what was wrong with my chest was a matter for a doctor and not a pharmacist. I was way out in the north west of Ireland. This isn’t a great country for trains. As far as I could see I had four basic options if I were to fulfil my ambition to cycle from my front door, round the British Isles and back to my front door. And those options were ferry ports; Larne, Dublin, Rosslaire and Cork. Cork was always my intention but it seemed an awful long way off.
I’d been abandoning all sorts of things along the way. It was in Sligo that I, with great reluctance, abandoned plans to keep to the west, to visit Mayo and Connemara, to ride through Galway and visit old friends in Clare. It was a tough decision. I cannot regret it. I returned home in a bad way. I was laid up at home for weeks. I found climbing stairs almost beyond me and wasn’t able to ride my bicycle for months. If I’d headed out west I don’t think I would have got home under my own power. The west will be there for another tour.
I took a final walk around the city of the shells and, passing Halfords, I found a quiet road that took me into Leitrim.