Monday, 2 August 2010

The Witness Cairn, Ireland north and south, and an unfortunate event

Just sitting down to write this, after a Murphy's (my first in Cork since my first ever Murphy's, in the Railway Hotel here in 1978) and I can feel my attention ...slipping away. Motorcycling: you ride, eat, sleep. Get up and ride again...

...if you can actually get on the bike. That's been a problem for me since we set out on the Triumphs (heavy, armoured clothing, lack of suppleness, peculiar on-bike luggage arrangement) and today it nearly brought the whole trip to a premature end. We were just saying cheerio to Gordon and Colin at the excellent Bushmills, after a truly superb visit and even better scones (also a 15, an Ulster delicacy: 15 marshmallows, 15 digestive biscuits, 15 glace cherries, one tin of condensed milk: crush, soak, mix and chill; it's got the density of uranium). The bikes, parked on a steep camber, were being arranged for a picture; I tried to step off mine, lost my balance and brought the Street Triple crashing down on top of me. For some reason, I was completely uninjured. the Triumph lost its front indicator. I felt like a complete idiot.

It took me until past Belfast to recover my equilibrium. With some 300 miles to go to Cork, all high speed motorway riding, it was essential to calm down. A lasagne and chips at TK's Diner helped. and now we're at the Fota Island Resort, courtesy of those nice people at irish Distillers, whose Midleton distillery we'll visit tomorrow.

Last night I met up with Sandy, Elaine and Wee Dave for a memorably delicious meal at 55 North in Portrush, and stayed with them at their friends' restored, thatched cottage, deep in the Antrium forests. We also had possibly the best ice cream in the world, Maud's Poor Bear, triple cones (it's honeycomb vanilla.) Grandfatherhood is a privilege. And another on the way in September, this time from a Glasgow direction!

And working backwards, on Sunday we left Bladnoch and decided to go on a wee pilgrimage to the shrine of St Ninian, needing, as we do, all the help we can get on this trip. You seem to have to pay to get access to St Ninian's tomb at the Whithorn Abbey, but not to walk from teh harbour at Isle of Whithorn to what must be one of the most overwhelmingly emotive religious sites in Scotland: The Witness Cairn.

Just across a field from St Ninian's Chapel, where pilgrims landing from Ireland on their way to Whithorn Abbey stopped to regain their land-legs, this is an inter-church project which encourages people to remember their departed loved ones by writing their name on a stone and depositing it at this place of pilgrimage. It is clearly meeting a very important need. Thousands of stones, many with heartbreaking messages, are piled up, and we passed a stream of visitors on their way to the site.

Remembrance and pilgrimage are crucial elements of human life, I think. We paused, and passed on. First to Northern ireland, and my delightful family encounter, followed by my travails with a motorcycle. Did St Ninian cause the bike to fall, or stop it hiiting my legs? I knew I should have bought a badge in Whithorn! Then our fast and hilarious encounter with the Irish Republic's toll road system: The first toll said it didn't take sterling, but did. The second only took euros and credit cards, no sterling. The third took no credit cards, but did take sterling. Great roads.

And now we're here. Mine's a Jamieson's! Wales tomorrow.

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