A Cycle on the Celtic Fringe … Part 61
All good things must come to an end. Three of the happiest hours of solitary contentment. My sketching was in its early stages. The product was pretty awful but the process was empowering. I’ve always considered myself someone who notices a little more than my associates. While sketching you do nothing other than notice stuff you would have missed if you hadn’t picked up a pencil. I gradually realise why I have always been attracted to artists. Apart from the fact that art students tend to be rather attractive, the ones I know are all people who know stuff. People who notice stuff tend to be people who know stuff.
I’m in the countryside, surrounded by mountains and farms. Upland sheep farms close by and dairy farms in the valleys and vales below. All run by farmers. You cannot be a farmer unless you notice stuff. At least you cannot be one for long. Farmers are another set of people I’ve always got on with. What they know, they really know. They’ve seen it. They’ve worked it our for themselves. They use their five wits to understand things. Far be it from me to denigrate book learning, but there is no substitute for experiencing things and being fully aware of what you are experiencing.
A few days spent increasing your ability to notice a little more can save you a fortune. Don’t go off to the Alps or the Urals or the Rockies or the Dolomites. Come to Ireland first. Spend an hour or two walking on the Slieve Bloom mountains. You won’t run short of things to amaze and delight you.
I’ll go back there soon. Ireland seemed a long way off when I began the trip. Now I’m aware that I am less than a day’s drive and ferry from my front door.
I’ve been on the tops for a while. One or two cars and a handful of cyclists have passed. I’m a little away from the road and the picnic benches put up there for the five minute trade. (Four hours looking out of a coach window is fine but five minutes is quite enough of looking at the view). I’m reminded of my favourite scene from Last of the Summer Wine. I’ll re-phrase that. I’m reminded of the scene I liked from the aforementioned long running television programme. Wally Batty had brought his wife Nora up to the tops around the Holme Valley on his motorbike and sidecar, and is ready to get off to do something better than be up here doing what trippers do. His wife admonishes him and tells him to “Look at t’view!” He looks around a thousand acres of finest Yorkshire countryside and expresses the thoughts of the townie; “Ah’ve looked at t’view.” He retorts as though it is something that is either been done or not done and once done it has been fully done. The episode must have been some time ago. Joe Gladwin, who played Wally died in 1987.
The last person I’d communicated with was an old fellow tending his lawns as the road started to point to the sky. He was struggling with a huge mower with a seat. There is a new sight in Ireland of rich men approaching an age of not quite being able to tend for themselves. The country has plenty of old fools on very big lawn mowers. There seems a sort of Sysyphean punishment here. You struggle all your life to afford your dream house and spend your entire dotage cutting the grass.
I’ve come up the hill like a champion. Darker thoughts are banished as you climb big hills on a bicycle. I’ve forgotten all the mechanical problems and the dangerous roads and the even more dangerous drivers. Up here I am the Eagle of Toledo, The Angel of the Mountains. I’m the big peasant boy from Pamplona with lungs like oxygen cylinders measuring out the cadence with legs that are far too strong to be mine. And it’s beautiful. So very beautiful. Up past the herds of contented cows. All the cattle in Ireland look contented and healthy and well fed. The sweat flows off me. My last wearable top is drenched in it. Up through the trees. Beach and oak and later pines and fir. The smell of the wet woodland drying in the morning sun was intoxicating. It’s a five mile climb and it takes you pretty much to the very top.
Now I’m getting ready for the five miles of descending that surely must be coming my way. There is nowhere higher. Everything must be downhill.
A fellow about my age reaches the summit and wants to chat. He’s never cycled the Slieve Blooms before and is as delighted as I am. He’s from Dublin and had simply never considered them before, and now he’s all for making them his main destination. He loves the Wicklow Hills and tells me I must find time for them before leaving Ireland. I’ve been reading Joseph O”Connor’s book about John Millington Synge and that had already made me want to go to Wicklow. Not this trip, but soon. We’re joined by a couple who are the most athletic of us all. I’m the only one not in the proper cycling togs. I’m also the fellow who has come the furthest. It is often the way. The two men look as ridiculous as any man ever looks in the particular combination of lycra and slogans and lurid colours. The woman is an exception. This woman would turn heads if she was in a St Helen’s reserve kit. From the front, with flashing smile and jersey fashionably unzipped, she is something of a distraction. We’re going the same way and she invites me to hang on (cycling term for using another cyclist’s slipstream.) She is aware of her attractions and is an outrageous flirt. It seems to distress her partner and she is very aware of this.
I follow them down the hill at a discreet distance. From behind she loses none of her feminine beauty.