Shortly after we arrived in Northern Ireland we got an email from my sister’s husband’s colleague, their friend for nearly fifty years and by extension mine too. She told us one of her cousins in Northern Ireland married into the McBride family who’ve farmed the northeast corner of the island for 300 years. Their land includes the rocky cliffs of Fair Head which, like so many places along this coast, was a location for Game of Thrones, and the family welcome hikers and climbers with a car park and a field for tent camping. We marked our map.
At the car park I was dropping coins into the honesty box when a car drove slowly out through the open gate. On a chance I called out, “Are you Sean?”
The driver stopped, then reversed to where I stood. He looked friendly enough and he smiled and said yes, he was Sean. I told him my sister’s husband’s colleague is his wife’s cousin, and he paused for a minute to think about that, then asked, “You mean Margaret Mary?”
“Yes!” I said. “I’ve known her for nearly fifty years.”
“Well, come in and have a cup of tea,” he said and he welcomed us into the house where we had one of those Irish conversations that feel like you’re catching up with an old friend. He told us all about the family here and about the branches who emigrated to America, and he regaled us with stories about the filming of Game of Thrones.
We could have talked for hours, but we were eager to get to the cliffs while the weather was clear and sunny. Sean walked us out and pointed past the family’s ancestral home to the start of the trail, then showed us the various optional hiking routes through the property.
We couldn’t have picked a better day. The air was chilly and there was a fresh breeze but Sean assured us that even on the cliffs if wouldn’t be too windy.
Most of this coastline is columnar basalt culminating in the famous outcropping of the Giant’s Causeway. But even here you can see the long columns that make up the cliffs and see the shapes which can be pentagons, hexagons or octagons.
This is about as close to a cliff edge as you’ll ever see me. “Not too windy” is subjective when you weight 130 lbs. and it’s a land breeze. Let’s just say Sean is well-grounded.
We had the foresight to take along some refreshments and with plenty of convenient rocks to sit on we rested and marveled at this breathtaking scenery. There wasn’t another soul in sight.
We started up again following our blue route markers until right after this stile we lost our way. We doubled back, looked for the right trail marker, lost it again, went back, lost it again. In all we crossed that stile four times before giving up and heading overland. We could see the farm in the distance but not the trail we were supposed to be on.
We slogged our way through lumpy sheep meadows, climbing over wire fences and rerouting around rivulets and loose rock. Many times we thought we’d found an established path only to have it peter out. It was an exhausting and soul-crushing return.
When we finally reached the car park Sean asked how we did and we told him about losing the trail.
“You didn’t see the road?” He pointed up past the fields we’d plodded through.
“No,” we said, sheepishly. “We missed it.”
As we said our goodbyes something behind us caught Sean’s attention and with a quick wave he hurried off to help wrangle some unruly sheep into the barn.