Last week I was chatting to a friend who had just come back from a visit to Groningen (A university town in the north of Holland).
When I asked him what he thought of it he replied. ‘It’s a dangerous town!’
‘Dangerous?’ I was taken aback ‘Are we talking about the same place?’
‘Well’ He explained ‘If you happened to accidently look in the wrong direction before stepping onto the street you are likely to be killed by a bicycle! EVERYONE is running around on them.’
‘I mean of course CYCLING around on them.’ He Laughed, correcting himself.
But his description made sense.
When I think about it, running around on bikes is exactly what I do.
When I’m not flying about that is. Or even scooting about!
Now Einstein once said ‘Logic will get you from A to B but imagination will get you everywhere’. He didn’t mean it literally but I will take it so because I never seem to cycle straight from A to B.
I may intend to head directly home but am often drawn to interesting side roads especially those where I can’t see what’s around the corner.
So there you go!
Imagination gets me everywhere when I’m running around on my bicycle!
AND when I do run, fly or scoot to the shops, don’t expect me back for some time.
For many years my extended family (brothers, sisters, in laws, children, nieces, nephews, grandchildren) go on an annual camping trip to connemara.
It’s a Tradition. A sort of gathering of the clans.
I call it the trip to our summer hunting grounds. A wild and barren place without a tree or bush for shelter.
The grass, short and undulating, forms hollows here and there and it is in these hollows we peg down our tents hoping to gain refuge from the prevailing north westerlies.
It is also these Hollows we squabble over, as some are more favored than others.
Those having easier access to the strand are in high demand for family members with young children. Those more off the beaten track are the ones looked for by the quieter members . Some nearer to the spring well are for the laziest of us.
But all have views of the sea.
Over the years they have gained names. Big hollow. Shallow hollow. River hollow. Stephs hollow. Mels hollow. First beach hollow. Far beach hollow.
It is sort of a first come first served basis and there maybe a day or two of frigid coolness towards the one who took the hollow you were planning to inhabit only they got there before you.
But after a while we settle down and return to our normal family friendliness, joining each other for early swims and visiting each others hollows for coffees and chats.
If you join us be prepared ! There is a large lack of privacy and not much time for solitude, even though our place of camping is remote.
We often eat our evening meal enmass. Each camp bringing their contribution.
It is not uncommon to see children still in swimwear running barefoot across the grass carrying a plate, cup and fork, followed by an adult with a steaming pot to the hollow of choice (one potted meals are always a good idea as it’s up to every child to take its used plate to the river and wash it it leaving one pot for you to do)
On the day in question (The Einstein day) it was my brother’s turn to host the occasion.
As, for once, it was a relatively calm day, He decided a barbeque would be a good idea.
So in the early afternoon I ran (cycled) into clifden to the butcher to get our contribution.
My shopping completed with plenty of time to spare, I branched off at Ballinaboy bridge and taking the first turn right I cycled down a boreen which had aroused my curiosity before but I had yet to explore.
‘Just see where it brings me’ my imaginative brain instructed. ‘It may well join up with the main road further along’.
‘If not’ replied my logical brain ‘Sure I can always turn back’
I cycled along the gravel swerving now and then to avoid the potholes. A line of grass appeared, thin at first but getting wider the further I went, until there was more grass than gravel.
‘Beware of a road with grass is growing in the middle’ I remembered my father’s wise words ‘unless of course you are going fishing or for a picnic or a day’s painting plein air’
The hazel and alder hedges on either side thickened and became alive with birdlife.
Tiny stonechats and finches chastising me.
The road must have twisted slowly and, unknowingly to me, southeastwards because suddenly the sun, which had been warming my left shoulder, was now doing the same to my back.
Around the next corner a lake appeared and the road came to an end in a swirl of uneven gravel at its rocky shore.
I stopped to admire the stillness of the water.
But still I wasn’t turning
A small track led to the right of the lake. Made by sheep or man, I didn’t care.
Without thinking I pushed my bike along it.
At one stage I nearly lost a sandal, at another I had to lift my bike across a drain.
My logical brain told me I was mad, the track was obviously going nowhere and I should give up and turn back!
My imaginative brain told me this was exciting and to keep going.
Without thought for the steaks in my panniers which were probably by now cooking in their own juices, I listened to the latter.
The track, hidden in places by overgrown heather, twisted uphill.
It was heavy going and there was no opportunity to cycle. In fact the track was so narrow it was impossible for the yellow bicycle and I to fit side by side so I had to walk in the heather in order to push it along.
I paused for breath and turning watched a heron fly across the lake far below and land awkwardly on a small island.
With renewed determination I continued to push the bike upwards.
Suddenly I was at the top of the hill.
Here the heather gave way to sheep cropped grass and what looked like the remains of an old fort on the top . I could see why a fort would have been built here for sitting resting on one of its stones, the sea stretch out in front of me and away across, High island, inishturk and to the north west what looked like clare island lay calmly in the blue water.
A fine lookout post this old stone circle was.
But no time to linger. I followed the easier path down to the other side and there ahead I could see the alcock and brown memorial white and shining in the now dipping sun.
A small track led me past it and I was back on a gravel road again this time without grass or hedging. Instead ricks of turf lined the one side of the boreen and small ponds filled with waterlilies reflected in the bracken water lined the other. The track opened out onto the main road.
Ahead was my turn to the summer hunting grounds. I was nearly home.
As I came across the beach I could make out a row of anxious faces looking at me from the brow of the hill in the evening sun.
‘ Mom what delayed you? You’re just in time!
‘Granny where WERE YOU? we’re STARVING ‘ Three small boys looked at me hungrily.
‘I have been on a magical journey’ I told them. ‘I’ll tell you about it at the fire’.
We joined the rest of family members and looking like a tribe of ancient celts with our blankets (for sitting on) slung around our shoulders and our bags of food we hurried hungrily across the grass and over the hill in the direction of my brothers sheltered hollow.
I took a discreet sniff of my bag of steaks before handing them over where they were placed alongside a plethora of different meats on the large grill.
My daughters produced a saucepan of freshly picked mussels cleaned and ready for cooking.
‘Just in case you didn’t return with the shopping ‘ They explained ‘We didn’t want to arrive empty handed’.
(Pausing for breath and looking back I saw a large heron landing awkwardly on a small Island in the middle of the lake)