His eyes are quiet, brows furrowed in thought. “20 years!” he suddenly exclaims; the animation of discovery causes his fingers to slightly loose grip on the worn steering wheel. Grinning apologetically, Chris, my first ride of Ireland, returns his attention back on the road.

 

 

 

 

 

“You, my girl, are the first hitchhiker I’ve seen on these roads for 20 years. What the heck are you thinking?”.

 

 

The grass, I’ve noticed, is slowly cascading from an extraordinary green into pale, almost luminous chalks of marshland shrubs. As if anticipating the arrival of two strangers, the desolate face of the Maumturk Mountains scrutinize our approach.

We’ve reached the gates of the Connemara.

Chris drops me in the quaint coastal town of Clifden. I wander aimlessly past beautiful stone cottages and follow a road that aims inland. It’s not long before a rusty Morris Minor splutters up behind my heels. On turning to face the sound, a generous smile meets my gaze from behind the wheel. He gestures calmly to the passenger seat beside him, simultaneously stalling the engine. A felt cap shades his aged forehead, giving prominence to the laughing lines that hug his green eyes. A strong rural accent introduces himself as ‘George’. He’s lived in the national park all his life, finding peace and comfort in the peat bog’s desperate loneliness. He remarks that I am a fascinating addition to his coastal Sunday drive, and I spend much of the journey retelling my recent travels. His eyebrows dance with interest as I tell him of the many miles I’ve spent in strangers’ cars, and he eventually stops reminding me of safety cautions.

 

The landscape is barren and harshly windswept, colours seeped in melancholy. My stomach caves in as if a heavy stone burdens me in the seat; my desire to be alone in the empty hills draws my face close to the cold glass window.
Time passes and my time with George is up. As poetically as the machine approached me, it begrudgingly coughs away into the distance until only the haze of its exhaust fumes remain.  The soft whisper of mountain circulation gently lifts the ends of my hair from my shoulders – a kind gesture from the wind to share the weight I tow. As if in protest, loose gravel groans in complaint under my hiking boots. I am in a village named Letterfrack, shadowed by the bent knee of a sleeping giant, ‘Guaire’s Peak’. Conveniently, wooden signs point to a hostel up a nearby track. The tent strapped to my pack seems to press into my spine in spite, shrieking to taste Irish soil. But I’m tired and somehow can’t handle the thought of having to find sanctuary in these remote hills. Not yet. I make it to The Old Monastery Hostel, whose quaint charm and rustic familiarity pulls me under like a warm blanket.

 

 

 

 

The rest of the afternoon is spent in solitude, no longer willing to vocalise after a day of sharing conversation. Venturing into the fields beyond, I allow the softened skin under the toes to feel the warmth of summer rain and lead my hardened fingertips to practice delicacy amongst the blossomed fauna.

 

Though the light dares to draw in, I can’t help but meander higher and higher into the depths of the wild hills. Captivated by the stoic rocky outcrops and alienated shrubs, I don’t bother considering caution under the looming mist.

As it happens so often, I fall back in love with my camera and dive into a world between eye and shutter only known to me as meditation. It is in here, this mind-set, that I come to truly observe and understand.

Well slept feet swing over the edge of the bed and quietly brush the unexpectedly cold surface of the floorboards below. The chill sends ants crawling furiously up my spine and I briefly fantasize about the hot, tropical haze of those recent Fijian mornings. Following my nose, I eventually find a comforting display of cottage breakfast foods and earthy baked bread. Warmed by the composure of two other guests giggling in their seats, I ask if I may sit with them. They are Dev and Niamh, a father-daughter duo from Dublin. Dev proudly describes how he found this hidden gem years ago and has brought Niamh may times since. Her youthful eyes, not dissimilar to those of a doe, glance up widely to meet mine. A strong sensation of an unnamed emotion tugs at my chest, as I discretely watch the pair beside me. Is it familiarity or longing? I brush off the nagging melancholy that accompanies these feelings and close my eyes in gratitude for the existence of hot coffee.
Curious of my introverted presence here in Letterfrack, they offer to give me a lift out of the mountains for an adventure to the close neighbouring coast. There’s something special they insist I should see. Something off the travelled track. Despite the filling breakfast, Dev ordains the morning with sweet pastry to accompany our drive through the lonely landscape of the Aughrus Peninsula. Its undeveloped beauty takes the air from my lungs and if it weren’t for a cold nose exploring the ridge of my elbow I would have slipped out of conversation into the windswept tussocks below. 

An indistinguishable amount of time passes before we pull up to the cobbled ocean wall at Claddaghduff Quay. It’s beautiful, but the unique landscape Dev insinuated doesn’t seem apparent.

‘Look harder’.

There’s a road sign. In the middle of the ocean.

‘It won’t be long now’ he grins.

Within half an hour, the tide has receded enough to reveal a perfectly flat plain of golden sand leading straight to a tiny tidal island. The wet nosed dog leaps through the shallow water in unprecedented excitement. Too eager to wait for the water to totally recede, we greet the ocean bed with pale toes and make the journey to the mysterious island. Already baffled, it almost came at no surprise to hear the approaching sound of flustered hooves of cows. Turning around with bewilderment, my gaze is directly met by huge eyes swelling with curiousity. Enforcing their timely progress is an occupied farmer, who mumbles under his breath with seeming frustration. I pluck a conversation and he tells me of the suspicious disappearance of his prized bull. ‘I know it’s them!’ he splutters, but he’ll need to acquire the evidence before he takes action. I try to stifle my laughter, not at his misery or his missing prized bull, but at this day; at Ireland, at life, to feel light-hearted again.

After rambling around the corroded edges of the rugged Omey Island, gently observing its working farmers and abandoned buildings, we return back to the campervan. The dreamlike day is turning a leaf and the pair need to return to Dublin for the night’s end. They kindly return me back to Galway, where I started my hitchhiking journey, and feeling humbled by the generosity of the Connemara’s landscape and people, I find a cheap night’s rest and prepare for the next journey –

South.

By Georjie

With thanks to Cissey, our ProofReader

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