Monday, December 19, 2011

Northern Ireland II - Mourne Mountains

July 14

It was difficult to specifically follow the Ulster Way in the Mourne Mountains. What started out as the main path from town quickly forked, dividing into many unmarked pathways in the forest. We headed up a small valley, accepted a short lift, then found a nice path up onto a high open plateau. The ubiquitous black-faced sheep grazed, their long matted coats and horns often spray-painted blue, marked for identification against the rock-stud hills. Mists waved across the summits, the air kissing the pink-blooming heather at our feet. So peaceful and quiet, except for an occasional bleating sheep.

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Eventually we made our way back towards Rostrevor, this time on more pathway than road, I was often startled, at first by a sheep scampering from behind a rock or emerging from waist-deep ferns. When a newly shorn animal makes itself known, it looks embarrassed. Without its protective coat, the sheep is scrawny and shivers. Bizarre razor-track patterns cross its pink-tinged skin. The curious creatures seem to say, “Don’t look at me until I have my coat back!” I smile and continue on.
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Tired from the long walk we arrived back in town to a torrent of rain. We shopped then went back to the campground. I must have been grumpy because Andy stopped at the on-site snack bar and bought me a Dove Bar. My favorite! Just when I’m miserable, about to give up and rest under an awning, he appears with a treat. I’ve often thought he knows me better than I know myself.

At the wash facilities we met a woman from Belfast. Through a school program she sent one son to Minnesota to stay 6 weeks with a family and is preparing to send off another. The cost is minimal: passport plus 70 pounds. The American family foots the other expenses, allowing a teenager firsthand experience with how religions can coexist. All Northern Ireland schools are currently segregated by religion. There is one secondary school that is trying a mixed religion program, but until that one proves successful she believes the cities that desperately need help with the religious hatred, like Belfast, will not improve. She has hopes that this unique program, designed to send Protestant and Catholic kids to Minnesota, may be a step towards harmony in her homeland.

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