Yesterday we got up in a leisurely way. The hostel lady had arranged for Mountain View (the horseback riding place) to pick us up, which was a huge relief. We’d signed up for the two hour experienced rider trek, which would have views of the Cliffs of Moher and a lot of Burren country.
I had bought bus tickets online, which she printed for us, so that was taken care of as well. We had a breakfast of toast and packed some more toast for the road (as we wouldn’t have time for lunch). Before long the fellow from Mountain View was there to pick us up!
He was a red haired young Irish man who was extremely friendly. We hopped in his truck and he sped down the roads at what I thought (at the time) was a pretty alarming speed. Then we were at the barn and putting on our helmets.
For those who might not know, I took horseback riding lessons from about age 8-13, as near as I can reckon. (Which actually means I’m a liar because I’ve been telling everyone I rode for three years. Math, my eternal foe.) However, aside from a short mountain pony ride in the middle of nowhere Central Asia, I haven’t really been on a horse since I stopped lessons. So I was a little nervous about how much I would remember.
Mounted up with no problem. There were two other ladies on the trek. One of them was from Eastern FL, and seemed very nice when I chatted with her. I had a brown-and-white horse named Bluebell. Mary Cate was a on a beautiful gray named the-Irish-word-for-Silver (which neither of us could remember). I rode in the middle of the pack, with Mary Cate at the rear.
In the beginning, I had a little trouble keeping my horse close to the one in front. If my attention wandered, Bluebell would drag her feet. I had to keep a pretty constant kicking up to get her to stay with the others. I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep her going, because my legs aren’t all that strong and I was tiring out. But after our first canter she livened up, and I actually was holding her back for most of the rest of the trip.
Canter? Oh yes. But first, we trotted. My thought process was basically, “What is posting? How do you post again? What do I do with my hands? No knees, don’t use your knees! Don’t jerk the reins! Do your heels hang low, do they wobble to and fro…” It was weird the snips of riding lessons I could remember. After a few tries I started to recall the basic correct form. I still used the stirrups way more than my old instructors would have liked, but at least I wasn’t squeezing with my knees or jerking my horse around.
When I took lessons, I was always really afraid of cantering. I guess this makes sense, seeing as I was a tiny person and horses are very big and kind of fast. So before this trip I’d probably only cantered about three times in my life. I was hoping that when we cantered, it’d be a sort of one-at-a-time thing so I could watch others and try to see how I should sit/where I should hold the reins. But instead we just all went for it. I had a moment of, “Should I be freaking out?” But then I was like, “Nope this will be great! What could go wrong?”
Cantering is actually really easy, because (in my understanding, anyway) you just sort of relax and bounce along with the horse. The first time we went I tensed up and my horse didn’t really get going. But the next time we did fantastically. The one I remember the clearest was after we’d come out on the Burrens. We had views of the ocean and the rocks and the Cliffs of Moher in the far distance. By this point I was comfortable enough cantering to really enjoy it. Riding along the road in the Burrens, with the drizzling rain and cold Ireland wind in my face, is something I won’t soon forget.
The scenery was amazing everywhere. We had started in fields and gone down a road between two parts of a forest. Then we’d come out on the Burrens, with views of the countryside, the ocean and the Aran Islands. As I looked out over the Burrens, this little scene/dialog popped into my head, which I think is accurate to how I felt:
Girl/young woman: It’s beautiful.
Boy/brother: Are you insane? The rocks look like bones–teeth–scattered out there, all white against the brown thorns and dying grass. It’s unlivable.
Girl: That’s why it’s beautiful. It’s wild.
Boy: You won’t like it so much when we have to walk through it. We’ll see how beautiful you think this is after we have to climb over the thorns and almost get our ankles broken in the cracks between rocks.
Girl: It isn’t welcoming. But I doubt it cares what we think of it, good or bad. It just is.
Anyway, there were crumbling houses (abandoned during the famine) around. The wind moaned and howled over the rocks. As my imaginary character said, it was beautiful.
The two hour ride went really fast. Before I knew it, we were back in the barn and dismounting. I was pretty sore, but not too bad. We chatted a little with our guide and the fellow who had picked us up. Then we realized the time. We were starting to cut it close to get to the bus stop. So he got us in his car and we zoomed off. This is where I learned the definition of a fast and insane Irish driver. Needless to say, I was glad to be in the back!
We got to the hostel, grabbed our stuff and hurried on to the bus stop. We made it in plenty of time. The driver was an old, friendly Irish man. He assured us that he’d let us know when we needed to change. This first leg was pretty uneventful. He did let us know, and even pointed out which stop to go stand buy, which bus number we needed and when the bus would be there. We had a bit of a wait, and he was sitting at the stop while a lady ran to the toilet. One time he popped out his head and said, “Did you get your tickets?” We held them up for him. Later he popped out his head and said, “This one’s not your bus–it’s going to Galway!” We thanked him. As he was pulling out, he rolled down his window and said, “It’ll be along shortly, don’t you worry, dears!” We waved goodbye. We decided we wanted him to be our grandpa.
The bus came, and on we got. We arrived at the Shannon Airport in plenty of time. Because we were flying Ryanair, they wouldn’t let us check our bags or go through security for another two hours or so. This was unfortunate because we’d had nothing but toast to eat all day. But we found a place to sit with internet, and there was a little grocery store. I got cheese and two juice boxes, and later I got ice cream, and it was all good. Eventually we checked in. Security was completely empty, so a breeze. We got proper dinner at the little restaurant. Then it was down to stand in line and elbow our way onto the flight.
The people in line in front of us were an older couple from the Isle of Wight. Later we found out the people behind us were from Portsmouth. Both couples were really friendly and cheerful and chatty. Ryanair let us go eventually. We went in the back door of the plane, and I told Mary Cate we should sit in the very back because they’d use that door for disembarking as well, and it’d be easier than fighting people for bad seats in the middle.
We sat and for a long time no one sat beside us. There was classical music playing. Mary Cate was like, “We should look really sinister so no one will sit beside us! We need to be really weird!” We sat silently for a second. Then at the same moment we both started to pretend to play the harpsichord along with the music. We continued to play pretend instruments, alternating between flute, violins, and harpsichord. Our efforts to be weird were thwarted though, because at the last minute an Irish guy took the seat beside Mary Cate.
Another funny thing that happened:
Ryanair: Me: Being on Ryanair is sort of like being in a commercial.
Mary Cate: Ha! [later] Oh my gosh, it IS like being in a commercial! I didn’t notice all the ads above the luggage storage.
During the flight, Mary Cate mostly talked to the Irish guy beside her (who was evidently her BFF by the time we landed). I listened to Mrs. Mike (an impressive feat considering how loud the advertisements over the speakers were). Before any time at all, we were landing in Gatwick.
We got through customs and retrieved our stuff with no hitches. Then it was to the train station. We got our tickets and caught the train without too much trouble. It was running late, and then they changed platforms on us, so there was a last minute dash. But we got on the train in time. At last we reached Reading, where we caught a cab to my dorm. I asked the cabby for a number so I could call in the morning. He gave me a card. Then it was back to the room. We both madly repacked, charged stuff, and I took a shower. I blew up half the air mattress for me to sleep on (it blows up in two separate sides). Then we crawled into bed and slept.
This morning, we got up around 6:00. We did last minute packing and got ready. I called for a cab, but the number wasn’t working. I grabbed my laptop and Googled. Then I started going down the lists of cab company numbers. The first three or so weren’t answering or didn’t work. But then someone answered. So we held out our luck on transportation for this last leg! We got to the station, got Mary Cate’s ticket, waited around. She’s now caught the train and is probably in Gatwick by now. I’m taking advantage of the cheap WiFi in Reading Station before I hop on the bus to Heathrow to get my mom.
And that, my friends, is the conclusion of my travels with Mary Cate, a.k.a. While in the Merry Month of May. Stay tuned for more adventures with my mom in northern England and Scotland! (Her trip doesn’t have a catchy name yet. It will soon, I’m sure.)