I have a thing about heights. I love them. There’s something so thrilling about being high up on a mountain, looking down on the scenery below.
Until now though, I’ve never dared to drag the kids along…until last weekend. There’s a mountain down near where I grew up called Knocklayde. It looms about 1600 feet high above the town of Ballycastle.
It’s been maybe more than a decade since I climbed to the summit with some good friends from the town. It was a disappointing day, because by the time we’d reached the top, the clouds had closed in and we lost what promised to be a breathtaking view. Dammit.
So, last Sunday, I bundled our three tween-sized mountain climbers and their 13 year old uncle (codename: Heid) into the car. We packed an exotic selection of ham and cheese sandwiches and a multi-pack of MyCoy’s crisps, parked the car beside a barn and embarked through the fields. For those of you familiar with Knocklayde, we approached from the glen-side, because you can drive a fair bit of the way up. However, that approach has its limitations, as you’ll find out.
The weather was beautiful – blue skies, but very windy on the side of the mountain. If I had silent reservations about how far the young ones would make it, they were unfounded. Rachel and Jake’s healthy little bodies bounded up the hill ahead of us without breaking a sweat. Daniel protested slightly more, but gained confidence when the other two waited for him – once he thought he was ahead of me, he blasted up the hillside a lot quicker.
Most disappointing was Uncle Heid. Frequent gasping, melodramatic collapses on the heather and requests for countless rest stops slowed us down considerably. I was stunned – I know he doesn’t get much outdoor time, but I had no idea the kid was so unfit. I think it was a combination of unfitness, lack of self-confidence and a touch of fear at the crosswinds buffeting us.
For a moment, I considered leaving him puffing on the side of the hill, but my inner Drill Sergeant overruled me. For a start, you don’t go climbing because it’s easy, you go to challenge yourself, to push your body. On top of that, why go halfway up the mountain and not finish the job? Why deny yourself the thrill of the view from the top?
Anyway, I estimate we got about 75% up the mountain when we ran into trouble – the terrain changed dramatically near the top – it became thick with heather and difficult for the kids to walk on. To make matters worse, the ground became boggy and welly boots started sinking into the ground. Rachel’s left boot filled completely with water, which upset her immensely. Jake became a bit distraught by all this drama. In order to escape the boggy ground, we headed toward a fence, where we expected the ground to be higher and drier. Unfortunately, it wasn’t. As Heid tried to help Daniel down from a bank, he stepped into a boggy bit…and his entire leg disappeared into it!
I looked at him. He looked at me. It took a minute for it to sink in that his entire leg was stuck in mud. I was in stitches laughing before he even had the presence of mind to remove himself from the bog. Bear in mind, we used to cut turf (a fairly popular rural way of collecting your winter fuel in Ireland, I guess) when I was a child, so I’m used to legs disappearing into muddy bogs. Heid, on the other hand, was not amused, and effectively our walk up Knocklayde was over. Well, I hadn’t completely given up hope. We found ourselves a dry spot to sit down, and I broke out the picnic stuff.
After we’d had a couple of sandwiches, I reckoned that we were about 10-15 minutes from the top of the mountain. However, my mutinous chums refused to go a step further. For a minute, I entertained the notion that I could leave them there, go to the top, savour the view for a minute and come back down – after all, they were in full view of the top anyway. But no, that idea wasn’t popular, so we edged out way down the mountainside. It was a tired, wet and grateful posse who kicked off their boots back at the car and slumped into their seats for the ride home.
So, ultimately I was defeated. Denied my view from the top of the mountain. However, taking a positive view of things, I’m considering this as a reconnaissance mission. Driving back, I discovered a forest car park which looks like an ideal starting point for the next attempt. I will be back! (Imagine much shaking of fists at mountaintops) The big question is: will I be taking the children?