Walking along the Border

With the massive interest in what will happen with Brexit, Neil Burns shares his experiences of commuting across the Irish border.


The Groarty Road outside of Rosemount, Derry, takes one along the hedge-lined road past farm-animal filled fields from Northern Ireland (the North) towards the Republic of Ireland (the South). On that road between Counties Derry and Donegal, there is no drape, no veil, and no glittering, geographical aura curtain which hangs there suspended between the two jurisdictions.

I recall, last year, I had watched the Channel 4 news as a reporter asked people on the street in London to draw where the border in Ireland is on a map, whereupon a lot of younger people could not place the border-line in the correct place.

All there actually is in terms of tangibility, is a smoother part of a road, which had been laid down in the past year, and a less smooth part of a road. A lip between the two asphalts, two roads, one newer and one older, and recently someone had installed two sign posts, which depicted one to slow their speed in Kilometres one at either side of the road. And that was it, you were in the South.

Also, last year, I was residing in Burt, County Donegal, and working in Derry. It was mid-summer and I decided to get super fit and walk from Burt, up past the hill-fort of Grianán of Aileach, and up and down steep roads towards the Groarty road to the back-end of Rosemount in Derry to a B&B where I was working for a wee while.

Mornings in Burt would see me rise around six am, make porridge, have a cup of tea, fill a plastic bottle with water and leave the quiet house and strike out onto the road. The mornings would see glinting dewy lines of spiders’ webs; and in a newly shorn wheat-field(s) one summer’s morning, I noted hundreds of cawing crows pecking amongst the stubs and when one flew off, they all took off, flapping in unison, rising from the cropped field as I was walking past, stopped, stood to watch this moment of morning nature and loved it.

There was a Thinsulate hat, one which you would see snugged upon a workman’s head during the colder days, on a building-site, or sitting in a work van, which looked clogged up, sodden, with the morning mist lying, soggily on the road.

Along the road I looked at the drooping violet heads of Foxglove, Digitalis purprea, and the lamp-leaves of nettles which would become broiled in the oncoming morning sunshine and then tremble freely in the wind. A small mongrel-type black Labrador dog tore out of a house’s yard baring its teeth and threatening with a deep growl; I laughed and shook my head and walked on up past the sleeping house and its protective little dog.

The gradient of the roads up towards the border would pull at my calve muscles; and I would often take out the bottle of water out of my smallish backpack and take a long draught of water and this settled me. It was 7am one day, and a few vehicles began to appear on the roads with their morning driver faces filled with waking sleep and the sub-conscious anticipation of the oncoming day’s offering(s). I met a man walking along on the road, ‘Beautiful morning isn’t it?’ I said – the tall man with glasses smiled and replied, ‘It is, it sure is…’ as we passed each other. I continued and after an hour and twenty minutes I was in Derry, after six-to-seven miles of walking.

*

One morning, as I left Burt and walked up the Groarty Road, I noted an old metal painted with white-enamel bathtub sitting in a field which was beside the road. As I walked past the road hedge there was a massive bull, a stock figure, and thought, ‘Wow, he’s a biggie, and what is he doing there just standing looking over the fence?’ The bull was thickset, filled-out and had a russet-ginger coat and it glanced at me before returning his focus through a gap in the hedge across the road. I, in turn, looked too and in that field was a few black female cows; I laughed and dandered on.

*

One morning when I was walking up to Derry from Burt, along the same stretch of road(s), I had the foresight to take a pair of waterproof trousers with me and wear a decent quality waterproof jacket, and sure enough, two miles in, it began to bucket down. I put on the trousers quickly as the rain gathered momentum and was slanting in all directions. One or two cars drove past with their window wipers flicking back-and-forth frantically; whereupon I manoeuvred into the side of a hedge, which had a few birch trees lurching above, and, kneeling sheltered the best I could to stave off the relentless downpour.

During another morning walk up to Derry, a similar thing happened, but I did not have the waterproof trousers with me that time. My jeans were soon soaked through, but the sun came out and shone thickly, right away after a fifteen-minute deluge, and by the time I arrived in Derry, my person, and jeans, were stone dry.

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