I’ve never been one for counting sheep, but I counted many of them the next day when Melanie, Susan and I hiked up Slieve Croob, a mountain from which you can see a good portion of Northern Ireland. Sheep were everywhere in the fields we passed up the mountain, and their fur was spray painted so the farmers could identify them. It made them look kind of awkward, like they were simultaneously bleeding and freezing.
Once at the top, we stopped to rest and take some pictures of the view. Unfortunately, it was cold and overcast, so the pictures didn’t turn out too well.
The rest of that day Susan and I just hung out. It takes a long time catching your best friend up on the last two years of your life, and vice versa. We had some awesome talks about God, university and our stupid high school selves.
The following morning, Susan’s family and I drove to Silent Valley, where the biggest reservoir in Northern Ireland is located and where, apparently, birds don’t sing — hence the name.
Later that day we went to the beach in Cranfield, but it was so cold that I could only wade into the water before sprinting out again. “I feel so bad for Irish children on vacation,” I said multiple times as I saw poor kids shivering and running into the waves, determined to enjoy the freezing water.
“We usually wear wetsuits,” Susan assured me. I told her to come to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where the water is warm and beautiful. Susan’s little brother, David, was making a sandcastle, and we decided to do him one better and make our own. This was the result, complete with old seaweed, large stones and a random feather that I picked up off the ground:
Another day we took a long drive along the Irish coast. Oh man it was beautiful. I think my favourite part was the picnic (the Baileys are all about picnics) that we had at Merlough Bay, overlooking the tip of Rathlin Island and the Scottish coast. I literally ate my ham and cheese sandwich as I looked out on the coast of Scotland as the cold, ocean breeze wheezed past my face. It was glorious and took my breath away in the most literal sense.
And it didn’t hurt that there were hills all around us that looked like the ones in the new “Pride and Prejudice,” when Elizabeth Bennett stands on a beautifully-jagged cliff with her skirt swirling all around her.
I can’t remember what days we did what, but we also visited the ruins of Dunluce Castle, which was beautiful and old and had a lot of history attached to it that I of course don’t remember now.
Another day I got to visit little Susan’s school, the University of Coleraine, which is one of the Universities of Ulster, in the town of Portstewart. It was a beautiful coastal town, complete with a creepy convent up on a hillside.
Susan and I also went into Belfast one day. Unfortunately, we chose a drizzly day to do it. But no matter, we broke out our umbrellas and walked around anyways. We got a tour of City Hall, which is where the Belfast City Council still meets on a regular basis.
We got to sit in the chambers where they have all of their meetings, and we even got to sit in the Mayor of Belfast’s chair.
The tour guide started talking to Susan and I and promised that we could wear the robes when we got into the next room. Everyone in our tour group (at least 30 people) was staring at us and taking pictures as we donned these heavy, red velvet robes. When Susan found straps hanging down from the sleeves (which we found out later were used in olden days to keep out the smell as they walked around dirty Belfast), she immediately whacked me with them. That was before we found out that each robe cost £5,000.
That night, Melanie, Susan and I went to see the new “Spiderman” movie, which did not disappoint in the least. I was introduced to the phenomenon known as the “pick ‘n’ mix,” which is basically choosing whatever candy you want from a bunch of different containers and paying by weight. After the movie, Susan and I ran around shooting everything in our line of sight with our invisible webs.
The following day, Susan and I got it into our heads to go ice skating. And so skate we did, along with all of the other 12-year-olds in the rink skating along to the Olly Murs music (a UK pop star). There were probably about four other people our age; the rest were preteen girls and their parents.
This one boy kept showing off and skating around the curves all hunched over like a pro. So I, in a fit of self-confidence, decided to imitate him, making gorilla noises as I flew around the bend. Of course I fell on my butt — quite gracefully, I might add — and slid along the ice for awhile on my hips. We laughed until we nearly cried, dancing around the ice like ballerinas and trying to skate backwards. We didn’t care what we looked like and we were free.
That night was my last night in Ireland. I tried not to think about it as we ate our tea and had devotions. Susan’s neighbors, the Russells, came over, and we played Dutch Blitz until we screamed and started a serendipitous sing-a-long. It was so wonderfully beautiful. We sang some silly songs, like “Waltzing Matilda” and “Puff the Magic Dragon,” but we also sang lovely worship songs. I was so at peace in that home surrounded by so many people who loved Jesus. It was very, very right.
Then the Baileys and Russells gathered around and prayed for me, and it was wonderfully special. It was the best way I could have ended my stay with them.
Sadly, morning came too soon. Susan and her dad drove me to the Belfast City Airport, and I gave them a fond farewell before going through security and on to my next daunting adventure: Heathrow and the tantalizing throng that is London.