Yesterday Voodoo and I really needed to take a break. Although we didn’t go on any trails through the country, I began itching for anything horsy. After going to the stables and hearing chit-chat about jumping, I decided to get on a jumper and give it a go. After an awesome lesson at Dunfanaghy Stables, I took the evening to chill out in anticipate for today’s long and arduous ride. Little did I know of the complete adventure to come on this seemingly endless though beautiful ride.
I anticipated today’s ride to be about 6.5 hours long, but when the 7th hour out hit and we weren’t within an hour’s range of our destination, I knew that my bum was going to have to endure a little bit more soreness.
The trail started off with a long canter along the beach, the sun shining so brightly and reflecting off the sand and sea that I began to regret not wearing sunglasses. We then trotted off the sandy path out through the sand dunes onto the main roads. Always fun to wave to use one’s hands and arms as turning signals during this part of the trip. Along the road Voodoo spotted some cones lined up one after the other, he would stare at them thinking “scary cone!” after passing each. A little push from the seat kept him going forward and relaxed.
We eventually came to Killahoey Beach. All that was present on the nearly empty, pristine beach when we arrived was a happy couple walking hand-in-hand by the shore with their little son flying a dragon kite overhead. Other than this picturesque family, what aesthetically made this beach particularly special were the large black rocks that lined the coast; Voodoo almost appeared to camouflage amongst them! To contrast the rocks, the water was so perfectly clear that I could see the rises and falls in the ocean floor, creating a mosaic of blue. In fact, I couldn’t resist the temptation to rush into the water, so Voodoo and I did just that- made for the perfect photo opp and cooled him off, as he had been carrying me for three hours at that point!
Then in the shadow of the mountains, we took a little picnic lunch: oats and sugar cubes for Voodoo and a cheese sandwich, shortbread, and an apple for me. After lunch Voodoo, in his big extended catwalk strut, carried me below the mountains into a bog that later led back onto the famine track. This track was made by the poor people that survived by getting shelter at the “Workhouse” during the time of the Great Famine.
The Workhouse was truly a last resort for people. Some people would rather die than go there. Rampant with disease, disrespect, and destitution, inhabitants of the Workhouse were forced to enter the facility and were put to extremely arduous labor such as building this road that served no purpose at the time and can only be used today for a horse trail. Families that entered the Workhouse were split by gender and age and only were occasionally able to see one another. Visits with the doctor were sparse, and the food provided was primarily gruel.
The Famine Track itself is eerily lined with lush heather bushes with their blossoms sprouting from the green leaves like violet sparklers. After a couple of hours looking at these purple heathers in hopes of finding the one lucky white heather brush, we arrived at the abandoned railroad.
The railroad rested on high elevation with at least a 15 foot drop below. A few steps to the left or right and Voodoo and I would come toppling down-probably with the horse badly injured and myself squashed like a pancake. On top of being fearful of the width of this stretch of track, we had another little concern that arrived in the most inopportune time: just as the horses reached the top stretch to gallop across the railway, a ram dashed into our path! When a horse is in full speed over a narrow strip of land with few safety options available in the event of such a roadblock, there is little to be done except to “just do it”, as Nike would say. So we decided, horses in full throttle, to safely herd that ram off the road. The ram saw us coming and rightly decided to get a move on with us following it at the heels. Safely, we (and the ram) made it across the abandoned railway, even if my heart continued to pound fervently for the next few minutes.
The adventure continued forward as we peregrinated through carved out mountain paths once used for the railway. The mountain jaggedly rose up above us and the mud below the horse’s hooves squished and squashed from beneath him. Before we could make it back onto the main roads, we had to cross another bog. Eventually, though, we passed all the perils and made it to the stable. Voodoo rightly demanded more sugar cubes for his arduous work, which naturally was given to him in extreme gratitude and heartfelt.
Sadly, tomorrow is my last day riding through Donegal and thus my last day with Voodoo. According to my amazing guide, the tomorrow supposedly is to be the most magnificent ride of them all. Ready for the last day in Donegal?