“But Three Pines itself was a village forgotten. Time eddied and swirled around and sometimes bumped into it, but never strayed long and never left much of an impression.” – Louise Penny, The Cruellest Month
One of the most incredible things about travelling, in my humble opinion, is arriving in a place that seems completed unhurried and unconcerned b the passage of time. You do not even have to go far to discover such a place – even in a country like Canada where 1000 year old ruins may not exist around every corner. Simply walk into the center of your nearest forest, or down to the banks of a local river outside the city center and take a careful look around.
Chances are that while much has changed in the intervening centuries between when Europeans first inserted themselves on this already lived-in landscape, you are looking up at the same, or at the very least a similar, sight as the First Nations people once did before their world was turned upside-down. Many lives have come and gone but the land was here before and will be here long after mankind meets its fate, whenever that may be.
On our second day in Northern Ireland, Kristen and I had a chance to visit two places in which time has largely kept its distance. Yes, if you were looking for it, you could always find traces of modernity such as the odd candy bar wrapper or pop can, but gazing at each location as a larger picture…their unscathed condition despite their connection to so many generations of a species desperate to leave its mark wherever and however it can, is awe inspiring to say the very least.
This is not to say that dedicated historical and environmental conservationists have not played their part in the endurance of these locales, they have, but rather that these immutable places seem alive with the knowledge of their role in the story of both Earth and humanity, as well as the necessity of their existence. They seem almost stoic, determined to remain as testaments to another world largely lost in the often frenzied passage of time.
The first location we visited, not too far from Belfast itself, was half man-made and half natural. Known as Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge, the precarious crossing that connects the mainland near Antrim to the tiny island of Carrickarede (from the Irish Carraig a’ Ráid meaning “rock of casting”). According to our guides, it is believed that salmon fishermen began constructing bridges to the island over 350 years ago. Though the bridge my sister and I crossed was built in 2008 and was certainly considerably safer than its forebearers, it did not look any more secure. My photos may not do it justice but trust me – it took a good amount of courage to step out on the swinging bridge, and even more to so much as glance at the sheer drop below. If you don’t believe me, take a look at the stats about how many visitors need to be taken back to the mainland every year by boat because they’re too scared to cross back over.
To get to the bridge itself, you need to walk down a good steep hill and some steps from the parking lot. This way, you have the whole trek down, the bridge in sight most of the way, to contemplate if you even have the guts to make your way across. Once you’re standing by the entrance to the bridge, which spans across a 66 foot gap and sways 100 feet above the crashing waves and jagged rocks below, you still enjoy a few minutes of staring at the precarious path ahead of you, deciding whether to turn back now, as only so many people are allowed on the bridge at any given time for safety reasons.
In all honesty, had my sister not been there to encourage me, I may have just turned back – crippling as my fear of heights is. However, we had agreed to make the crossing together. Before I knew it, I found myself taking a deep breath, grasping either railing as tightly as I could without the danger of rope burn, and taking my first step out onto the wooden planks. Ultimately, I think my reason for making it across the bridge at all was the simple fact that there was a long line of people behind me, some scared but others shaking with excitement. There was no turning back.
I do, however, remember my own feelings more than my observation of the feelings of others. My heart was in my throat the whole way over (or had I been about to be sick? Who knows, really) and I barely glanced downwards before realizing that to do so in earnest would mean a premature halt to my progress and that of everyone walking behind me. So, instead, I steeled what remained of my courage, fixed my eyes on the goal ahead (being solid ground) and loped as fast as my leaden legs would take me in that direction. I cannot describe the feeling of relief upon reaching the other side as some of my fear slowly receded into nothing. I was alive – I had successfully faced my fear of heights once again. Kristen was already way ahead of me, being the much braver sister, and I shuffled as fast as my shaky, still less-than-efficient legs would go to catch up.
Now, at this point you may, understandably, be asking how I can speak of the power of a place untouched by time while in the same breath (Pen stroke? Tap of the Keys?) describe being on a bridge crafted with the incredible skill and safety-consciousness of modern engineers.
Well, my dear imaginary critics, I could just let the following pictures do the talking but instead – as I am more of a writer than a photographer – I am going to try and explain the sight that greeted my eyes once I had shaken free of my fear.
This tiny island, except for a few wooden guardrails and one or two signs, lay largely untouched by modernity. Standing on the edge of one of the many cliff faces, you could just imagine long-dead fishermen standing in the same spot, looking out at the same ocean, wondering where to lay their nets for their next catch. I took a few luxurious moments to myself on this small though tall spit of land to think about all of those fellow humans who had been there before me. Had they once stood there as well, contemplating how far back human experience of that land went? Or were their lives too “brutish and short” (to misquote from the legendary Thomas Hobbes) to allow for such a contemplative break?
Nonetheless, I am sure it did not go unnoticed by any of this planet’s former inhabitants that the land they stood on had deftly escaped the ravages of time. The rugged coast of Northern Ireland has many such unspoiled parcels of earth – the kind you can actually visualize the first local human inhabitants discovering. Long patches of undulating grass recede into craggy cliff edges which drop precipitously to the ever-moving dark blue waters below. Though this island in particular is small, if you walk from one end to the other, the ground slopes gradually downwards providing access to minuscule sheltered coves where local fishermen once found uncrowded waters in which to ply their trade. There is no sign of these generations of men there now; no footprints or decrepit shelters or rock carvings to prove they were once there. It is almost as if they never were.
At any rate, my enjoyment of the solitude and timelessness of this beautiful glorified rock was soon cut short by the reminder that we were not on our own schedule and were due to head off on the next stage of our adventure.
I was planning on detailing said adventure in the same post but it appears that I have already gone on quite long (the result of writing this out by hand before typing it up). I promise to continue this story next week and with another post (including a belated return to my Random Historical Facts).
Oh! And, in case you were wondering, I was not destined to become one of the statistical many who need to be ferried back to the mainland because they are too afraid to walk back across the bridge. With my sister’s encouragement, I made it back across – proud but ultimately relieved to be back on the solid mainland.
Glancing back at the Islet before heading up the path to the waiting bus, I swear I could almost see time swirling and eddying around this little unassuming patch of land. Though neither time nor myself had managed to leave much of an impression, my short stay there left a mark on my conscience that allows me to revisit the place in my mind’s eye, even to this day.
Two posts in two weeks. Does this mean I’m back? I hope so.
And remember, life (and even the passage of time) is beautiful.