An Irish Ferry Tale...
by Hamish Cameron
It was really Ronnie Duffy's fault. Ronnie was an Irish cyclist I had met a year or two earlier at Tighnabruaich Youth hostel and with whom I had ridden a bit. He was a great lover of Scotland, had cycled all over the Highlands, with a soft spot (as I have) for Sutherland.
We enthused together about that lovely, lonely county and Ronnie assured me that if I liked Sutherland I should surely like Donegal. So, here I was in Donegal on a lovely sunny morning in late September, leaving Bunnaton Youth Hostel to explore the Fanad peninsula, with my ultimate destination Tra Na Rossan Youth Hostel
As it was a fine day I didn't hurry, and ambled by Kerrykeel and Mulroy Bay, and then by Rosnakill and Port Solan to Fanad head and its impressive lighthouse. The keeper was alone and invited me inside to drum up and then showed me over the lighthouse and explained its workings. We spent a long time blethering and, as time was getting on, and Tra Na Rossan a good many miles away, I said I would be on my way. The keeper told me as I was getting pushed for time, not to go by Kerrykeel and Milford as I had intended, but to go to a point called Glinsk where there was a ferry across the bay which would save me time and miles. Heartened by this friendly advice I set off for Glinsk, pushing to the back of my mind experience of previous ferry 'shortcuts'.
I arrived at Glinsk, of which I have no recollection - except that there was no ferry. My heart sank and then lightened again when I saw across the bay (which wasn't very wide) a whitewashed cottage, a boat on the beach, and a man, in what looked like seaman's clothing, sitting on a bench at the cottage door. Ah! I thought, this explains all - evidently the ferry is based across the bay and is summoned to come across.
I could find no bell or other device to attract attention so I shouted as loud as I could - no response, although I was sure he could see if not hear me. I unfastened my yellow rain cape and waved it above my head, shouting all the while. At last, movement, the man rose from the bench. I thought, he has got the message, but instead of going to the boat as I expected, he entered the house and shut the door behind him. I waited another ten minutes, shouting from time to time, in the fading hope that he had gone in for oars or another piece of equipment - but no luck, he had obviously retired for the night.
If commonsense had prevailed I should have returned to Bunnaton, but I intended to sleep that night at Tra Na Rossan and, being young and thrawn, to Tra Na Rossan I would go. I did a rough reckoning and decided that it was only 24 miles by road but in fact it turned out to be more than 30.
Back I went through Kerrykeel once again, and then on to Milford. The going was pretty easy and I was quite relaxed, but things changed at Milford when I turned North again and realised that the trip down the bay had been easy thanks to the strong wind which I now had full in the face.
It was a struggle and I felt the knock coming on by the time I reached Carrygart, where I stopped and ate several iced biscuits bought in Letterkenny the previous day. It was now 8pm and quite dark but the road was deserted and I had by battery-operated lamps, front and rear. Suddenly the tarred road was at an end and from it ran two tracks, one going right and the other leftish.
No signpost of any kind could I find after searching with my front lamp. A choice now faced me - left track or right. I chose right (which was wrong) as I gradually concluded while I bumped along the track for some time. At last a glimmer of light which came from a cottage where I could enquire about the Youth Hostel. An elderly man opened the top half of his front door and, leaning on the bottom part, pointed at a spot of light quite high up straight ahead, and told me it was the hostel, but not to bother going back to the junction as I would have no difficulty getting across the intervening machar, which he told me was firm and dry.
I should have known better, but by this time hunger and weariness had so addled my brain that I took his advice. I took off my front lamp and examined the ground as best I could. I saw what looked like a firm green path which I decided to walk. My first step landed me up to my knees in very cold water.
The 'path' was a ditch covered by long grass. I struggled on, taking the lamp off from time to time so as to avoid more ditches. At long last I found myself on a track (the earlier left one, as I later discovered) along which I rode, trying to keep my eye on that pin point of light, which suddenly vanished.
At that point I decided I was very close under the hostel so I left the track and headed in the direction of the light. I soon arrived at a high stone wall. Left or right was again the question. I chose left (wrong again) as, after following the wall for some time, it ended in a cliff face. Back I went and then above me I saw a light from a torch and a young female voice asked if I was looking for the hostel. On answering in the affirmative I was told "well you're lost".
Politeness prevented me from saying "tell me something I don't know" and, on asking for assistance was told to follow the light which led me, eventually, to a gateway and the young woman with the torch. She told me that the warden had seen my light coming across the machar, guessed my plight, and sent her out to guide me. (It wasn't the first time this had happened, as I later learned)
When I entered the hostel there was a warm turf fir in the common room and a ceilidh in progress. I wanted only food and bed but before that was allowed I was obliged to sing a Scottish song as my contribution and then they let me go. Ah! the resilience of youth - after my supper and a wash I rejoined the ceilidh which went on until we ran out of turf for the fire at about 1 a.m.