Thursday, February 12, 2004
It's either the luck of the Irish--or Cross Country International has a direct line to the weather controller Herself. Another perfect day! I was up earlier than the rest of the "singles" this morning and had time to sit in the dining room and reflect quietly on the peaceful surroundings. The breakfast tables were set with fresh flowers, starched white linen tablecloths and napkins, china and silver. I opened the window to catch the soft breeze and heard the horses being called in form the pastures in front of the castle. Yesterday I watched them gallop towards the feed. This morning they hardly raised their heads form the lush grass. Perhaps they knew before we did what kind of ride was in store for us today.
I'm really glad I watched the movie The Man from Snowy River before today's trek. Charon took the advanced group on one of the most thrilling rides ever. All of the riders and mounts were comfortable with each other after spending four days together, so Charon really let us fly today. We took trails that brought us straight to the top of the mountains and straight back down. We still passed through towering trees, lush green pastures and sparkling streams--only faster. We did some trotting and some cantering--but mostly galloping. Now I know how a jockey riding a "come-from-behind" mudder feels! Charon's horse loves to run and I knew we where in for some excitement when we were already running at a flat-out gallop and I saw her urge her horse on. All of the horses and riders were up for a challenge. I was third with a gap of about two lengths between me and the second horse when from out of nowhere comes Wendy on Allie and Kirsten on Smithex. My glasses were already mud-spattered, but after they blew by me I was riding by Braille. When we finally slowed everyone had a good laugh at my face.
Today's adventure also included a lot of climbing to see an ancient ruin of a home and attached church dating back to the thirteenth century. The view from this little settlement was gorgeous. We continued climbing to another vantage point that made me believe that we must be high enough to see all of Ireland.
On the trail back, we were galloping so fast we almost missed our steep turn downhill but everyone made it and all the horses kept going. We practiced downhill mudslides on the horses before we started out in the morning. It really came in handy on the way back. Some of the downhill switchbacks were, of course, muddy (should be rain in Ireland--just not this week!).
We met up with the intermediate group and walked the rest of the way back to the castle with them. It was great to socialize with them. They too had a wonderful ride as did the beginner's group.
Back at the castle, we were given a few minutes to freshen up before departing for Leap Castle. I personally wanted to wear my mud as a badge of honor, but Krista talked some sense into me and I showered and changed.
Leap Castle is the most fabulous, magical castle--built in the late 1300s. The current owner, Sean Ryan, welcomed us into his home and graciously served us lunch of traditional lamb stew and bread. We sat around a roaring fire as he related the history of the land from its origins over 9,000 years ago when it was a ceremonial place. He gave an account of the O'Carrolls, who are credited with building the stone structure we were in, through its final battle in 1922 when it was burned and almost destroyed. He is restoring it himself and doing a lovely job. Leap Castle is considered the most haunted castle in Ireland, and he had plenty to share with us about that, too. He and his daughter Ciara will be joining us at Kinnitty Castle tonight in the Monk's Kitchen to provide us with the music from his tin whistle and the harp. His daughter, who is a wonderful Irish dancer, will be dancing for us. Many of us climbed to the top of the castle by walking up a narrow circular staircase of stone that had been used by warriors for thousands of years. At the very top of the tower was the chapel, and from these windows you could see for miles in all direction. Before saying goodbye to Sean we shared in a little Irish toast that warmed us from the inside out.
Anticipation continues to grow over the Bachelor's Ball, which is tomorrow night. The castle has started setting up and people are being turned away because it is sold out. All of us "Singles" are happy to have our tickets!