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I was asked by a couple of people for more stories of mine and my friend’s encounters with the colourful strangers we’ve met whilst hiking in the Mournes.
My last piece covered a chance meeting with a tall gentleman who wasn’t really prepared for hiking but was loving life, and a woman who was revolted at the thought of people swimming in Lough Shannah.
Last summer (bear in mind it was a really good summer), my friend Phil and I were taking in the route from the Trassey Track, up to Hare’s Gap, then on to the ascent of Bearnagh.
It was around 0600 and the morning was already glorious – the sun was rising, the birds singing, and there wasn’t a sinner about, or so we thought. We approached the top of the summit tor. We were looking forward to a wee break, a couple of photos and a bite to eat – breakfast tastes a lot better in these surroundings.
In the distance we spotted a camp site (I use the term loosely). The “campsite” consisted of two rucksacks, a sleeping bag and a couple of campers within. As we observed this oddity, we spotted some movement in the sleeping bag; we decided the occupants must be awake, maybe having witnessed the beautiful sunrise.
Eventually, our curiosity got the better of us so we advanced for a quick hello, maybe ask if it was cold during the nigh, if they had enough supplies, were they eaten alive by insects…you know, the usual Mourne hiker small-talk.
Alas! Much to our shock and surprise, and later on amusement, we inadvertently happened upon a romantic encounter between a boyfriend and his girlfriend. We stepped back, blushed, then gathered ourselves. We took a moment to process what was happening, then, in true Northern Ireland style of greeting and trying to avoid further embarrassment, asked them, “well, how’s the form, lovely morning isn’t it?”.
The amorous couple hid their faces to their noses to hide their blushes. They stared back at these two big bearded fellas leering over them, hands on hips with knowing grins on their faces and could only muster a weak “yes its really nice” while nodding sheepishly.
Satisfied we’d made a lasting impression on our new found friends, we took off with a cheery “enjoy the rest of your morning”, got over the brow and fell about laughing. They probably heard us.
This year Phil and I formed the Mid-Ulster Mountaineers, a group of hallions like ourselves who love the Mournes, hiking, companionship and the craic. We have disclosed this in a previous piece here on Trekking NI.
In this piece, we mentioned a culture within our group that we feel it’s a God-given right to call out people who wear jeans while hill-walking. Personally, I find it amusing. I would remark on this phenomenon under my breath, or wait until the person walks past and ask “what is that about like?”.
Not Phil though – he feels they have to know of their fashion faux pas in the loudest fashion, and would shout “jeans w@@@@r!!”. I would hit the deck or just run away giggling like a school girl. Sometimes I wouldn’t even notice until the call is made, catching me unawares, which causes me to both hit the deck and curiously seek out where the offender is situated.
Which brings me to my next stranger, or should I say strangers. We took the path above the Hare’s Gap coming from Bearnagh. This path gives you an aerial view of those who want to scramble up the col. From this aerial view, Phil and his eagle eye spotted a crowd of jeans-wearing day trippers, shouted his mantra, and I hit the deck, crawling along the ground like some sort of commando, school-girl laughing as per.
I turned around and to my dismay, Phil was filming the whole thing in fits of laughter. I sat down, called him a few names and deducted that he may be one of these wonderful Mourne characters.
When I stood up, I viewed the day trippers (quite a few seconds had passed by this time). They were looking everywhere for the source of the bellowing Portadown accent that called them out on their choice of clothing.
I have to apologise in advance to any of you readers who decide to wear denim or have a romantic summer morning in the Mournes. The Mid Ulster Mountaineers are the most friendly bunch you’ll ever meet, but don’t do anything in their presence that is off the scale – you will probably regret it!