1: Driving up Benevenagh
Let's begin this epic journey in Main
Street Limavady, where we join the morning traffic. We scrape past
some jogging pedestrians and avoid a
parade colourfully weaving its way through the chaos. Across
the road we notice a driver carefully tripple-parking his car.
We pass the old Post Office opposite Tesco's supermarket and turn left into Killane Road. From here on we have to slow down, because there are many hidden driveways - which are often hiding places for stern faced police officers waving speed-detectors.
A bridge carries us over Limavady's new bypass and we catch a splendid view of the whin-covered slopes of noble Mount Benevenagh.
On our right is the
beautiful townland of Fruithill, with Drenagh, its ancestral home,
dominating a well kept landscape dotted with ancient trees. As you
can't see the house
from here I include a photograph of the venerable pile. Another
impressive but now ruined treasure lies hidden on the other side of the
Old Church is described elsewhere in these pages.
Drenagh estate is surrounded by a Broughan wall - the endproduct of a now discredited form of 19th century unemployment benefit. During times of famine hungry men were told to build all kinds of things and were paid in broughan - a name which is still used locally to describe porridge. These days the high wall is quite a hazard because it is right beside the road and fools oncoming traffic into taking panicky evasive action right into their oncoming traffic. Luckily we only meet a single lorry and escape with a few minor scratches and a small bump.
Soon we encounter one of those humped
- lovely to look at but the very devil to navigate. This one spans the
Curly river, which winds
its way from the distant Keady mountain.
The bed of this little
waterway is covered with large
rocks which gives its waters a 'curly' appearance, hence the name - or
so they say. You
will soon notice - if you read on - that they have a way with words
the narrow causeway with
hardly a scrape we approach our next
obstacle with great confidence:
the 'Windyhill Rabout'. A 'rabout' is a roundabout built in such
a fashion up the side of a hill, that it is impossible to see
the incoming traffic - until it is too late.
This explains why we fail to notice a great big pile of grass some kindly farmer has dumped right in the middle of the road until we thump into it with a very satisfying 'smack'.
No harm done - if this is all the roads can throw at us this morning, it's going to be our lucky day!
reverse from off the green, carefully circumnavigate the squashed pile
of proto-hay and turn into Windyhill Road. This scenic route was
originally called 'Murderhole Road', after the anti-social habits of
the notorious outlaw Cushy Glen, who used to hide his evidence in a
depression further up the mountain.
Cushy Glen in now as dead
as those he robbed and the people in charge of such things decided that
'Murder Hole' is an unsuitable address for modern man and so the road
had to be re-named.
And because there is a hill further up the
road often exposed to a refreshing gale . . . . . . . . . . !
On our left we notice the remains of
the wartime Limavady
airfield. A horse and several
bloodthirsty looking sheep graze
amongst the military ruins.
We follow Lewy, who speeds down the road and turns into the town's industrial estate. On the other side of the road we spot a stretch of cement runway, left over from the old days, which is crammed with hundreds of penned sheep, several dozen sturdy vehicles, twice that number of even sturdier looking men and one bored looking photographer.
It's the Aghanloo show!
If you want to buy a yow, or if you want to watch somebody buy a yow, or indeed if you would like to observe somebody taking a photograph of somebody watching somebody buying a yow: this is the place!
"Wow! That's what I call a yow!"
We linger to watch the haggling. The
pens are filled with more or less strange looking beasts, who have all
had a very recent hairdo and/or dye to make them look as good as
possible. Apparently the judges fall
for this trick every time.
It is also quite a sporting event, because whilst the judge walks amongst the sheep to do her judging, the sheep try their damnedest to escape from this dangerous looking female - which forces their owners to race about like maniacs to try and catch the escapees and chase them back into the centre.
Occasionally a lucky stumble or a humorous collision adds welcome hilarity to these slippery agricultural proceedings.
Observing all this makes us feel
rather peckish, so we buy a couple of tasty looking lambs to supplement
The seller is a big farmer called Arnold. He is very helpful and even
throws in a bunch of rosemary and a box of matches. We bundle the
animals into the back of our brand new 4x4 and introduce Flossie and
Bossie to Tudor, our faithful border collie, who guards the back of the
Jeep. He herds them into a corner of the vehicle, lies down to hold
them with a fixed stare and we continue our scenic drive.
A mile down the road we surprise another one of those narrow bridges. Just after we squeeze through, we have to slam on the brakes yet again because the road is blocked by a dairy herd whose members amble along in an udderly impressive fashion that makes us feel quite dizzy. One of the huge black and white beasts decides to leave the herd and squeeze between our car and the hedge. The stupid brute slips - on purpose, no doubt - and her massive head rashes onto the bonnet with an un-melodious thump, leaving a gastric whiff and a very large dent.
Oh well, an honourable scar!
As the triumphant cow ambles on, we calm the dog and return our own livestock - which has been trying to escape via the windscreen - to the back of the car. Bossie and Flossie seem to be two very nervous lunches.
A few hundred yards
further on we stop to admire Aghanloo parish church, which fits into
landscape better than any other building we have seen today. Benevenagh
mountain looms behind.
Aghanloo Church and Benevenagh.
Bossie thinks this
interlude is a good chance to escape, but Tudor rounds him up and we
continue our drive up Freehall Road: a quiet tree-lined lane gently
climbing the slope of the mountain. There is some rich farmland on either
side of the road. We honk the horn at a mean-looking customer on a
shiny tractor who suddenly gets into our way. Flossie and Bossie in the
back of the jeep panic yet again when they hear the noise and Meg
yells: "Hold those yows, Tudor -
are you blind?"
The scoop-collie boys
The dog looks wonderfully guilty. We ascend slowly
until we turn left into Bishops
Road, where I have to slam on the brakes yet again because a dog and
his two men are busy driving a
flock of sheep to pastures new.
We try to look innocent and pretend that we have been driving very slowly all the time, though I don't think that anybody around here is fooled very easily.
Flossie gets restless again when she sees her compatriots. Tudor is so distracted by all that talent ahead that Bossie - who notices this - takes his chance and gets away through the open window.
Ah well, there goes half of our lunch.
In a field close by we spot five freshly shorn ewes - fleeceless as the day is long. Who can resist an opportunity like this? We stick our heads out of the window and yell as loudly as we can:
"Baldie!!!!!" - "Baldie!!!!" - "Baldie!!!!"
The sheep look suitably embarrassed. One of the farmers - the one with the receding hairline - gives us a very old-fashioned look, so we drive on before the situation escalates.
A few hundred yards up the road we park the car, stretch our legs, count our remaining livestock and admire the view.
Baldie , Baldie and Baldie - and Baldie and Baldie.
The Roe Valley with the Sperrins on the left and Lough Foyle to the right.
We begin to feel hungry and Meg gives Flossie a speculative look. However, it's early in the day, so we decide to forgo a second breakfast and drive on.