One of the things I love about travelling is that you never know what might happen next. Plans may change in an instant simply because something unexpectedly beams into your radar.
Such was the case one rainy day last spring at the tail end of our three-week sojourn in Ireland.
At the time we were staying in lodgings for two nights near Fermoy. Our hosts suggested we take the picturesque drive to nearby Lismore Castle to wander its beautiful grounds. So, after obtaining directions we set out north east for the half hour or so trip to Lismore.
Driving the “B” roads in Ireland is a bit of an adventure when you’re not used to it, but Lloyd handled the hills and bends and twists expertly, though generally drove below the speed limit of 100 km — a tad excessive, we thought for ourselves, at least, on narrow roads that also accommodate pedestrians, horse-drawn vehicles and families on bicycles.
At length we happened upon a sign planted temporarily at the side of the road announcing a “Point-to-Point” (a cross-country steeplechase usually for amateur riders on young thoroughbreds training for National Hunt racing).
My curiosity piqued I suggested to Lloyd that we take a detour and check it out.
So, we made a u-turn and followed the signs and winding lane until we reached an unruly mess of horse boxes, race goers, hot-to-trot horses, and officials directing traffic — all in a soggy field.
The entrance fee was 10 Euros each (if I recall correctly) but as we were not planning to stay the whole afternoon we approached the entrance official, told him we were tourists passing through and asked if we could just take a quick peek.
With a grunt of Irish cheer he waved us in.
Yay for us!
We decided we would stay for one race, so parked our rental car in the parking field, took our one umbrella and my camera and followed the throng over to the racing field.
What a sight! Men, women and children, grooms, trainers, riders, betting agents, horses, dogs, milling and mingling through wet grass and mud, all set against a backdrop of verdant rolling hills and threatening skies. The damp air was intoxicatingly punctuated by the wafting and commingling aromas of barbequed sausages and wet horses. Fantastic!
And within minutes a sudden, torrential downpour sent everyone running for cover. It was a cold, miserable rain which, thankfully, lasted for only a few minutes, but it made conditions more slippery and muddy which some horses like and others loathe.
We gathered with the crowd around the finish line and followed their earnest gazes out to the far end of the field where the race was already underway. We caught sight of the riders and horses as they began their three-mile race over 18 obstacles (essentially two and a half circuits of the field) and as the field of horses charged down the home stretch for the first time I snapped away.
And then in a flash they were on their way down the field back toward the start to complete the first circuit — hearts pounding, hooves thundering, tails swinging, mud flying.
By the third lap the crowd was fully engaged, straining for a view of the action on the back stretch. And then, turning toward home, one of the leaders fell at the second last obstacle causing a groan of disappointment and concern through the increasingly excited fans. It was now the front runner’s race to lose.
Before we knew it, the race was over, the winner sailing past the finish line all foaming sweat and excitement, and his jockey standing in the stirrups, perhaps in celebration but more likely trying to create some leverage to slow things down.
After revelling for a few minutes in the post-race excitement it was time for us to be on our way to Lismore.
Sometimes it pays to follow the signs and do the unexpected. Our happy detour to the point-to-point is sure to remain another memorable moment from our 2011 trip to the Emerald Isle for many years to come.
Copyright Aimwell Enterprises 2012