Spectacular ride to the Fortress of the Sun

If we were to have waited another 364 days, we wouldn’t have found a better day this year for our ride-out from Leo’s home in Burt. Grianan of Aileach, whose name has been variously translated as “Stone Palace of the Sun”, “Fortress of the Sun” and “Stone Temple of the Sun”, was the highlight of a stunning route along deserted little roads with magnificent views across Lough Swilly to Muckish, Fanad Head and beyond.

A group of twelve members gathered at Leo and Linda’s house at midday. Even before the final riders had arrived, our club farrier was put to work after Christopher’s boot came off second best in an encounter with Armstrong’s shoe. Although their squabbling footwear got the relationship off to a shaky start, Christopher and Armstrong buried the hatchet and thoroughly enjoyed each others company on the expedition. Damien was on board Millie, back in work after a winter at rest with Molly.

Lizzie was another club horse returning from a winter of leisure and Paddy was delighted to be back in mounted action. At the other end of the scale, after a hard season’s hunting in bottomless ground, Grace couldn’t believe the lady-like pace of the ride-out. She enjoyed Hannah’s cultured company at a genteel speed as Sally and Maura rode together at the back of the pack.

The group made its way at a lively walk along narrow roads bordered by spring hedgerows, climbing steeply at times with the views across Lough Swilly improving with the elevation. The clarity of the light and the colour of the landscape was breathtaking.

The final ascent to Grianan of Aileach would have knocked the stuffing out of the fittest beast but the infectious enthusiasm amongst the horses propelled them effortlessly to the top. What a spot! Ruth and Rachael McCrossan’s parents were there to greet the party and everybody enjoyed a breather while landmarks and features were identified.

There was no sign of fatigue amongst the horses as the descent began. Excitement grew with every stride and everybody did well to keep their mounts energy in check as the group turned for home. Only Fenway lost the run of himself and did his best to sabotage his wafer-thin chances of getting to Flowerhill. Both he and Libby were lucky to escape unscathed as he took one chance too many with the side of the road and ended up straddling the ditch.

Back at base camp, Leo and Linda provided a very welcome bowl of soup and lots of other treats as chat turned to the final of the league and ultimately to Flowerhill. There’s so much to look forward to and, if Sunday’s experience is anything to go by, this year is shaping up to be a good one.

Many, many thanks to Leo and Linda for a wonderful ride and super hospitality.

Pictured below: The farrier at work before departure and, later on the ride, Grianan of Aileach watches as the group approaches. More photos in the Gallery.