Wild Walls Cycle Derry-Londonderry Sunday 12 May 2013

Lawrence McBride, founder Far and Wild on Derry-Londonderry's city walls Photo credit: Far and Wild
Lawrence McBride, founder Far and Wild on Derry-Londonderry’s city walls Photo credit: Far and Wild

I travelled around Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal, Ireland with this company recently and was blown away not only by the fierce wind, but also by their fiercely committed approach to truly responsible tourism. I will be writing more about that trip anon, but in the meantime I have asked Lawrence McBride, founder of Far and Wild to write a guest post about their latest, very exciting project in Derry/Londonderry, just thirty miles from Inishowen. Over to Lawrence…..

If you asked someone where in the world would you find joyous chants  floating on the sea breeze up to ancient battlements,  while troops of cyclists prepare for a historic competitive Mountain Bike Challenge along historic ramparts, they would be unlikely to say Derry-Londonderry. But in fact this is indeed the location of a special cycling event, here in the  first UK City of Culture- Derry-Londonderry 2013, nestled on the political border in the far North West of Northern Ireland.

The Wild Walls Cycle event by local eco-adventure company Far and Wild on Sunday 12 May is a unique event in the City of Culture calendar, combining a healthy dose of competitive and non-competitive cycle events with the very real culture of our ‘post troubles’ civilisation.

The day will start with an urban cross-country mountain bike competition which will weave its way through the communities, both nationalist and unionist, that live around the City’s four hundred year old battlements, built originally as a garrison town by the Guilds of London. It was this London connection that led to the highly controversial addition of the pre-fix ‘London’ to the original Derry, from Doire – the Irish for ‘Oak Grove’.

A charity and family cycle will follow the main cross city cycle trail, making for an all inclusive day which will culminate in the first ever cycle ride down one section of the historic walls from the local Court House and past the Bogside. Young people in both nationalist Bogside and unionist Fountain communities will take part, bucking summer trends of simmering friction.

Discovering the North West of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with Far and Wild Photo: Far and Wild
Discovering the North West of Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with Far and Wild Photo: Far and Wild

What has this all got to do with eco-tourism? Well the short answer is ‘Come and see’! The Wild Walls Cycle event can be booked here . Evidence argues that our foreign visitors are fascinated by the complexity of Irish and Ulster society, despite the nervousness of the traditional tourism industry.  With countryside to die for (no pun intended), perhaps the factors that have keep folk away for so long are ready to reveal their hidden treasures.

Contact Far and Wild on hello@farandwild.co.uk or +447775911198 for further information or check out what other eco events we have in store at  www.farandwild.co.uk.

(Far and Wild is a community interest company combining adventure with ecology- including historical interpretation or human ecology- in the stunning North West of Ireland, in both political jurisdictions).

Oh Derry Boy

Martin McCrossan of Derry City Tours on The Peace Bridge, Derry/Londonderry or,as Martin says ‘Legenderry’

It is always uplifting to hear the sound of the organ playing when you enter a cathedral. But nothing was going to prepare me for what followed when I visited St Columb’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Derry City last week. I was already ensconced in the guided tour of the city by Martin McCrossan of the eponymous guided tours company. He had come highly recommended as the man to get if you want to tour the city, and within minutes of walking the walls of this extraordinary city, crammed full of history and stories, I knew why people talked so highly of him.

Catherine and Franciscan Friar Alessandro Brustenghiin St Columb’s Cathedral, Derry/Londonderry

As part of his tour within the city walls (Derry is the most intact walled city in Europe, built 1613-19  by English settlers), Martin led me into the Cathedral. He was just telling me about the cannonball perched in the porch of the cathedral, which had been fired into the church during the infamous Siege of Derry in 1689, when the organ struck up. “That’ll be the Dean playing– he plays brilliantly. You want to hear his Danny Boy. Amazing.” Martin said, when suddenly the Dean, the Very Rev’d William Morton,  appeared and said “Hello there, Martin, good to see you. They chatted and Martin was curious to find out who was playing the organ, if it wasn’t the Dean. At this point, the Dean led us up the aisle to meet the source of this heavenly sound.

At the foot of the organ steps we were introduced to Father Paul Farren of Derry’s St Eugene’s Catholic Cathedral and a Franciscan friar, in full robes, who divulged the source. “That is Franciscan Friar Alessandro Brustenghi who is visiting us from Assisi. He loves to play the organ, so the Dean has kindly let us try it out”. It took a few seconds for me to click. Alessandro Brustenghi, the gifted and recently signed tenor, was playing up above, sending ethereal echoes all around this magnificent building. And we were his sole audience.

I was just managing to resist every urge to shout up a request for a quick Ave Maria, when the beautiful friar floated down the stairs and over to join us. The Dean introduced us, and we talked a little about music and his trip to Ireland. “I believe you play a mean Danny Boy” I said to the Dean, at which point the affable Martin persuaded him with a mere wink of the eye and a bit of Derry charm to go up and play it. I don’t think I ever heard a finer rendition, so how could I resist my chance to teach a famous friar the words? Father Farren joined in as we attempted the high notes together, and Allesandro smiled throughout.

John Kelly at Museum of Free Derry. John is not only the Education and Outreach Officer at the Museum but also the brother of Michael Kelly who was killed by British soldiers on  Bloody Sunday 1972
John Kelly at Museum of Free Derry. John is not only the Education and Outreach Officer at the Museum but also the brother of Michael Kelly who was killed by British soldiers on Bloody Sunday 1972

I couldn’t help wishing the media was here to see this quiet act of reconciliation, but then I realised that just as these people of different denominations were standing side by side, connected by music and uplifted by song, so many more are doing the same in Derry all the time. Quietly, out of the public eye, because it is the right thing to do. Friar Allessandro wasn’t here for a big press event. He was here, according to Father Farren, to take part in the Pope Jean Paul Awards, which celebrate achievements among the young people of Ireland.

I had come to Derry as part of its City of Culture celebrations. But it’s only by walking with the likes of Martin McCrossan, or meeting the other people who live and work in this progressive city of reconciliation,  such as those who run the moving and fascinating Museum of Free Derry, that you will find the quiet corners of culture. Or just stop still in the city and listen for a while. Because you never know what voices you might hear.

Catherine stayed at one of Derry/Londonderry’s finest hotel, Beech Hill, with beautiful walking trails around the grounds, and an impressive policy of local food sourcing for their legendary ‘Legenderry’ menu. For lunch in the city centre, check out the very cool, and culturally connected Legenderry Warehouse No.1 Cafe (Irish stew a must).

Guided tours with Martin McCrossan and his team cost a mere £4. The best guided tour you will get for this money, anywhere. See www.derrycitytours.com for details. And absolutely don’t miss the Museum of Free Derry, as one of the most important museums representing civil rights in the world.