Return to the Black Mountain

It is good to be here again.

That’s what I think, but only once we have reached the top of the slippy slope. It is probably not the most sensible way to climb the mountain, but the other option is closed to us. A farmer’s gate has been moved. The alternative blocked off. Whose land is this anyway? That has long been the question on the Black Mountain.

Two years ago we walked in mist. Up the slippy slope. Across the Hatchet Field. To Terry’s cairn and along the path. Belfast was down there, somewhere, but we only caught the odd glimpse. A ghostly apparition as the cloud cleared. For a second. Two. A quick click of the camera shutter and the invisible city was gone again.

Today is different. Today the sun shines as we catch a cab to the last house in West Belfast, to the very spot where the city meets the mountain. Urb meets Rus. When we reach Hatchet Field, and hear the stories of the family who used to live up there – thick walls, great views and long walks to school – we can not only see the city laid out before us, but all the way to Scotland.

The invisible city is now a map, unfolded. The GAA field. The police station. The trees of Ormeau Park. Stormont. Tower blocks in the city centre. Tower blocks at the bottom of the Falls Road. The shipyard. A power station down the coast.

We continue up. Across boggy fields and over barbed wire fences to meet the track on the National Trust land. There is steady traffic today. Blow off the Christmas cobwebs with a walk or a run. But as soon as we we meet the path it is almost time to leave it. And as we reach the cairn – to leave a stone and conjure up a memory – the clouds close in. We are taken back, for a moment or two, to the last time we were here.

We can’t go back the same way, Feargal says. Not now the path is blocked off. Phone calls arrange pick-ups at the car park close to the summit, easily relayed via the huge communication towers that emerge as the cloud begins to lift.

Keep walking. Keep talking. Say hello to those you meet, those you know and those you don’t.

The Black Mountain is beautiful, but the stories are what make the place special. Stories from Feargal, of his dad and his brother. Stories of the people who once lived here. Our own stories, now gathered, as we make our return visits. Stones found in the heather, left on the cairn.

I don’t know when I will next set foot on the Black Mountain. I hope it is not too long.

It is good to be here again.

Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton

You can read about our last walk on the Black Mountain here, and more about Terry Enright and his campaign to re-open the mountain for the community here and here.

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One thought on “Return to the Black Mountain

  1. Phil Scraton

    It was another fine Boxing Day with those to whom the Mountain has been, and remains, central to their families, their histories, their struggle. Their warmth and generosity in sharing special times in a special place will stay with us always … Feargal Mac Ionrrachtaigh’s wonderful article in Elsewhere: A Journal of Place explains all.

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