Nuala McCann: Never mind climbing Slemish – I'm ready to rock the Casbah

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann

Nuala McCann is an Irish News columnist and writes a weekly radio review.

Nuala McCann
Nuala McCann

My sister is coming over for a visit.

“She’ll be here for St Patrick’s Day: shall we climb Slemish?” asks my other sister.

She’s joking.

The last time I ventured up those grassy slopes, I ended up lumping a small child up and down... He was about as willing as a large bag of spuds. It was an experience never to be repeated.

You may think Slemish is a hill but with a reluctant child to get up and down, it’s Everest and where you can never find a decent Sherpa about Broughshane when you need one?

Still, in the long ago, it was always a big adventure – a break in Lent, in the days when you swore off sugar in your tea and sweets for six weeks.

The only exception was St Patrick’s Day when we went to early Mass, belted out a rousing chorus of Hail Glorious Saint Patrick and hit the holy hill.

Those were in the days before air travel was a thing – I was 16 before I discovered the delights of the big metal bird on the tarmac; the polite hostesses in emerald green and perfect red lipstick, the little tin cannisters of hot food and the drinks trolley.

Until then, Slemish was a big adventure in the way of the Famous Five minus the ginger ale. The lemonade man never stretched to that.

My friend’s dad lent her a blackthorn stick and the farmers gifted us green lemonade for the day that was in it and we scrambled like young goats to the top, lay on our backs and ate all the sweets forbidden for all of Lent.

Dolly mixtures, lemon bon bons, Reilly’s toffee rolls – we hit the road home, drunk on sugar, singing “Everyone’s a fruit n nut case”.

But that was long ago. Nobody bothered much with climbing Slemish back then... just a few groups of bored teenagers in search of a little adventure.

Now, here in the big smoke, Slemish, my holy mountain, is a watercolour inherited from my mother’s house.

My eyes rest easy on the slopes – remembering the faraway mountain framed by my bedroom window when I’d look up to pause from untangling sins and coses; rhyming off Latin verbs and struggling with the periodic table.

I’d imagine a long ago boy, minding the sheep on the grassy slopes, nestling behind rocks as the wind blew hard. He did not know what great adventure lay ahead.

Once Slemish on St Patrick’s Day was a thrilling day out – walk the 10 miles home afterwards – bring it on.

Now we set our sights far from these hills.

I met friends for a coffee and a catch up last week.

One is just back from Morocco and the other from Iceland... alas the Northern Lights failed to materialise – they were too busy wowing the folk of Bushmills.

But they were full of tales of beautiful landscapes, far away hills, other cultures.

Somewhere out there in Morocco is the blue town. I’ve never seen it but how beautiful it sounds.

My friend talked about Fez and Casablanca, words like Medina, Riad and Kasbah tripped lightly from her tongue.

Rock the Casbah – the Clash,” I told her.

We laughed about wine for three euros in Marrakesh that costs £26 from a small shop in the back end of the country.

Once on a walk in the forest, my friend met young girls who were captivated by the foreigners and asked for selfies with them.

They were exotic, other; they were strangers in town.

I remembered the Egyptian boy who had come to Belfast and saw snow for the first time.

Oh the wonder of that.

A journalist from Cameroon whom I met in Paris had never seen red hair.

“Would you mind if I just touched it?” he asked.

It felt a bit awkward so I said no.

But hearing of my friends’ adventures – Blue Lagoons and Turquoise towns – has made me hanker for a fresh adventure.

It’s been three long years and more since we spread our wings.

When I turn on my laptop, the screen saver serves up far off sandy canyons; Italian lakesides; misty mountains.

You can get a hit from the National Geographic, but it leaves you hungry for more.

We want a little more than glossy pictures. We want to be strangers in town.

It’s been three years so we’re heading off on fresh adventures and about time too.

Let’s rock the Casbah.