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Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland



Morning walk in County Down earns Roy a writing prize

Local man Roy Gamble receives his prize of a short break courtesy of the NI Tourist Board, as well as having his story published later this year. from Alice Murray, Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Ulster Star's Jenny Monroe (right).

Local man Roy Gamble receives his prize of a short break courtesy of the NI Tourist Board, as well as having his story published later this year. from Alice Murray, Northern Ireland Tourist Board and the Ulster Star's Jenny Monroe (right).

A SHORT story depicting a morning walk in County Down by a Hillsborough writer is one of several stories, which have been selected to appear in a book after Morton Newspapers in association with the Northern Ireland Tourist Board organised a travel writing competition.

Roy Gamble, 67, was chosen as the local heat winner after judges were impressed by his a non-fictional travel piece describing a walk in Slieve Croob near Dromara on a Remembrance Sunday morning.

Roy's story entitled 'Sunday morning on Slieve Croob' will be published in the 'Give Us a Break', book to be launched later this year, along with all the other heat winners.

"I have been writing poetry and short stories for most of my adult life," Roy explained. "When I saw the competition in the paper I thought I would give it a go and when I heard that I had won the local heat I was delighted." The Kilwarlin Park man, who is a member of a writers group in Lisburn, commented that he decided to write about a particular experience in Slieve Croob because it was slightly different and not as common as some other visitor attractions in Northern Ireland. "It may not be the most beautiful place compared to other areas but when you get to the top there is a lovely view. There is also a lot of history associated with the area, " Roy said.

As well as having his story published, Roy will be able to select a short break courtesy of Northern Ireland Tourist Board.

Sunday morning on Slieve Croob, November 2006

By Roy Gamble

Remembrance Sunday usually sees me walking in Hillsborough Forest Park and timing my entrance to the village to see the Boys Brigade Bugle Band blast their way from the Market House to the War Memorial.

This year it was different. My son, recently returned from a tour of the jungles of Brunei and Belize, cajoled me into driving to Dromara and trudging to the top of Slieve Croob.

There's a fine new car park with an Information Display Board at the bottom of the long, winding road that leads to the summit.

'Slieve Croob' it says means 'Mountain of the Hoof', an obvious reference to the rough acreage of tough mountain grass and assorted vegetation to help quicken the appetites of grazing animals.

This morning it was sheep; dozens of them, black faces and spiralled horns spilling out across the hills, clinging sure-footed to rocky outcrops, or grazing unafraid at the roadside as we passed.

In the distance, two Piebald ponies, incongruous among all that wool, stood together, heads bending and lifting, chomping on a late breakfast.

At 534 metres, Slieve Croob is hardly in the premier league of mountains. Everest it isn't. But none the worse for that. And anyway, who has the time or indeed the temerity to attempt Everest of a Sunday morning with the wife's stern rejoinder ringing in your ears: "Don't you be late for lunch, and mind and get the papers on your way back!"

There was ice on the road as we climbed and the tinkle of running water from streams hidden among the grass verges where the frost hadn't penetrated, accompanied Our footsteps.

Not far from the top the road turns right, then left as it suddenly steepens. "A bit tighter here", said my son who regularly jogs this route when he's at home.

Then we left the road and climbed the fence and along the wet rocks and stunted grass to the cairn on the summit. The lesser peaks of Cratleive, Slievenisky and Slievegarron are almost touchable in the November light. Further away, all of County Down and bits of Antrim, Tyrone and Armagh spin out like a wheel in a series of hills, shadowy valleys and tiny patchwork fields.

To the north-west lies the Sperrins and Lough Neagh and due north Belfast's protective chain of Black Mountain on one side and the Castlereagh Hills on the other, form a broken horseshoe around the city.

Over to the East, Strangford Lough shimmers and sweeps south to the Quoile basin and Downpatrick. And still further south, the long narrow spit of St. John's point with its lighthouse just visible, its toes appearing to touch the edge of the sea.

At the other end of Dundrum Bay, the Mournes proper take over, trundling away south-west from Newcastle to the legendary Cu-Chulainn, County of Armagh's Ring of Gullion and the Cooley mountains of County Louth.

At the very heart of the Mournes, the peaks of Donard and Binnian rise from their surrounding noose of mist, looking spiritual and mysterious, like one of those photographs you sometimes see of the Himalayas or Tibet or the Hindi Kush.

Far out, in the south east, under an attendant line of clouds, a cluster of hills smudged the Irish Sea. "It's the Lake District", said my son. "No, it's the Isle of Man", I argued. We debated it for a while, taking bearings from the sun and various landmarks; concluding that, without proper maps and a compass, we'd have to agree to disagree. There are four large radio masts on a ridge near the top of Slieve Croob. On the smallest of them - a square structure with platforms and signal dishes - eight ravens roosted and gossiped in a series of hoarse croaks and barks.

"In ornithological terms," I said. "That collection of birds is known as an 'Unkindness of Ravens'."

"Smart ass," said my son.

They say the Luftwaffe squadrons on their flight path to bomb Belfast in April, 1941 came in from the East, made their turn over the Dromara hills and flew down the Lagan Valley to attack the docks and shipyard. I wonder what sort of a fist the German pilots and Navigators made of their pronunciation of the guttural Gaelic of Slieve Croob and Legananny and Slievenaboley But that was all many years ago.

My son looked at his watch, "Eleven o'clock" he said. And with the wind murmuring and plucking at our clothes, and the ravens calling, we stood without speaking and watched the sun shining and the shadows playing over all we could see, the peaceful counties of Ulster.