There’s nothing like a white Christmas.
I was back home in Derry, Northern Ireland for the December festivities. And after the mid-twenty temperatures of Vietnam’s Hanoi, I found myself in freezing -7 degree Celsius conditions. Despite the temperature differential, I had to get out of the house and feel the winter for myself… even if it was Christmas Day, with presents and food and family and TV and all the associated cosy distractions and obligations at home. I simply had to get out for an hour’s run around outside.
But where to go?
I heard that country roads were blocked off, frozen stiff from the snowfall. It meant that a run up any nearby rugged hill would be near impossible. And off-road running in St. Columb’s park would be painful. It would involve more trudging than running, and too much slip sliding down miniature ski slopes. It would entail wet shoes and painfully cold feet. In the end, it meant that I had to stick to the freshly-gritted main roads if I wanted a proper outing.
But just for Christmas Day, I’ll admit that road running isn’t always that bad. Out my front door, I headed in the direction of Derry’s Foyle Bridge, spanning the freezing waters of the River Foyle below. Then I turned left, following the newly constructing Skeoge Link Road that circumnavigates Galliagh and that plonked me straight out on the Buncrana Road.
I chose to follow this road towards Buncrana as it leads me to Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic of Ireland less than a kilometre later. I ran over the place where the old British army barracks used to be that marked the territorial divide, dismantled now so many years ago after the Good Friday accord. I remember the check-point well, the stops, the soldiers, the seriousness of this place. The only reminder now of their previous presence is the newly tarmaced section of road and a roadside memorial to those who died in a car bomb over twenty years ago.
I ran on, up and over the border itself, straight into Eire’s County Donegal. On the other side of this imaginary line lies Bridgend, a tiny village with shops and an exuberant number of petrol stations. What with petrol being much cheaper in the south, Northern Ireland drivers have no qualms whatsoever of crossing the border to fill up their tanks. Despite it being Christmas Day, when shops are normally shut, one station remained stoically open that morning to provide the punters with their festive petrol needs.
I kept running, heading north towards Inishowen Peninsula. I momentarily considered whether a run up Grianan Aileach would be possible, the ring fort that guards Lough Swilly from afar. But looking at my watch I saw that such a round trip would take too long. Instead, I took out my mobile phone and make a few calls to people in Dublin and the Republic to wish them a happy Christmas. If I made the calls from Derry, from Northern Ireland to the South, my credit would get eaten up from ridiculous roaming charges. But less than five kilometres from home, and across the invisible border line, I made cheap calls to friends in the Republic, before finally running back to my home country to celebrate Christmas there.