It was just after 6 am when she found herself standing at the bottom of the stairs leading up to Loughcrew Cairns. She was well aware of the climb. About 2 kilometers from the spot where she was standing to the Cairns themselves. It was a steep ascent, but she was determined not to let it get the best of her. There was no way that she would allow herself to remain on the bus while the others explored this ancient landscape.
She dug through her backpack, found her headlamp and put it on. Then, backpack secured, she started her ascent. She moved slowly but with purpose and before she knew it, she was moving through the gate at the top of the stairs. It was then that she saw the path and realized she had quite a way to go before she reached the top.
She continued on, pausing every so often to catch her breath and gaze out over the landscape which was slowly revealing itself as dawn approached. She turned to see who was still behind her. A strange voice called out,
"Please, turn off your headlamp!"
Embarrassed, she obliged, replacing it in her pack. It was then that she noticed she didn't really need it, as the faint light was more than enough for her to find her way. As she continued her climb, she reflected on how far she'd come and how strong she'd become. Would she have had the courage to attempt this even a year ago?
After what seemed like forever and yet no time at all, she arrived at her destination. The Cairns.
She turned and surveyed her surroundings, marvelling at how far she climbed. She couldn't help but feel proud, knowing that this was but the first of many tasks set before her that she was now certain she was capable of.
The Pilgrims gathered together to welcome the rising sun. They stood side by side, listening to the Bodhran as it kept beat with their hearts and with the heart of the land. The sun, glowing a deep orange, slowly rose. Then, just as slowly, it immersed itself headfirst into the clouds. The moment was not lost on them, as each silently reflected on what they had just witnessed.
After a time, they dispersed, quietly making their way around the Cairns. Careful not to disrespect the site nor disrupt others who gathered there, they paid their respects to those who came before and the land where they last laid their heads.
Taking what would soon feel like her rightful place at the back of the pack, she made her way down the hill toward the stairs. It felt like a journey out of another world and back into the familiar. Thankfully, the descent was slow and she was able to acclimate herself.
As she walked the path, she passed a group of sheep grazing. They paid her no mind. These were not the first Pilgrims the sheep had encountered, nor would they be the last. Then she spotted a tree. It beckoned to her, whispering secrets. Belief in Faeries was strong here, as was their energy.
She felt the sort of calm and piece that so often eludes us. Normally, she would resist leaving. But somewhere inside her she knew that the feeling would remain and the connection would deepen as they continued on their sacred journey.