(Credit to John Muir for the title quote, which is worth reading in its full length.)
The other day, I got off a bus in Belfast, ran to the chip shop, hurried on to Tesco for some tartar sauce and a can of Irn-Bru, and then set off for the highest of the hills to the north of the city. I had noticed it when heading out of town that morning – the ridge line like a giant, reclining face in profile, said to have inspired Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, is hard to miss – and I had been itching to hike to the top. With the warm fish in my bag serving the insulating role of my disused jacket, I checked the clock again, reckoning the long hours of sunlight would leave me enough time to make it up and back in time to catch the last bus back to Dublin. An hour and a half’s trek later, I reached the summit, where my fish-warmed, perspiring self quickly cooled off in the prevailing wind. Hunkering down in the lee of a bit of rock, I ate dinner overlooking the whole of Belfast and beyond, feeling on top of the world and reflecting on why I can never resist the opportunity to climb the biggest hill in a new place.
Tibidabo in Barcelona, Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh, and Binn Dá Charraig here in Dublin, are just some of the other hills that have drawn me irresistibly towards their tops over the years. Sure, Montjuïc has a fortress, and the limestone “pavement” above Conistone is neat to see, but those attractions are generally only a small part of the point. The feeling of conquering the hill, of being on top of the world, factors in as well, but I could walk out my back door at home and get the same. It’s about taking in the views, seeing a whole city laid out before you, imagining its history, its building, visualizing where you’ve walked and have yet to explore. Sure, you could just consult the satellite view on Google maps, but the live version from the hilltop is much more interesting. There's also usually a certain peace up there, away from the bustle of the city, provided you can hear your own thoughts over the wind.
For me, it’s easy to get lost in the history, gazing out over the panorama. Overlooking Dublin the other week, I could practically hear the voices of past professors recounting the Battle of Clontarf or the 1916 Easter Rising as my eyes wandered from the northeast down to the GPO. Imagining the history counterposed with the city’s modern form, I found myself humming the melody of “The Rare Auld Times” under my breath almost without realizing it. My home town is more than 1,000 years younger than Dublin, and I feel like I could happily play historical catch-up here for a long time. But I’ve only got so much time left here (this time around, at least), and I plan to make the most of it. Closing my eyes, I picture the view from the top of the hill, envisioning mental markers on the places I have yet to visit, the things I have yet to see. In a few weeks, maybe I’ll hike back up to the top of Binn Dá Charraig and take it all in once more before I leave.
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<p>My name is Sam Wherley. I grew up in central Pennsylvania, but I have had the good fortune to study and travel abroad several times, including two semesters and a Fulbright in Spain as well as trips with my college choir and family through Europe and elsewhere. I am now pursuing a Master's of International Affairs at Penn State University and I am thrilled to be in Dublin this summer with IES. I cannot overemphasize the value of my experiences abroad and the enthusiasm with which I encourage others to study abroad.</p>