Trip of a lifetime brings together two Kilkenny women

Preparing to set out on a 10-day charity trek in Mongolia, Kilkenny native Jane Shortall has found inspiration in a book by another Kilkenny woman, Jane Blunden. Now living in France, Ms Shortall says it also harkens back to her Kilkenny childhood, as she explains here.

Preparing to set out on a 10-day charity trek in Mongolia, Kilkenny native Jane Shortall has found inspiration in a book by another Kilkenny woman, Jane Blunden. Now living in France, Ms Shortall says it also harkens back to her Kilkenny childhood, as she explains here.

I WAS born in Kilkenny in 1954 and although my parents moved to Dublin for work reasons when I was young, I was lucky to come back and spend all my summer holidays there. My grandparents’ old house on the edge of the town was a lovely, comfortable place. Not enormous, but it seemed so to us children.

As I grew older I became aware that County Kilkenny had some stunning buildings, monuments and stately homes. Over the years I spent many happy hours at Jerpoint Abbey, Kells Priory and Duiske Abbey over at Graignamanagh. In Kilkenny city, the quantity and the quality of buildings is outstanding. As well as the cathedrals and abbeys, there are the exquisite town houses of Butler and Rothe and topping the lot, the mighty Kilkenny Castle, with its splendid grounds and fabulous rose garden.

But there was one place I never visited, can’t remember ever seeing a photo of it and yet, it was, for me, growing up, a place of wonder. The name Blunden’s Wood has the ability to spirit me back to childhood. It was, my father often told me, a most beautiful place at the edge of an equally beautiful estate. I know that he and one or two of his brothers used to shoot; years and years later I saw him win a rifle shooting competition, not having picked up a gun in years. He may have shot over at the Blunden’s; I’ll never know for sure.

As fine as life was for my cousins and I growing up, and we were looked after very well indeed by our grandparents, aunts and uncles, I had, as a child, formed the impression that life would have been very agreeable indeed (for me at any rate) over at the Blunden’s.

Now in case this seems a mean, ungrateful thought for a young girl, two important factors came into play here. I was an only girl and the idea of having all those sisters and all that fun was like a dream. I was also an avid reader, first of fairy tales and later of girls’ adventure books. My reading matter was often set in big houses surrounded by vast woods. What was not to like about the sound of everything that I imagined was going on at the Blunden’s?

All these years later, having signed up for a horse trekking challenge in Mongolia, a country I know little about, it turns out to be Jane Blunden, serious adventurer, who has written the only book I will need.

When I first saw the book and its author’s name, I wondered if the writer could possibly be one of the Blunden girls from years ago in Kilkenny. She was indeed; in double quick time we were in touch, Jane asking to hear my story.

And it’s this. I have signed up for a 10-day horse trek in Mongolia in June 2012, in aid of the charity Help for Heroes. This challenge and the training I must do for it has already jumped me out of my comfort zone, but it will be the chance of a lifetime to visit a place I’ve long dreamed of seeing. I’ve ridden in Ireland of course and done a bit here in France. But on this trip I will be riding for hours each day, over unknown territory, on a horse I will meet for the first time the day we set off.

The terrain will involve crossing rivers and going via mountain passes, on a Mongolian or Russian saddle. Camping in small tents in the wilderness, since I absolutely loathe being in a small space, will be more than testing.

Jane Blunden’s excellent book has sorted out many issues for me, including the sound advice to pack a sense of adventure and a sense of humour. I can only think that in some quirky way, I’ve come full circle, from a child reading my adventure stories, imagining the Blunden’s, and now here’s Jane with everything I need to know about Mongolia.

I, still up for a challenge, a girls’ adventure, love these chance meetings, these twists of fate.

Pure serendipity.