People call to me across the street. Kids ask my name and say they like my shoes. Starting a new life in this provincial town is easy.
There are elegant Georgian town house in pretty pastels and charming independent shops, with plenty of posh coffee and pastries. All against a rugged mountain backdrop.
Even in a pandemic, every amenity is available within a short walk. Everything is in perfect order, roads on a grid system, long tree lined avenues and wide pavements, filled with joggers and lap dogs.
It is no accident that the town was designed on a cruciform road system, to represent the cross. Limavady Newtown was born in 1610, part of the plantation of Ulster, an initiative to ‘civilise’ Catholic Ireland by giving huge swathes of land to Protestant incomers.
Four centuries later, this history is alive in the names. New streets of Dickensian-style town houses are called Plantation Drive and Plantation View. Elsewhere a terrace row is christened Protestant Street.
Religion dominates. Advertisements for Gospel ‘Drive In’ Services keep the faith going during lockdown. The brand new Orange Heritage Centre, a protestant fraternal order and one of the tallest civic building, hoists a banner gushing bonhomie. ‘Thanks to NHS from the Orange Family’.
“You English You don’t frighten us, English pig-dogs! Go and boil your bottoms…I blow my nose at you and all your silly English knights.”
Catholic friends taunt me by reciting scenes from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Words that are hilarious on screen make me squirm when they’re directed at me.
I brush it off as good humour. But I’m reminded that an English voice in a provincial town in Northern Ireland is akin to parading a Union Jack while singing God Save The Queen.
The Peace Agreement was signed more than 22 years ago. Whether I like it or not my English accent plants me firmly on one side of the divide.
Walking away from the pretty town centre, I see majestic mountain scenery, once notorious bandit country. Murder Hole Road, one of the main routes out of town, acquired its name due to the number of hold ups and gruesome killing of stage coach passengers arriving from Coleraine.
Officials hoped to erase the memory by renaming it Windyhill Road in the 1970s – but old names stick.
Trees are black with crows on the outskirts of town. At sunset they congregate in thousands, their wings gleam against crimson skies.
Huge birds loom ready to snatch the sandwich from my hands. A local farmer tells me constant vigilance is needed to stop them scavenging sheep. In lambing season, they swoop down to pluck out the eyeballs of lambs so they can feast upon their brains.
In myth and folklore, crows are harbingers of death. They escort souls to the underworld and conduct a post mortem for fallen comrades. It is unnerving to to see the birds in such large numbers. They lend an air of Alfred Hitchcock to the scene with their ominous Caw, caw.
Despite the breathtaking beauty and easy charm of this place, something makes here makes me uneasy. The plantation of Ulster was an effort to bring order to a place perceived wild, unyielding and difficult to understand.
The policy was driven by fear and a need to control – these troubling emotions as much as locals or landscapes, that are indomitable.