Walk, don’t run



A new week, and the crazy weather seems, for now, to have passed. Or, to quote Met Eireann’s Gerry Fleming, from now we can expect normal amounts of Winter rainfall. Ha. Around here, that’s still pretty wet.

Or to paraphrase that rather Irish expression, if you can see the mountains, it’s about to rain. If you can’t, it’s already raining…

Yesterday, Saoirse and I reprised a walk we did a couple of years ago. At least half of Dublin will be very familiar with the cliff walk around Howth Head. Many choose to head out past Balscadden Bay and up onto the cliffs and then after a short step, take a sharp right up the hill and onto the summit. A sharp left will see you in the Irish Sea, tout suite, so avoid that mistake at all costs. We forged straight ahead.

Balscadden Bay. There were some hardy swimmers diving off man-made platforms built onto a rocky outcrop.

There was still a lot of water around. The recent heavy rain had done a good job of carving tiny replicas of the Grand Canyon into the paths at every opportunity, and there was plenty of pools and gooey mud to trap the unwise walker who had not prepared adequately with hiking boots. As we had done just that, we did feel just a wee bit smug as we tramped past a variety of foreign tourists who had set out to see the sites in a variety of runners.

Near the Bailey Lighthouse, with a glimpse of the Dublin Mountains in the background.

The sun was low over the Dublin Mountains, and was in our eyes for much of the outward journey. As we circumnavigated the Head and came upon the lighthouse and Dublin Bay, the fresh wind became our constant companion. But on the plus side, it was a clear day, and the sun was doing a valiant job of redressing the balance. The combination of the low angled sunlight and the chop on the sea gave the waves a strange murky translucence.

Out in the Bay, freighters went to and fro, and the hi-speed ferry whipped in at pace.

A rusty old fence post wrapped in barbed wire. The overall effect is that of a watercolour painting.

We passed the lighthouse and a sign for the Samaritans. Clearly this is a known spot for people who have reached the end of their tether. It’s a sobering reminder that not everyone who heads out along these paths is here to enjoy their surroundings and take in the refreshing sea air.


A much-photographed sign. You can read more about it here, and also see other great photos of the area.

A little further on, around Red Rock, having negotiated a few very muddy patches, we came upon our little swimming spot. I say ‘our’ but of course it is used by thousands each year. Normally, we park up near the Martello Tower at the Sutton end and walk up through a wonderful pathway surrounded by lush bracken. During the summer, these are climatic microcosms: as you plunge into the deep shade, these cool, damp paths are a welcome relief from the scorching Summer sun, and all the while as you walk, you can feel warm draughts of air, thick with the almost overpowering aroma of coconut from exploding gorse pods. But that feels a long way away as we pause to take stock of our bearings and make sure we haven’t missed our turn inland for the Bog of Frogs, away from the coast and the rather biting wind.

Our swimming spot. Better if you time your visit with high tide.
A holdfast and part of a stipe from seaweed, thrown up on the rocky beach where we swim. Clearly this one was getting its P45 in the post…

If you continue on the coastal path, you will pass the Martello Tower and come out at the junction of the Strand Road and Shielmartin Road. For a potted history of these fascinating pieces of built Irish heritage, see the Wiki page. But if you wish to make your way along the side of Howth Head and back into the village, you need to pass through the golf course and the Bog of Frogs.

Looking west across Sutton, with Bull Island to the left.

It’s an excellent detour, not least as you get a great view of Bull Island and the tombolo at Sutton that joins Howth to the mainland. The walk here is particularly squelchy at this time of year, so come prepared.

You pass through a golf course which must represent some form of rather special victory for the common man. In an era where the likes of an arsehole like Donald Trump can buy anything he likes, destroy it, build a great big golf course, and then crow about the wonderful landscape he’s just mangled (not to mention the annexation of the Old Head of Kinsale) then allowing a right of way for ramblers right through the heart of a golf course in what is a fairly affluent part of Dublin is quite unusual.

Okay, so you may be asked to be quiet if there are golfers lining up a shot on one of the fairways. And I suppose it’s possible you could be struck and even killed by an errant drive. It would be a sad way to go! But mostly, it’s not an issue. Long may it last.

I could have done with Eric Dempsey at this point. In fact Eric would have been great company all the way around. As I mentioned in a previous post, I received a copy of his latest book – his biography – for my birthday a couple of months ago. It’s a great read, and it will resonate with Dubliners in particular, especially during Eric’s childhood years. If you’re a birder, you probably have it already, as Eric is the go-to man for birds and birding in Ireland. I worked with Eric briefly when I was involved with a wildlife magazine many moons ago, and I also had the pleasure of a guided tour from the great man himself. We took in Rogerstown Estuary and, as I recall, witnessed Buzzards and Peregrines having a bit of a hoedown. I also spotted a Water Rail which was something of a chance encounter, but I was rather pleased with myself, as all the birding experts were peering into their scopes from the hide, looking out onto the flats in search of rare waders and gulls, and this bird literally walked out under the hide and said hello. (Note to ornithologists: I may have taken liberties with the dialogue…)

On our ramble, there were dozens of waders grazing on the greens of the course. I know Eric would have identified them instantly. ‘Shanks? Godwits? Pipers? As I say, my bird knowledge is limited. And I had no binoculars with me, or guide books.

But if you want to find a Mediterranean Gull in a veritable sea of Black-headed Gulls, then Eric is your man. You won’t find a better guide in this country. Check out his site. And then buy the book!


The last decent part of the hike is the Bog of Frogs itself. It’s wonderfully submerged, not least with all the rain, and I can see how it has earned its name. There is a decent woodland of birch too, before the ground drops away and your journey rather peters out in the back-end of housing estate. Suddenly, you are jettisoned out of your rambling ways back into the busy mecca of Howth Harbour, opposite the Dart station and the Bloody Stream pub (which hints at Howth’s Viking past). But not before we were rewarded with a glorious splash of evening colour; the sun’s last rays were picking out Ireland’s Eye, giving it a coppery glow through the deep shade of the woodland. For all the world it looked like a shard of gold, dropped into the sea.

Our ramble was at an end but not before we replenished tired muscles and empty bellies with fish and chips from Burdocks.

I am still getting over a head cold. This may be keeping me away from the jogging and the pool, but there is no excuse for not having a plan prepared for the Hardman Long Distance Triathlon in August. Before I know it, January will be gone, and I will be a month closer to the event. Nothing for it but to knuckle down. I’m sort of in-between adapting a plan already out there somewhere, or coming up with something bespoke. Either way, any plan is better than no plan (unless that plan involves sticking needles in your eyes…). I shall break with tradition and take some of my own advice. I shall walk first, then run. Let’s not be hasty, Master Hobbit 😉

Watch this space. As soon as I have a plan, I will post it here. And no doubt change it just as quickly. All comments will be welcomed!


In memory of an old colleague, Lisa Mooney. A fierce lover of nature who passed away all too soon on 18th December last year.

3 thoughts on “Walk, don’t run

  1. Not sure I could legitimately describe myself as a birder (not by Eric’s standards, anyway!) but I am a keen naturalist and always enjoy learning something new about the wildlife world. ‘Scopes ahoy!


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