And some time make the time to drive out west
Into County Clare, along the Flaggy Shore,
In September or October, when the wind
And the light are working off each other
So that the ocean on one side is wild
With foam and glitter, and inland among stones
The surface of a slate-grey lake is lit
By the earthed lightning of a flock of swans,
Their feathers roughed and ruffling, white on white,
Their fully grown headstrong-looking heads
Tucked or cresting or busy underwater.
Useless to think you’ll park and capture it
More thoroughly. You are neither here nor there,
A hurry through which known and strange things pass
As big soft buffetings come at the car sideways
And catch the heart off guard and blow it open.
It’s a holiday week. A week away from the station and the office. A chance to unclip the beeper from the belt and turn it off. Such a rarity. Such a luxury. It takes a few days to realise you are not on call. You find yourself reaching to your side and getting a moment’s panic when you find the alerter is not there.
On Monday, we packed up the car with lots of stuff and headed west. That’s why I like having an estate: open the back door and fire everything in. It’s a decent enough spin to Clare, and we took our time. There’s always a moment of magic (for me, anyway) when I come upon Dunguaire Castle at Kinvarra and spy the Atlantic for the first time. A few miles further on is the Flaggy Shore. If you are a Heaney fan, you probably know his poem, Postscript. It’s one of my favourites. The inspiration for it can be found near a place called Finvarra. We pulled in by the Russell Gallery and had some tea and cake with the lovely owner. We then had a wander down to the shoreline, and a little further on, we came across the spot where Heaney must have had his moment of inspiration. And the swans are still there. We did of course park and ‘capture it’ on our phones and cameras, but of course, Heaney is right; useless to think you will capture it more thoroughly.
We found our way to Carron and Clare’s Rock Hostel. It’s a fine spot, and very much in the heart of the Burren. By the time we had unpacked and had some dinner, there was just time for a short 5k walk around one of the regions more interesting geological features, Carron Turlough. After such a busy day, the walk was a welcome relief but it also felt longer than 5 kilometres; next morning, before Saoirse and daughter Tamsyn awoke, I slipped out of the hostel and jogged around the same loop again with a short detour down to see the Burren Perfumery. Looking back at the GPS from the watch I can see the loop alone is exactly 5k; stoppages every five minutes to take pictures of flowers and various shrubs and ferns eking out a living in the grikes of the limestone pavement certainly made this short walk into something longer (and more enjoyable).
Later that day we drove over the hills above Carron towards Mullaghmore and our favourite Burren walk – the Lough Avalla Loop. On the way is one of the best views of the Burren, and you will stop here, regardless of Heaney’s Law. Mind you, I would challenge even the most cynical of folk to drive past Father Ted’s house without stopping. I knew it was around here somewhere but suddenly it appears in all its parochial glory, and the theme music from Divine Comedy starts playing in your head. Needless to say, it is a private house, and the interiors weren’t used in shooting. But the external view is iconic (albeit in the sense that the TV series has become something of a cult phenomenon and therefore the opening sequence is so familiar to so many that the initial appearance of the edifice as you round the corner is one of those moments in modern life when you realise that art and life are one big crazy limestone pavement, and you’ve just fallen right down a swallow hole. It’s the Burren. All this limestone has gone to my head…)
We had a dip in the sea on Fanore Beach, or to be more precise, we were assaulted by the rolling waves. It’s only when you have been immersed in the Atlantic that you are truly away on holidays. We only had three days in the Burren, but we made the most of it. We decided to play the tourist and ‘did’ the Ailwee Caves and the Birds of Prey Centre. We ate out during the day, visited the sites, took lots of photos, and rounded off the short trip with a delicious swim at Gleninagh Pier on the north coast. Being a lake swimmer, I still get a bit flustered when I happen upon a large jellyfish, but given the number of things in the sea (both inert and otherwise) that can bother you, these sedate Smugairle Róin are really not too much of a bother if you give them their space.
We returned home somewhat tanned and tired but happy, on Thursday. Even though we had had quite an energetic break, with some decent walks and swims, I felt I needed to get out in the evening, so I slipped on the runners and headed for the park and did over 10k in a decent pace of 5:28 min/km. With the holiday week drawing to a close, I headed out on the bike on Friday, and managed over 90k on a spin that took me out through Dunboyne, Dunshaughlin, a stop at a busy Tara for a sandwich, and then on through Dunsany and Trim and back via Summerhill and Kilcock. I did a 5k run straight off the bike, in the park.
On Saturday, S and I did a parkrun in Griffeen, in Lucan. It’s a rare thing that we are both off on a Saturday, so we made the most of it. I wasn’t expecting too much; we had enjoyed our holiday break, and I had indulged a few times in the pleasures of the fermented grain. Plus I had that decent spin under my belt which I had celebrated with yet more bottles of beer that night. And to top it all, I forgot to bring my watch. I am not that stressed about times generally on a parkrun but of course, any parkrunner will admit they wait with anticipation for that email or text to pop up with their ‘official’ time. My plan had been to do each kilometre in a set time, and to do this, I needed my watch. Which was sitting back home in a box on a shelf in the office. No matter. I got chatting to a regular there who I know runs around the same pace as me (but has a better PB) and asked if he minded if I tagged along. As it happened, he pushed on ahead early and I decided not to try and catch him, but then on the second lap, he must have started to flag a little, and I caught up with him and pushed on myself. Only later that day did I get confirmation of a new PB of 21:22, so perhaps some of this training is paying off after all.
We then headed out to Lough Owel near Mullingar, and it was rather choppy when we arrived. S decided not to get in, but I did a few ‘lengths’ just to get the sense of swimming in the chop. If it’s like this next month in Lough Leane, it will be a long haul to complete the 3.85k.
On our last day, we climbed the Great Sugar Loaf in Wicklow. We took the circuitous route; in our case, starting at the GAA pitch near Kilmacanogue and climbing gently in a clockwise fashion before detouring up the peak, and continuing around to circumnavigate the peak. It’s 501 metres, so no oxygen tanks are required 😉
My favourite sections from the brief entry on Wiki go as follows:
Though only 501 metres (1,644 ft) high, the Great Sugar Loaf’s isolation from other hills, steep slopes and volcanic appearance makes it appear much taller than it is. Due to its height relative to the surrounding landscape, the hill qualifies as a Marilyn.
The Great Sugar Loaf is composed of Cambrian quartzite, in contrast to the rounded mountains to the west, which are made of Devonian granite. Popularly mistaken for a volcano, it is in fact an erosion-resistant metamorphosed sedimentary deposit from the deep sea.
The holiday finished up in fine fettle with some homemade pizzas washed down with a couple of cold ones. Overall, a fine break, and without trying too hard, some reasonable training happened along the way. Back to the grindstone again. Bless that old grindstone. It seems to be ever in demand, always working, and never complaining…