The Grand Tour


A snow flurry swirls around our Alpha 1 in the fire station yard.

It doesn’t really snow much here in Ireland. We were at a little bump the other day (what is technically called an RTC, or road traffic collision) and a local Moldovan gent was looking at the tiny skim of slushy ice that may have contributed to the skid. He was not impressed. Apparently in his home town, the snow is 25 feet high. Or something similar. I could sense his disapproval at not just the tiny sprinkling of snow that was already melting from most surfaces, but also the slightly irrational (read ‘hysterical) attitude of the typical Irish motorist to a weather phenomenon that really wasn’t in any way, em, phenomenal.

Anyway, enough about the weather. Last week, I did manage another couple of runs; a sort of 6 and a bit, and then a 10k, which had a decent pace about it too. So to keep the momentum going, I rose early on Sunday and got kitted out for a decent one. I had booked a few hours off, so my legs must have wondered where we were headed when I closed the gate behind me and turned left instead of the customary right and up into the park.

Up through the Main Street of Leixlip, and we were far from Kris Kristofferson’s Sunday Morning Coming Down. For a start, I was sober, nor had I smoked my brains out the night before. There were no kids kicking cans, no smell of frying chicken, and definitely no Dad’s swinging daughters around. But that was okay; we were setting out on a long run, and I won’t get many more of these in before Donadea next month. Perhaps three, if all goes well. The town was mostly still sleeping. Just one or two customers at the newsagents getting in the morning papers and a carton of milk.

Out westward, and the morning was gloomy and cool. I swung right at Barnhall and headed up towards the gate lodge (as designed by Batty Langley) into Castletown House. I always have a little glance to the left at this point in the demesne as we were called here to a drowning in the hot Summer of 2013. I continued on and did a circumnavigation of the grounds and went out by the drive onto the M4 interchange and left into Kilmacredock. Somewhere along here I spied a Bullfinch, which have the most glorious colours.

The first of two grand houses on my running tour of North Kildare. This is Castletown House and is the largest and possibly finest of the Palladian-style houses built in Ireland during the 18th century. There is a parkrun here now. Not sure what Speaker William Conolly would have made of that…

From here I took myself across the rail tracks and left along the towpath. Shortly after, I came across a Heron fishing patiently by the bank, and it was unperturbed by my passing. Which is a good thing. As an angler in a previous life, few things were more irksome than a noisy passer-by when you were doing your best to remain motionless and undetected by the water’s edge. To make things worse, they would mistake your silence for boredom and try and engage in conversation which would be the equivalent of a taxi man’s fare asking if you were ‘busy tonight’; so, if I heard “caught anything?” once, I heard it a million times.

But then I spied not one but a pair of Kingfishers shortly after, and my day was complete. I had a long way to go, but the blue and crimson vision of these artful dodgers makes getting out of bed worthwhile. On then to Pike’s Bridge, and across the road and the second of our grand houses on our tour.

This is Carton House, an ancestral seat of the Earls of Kildare. The famous architect Richard Cassels was commissioned to design and build it in the mid-1700s. The house may not be quite as large as Castletown, but it probably boasts the finer grounds. Castletown has the Liffey; Carton has the Rye, and these two meet a few miles further along their journeys at Leixlip.

A gnarly and deeply-fissured tree along the canal.

A quick and dirty loop around the grounds, and back out to retrace my steps along the Royal Canal. I was now on the homeward leg, and as I passed a few familiar landmarks, I noted with sadness the locations of three suicides we have attended along just one short stretch. Had I continued past Louisa Bridge I would have added a couple more. It is one of the poignant reminders of working in the retained brigade; you never leave your immediate surroundings, so you cannot escape your work in any sense.

Under Matt Goff Bridge, and there is some spectacular graffiti tagging in place. I stopped to take a few pics on my phone, then headed for home. My plan had been to get in at least a half-marathon distance and keep the pace at just below the magic 6 minutes per kilometre. 23k in 5.55 pace. Spot on. Now all I have to do is turn around and do it all again, straightaway… and therein lies the rub.

But as a way of getting back on track in several senses, it’s not bad. The viral infection has largely passed though I can tell I am not quite back to full health. The 50k race is looming, and I would prefer more miles under my belt. But time has run out, so we will have to make do with what’s in the tank.

In other news, DIY is about the only item that comes close to a resolution for the new year. The bathroom has been tackled and now looks well. The only downside with painting one room in your house is that it tends to show up the other rooms, which are looking a little careworn. It’s a viral infection of a different kind, but I can tell it’s got its hooks into me, and I am now eyeing up the hallway for a total change of decor.

And finally, another image from the Rorschach Files. This is what happens when you wear inappropriate gear out running, as I did last week, but it can create some interesting visuals…


And of course, one mustn’t neglect Holly the Neurotic Cocker Spaniel, who is still smarting from her much needed but unwanted haircut last week. Enjoy your training, wherever ye may be.


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