May has been a little odd as regards training. A lot of ‘stuff’ has been happening, between the cottage renovations, my own garden, work, and family matters. This weekend just gone, I had planned to have a break with Saoirse to celebrate her birthday. But once again, life intervened. Not in any dramatic fashion; just family members over from abroad, precipitating a need to be around rather than off in some hotel down the country (one preferably with a pool, sauna and steam room, and maybe beside the sea, and definitely with a great restaurant…ah, stop!).
Anyway, no point worrying about it now; we had a nice birthday, and S snagged tickets to a show in Dublin, so she took her best mate along and had a great night out, and then we had the customary pressies in bed the next morning, with breakfast too, for good measure.
I was also able to do my swim on Saturday evening, at 6pm. The weather had started out a little fresh and cool, but as the day wore on, it warmed up enough to make the thought of swimming a mile in my local canal a little less unbearable. A local paddler friend of a friend had offered to come up with his kayak and ride shotgun, and a small knot of friends, fire crew and supporters rocked up to see me launch myself into the cloudy waters of the Royal Canal. It all went, eh, swimmingly. Even though I have done, in technical terms, bugger-all swimming over the last couple of years, I acquitted myself reasonably well, and finished in 38 minutes. Google Maps measures the distance at about 1.85km, so it’s over a mile, in truth, but nobody was counting, and nobody particularly cares. It was about getting in and doing it, and raising awareness and much-needed funds for a great organisation. And indeed, it was great to have a couple of representatives from the North Kildare Branch of the RNLI there on the day. To be honest, I didn’t know there was such a thing as the North Kildare Branch. Now I do. We also had a press photographer there, so there should be some nice photos as well.
What’s that, you say? A link to donate to such a great cause as the Lifeboat Institution? Well, if you insist, I suppose I could do that:
And we are very close to our target total, so if someone felt the urge, well, by all means, please do.
As I had booked a few days off work for this weekend, I had Monday to myself, mostly, and so I rose earlyish and gathered my running gear, donned my hydration vest, and slipped out the door. I had originally planned to head west along the canal as far as Ferrans Lock and turn for home, which would give me a half-marathon. Monday is normally a rest day, but as I had done no running over the weekend, I figured I could break my own rule.
I tipped on up the Black Avenue, which is the way most of my runs begin. Mostly, I’m only doing 10k or less, so I remain within the park boundaries. If I am heading further afield, the first 2k are in the park before I hit the Lucan exit onto the Clonee Road, and that’s usually enough time to decide which way to go. Once I hit the bridge at Coldblow, I had made up my mind to head east again, despite having travelled this route recently. The morning was warming up, and I had a decent sweat on by the time I entered the shady section of the Deep Sinking.
Castleknock and the 12th Lock approached, and I knew that soon I would be passing over the M50 Aqueduct. Then I assumed I would stop at the 11th Lock shortly after and turn for home. But as I reached that lock, I felt in good shape and kept on plodding. The towpath here is all tarmac, and in good condition, and while I prefer grass underfoot, this was a good surface to run on in the Hoka runners which give great support and bounce, and soon I was up to the 10th Lock at Ashtown. There is a pretty straight and featureless stretch to the 9th at Pelletstown, beside the train station, and here I stopped to take stock of my situation. I had a quick look at Google Maps, and noted with a smile that I was only a few hundred yards, as the crow flies, from a house we used to live in nearly thirty years ago. We shared this drab semi-detached home with another couple; Rob and Debbie were good friends of ours, and Rob went on to be our best man. I returned the favour not long after. And just to go a little ‘off-piste’, our first-born, Dallan, was conceived in the upstairs back bedroom of number 81, Ashington Rise. Good times. (That’s it. I quit. Ed.)
I ran back to the 10th Lock at Ashtown and turned left off the canal. A short stretch of busy Dublin roads led me to the Phoenix Park. This place is so epic, it has its own website. It’s one of the largest enclosed public parks anywhere in Europe. It was originally a hunting park in the 1600s, and there are deer there to this day. A wide expanse of open grassland, trees, ponds and playing fields, it is also home to Dublin Zoo, the home of our President (Áras an Uachtaráin), and the residence of the US ambassador, not to mention the Ordnance Survey, Farmleigh House, and various monuments. The Dublin City Marathon has always found a way to venture in and out of the Park over the years, and it’s one of the nicest parts of the race route without doubt. Plus, there are a myriad trees for quick pit stops…
I passed through and out the Knockmaroon Gate (which would be about half a kilometre away from my old mate Rob’s family home). There was nothing for it now but to run the gauntlet of Strawberry Beds. These days, it is a relatively benign road. In times past, it was something of a rat run from Lucan into the city centre. But they have put a stop to that particular gallop with countless ramps. Still, much of it has no footpath, and thick hedges line the road on both sides, so you need to keep your wits about you as there are no escape routes if you should find yourself in a pickle.
The Strawberry Beds is the more commonly-known name for a road that runs along the north bank of the Liffey within the valley, from Palmerstown to Lucan. More officially, it’s called the Lower Road. It’s about 6kms long, and has, remarkably, maintained a lot of its charm over the decades.
Here I shall quote local historian, John Colgan: A French diplomat, Charles Coquebert, in May, 1791, took the low road through the Beds on route to Galway. Of the Beds he wrote of the declivity facing south, possibly suitable for vines, is covered with strawberry plants, peas, cabbages, etc. A wooden bridge leads to Hermitage. This deep valley sheltered by fine woods is used by the inhabitants of Dublin for pleasure trips and though very different in character from the seacoast it is no less beautiful than the more popular resorts at Clontarf, Howth, Blackrock and Dalkey.
(from this link)
And fans of Irish traditional music will of course be familiar with The Dubliners, and their version of the Pete St. John song, The Ferryman. Here’s the link. The Strawberry Beds feature in each chorus. And of course, now my architectural heritage brain is starting to twitch with questions about boat trade on the Liffey and just how far upstream boat traffic was able to travel. Because it’s tidal up to Islandbridge, which is not that far upstream, and there were never any locks on the Liffey to allow boats pass the numerous rapids. I suspect, in truth, the river has always been too shallow and fast-flowing to be of any use for trade. The real boat and ferry ‘history’ is forever entwined with the Guinness Brewery at James’s Gate, and the export of the iconic stout around the world.
Towards the end of this road, you will come across the hulking buildings that form Shackleton’s Mills. Keen historians will know of Ernest Shackleton and his exploits in the Antarctic, and the family is still in business today, albeit in a different site that is certainly not powered by the waters of the Liffey. But the old mill has been acquired by the state, and perhaps when we find a million quid down the back of a sofa, we can restore it to its former glory. When I was part of a start-up publishing business, our first offices were in The Mill on Victoria Bridge near Naas, which had a working wheel and power generation capacity. Beautiful spot. Another story for another day.
The final leg of my journey was on more familiar territory, as regards running, in any case. Past the weir at Lucan (where the mill race begins for Shackleton’s) and I bid a farewell to the river as the road turns abruptly right at Bleach Green and climbs out of the valley. I’m now only a few strides away from the entrance to St. Catherine’s Park, albeit I am approaching it from the south, which is unusual for me.
A glance at the watch tells me I may need to add a small detour if I want those nice round numbers at the end of the morning’s work. So I potter around the playing fields near the dog park before wending my way home for a total of 28km. It really shouldn’t come as any surprise at this stage as to how ‘far’ one can run into unknown territory. I’m sure it’s simple psychological memory tricks. I could have easily turned left and ran my usual route towards Kilcock, and clocked up the same distance, but it wouldn’t have felt like such a journey. I guess it’s good to tread new ground every now and again.
And so, we finish with dogs. Here is proof positive that greyhounds know they are on to a good thing.
But here are some other images to show the noble beast in its more normal habitat.
And finally, if you are ever looking to murder your husband, you could do worse than slip some of this into his tea. It’s Wolf’s Bane, or Monkshood, or Aconite: it goes by many names. And it’s poisonous. And I found it growing in the local park a few years ago, and it pops up each year in the same place. In truth, I don’t think it’s that poisonous really, but it certainly has a rather sinister look.
Okay, apologies: one more. This is for Jim across the pond: