Autumn Glory

Outward Bound

Heading out onto the Irish Sea at Skerries Harbour

I snatched a piece of glory for myself on a long, slow, Sunday run by the coast. It was one of those very bright October mornings with the moon a finger-painted smudge in clear blue skies over the bobbing boats of Skerries harbour.

returning

Skerries Harbour

White sails dazzled in the clear, calm waters, as the members of Skerries Sailing Club busied themselves with their yachts.

And there were plenty of land lubbers about delighting in the crisp clear air or, like myself, taking pictures of the pretty scene…

Long shadow..

…and silly shadow selfies…

Oh, I could feel my old enemy, Procrastination, setting in. It was time to go.

The Skerries-Balbriggan route is very popular with runners and walkers. No doubt, it’s spectacular views have a lot to do with that. And of course, hugging the sea as it does, it is entirely flat. Always a plus for a plodder like me.

The downside though is that the footpath is very narrow, and its surface is dangerously rough. Three miles in, loose gravel got the better of me. I stumble. Almost saved myself. Then, horror of horrors, slam onto the ground.

It’s the classic little-kid fall, featuring two grazed knees, two skint hands and lost pride. I hobble to a nearby gateway to assess the damage and recover my composure. And, apart from a hole in my leggings (damn, my last good pair) I am good to go.

As it turned out, this wasn’t the worst of my pathway woes…

I had to step off it several times to let pedestrians by, always, of course, with an eye out for a car careening round a bend. And, worse still, there is a patch just outside Skerries where the path runs out entirely.  Possibly to encourage runners to up their tempo a tad.

It had that effect on me, anyway.

It would be really good to see this pathway widened and resurfaced. A lot of people enjoy it and, with a truckload of health problems festering in our overfed and depressed population, this investment would do the world of good for both Skerries, Balbriggan and their visitors.

But otherwise, the mild autumn temperatures and sea air made for perfect running conditions. And, even though I love to listen to talk radio during these long slow runs, I took frequent earphone breaks just to enjoy the sound of the sea and its accompanying birdlife.

Here and there I’d catch a glimpse of redshank, oystercatcher or snipe, while the gulls, announced their abundance with raucous cries.

Soon, I was heading into Balbriggan. A solitary red bricked chimney declared it’s industrial heritage. This was the ancient chimney of Smyths’ textile factory.

The town was built on tights, balbriggan being a term used to describe a fine knit textile which was once manufactured in that town and turned into hosiery and underwear.

Lighthouse

Balbriggan Harbour

 

Balbriggan hides its glories well.  One of the joys of running, of course, is that it tends to sniff out these charms, and so brighten even the most tedious of trots with sparkling gems.

The harbour glistened in the morning light. After the hideous railway perimeter and ugly jumble of buildings, it seems all the more surprising. And, a little further along there is a Martello tower, yes, another one to match the ones I’d seen in Dalkey,Sandymount, Donabate, Portrane, Loughshinney and in Skerries itself.

Winding back through the town, there is the interesting court house building, and a beautiful Carnegie library opposite.  But little else to delight the eye.

I was homeward bound at this point, however, looping back to Skerries and already looking forward to the return journey, trotting along between the railway line and the sea, and enjoying ever second of it.

I met more friendly runners on that route than any other I had encountered. I figured that was because they were as happy as I was, enjoying the scenery and the glorious autumn day.

Ten miles done. I barely felt them. Not, I hasten to add, because I am super fit, or even fit.

But, because some runs just are sheer joy.

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Tom and Terry’s Tower

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Tom and Terry's Tower Aug 2014

Welcome to the Tower House“, cooed the voice from the intercom.

Could it be..?” I thought  “probably not…must be the housekeeper…”

The electric gates inched open and Teengirl and I crunched along the gravelled driveway to Portrane’s Martello Tower.

As part of the British coastal defences against the bould Napoleon Bonaparte, Martello towers were copies of a similar tower built in Mortella, Corsica in the sixteenth century. Some amadán(though he was probably British) got the name a little muddled and so, Martello(Italian for `hammer`) stuck instead of Mortella (Italian for `myrtle`).

Napoleon obviously put the fear of God into the British. They swung into action building these massive towers all along the coast, and inland along major waterways of the British Empire. The fact that so many are still intact, is the ultimate tribute to the engineering and military ingenuity of that time. Though it is also a little amusing to think that, after all that effort, and considerable expense, Napoleon never landed here after all.

For defence purposes, Martello towers were built at the optimal junctures for spotting the oncoming enemy. This one stood out on its own promonotory to face Lambay Island, with the unsung glories of Portrane Bay  to the west of it, and a broad sweep towards Howth to the east.

Every tower has a set plan. And Terry Prone and her Tower caretaker, Bryan, were only dying to show us how that transferred into reality.

But first to Terry herself….

She is billed variously as a media spin doctor/PR guru/communications expert. If you were around in 1970s Ireland, you will remember her from her work with Bunny Carr’s Carr Communications. They specialised in teaching politicians how to present themselves in the best possible light. She was also known for marrying former priest Tom Savage-definitely a very brave thing to do back then. I can still hear my mother’s clucks of disapproval on that subject being left in no doubt that it was the bould Terry who led to the man’s ruin.

Since then, she’s been upfront and out there about her various adventures with plastic surgery, has penned several books in both fact and fiction, and writes a weekly column for The Cork Examiner.

The funny thing about writers is that they’re a reclusive lot. Yet, while they shun the world to pen their papers, they also take you right into their own heads. So you feel like you know them but that perhaps they’d really rather not know you at all. Which makes meeting them a tad unnerving.

Meeting Terry was even more unnerving. I knew from her most recent book “Coach” that her rampant wit could turn swiftly acerbic and that she didn’t suffer fools gladly. So where would that leave me?

Suddenly, I am standing in front of this famous face, gibbering like a schoolgirl on speed and disconcerted by the having my impressions of this woman entirely upended.

For a start, she’s much tinier than I’d expected, both thinner and shorter. A fragile little dove of a woman.  A shock of white, closely cropped hair frames a smooth complexion with wonderful cheekbones and wide set almond eyes.  After reading “Mirror, Mirror” it was difficult to avoid staring to see where nature and the surgeon’s knife had parted course, and impossible to put an age on her. That book winds its way through all of the cosmetic procedures Terry felt compelled to try and she even gives them a satisfaction rating.

Her eyes darted from one to another, taking everything in, seemingly interested in everything and everybody and having the same measure of respect for each person. And, of course, only dying to show us around her tower.

She laughed easily as she and Bryan recalled the torture of restoring the Tower in 2007.

“Bryan worked with the builders then and they left him behind. “

It was time to leave the gleaming kitchen then, and follow her up the couple of steps to the living room area.

I have a weakness for books. My dream home is lined with bookshelves from the second you enter the front door, and all along every room, to include a little shelf in the bathroom. Yes, I’ll have a Kindle along with that please, but I am not fashionable enough to ever want to off load my treasure trove of print on paper.

So, the tour could quite happily have stopped for me in her living room. While the kitchen had been a later addition to the tower, the living room is in the round, as part of the tower itself. And it is a shrine to books. Save for a small section of wall space just above the stepped entrance, the entire room is lined with bookshelves. Reams and reams of books, drawing the eye right up to the mezzanine area above, which, again, is lined with books.

It was difficult to resist the urge to pick up a paperback and curl up on the couch . But in the spirit of Napoleon’s foes, I soldiered on.

Terry was leading the charge, and was eager to tell us about the Tower’s original troops.  The officers had occupied this lower floor. Now partially timbered over,  a  large area-perhaps two meters square-is covered in glass revealing an enormous empty water tank.

Terry explained that it had supplied the water for the occupying troops.She pointed to the ceiling above, and the place from where a pipe had taken rainwater off the roof and channeled it into the well beneath the ground.

“The troops” she went on to explain, “were from Machester. Half-starved and chain-smoking, they didn’t grow to any great heights and could hop up and down the spiral staircase with ease.” 

This was Bryan’s cue to take over. Clearly, the spiral staircase was an object of great delight for him. It had been bricked up by a previous owner and Bryan himself, had had the great delight in chipping away at the masonry to reveal the original stairwell.

With that, he led the way along its narrow confines, and up to the mezzanine area. The thing about these towers is that they look massive from the outside. But most of that massiveness is taken up with the width of the walls, which are at least eight feet thick. So, the space within relatively tight. Breaking through those dense walls is necessary to create extra space and to allow light to flood the tower although, I imagine, this must also hack its way through any renovation budget.

In the case of this Tower, additions have been made at each compass point so that light floods in at all times of the day. And, of course, great views can be enjoyed from each angle. One window projects right towards Lambay Island, and splashed with sea spray from the waters below, one feels almost part of the sea itself, with the rest of the world left far behind.

And I expect, after a tough day dueling with politicians, that’s exactly the kind of escape Terry needs.

We followed Bryan up another set of steps to the roof itself. Now a decked area, it affords clear views over historic Lambay Island, and south over Ireland’s Eye and Howth, as well as the broad sweep of sea into Portrane beach and, to the west over St. Ita’s hospital. Bryan explained that the Tower’s cannon had been mounted on the roof and was capable of swinging around the 360 degrees should the enemy come from behind the tower itself.

This must be where Terry practises putting her head over the parapet. No stranger to controversy,  she often attracts well aimed volleys. And maybe that cannon with it’s 360 degree swing would be facing more landward, than seaward in her case.One must need the thickest of skins when swimming around in the political and media mire.

Nevertheless, she was still there to greet us warmly as we descended the stone staircase. This time she took us around the sunroom. Facing west, and of course, built along the outside wall of the tower, it’s warmth and brightness and the perfect counterpoint for the darkness of the library.

“That’s where I lost five thousand books” she said, glancing ruefully at the boathouse. They’d been stored there while the tower was being renovated.

Terry has taken bigger knocks in her time of course, and swiftly brightened up

“Tea or coffee?” she enquired.

May Need Renovation

And,so, after our grand tour, Teengirl and I were soon ensconced at the Prone-Savage breakfast bar, caught in the suspicious glare of her cat, while sipping our bevvies of choice. Terry did what she does best, and asked all the questions and, with an author’s ear, listening carefully to every response. Naturally, I interjected several times during our conversation to forbid from writing about me. Though it was not, I hasten to add, a reciprocal arrangement.

Delighted when I told her I always read her weekly Cork Examiner column, she handed me a crisp new paperback “May Need Renovation” by Pamela Rowan.  The book is about a woman’s quest to renovate a Martello Tower and yes, Pamela Rowan is Terry’s nom-de-plume.

We rambled around the gardens afterwards with Bryan, I remarked on the Tower’s machiolations. They’re projections over a front door from which missiles can be fired at unwelcome guests.  Every home should have at least one, of course, but Tom and Terry’s Tower has four.

Great coffee, great books, great history, a fine welcome and lots of ways to torture your enemy.  What more would you want in a home?

 

 

Tom and Terry’s Tower

Heritage Week Martello Tower Visit

Skerries Run with the Mad Mother

 

Ominous skies 2

Skerries Harbour with Ominous Clouds

Our Thursday evening run was greeted with ominous skies in Skerries. Our? Yes, Teen Girl came too. Since she’s started running with the athletic club a few months our own runs together have been a little less frequent, so I grab them any chance I get.

Of course, by some wretched synchronicity, the storm clouds assembled, just as we rocked up at Skerries harbour. Roy might tell you, it’s not training unless it’s raining, but, given the choice, I’d rather sit a good drenching out, thank you very much, and so I retreated to the comfort of my car.

But Teen Girl was having none of it.

Ever noticed how teenagers always want the opposite to whatever you want? It stems from the exact same hormone that disagrees with everything their parents say, is appalled with everything their parents wear and generally disgusted by our mere presence.

Aw, come on. You’re the one who wanted to run

Okay, okay, I just didn’t want you to get wet.

It upsets me, on occasion, to hear how easily a lie can trip off my tongue. But, as skills go, it has its uses. Just not on this particular occasion.

And so, off we set.

Skerries is the grandest spot for a run, with lots of scenic routes available.  We opted for a short, fast coastal trot. It took us winding along coast and through the holiday crowds, out past the playground and on towards Loughshinny.

With the tide well in and lighter skies ahead, the three islands, Colt, Shenick and St Patrick ( gosh, that fellow got about, didn’t he?) glowed emerald green in the silvery waters. And, all about us, holiday makers made the most of the dying moments of the day.

We rambled on. They take their running seriously in Skerries. We were overtaken by quite a few earnest young men, who, if their t-shirts were anything to go by, were in serious half marathon and marathon training mode.

Meanwhile, I am aiming to speed up. I took great heart on Tuesday when my Killer Interval sessions saw the Garmin dip below 5 to show that I can possibly run one kilometer in five minutes. If I can sustain that pace, of course.

And, on Thursday night, I very nearly did. It took me 5.05 minutes to run 1 km. Oh, you may scoff, but that’s just smokin’ hot in Red Hen territory. I didn’t order this body you know, so I’m pretty chuffed if I can defy its design and get these lil`ol`legs to fire up at that speed.

Maybe a 5km park run at 26 minutes may be more than a dream after all? Not saying it’s going to happen tomorrow. I’m far too short of the goal to reach it in such a short time.

But it’s getting closer.

Conditions for that speed were very favourable. With a good tail wind and a very flat promenade, I was sailing along. Parkrun is grass and hills and mud and…

Oh, and rain. Yeah, rain helps.

As I was coming down the home strait, that ominous cloud was ready to split the goods. And that threat of rain just made me go all the faster. Never mind that I was soaked in sweat. This was going to be a downpour and I was getting to dry land/the car before it arrived.

Teen Girl was waayy behind me. (Who wants to be seen with their mad mother anyway?) and got soaked in the ensuing monsoon downpour.

Must be maddening, all the same, to have a super speedy and dry mother who keeps taking pictures of the same old scene….

Skerries Harbour

Skerries Harbour Sun’s Out Again

 

Autumn Run

Horse Chestnuts

Horse Chestnuts

Ah! Autumn. As if Saturday’s sudden dip in temperatures and onslaught of rain were not signs enough of the changing seasons, I spied these chestnuts on my Sunday run.

Note the rainwater dripping off them. The rain showed no sign of abating all morning. I am convinced that there’s an intelligence in those clouds and of a rather malevolent sort: they knew I had a run to do.

Do I get extra points for running in the rain? Well, I decided for myself  that I can, at the very least, exchange a long slow run for a quick challenging one when persistent rain is at play.

And so, on Sunday, I took on Killer HillL two and half miles of steady ascent. Don’t they say the higher up one climbs above sea level the colder it gets? Despite my running efforts, it was pretty chilly and a whole lot wetter by the time I got to the top. My thoughts were with Unsportywoman and her Point to Pinnacle challenge way down there in Tasmania. Ouch!

Of course,my hill run was a toddle in the park compared to her that.

Though Sunday is a peak day for running, there wasn’t another runner in sight for the duration of my trot. A sure sign that I am nuts.

But there was water everywhere. Gurgling down gullies, dripping off leaves, lodging into roadside puddles all about me.

And, of course I was soaked through. Having experimented with various rain jackets in the past I have found none that satisfied my need to be waterproof and cool. So I opt for being wet and cool instead.

Luckily, I had my sun visor on. It’s nifty sun shielding peak doubles acts as a roof gutter, as it were, in the rain. So my upper view is framed with it’s sturdy rim drip, drip, dripping in a merry little stream but at least, keeping the blasted stuff off my face.

The other bit of good news is that when the rain hits, I get instant oomphh in my legs. I don’t want to hang out there any longer than necessary so everything is done at a consistent gallop. No stopping to take any pics for my faithful follower, no admiring the hills in the mist. Just get it done.

The horse chestnut tree? I took that photo at the very end of my run. Just at that point where I was wet enough to be screaming for home, but too damned warm to bear the stuffiness of the car for the trip home.

And, wouldn’t you know it, just as I am heading for home the sun cracked through the cloud banks. I rushed back out again to bask in the warmth of Ardgillen’s walled garden and delight in some autumnal joys.

And maybe pass that on here to my faithful follower’s heart.