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.

Cliff Walk Reconnaissance

Some places just bite you and you`ve got to go back.

Cove

I had spied the cliff walk from Tower Beach carpark on my forays around Portrane and Donabate and was keen to explore a possible new running route. But, as rain was plummeting down, I baulked, fearing a toss from a slippery cliff path into a foaming Irish Sea.

Yesterday evening was sunny and almost warm, thankfully, so I grabbed my camera and took my chance. Yes, I am still in light exercise mode but this outing could at least serve as reconnaissance of a new running route.

Pink Fringed Cliff path

Lambay Island

 

Lambay Island rears up on the horizon. The Vikings arrived and overwhelmed the island, and its monastic settlement in 795 AD.  I could almost imagine them clamouring up the cliffs at Portrane, wielded whatever weapons they had, helmets glinting in the sunlight.

I am quite sure they didn’t care much for the seapinks, fringing the entire route with their prettiness.

 

Sea Cabbage - Copy

This is a very safe walk/run the gravelled pathway being wide and well in from the cliff face. I encountered four runners in all: three women having a grand chat as the clipped along the trail, and a solo runner.

 

Cliff

Indeed, as it was such a glorious evening, I was surprised I hadn’t met more people delighting in this little piece of heaven. Howth is always overrun with folk, but Portrane is a gentler, even prettier alternative, and, it seems, one of the many little treasures the locals would rather keep for themselves.

Cliff Walk

 

This would be a wonderful trail for botanists too.

Soldiers raised their heads skyward.

Soldiers

…wild Irish roses flourished…

My Wild Irish Rose

…and bird’s  foot trefoil did their bird’s foot thing, creeping along the stone wall or peeking up among the seacabbage on the grassy cliffedge.

 

Trefoil

 

The stone wall itself, marked the boundary to the original Evans’ demesne, latterly Portrane psychiatric hospital. The hospital was built in 1896 at a time when these places were called lunatic asylums.

Portrane Hospital

 

The towers on the grounds of the psychiatric hospital which I had noted too in last week’s venture to this area.

Towers

 

Certainly the location would be balm for the tortured soul. I hope this cliff walk formed part of the therapeutic process there.

How many beaches does Portrane and Donabate lay claim to? This walk was dotted with coves for swimming and rocky outcrops for fishing. And the views encompassed Howth Head and further south, to the Sugarloaf Mountain in Wicklow.

Rocks Sugarloaf - Copy

Sugarloaf Mountain barely visible in mid-horizon

More flowers, and yet another beach. The cliff path is full of glories.

another beach2

Walking of course, is a poor relation to running. But is there anything worse than standing? For hours and hours? Each to their own, but I wouldn’t have the patience to hack fishing. Still, this man seemed to be enjoying himself.  I don’t know if the fishing is good here but the location is certainly heavenly.

Fisherman

And the walk ended on, yet another beach at yet another Martello Tower. Yes, this is Balcarrick Tower which I’d encoutered before.

Balcarrick

This route has many possibilities then for a runner, or, indeed, a walker. At 2.5km, a return trek from Tower Bay Beach would be a very pleasant three miles/five kilometres. But there are lots of other alternatives worth exploring which would encompass the cliff path on a longer circuit running on from back into Donabate and back into Portrane to Tower Bay Beach.

Perfect for a long, slow leisurely trot with lots to take in along the way. Of course, I can’t be sure, unless I try it.

And that’s just all the excuse I need to go back.

 

 

 

A Sunday Run

 

 

 

Last Sunday, I headed off to explore a less celebrated part of County Dublin-Portrane and Donabate. Little did I know that it would be my last run for at least ten days. Go thataway if you want to read why.

Portrane and Donabate have merged into one another over the years. Coastal villages in North County Dublin, it is impossible for the visitor to tell where one village meets the other. Not that I was there to find out. The mission was to jog amid unfamiliar surroundings and delight in some new discoveries.

I headed first for the windswept Tower Bay. Its glorious views  include Lambay Island and Howth head in a broad sweep of sea and sky. The car park itself marks the start of a  two and half kilometre cliff walk. A drizzly Sunday evening, however, was turning into a decidedly wet one.  Reckoning that a cliff edge run on unfamiliar territory might not be the wisest course of action, I turned, instead, to explore the immediate vicinity.

Tower Bay

With three towers in full view, Tower Bay is aptly named.

Martello Tower Portrane

Martello Tower Portrane

A Martello tower stands solidly along the shore.  There are twenty six similar towers dotted around the east coast from Drogheda to Bray, with most of them concentrated around Dublin. Built in the late 18th, and early 19th century for defence purposes, at eight feet in width, their walls were made to withstand cannon fire.

Now converted into a private residence, this tower is more intent on relishing glorious views, than defending the republic from imminent attack. Portrane’s coast views are altogether less celebrated than neighbouring Skerries, or Howth but that has been to its advantage.

There is still a wildness about the place, a sense of isolation that is absent from its very popular neighbours. Yet, the throb of the city is just a cannon ball’s throw away from this tower, while it faces out onto  stunning views of craggy headlands nd islands and a broad sweep of sea.

But behind the Tower Bay car park, the skyline is marred by the strange juxtaposition of two very different towers.

Two Towers

Two Towers

The one to the left, appears to be a round tower of ancient monastic origin. It’s hideous companion is a concrete water tower. Both stand in the grounds of Portrane Psychiatric Hospital which was once the home of the Evans family.

Something appears amiss on the round tower. The windows are too large and too many. Ancient monasteries were more preoccupied with defending themselves from Viking warlords, than feasting on views of Lambay Island. A quick google determined that the tower was built in 1844 by Sophie Evans in memory of her husband, George.

So it served even less of a purpose than its water tower neighbour. Nevertheless, it’s a pity that they are built so close together as their juxtaposition strikes a discordant note on the skyline.

As I jogged on through Portrane and Donabate I came across other curiosities and delights.

St. Catherine’s Church

St Catherines

St. Catherine’s Church is just up the road from Tower Bay. A ruin now, it is rather strange to see so much modern housing creeping up around it. Nevertheless, there is a sense of peacefulness about the place and it anchors the Portrane area in history with all the family names carved on tombstones over the generations

I stop for a quick peek around the place. The graveyard itself must be a goldmine for local historians and, had the rain not been bucketing down at that point, I’d have lingered longer.

 

Blue Flowers St Catherine`s Church

Blue Flowers St Catherine`s Church

I was fascinated too by the wild flowers that sprouted so abundantly and magnificently about the ruin. They remind me of a campanula-type flower I had in my garden many years ago, but whereas my garden’s version was more star like, these sported bigger, bluish purplish bells. Whatever they are, they add immensely to the visual appeal of the whole place.

Smyth’s Pub

Again, within Donabate itself. there  old and new thrown together with little apparent thought for the overall effect. Smyth’s Pub stands out for its distinctive 19th century simplicity, timber casement windows and plain wooden doors.

St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church

St Patricks Catholic church Donabate

St Patrick’s Catholic Church (Picture from http://www.buildingsofireland.com)

And so does St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic church. It quite unusual as it is made entirely of red brick and has a magnificent rose window set in stone above the church entrance.

Running past both the pub and the church, I felt rather guilty as they were worth more careful consideration. I’d especially like to see the effect of that rose window in the church interior. But I am glad of so many excuses for a return visit.

By the time I had finished my run, the rain had settled in for the evening. Descending in long, unrelenting drops, it almost put paid to any more photo opportunities. But I was intent, before my departure, on capturing the other Martello tower in the area.

Balcarrick Martello Tower

Martello Balcarrick

This one, now in a state of disrepair, stands on Donabate’s Balcarrick beach. The interior is not accessible as the entrance is blocked up. But it’s still a thrill to be able to walk right up to those old stones and get a sense of what it might have taken to build such a structure

In my quick trot around Donabate and Portrane had come to an end and I knew I had merely skimmed on what this place had to offer. This area has the poker face of a seasoned card player, and keeps its very best cards close to its chest.

But I will be back, I hope, to uncover more of its secrets, and to enjoy the wildness, the history, and scenery of this unsung Dublin gem.