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.

Tom and Terry’s Tower

Status

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

A Week of Summer

We’ve had fantastic weather here in Ireland for the past week. Maybe it was just as good the previous week but I was in Gran Canaria and missed it. But, having experienced all the disappointment of a resort holiday, I was even more thrilled, on Thursday, to be in Costa Portrane, North County Dublin..

It seemed sensible to head off there for a cooling cliff walk and sea swim and save the running for later, when the heat had died down.

Temperatures here are in the high twenties all week(around the high eighties Fahrenheit) and, even though lots of folk around the world regard that as pretty cool, in temperature speak anyway,the nation’s pale white flab is sizzling here. And we can’t wait to get it out there on show.

There were plenty of sizzlers on the beach on Thursday. Families gathered on the grass and further out right around the two mile sandy beach that is Portrane’s fantastic Brook beach. Knots of teenage girls arranged themselves on towels about the place,  while an elderly lady waded through pools with her fishing net and children cavorted and screamed among the waves.

Further up the road, at Tower Beach,  were clusters of teenagers, an occasional family grouping,  and an elderly couple who sat in silence on the rocks overlooking the bay.

And the bay itself,was a wonderful sight. That stark contrast of green and blue rendered everything else more beautiful. John Hinde, that master postcard image maker from the 1970s would have had a field day here. His was the postcard which featured a red haired boy and girl taking home the turf with a donkey and cart, all to the backdrop of Connemara mountains.

Perhaps a Portrane Hinde would have needed a vintage car and a red haired lass to complete the scene, alongside the Martello tower, or just with the backdrop of Lambay Island.

The cliff walk is a gentle short amble from Tower Beach to Balcarrick Beach. On my ramble I met a few couples, a family grouping or two. And a man dressed in denim shorts, nylon tights and a top with conspicuous bra straps on show. Each to their own, eh?

But there were no runners. For all the enthusiasm we Irish have for turning forty shades of pink, running adds another dimension to the heat aspect and one to be avoided in our highest temperatures, unless one is training for the Marathon de Sables.

Still, despite the heat, I did alright this week. I am pushing the speed thing lately. Realising that my jogs are just that-jogs-I have resorted to actual running and am pushing Garmin to show me times in the 5-6 kmpm range:dammit, I have to move.

That worked out well on Tuesday. I did some serious 1 km intervals. pushing to my best times, along with 1km jogging breaks. Thursday saw similar, but with mile long intervals as I was running on a familiar mile long route.

Growing up with Imperial measures and adjusting in the late 70s to all that metric stuff, I guess I am in neither one place or the other.

But I know the feeling of what is working: I have to feel uncomfortable when I train. That is pretty much key to my making any progress.

Yesterday was a beach side two mile run with Teen Girl. And today I settled back into mostly jogging again with a seven mile run.

And so we are back to  the start of a whole new week.

The plan this week?

More interval training Tuesday, run five miles Wednesday, intervals Thursday. And, with a lot of luck, hopefully chasing down a PB at the park run on Saturday.

Other than that? Well, lots more of this fantastic country and with this wonderful weather to boot, I am heading on a mystery ramble mid-week. No, I haven’t the faintest clue where I’ll end up.

But it’s great to get out there and I think that’s probably very true for wherever you’re living. Nature throws up lots of surprises for our entertainment, just as the man made environment can too. And summer improves it all.

Gotta get out there and enjoy.

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.