Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

Now, why didn’t I bring my head torch?

21st February 2011

The arctic conditions that came our way before the Christmas were the cause of my having a one-way ferry ticket from Holyhead to Dublin as a backup plan should a closure of Dublin Airport due to snow put paid to my crossing the Irish Sea by air. In the end, I did manage that air journey though I was to spend a frustrating few hours on the tarmac at Shannon before returning to Dublin and coming south again! Once on that side of the Irish Sea, I decided to rearrange my crossing for another time to decide whether to use it or cancel it. It did get used in the end and I ended up paying a visit to Howth and walking right around its peninsula too.

My journey did gain me a stop at Llandudno Junction that allowed me another look at Conwy’s castle as well as glimpses around Holyhead’s port in the sunshine and nearby Holyhead Mountain (a hill, really, but a lot of this type of naming goes on in Ireland too so I cannot complain). As I was travelling west from home, skies grew ever more hazy until it was a cloudy Dublin that I found myself approaching on the ferry. Though that led me to give up being very hopeful of seeing any part of Ireland blessed by the sun, there was to be an interlude that replaced pessimism with satisfaction.

Harbour Wall, Howth, Co. Dublin, Éire

Ireland's Eye from Howth, Co. Dublin, Éire

Ireland's Eye & Lambay Island from Howth, Co. Dublin, Éire

It was as I was approaching Howth station on a DART train that I was presented with a full-on view of a well pleasingly lit Ireland’s Eye that made me get off the train without delay though without knocking anyone over either. The sense that this might have been a fleeting opportunity had me setting off earnestly searching out a suitable vantage point for making something of the photographic opportunity presented to me. In hindsight, lessening the haste might have been better but I got my photos before it was too light. In fact, the lighting was fading as I retraced my steps along one of Howth’s harbour walls with a good deal of satisfaction for my pains. Not only had I glimpsed Ireland’s Eye but also a partially lit Lambay Island too. All had come good.

If I had missed out, I would have been kicking myself as I rounded the Howth peninsula; the cloud took over to keep the sun prisoner for much of the rest of the day. There were National Loop Walks to explore and I set off to follow one after a fashion. First, it was a matter of following a road by Balscadden Bay towards the Nose of Howth. Beyond a car park, I left the tarmac after me to follow a well-made clifftop path that had its unnerving moments.

If solitude is what you seek, Howth’s harbour is not the place to go of a sunny Saturday as many other folk were enjoying their stroll about its walls. The cliff path may have attracted less attention but it wasn’t unused either. Still, it was far from being overrun either and trespass grew less regular the further along it, I went. In fact, there was a marked quietening after passing The Summit where there was a car park. The fact that it was getting late in the day probably made people less likely to start a walk too.

Views of the promontory that is the Great Bailey were opening out before with the Bailey Lighthouse issuing its warning to passing ships. Evening Irish Sea ferries going to and from Dublin started to come into sight. It was looking busy with ships operating by DFDS, P&O, Stena and Irish Ferries all passing the way. In the middle of all this, I needed to lose some height to cross over the road leading to the aforementioned lighthouse, a decision whose wisdom I was later to question in fading daylight.

Ireland's Eye & Lambay Island from Howth, Co. Dublin, Éire

Views across Dublin Bay towards the Dublin and Wicklow mountains were ample too and I could identify a slender break in the cloud that was liberating some weak sunlight a little later. While the sun was finding its way to that slit, I was picking out the distinctive low-sized humps of Great Sugarloaf and Little Sugarloaf. This was a reminder of a trot to the top of the former that I enjoyed a few years back. What drew my attention back to the present was the reddening of the Great Bailey by the last act of the sun on the Howth peninsula for the day. After that, I still could see it being busy showering shafts of light on the less distinct hills on the other side of the bay as I pondered how far I needed to go before I could depend on street lights taking over the duties of the sun.

Dog walkers and photographers seeking the last light of the day remained abroad to be encountered. Isn’t it amazing how many folk walk their dogs in the dusk? And it isn’t just a British thing either from what I saw across the Irish Sea. With Doldrum Bay and Drumleck Point passed, I was on the lookout for a Martello tower, one of several that are to be found around Dublin. They were constructed near the close of the eighteenth century to provide a means of defence against the French. Before I was to reach that now privately owned restored building, there were muddy sections of path to cross and I even dropped onto a beach at one point before shadowing a stone wall for the final approach to the tower.

Because of rapidly failing daylight that had me asking why I had no head torch and unwelcoming signs, I didn’t dawdle near the tower but made my way to tarmac again. The way to Sutton train station was lit as I gazed across the bay towards the lights of Dublin city and its surroundings. Even without constant sunshine, the appeal of Howth’s cliff cannot be overstated. There’s a longer National Loop walk that would have got me back to Howth but, even with my own torch, I wouldn’t have wanted to blunder around the Ben of Howth anyway. Some things are best left for another time since it’s best to leave anywhere with a reason for a return, not that Howth mistreated me at all, of course.

Travel Arrangements:

Train from Macclesfield to Holyhead with changes at Manchester and Llandudno Junction; then Irish Ferries sailing to Dublin, bus into city centre and train to Howth. Returned by train from Sutton to Dublin city centre. DFDS overnight ferry crossing to Birkenhead (sadly now no longer a travel option), National Express from Birkenhead to Manchester with a change in Liverpool and train back to Macclesfield again.

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