Thursday, August 26, 2010

Paddy's Green Shamrock Shore

[One of these days I'll go back to having to actually know the songs I'm quoting instead of just using the titles...]

The tale of my trip to Howth is pretty uneventful from the point at which I at least managed to get on the train. It takes less than half an hour to get there. The DART station is a little outside the village proper, but right next to the docks, so I walked around for a little bit looking at the sea and the boats and the seals before heading down the road in search of the trailhead. (Along with about 45374584 other tourists.)

A few observations:

* The water is very blue, much bluer than I would have expected so far north. (I was also fortunate enough to have beautiful weather that whole first weekend in Dublin, and actually got sunburn on my face during my hike. Who’d have thought?)

* Seals are very fat. We are not talking sleek, athletic sea lions here. Clearly the selkie legends come from a time when the ideal woman was rounder than is currently the case.

* There is a distinct lack of things like safety rails and “Keep off the rocks”-type signs and other things that I, as an American, am used to seeing as methods of preventing death and injury by stupidity. I did see a “Use Caution” sign next to a steep decline down to a sheltered beach, and there were some warning signs posted along the cliff trail, but that was it. I don’t exactly have any other evidence for this, but I like to think that local governments in Ireland take a “Use your own common sense; it’s not our problem if you haven’t got any” attitude.

* I’m about 95% sure in hindsight that I must have walked right past William Butler Yeats’s house on my way to the trail and not even realized it. It might even have been the pretty one with the old walled garden I was admiring but scared to take pictures of in case someone was inside watching me. Which is unfortunate, because if I had, then I’d know…

Anyway, it was a pretty easy hike. The initial climb was a bit steep, but still hands-free. I was glad I’d worn boots, but not otherwise concerned. It was very windy, but since the day was clear there was a fantastic view whenever I could keep my hair out of my face for a few minutes. Heather everywhere. Seagulls swooping over the waves down below. A flock of cormorants far out on a cluster of rocks.

It was very relaxing, for several reasons. For one thing, it was nice just to be out of the capital. (I say I’m a city girl, and I say I like traveling alone, but being alone in a city is something else. Over a million people in one place is a lot even for me.) It was nice to just be on a trail with my hiking boots and a backpack. Not to mention that THIS was the Ireland of film and story and of my imagination before the disillusionment of Dublin. It was also familiar in an odd sort of way. Not the details, obviously, but the sounds and smells of being next to the ocean.

Altogether I was very glad I’d decided to go out there for the day, and satisfied that after all the tears and frustration of six months ago I came here instead of Scotland. It’s not what I thought I wanted, it’s not what was closest to my heart—but it’s close enough.

I walked for a long time. The original plan had been to mostly circle the peninsula and wind up at the DART station in Sutton, the first stop to the west of Howth, for my trip back to Dublin. However, I had noticed on the map a way to cut across the middle of the peninsula and pass by Howth Castle on the way to making a complete loop back to the Howth station. I’d miss the western half of the cliff walk, but I figured it was worth the trade-off. But naturally, I messed it up and wound up missing the western shore AND the castle. So I went to Sutton Station, got on an eastbound train, and went right back to Howth. Take that, world.

The castle wasn’t actually all that exciting, but since it was the first one I’d seen here other than Dublin Castle, which is just bizarre (and mostly not medieval, anyway), I was reasonably satisfied. I bought a milkshake and sat near the docks for a while before getting back on the train. At that point it was so late in the afternoon that I had already decided to scrap whatever other ideas I’d had for the day and get as much mileage out of my all-day rail pass as I could, so I rode the train past Dublin all the way to Killiney, which isn’t the southernmost stop but is only a few before whatever is. There’s a nice big sandy beach there that’s literally next to the train station. (Like, if I valued my limbs less I could have just jumped from the platform instead of walking up the road to find the stairs.) I went down and walked for a few minutes and looked around and then got back on the train and went home. As far as trains running, I still had a few hours, but I wasn’t sure what else I’d find to do at that point in the day and didn’t really want to get caught wandering unfamiliar places after dark. Mostly the point had been to see what there was to see from the train. Which wasn’t much. The ocean sometimes. The marsh where I had considered getting off because of the wildlife sanctuary there where you can apparently see lots of birds, but I stopped considering when I could smell it from the train. Give me docks and stables over swampland any day.

I don’t remember what I did when I got back to Dublin that night, which I assume (since I didn’t do any drinking until the next night) means I just went back to the hostel and lounged around. That’s lame.

An aside: I’ve now been in Cork for the same amount of time I was in Dublin, and I actually do find myself missing Dublin now and then. I’m not sure, though, if it’s really DUBLIN I want, or just living in the city centre instead of a half hour’s walk away. Plus I still don’t know Cork nearly as well as I knew Dublin by the time I left (see previous sentence), so we’ll see how I feel after I do some much-needed exploration this weekend.

I do LIKE Cork, though. Just so we’re clear on that. It’s not at all as dismal as Lehigh’s Galway-biased economics professor would have had me believe.

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