Coast Diary – June 25th

One last reminder that submissions in writing or by email re: Newtown Woods should reach Ian Ludlow, Staff Officer, Active Travel, Waterford City & County Council, Menapia Building, The Mall, Waterford  iludlow@waterfordcouncil.ie before 4p.m. on Tuesday 28th June, 2022. Submissions should be clearly marked with “Submission Part 8 Newtown Hill” in the subject line.

Now back to the beach. Sort of. Years ago, when I was working in a hotel Amsterdam, one of the male cleaners took a shine to me. He conveyed this burgeoning obsession in a sheaf of handwritten pages of foolscap that, among other things, compared me to Jesus Christ. At the time I thought he was crazy but these days I seriously wonder if he was on to something because these days I seem to be a magnet for every nut job, ignoramus, and asshole on the planet. Nowhere is this more apparent than on the beach.

Sunday

I walked down to Garrarus in the evening, the little beach about half an hour away. I didn’t go down onto the sand. Instead I went up on the cliff and stared morosely at the water which was like a millpond in the sunset. It was still relatively busy. I haven’t been swimming since January partly because of how annoyed busy beaches make me, but there and then, I decided this week I would tackle my misanthropy to the ground and plunge back in…

Monday

The weather is hot and, after spending some time out on the cliffs looking for basking sharks,(none) and watching the cormorants, shags, kittiwakes, pigeons and gulls – their fuzzy grey chicks tottering about – I walked down to Garrarus. The beach was quiet but by the time I got out of the water, a family of five were bringing their kayaks and boards down the beach and planting them near the water. To give them (me) space I moved up the beach to the large flat rock near the steps. But true to my christ-like magnetism, they followed me and set up camp within five feet. In the spirit of my new magnaminity, I just shifted my towel slightly, put on my shades and hat, turned off my hearing aids and gazed into the distance. I stayed that way until a handsome (well he thought so) muscular man, a long distant swimmer, emerged god-like from the water nearby and began to stare in my direction – god knows why. I am thankfully past my sell by date according to the patriarchy. A few decades ago this might have been exciting but a life time of experience of men and their carry-on behind me, it merely makes it really, really annoying so, before I gained an extra disciple I left. But it was a start.

Tuesday

Encouraged by my newly sprouting tolerance, I went back to the beach with my book. To my horror I realised, too late, that it was midsummer’s eve which meant there were a lot of people about including a band of teens camping and, worse, a circle of drumming meditators. The teens were fine actually and switching off the hearing aids dealt with the drumming, which was quieter than last year. Maybe they heard ‘someone’ giving out about it…There was a scatter of people about near the cliffs, which is where the regular swimmers sit so as not crowd the tiny low tide swim spot. I stopped at a respectful distance and planted my towel. ‘I can do this.’ I thought. Even the couple and their child, hogging the waters edge earned my forgiveness. They looked too large to be able to walk any distance without having heart attacks anyway. As I hobbled over the stones to the sea, two women with swimming gear came down the beach with a big black dog off the leash. This is a pet (ahem) hate of mine but I decided it was none of my business and hurried to take a quick dip in order to leave the water to them. Once in the sea however, I turned around to see the dog squatting near my towel. Rather than scold it, it’s two owners took his toilet to be a sign that they should park themselves right there too. It was at this point my obviously over-stretched magnaminity suddenly gave out and, despite the nearby child floating globularly on the water, I yelled…

For Fucks Sake!

I dashed (hobbled) out of the water and up the beach yelling things about manners and dogs off the lead but the women just looked as bemused as do all those dog owners who can’t comprehend that they aren’t the centre of everyone’s universe. I suppose I was lucky they weren’t the other sort of dog owner – the ones who attack hard on the heels of their mutts. I grabbed my stuff and took it around the cliff to the unfashionable but empty part of the beach. It was a longer hobble away from the swim spot but it was worth it not to end up trying to read my book at bollock-level to a big shitty dog and listen to two wittering idiots. Back in the water the globby child tried to catch my eye. She obviously wanted a sweary friend. She wasn’t going to get one.

Wednesday

Despite the previous evenings beach-bitching I headed to Garrarus once more. Leaving my house I spotted a sparrowhawk being chased by a tumble of swallows. There was a small, swallow shape clutched in its talons. Swooping across a garden it rose up and over a field and, flapping hard, disappeared into the distance. Thinking of how savage the world is for the little birds cast a shadow over my walk to Garrarus and I arrived expecting the worst but I was dumbfounded to find that I had the beach to myself. This emptiness continued for the bones of half an hour. It has been so many years since this happened that I began to think the world had ended, that aliens had invaded and decimated the population. And I found I didn’t care. If everyone was dead, like the little swallow, I would still have a glorious swim and, under the gimlet eye of the local heron, I did. Perhaps this was reward from the universe for my perserverance.

Thursday & Friday

On Thursday the weather started to change and I wasn’t sure about a swim. I wasn’t feeling so good either. By nightfall my throat had closed up and I was coughing. The universe giveth and the universe taketh away. Perhaps it was too much cold water too late in the day or the stress of spending a week trying to be someone I am not. Or perhaps I was right and people are best avoided. No more people for me. I have learned my lesson. For the next seven days anyway.

Coast Diary – April 23rd

Traffic out my way has gone (more) haywire as part of the road has been closed for a month to facilitate new storm drains, presumably for the new estate down the road. The old wall that runs beside a footpath lined with trees has been taken down as have some of the trees for access. And in nesting season too. I saw a pair of bullfinch in there one year, only the second time I have seen bullfinch in this area. I imagine the lovely old wall further down, the one that runs along Newtown Woods (New Town, how ironic), will be next to fall. The new (mindless) one way system has also been temporarily abandoned for the second time in months to add to the mayhem. All the cars from the housing estate are being redirected out by my house and they are all travelling at speed without regard to anyone along the road. An SUV changed course to drive straight at me to avoid another SUV one evening. I am not sure how I am still here. The choice between an SUV or ‘hedge monkey’ is no contest to some of those housing estate folk. I know because I grew up in one. A housing estate not an SUV…

But there’s good stuff too. We have been having some lovely dry weather with a bit of a chill in the air. I had a lovely walk on the main beach mid-week. There were not as many birds as there used to be in this Special Protected Area, possibly because of the the boom in dog walkers who allow their dogs to run wild here (insert more giving out with swears), but I saw geese and oystercatchers and a snowy egret. Best of all I found a horses tooth (pictured above).

Why would there be horse teeth on a beach? There used to be a race course behind the beach from 1785 to 1911. The land had been reclaimed and the sea held in check by an embankment from the mid 1800s, however this gave way in April 1911 and the race course flooded. The only lives lost were those of three puppies belonging to the local hunt. The racecourse was moved up the town to its current location. While you might not think a racecourse would also be a cemetery, there seems to be precedent for it. The bodies of three famous horses were exhumed at Hollywood Park, the once famous track in California, to make way for a housing development recently. I suppose it makes most sense to bury a horse where it falls, as must have happened more than once at Tramore.

I found a horse’s tooth on this beach many years ago and thought it belonged to some sort of sea monster. They are big, horse’s teeth. I was soon put right but the thought of a sea monster lingered. Then my tooth disappeared, stolen, I think, by another horse tooth appreciator. Now I have found another one, I feel I have some sort of closure. Laugh all you like but I take my consolations where I can. You can’t be depending on any of the big stuff to make you happy…

The new bird hide had its official opening this week too. An initiative of the industrious Tramore Eco Group it’s is situated overlooking the Back Strand on the small nature reserve that has evolved on the old town dump. The nature reserve has its issues with irresponsible dog walkers too, especially in nesting season, as does Fenor Bog out the road, but maybe, eventually, these people will wake up to the rights of others – both people and creatures – and their part in the continuing existence of all. If they do it will be down to those strong hearts in groups like Tramore Eco Group.

I saw my first swallows of the year out on an evening walk (me walking, not the swallows). It was April 20th so I am not setting any records at all – sure they are practically on their way back to Africa now!- the first ones were seen weeks ago and further north. Someone spotted a basking shark too, on one of the sunnier days, down off Kilfarrasy. Yesterday morning I walked down to another of the smaller beaches and paddled in the ice cold water. It was a lovely, grey morning i.e. it was quiet. I saw a lone whimbrel on the beach and sat and watched it until it was chased off. By a dog. Sigh. Then I walked the grey road home.

Coast (to Coast) Diary – January 15th

The Island

I took a trip this week to the Donegal coast, about as far as you can get from here by road. My purpose was to attend a workshop but I added a couple of days to make a little break for myself, a rare chance in these times. I was first in Donegal over a quarter of a century ago with a pal who had access to a family holiday home on an island from which her forebears sprang. The house was small, and sat on top of a rock overlooking a wide beach. Back then I lived in the city and haunted its dark parts. I was permanently unhappy, struggling with it since my early teens. This trip into the northern light was a rare experience. Perhaps that’s why my friend invited me. That year the whole country was frozen over and the drive through the north was a wonderland of crystal trees and pristine white fields. Reaching Donegal town in early afternoon, a Garda crinkled his faded blue eyes at us and told us we’d not be going over the mountains that night. But we went anyway, creeping up the county and then skating the Toyota Starlet down the other side.

Island Beach

On arriving we were both overcome with the flu and with that and the freeze, our five days were spent doing jigsaws, taking short walks and drinking the whiskey we inviegled from the owner of the only pub we could reach on foot. Ireland was a small country back then. My friend had previously been banned from the house for taking a gang of pals out on a wealthy relative’s speed boat, inadvisedly kept unsecured. That night-time party trip up and down the coast with a boombox onboard, 80s pop music rising and falling, and rising and falling, as they zipped about, reached the ears of the cottages onshore, and was duly noted and reported back. So it was inevitable that the details of our alcoholic consumption would reach Dublin even before we dropped back the keys. It was just as well we were too much under the weather get into any trouble.

It helped that the weather itself was stunning despite the freeze. I remember one morning waking up, still smothering with the cold. I fetched myself a big mug of tea and a plate of toast and settled back, be-hatted, under my duvet. The blue sky outside the single glazed windows you could’ve cracked with a spoon and the freezing room was filled with light. And right there in that moment, so long ago now, everything was just right. I had everything I needed and it was enough.

It took longer than that to change my course but as I walked the beach this time I realised that visit was the start of something and I was grateful. Those moments have begun to accumulate.

Carrickfinn

Much of west Donegal looks like its been splattered with the vomit of a God who has ingested too many bungalows after a heap of pints of but I was pleased to see that the island still remains just about recognisable – its one narrow road still only has room for one car, the beach is still empty and even the tiny house we stayed in is unaltered, though it has since changed hands. I walked the wide beach and, when the rain moved in, as it does, I left, driving carefully on the narrow track. I stopped in a passing place to take a photo. A car coming towards me pulled in, nose to nose with my car, to allow another to pass. A man peered out at me. And I peered back. And I knew him from home. He was the first person I talked to when I was considering taking the leap back to college – another huge change for me – and he was my adviser on my final theses. I knew he had retired and moved to Donegal but to another part, far from this island. It was pure chance that he and his partner were out for a day trip, the first time in over a year. We chatted for a bit, both happy and stunned. Ireland is still small I suppose but though I try to rationalize the encounter it was hard not to think as I drove away that, yet again, everything was in its rightful place.

***

After I had finished my workshop, I went in search of an even more remote beach purely because it had the same name as the big beach at home. I found it at the end of a long winding track clinging to mountains and cliffs and bog. And it was unfamiliar and familiar too and I walked it and was happy. And then I turned the car around and came home for real.

Tramore Beach, Donegal