Friday, June 11, 2010

notes from southern Ireland

Anyone returning from a trip to Ireland says, as if on automatic – the people are so friendly!

Today, I heard these words from Ed. They are beyond just friendly. Just friendly could be annoying. They are so friendly that they win you over.

For example, at the market.


We stumble upon it this morning as we look around for a local bakery. It isn’t a big market, but surely it has the nicest vendors anywhere. Within a minute they’re your best friend.

And of course, we, therefore, buy supplies for lunch. (Even though Brian’s breakfast at our b&b is really a brunch and we should take it easy in the eating department for the rest of the afternoon.)

We buy herbed cheese breads and currant scones...


...cheese from happy cows’ milk (I feel solidarity with the cheesemaker – we are both card-carrying members of the Slow Food movement, but upon sampling, I decide on one of the cow’s milk rather than his own sheep’s milk cheese -- we've seen so many cows! I need to admire their contributions!)...


...and apple juice: a plain one and then one with blueberry juice mixed in.

So now we have supplies that will pair well with a major hike. Perhaps one can’t say that a climb up Cruachan Summit would be classified as a major hike, but it’s a good, steady uphill climb of maybe two hours to the top.

You can see the summit from the bridge in Dungarvan. On one side of the bridge, we have the receding tidal waters, on the other – Cruachan Summit.



And of course, we cannot find the trail head.

I make some wild guesses, accompanied by wild turns, on country lanes that are ostensibly closed for repair, turn again, count the roads to your left and in desparation, I stop the car and proclaim – this must be it – pointing to a path vaguely leading in an uphill direction.

You have made so many odd turns and have made so many guesses along the way – it cannot be.
Okay, I’ll ask.

I go up to the door of a house at the side of the road. The person who lives there peers out with a trace of suspicion.
Excuse me, I’m really sorry, but we’re lost. Is this the path up Cruachan?
Oh! That’s fine then. So long as you’re not selling tickets for anything. Yes, indeed that’s it.

I turn to Ed with a smug grin.
It cannot be.

And maybe it isn’t the trail, but it is a trail and right now we’re desparate for any trail up to the summit.

It starts off as a dirt road (with a steady bloom of foxglove along the borders)...


...and eventually turns into a logging road and then a meandering grassy path. The views are lovely, but I have to say, the skies are a little in reverse: typically we see clouds over mountains even in days of clear weather in the lowlands. On this day, the clear skies are over the hills and the clouds are staying close to the water’s edge, giving them a misty otherworldly look.


Above us, the skies alternate between bright blue and creamy white.


As we get closer to the top, the paths diverge and Ed starts building cairns to help us find the route back. You don’t want to end up on the side of the mountain opposite to where you left the car.


The wind now picks up and I am reminded of other hikes where I thought surely I would be blown away like a wisp of tissue paper.

We spot a trio of sheep,remarkably indifferent to the ferocious wind.


And the views! On a clear day, the mountains look magnificent in a desolate sort of way.


Ed takes the “I reached the summit picture,” but I have no interest in staying at the top for long. The wind is piercing.


A few yards down, we find a protected spot offering the view that you need for a lunch of breads, scones and cheese, with apple juice from the market.



It’s late afternoon. We’re back in Durgavan, happy with the weather, with the success of the hike. 

You remember that strip of sand we saw from the summit?
Is that a beach nearby? I’m wondering if we could go for a swim.

I no longer am surprised that Ed should suggest swimming even as I am pulling up the zipper of my sweatshirt against the wind.

We inquire about the beach. Not too far. Maybe half a dozen miles due east from Dungarvan.

There are a few cars on the lot by the water's edge and a few hardy souls are walking the sands below. A family is unpacking from a car next to ours. The little girls (six and nine maybe?) are in wet suits. They want to swim – the dad says. They’re nuts!

Another dad has already braved the chill and taken his boy and girl in for a bit of wave jumping. The boy is in a sweat shirt, the girl, too, has most of her clothing on. The father is jubilant. He’s the one jumping the highest.


Others are more realistic about their tolerance for cold water.



Me, I stay on the shore, finding warmth in moments when clouds (less hazy now) roll back to reveal a bit of sunlight. Ed is undecided.


Maybe it’s watching the two girls in the wetsuits that finally convinces him (even as one of them refuses to take off her cap against the cold).


In any case, a few paces later, he takes off his shirt and plunges in.

Not cold at all – he later tells me. There is no good response to this. I’m certain he felt entirely comfortable.

We drive up along this coast now, admiring the cliffs, the rural landscape. It’s referred to as the Copper Coast (copper was once mined here) and now, in the evening light of the low northern sun, it does look golden.

We leave the car in the village of Annestown, where a house roof is being repaired with new thatch...


...we walk down to the water and then up along the cliffs.

Ireland in the sunlight. Even more beautiful than I had imagined.


Ed’s at the cliff’s edge, encouraging me to come over and take a look.


No, there are some things from which I’ll retreat – crumbling edges of cliffs and the cold waters of the Atlantic.

At 9, it's still fairly light outside. The waters are at high tide, the colors are lovely.


We eat dinner at Merry’s Merchants Bar. The waitress nudges me to try the Clonakilty chicken (stuffed with "black pudding") and I do. At least it’s not cow’s blood sausage. (It's pork.) Here, we eat it almost as baby food, the waitress tells me.


I look outside at the small group exchanging stories from the day and I think that I have seen more red-haired people in the last two days than I have in my lifetime.


It’s late, but they’re playing traditional Irish music at the Local Pub. I cannot pass this by.


We order half pints and Ed dozes contently while I tap my foot to the jig-like rhythms of the three man band.

Walking home, I note that the water is low again. It comes, it retreats, every half dozen hours, all year long.