Rediscovering Dublin Bay’s Walks
2020 was the year I fell in love with the outdoors, which is ironic considering how much of this past year has been spent indoors.
I took up hiking in January, determined that this would be the year I finally threw myself into an activity I’ve long been interested in but had never previously committed to. Early Saturday mornings were spent navigating routes around Dublin and Glendalough. Starting out at dawn and watching the sun climb alongside me, feeling the freezing cold air fill my lungs only to have my breath taken away by the views at the summit, I quickly became hooked on hiking.
And then Covid-19 arrived in Ireland and my hiking trips abruptly came to a halt. Those weekend mountain hikes, beyond the 5km restrictions of my home, were now quite literally out of reach and in their place I began exploring my local walking routes. Walking became a way to get out of my head, to shake off any frustrations with this situation we have found ourselves in. A way to break up my day when the monotony of being at home all the time started to feel unbearably claustrophobic, creating some distance between myself and what has become both my home and my place of work. I don’t think I’m alone in that, I think a lot of us have turned to walking as a way to make this insufferable year a little more bearable. At a time when there has not been much to do, going for a walk has been something to do.
It began with weaving new routes around my neighbourhood, working within the confines of the 5km limitations. It takes a lot of creativity to re-imagine routes you’ve walked a hundred times, a challenge to keep them interesting. So once the restrictions of ‘Lockdown 1.0’ lifted in June I began taking full advantage of my local beaches and cliff walks, embracing the change of scenery from the suburban trails I’d long exhausted. And it was in doing so that I rediscovered the routes and paths that Dublin Bay has to offer. As we exit ‘Lockdown 2.0’ this might prove useful to others in reconsidering the walks on their doorstep or, alternatively, it might catch the interest of those not already enamoured with walking to try it out.
Howth Cliff Walk
This walk is popular for a reason, leading walkers through the picturesque village of Howth out onto a selection of clearly marked, well-maintained cliffside routes suitable for a range of walking abilities. Along with that refreshing sea breeze, walkers are rewarded with a steady stream of stunning views; panoramas of Dublin Bay and Howth Harbour, Lambay Island and Ireland’s Eye. The promise of a good coffee at the end of your walk, from one of the many excellent cafés in the village, is a welcome additional perk.
While Dollymount Strand is a pleasure to walk along and a popular spot for water sports, it is the island’s inhabitants that make Bull Island such an attractive walking option. An easy afternoon can be spent ambling across this nature reserve trying to spot this island’s shy residents; oystercatchers, pygmy shrews, little egrets, hedgehogs and grey plovers, to name a few. Recognised as the first official bird sanctuary in Ireland, and now a Special Area of Conservation under the EU Habitats Directive, the island is a must-visit for birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike and a welcome contrast to the suburban landscapes many of us are now likely over-familiar with.
Bull Island is also an illustrative example of the careful balance at stake in maintaining a sustainable ecosystem. It is a haven for these species specifically because of the care and attention devoted to preserving it as one. You cannot visit Bull Island and not be reminded of the role we play in supporting and maintaining this careful balance.
The Great South Wall Walk to Poolbeg Lighthouse
Accessed via an industrial area, bypassing the city’s waste treatment centre, you’d be forgiven for dismissing the Great South Wall Walk. Walking along the Great South Wall you are exposed to the elements. There is no shelter here from the wind and the rain, and this simple pier walk is deceptively long, so either carefully choose to go on a mild, fine day or make sure you are dressed appropriately. The pay-off for persevering through these conditions though is worth it as once you reach the iconic red lighthouse at the end of the pier you find yourself at the heart of Dublin Bay, surrounded on all sides by stunning views. So, while you’d be forgiven for initially dismissing this walk, to dismiss it outright would be a mistake.
I include Sandymount Beach on this list simply because of how vast it is. The views it offers are arguably not as interesting as those of Howth, Bull Island or the Poolbeg Lighthouse, but Sandymount makes up for that with the sheer amount of open space it provides. It is the kind of open space that invites you to breathe deeply and tilt your head to the sky. You feel smaller on Sandymount Beach while simultaneously revelling in the amount of space you can claim as your own. In a year where we have been asked to restrict our movements and be mindful of how we move through the world it is an indulgence to spread your arms wide and occupy as much space as you can.
Conversely, at Sandymount Beach it is also much easier to keep your distance from others. Anti-social? Yes, but it allows for a socially-distanced walk without much stress. You can enjoy a walk in the fresh sea air without worrying about whether you’re too close to fellow walkers or constantly trying to calculate 2-metre gaps between you and the people around you. In what has been quite an anxious few months it’s nice to have one less thing to worry about.
As we navigate our way through this global pandemic and edge ever closer to a vaccine, I’m looking forward to discovering and re-acquainting myself with walks and hikes further afield. I never thought I would arrive at this point, would be someone who enjoys aimless walks purely for the joy of them. Perhaps becoming a walker is another unremarkable adult milestone, like booking-in your NCT test or learning how to properly iron a shirt. Or perhaps, and I hope this is the case, it is simply reflective of how we have learned to slow down this year and relish the modest luxuries we have.
Article written by Dublin Bay Biosphere Social Influencer Aoife Ní Mhaoláin