Freedom Walk by Michael O’Callaghan
Having lived a very restricted life in the previous twelve months due to Covid 19 lockdowns my wife and I were thrilled with the lifting of the five-kilometre travel restriction rule on April 19th, 2021. We had rigidly adhered to the lockdown travel limits.
We chatted at breakfast about our new-born freedom and decided that ,to celebrate our liberation, we would head for Cahore, County Wexford. It had been outside our five kilometres limit during lockdown. The weather forecast was good. We checked the 12-hour rainfall radar and the weather apps on our phones. In my youth ,whenever we were going anywhere my father used to say ”stick your head outside the door and see what the weather is like”. That was his weather app. When I nipped out today, I saw that the sky was blue, and other portents looked good. The birds were merrily chirping, and the cool nip had gone out of the air. It was time to strike out and reassert ourselves as liberated walkers in North Wexford. We rang my sister-in-law who was delighted to join us on the trip.
Our first signpost for Cahore was in the village of Ballygarret . On approaching the village there are some lovely, coloured notice boards listing native Irish trees, some environmental tips and an abridged history of Ballygarrett. We saw that it is twinned with Refugio in Texas because of a Mr Power, a native of Ballygarret, who had emigrated to Amerikay in 1809 after the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland .Ireland was an impoverished country. He brought hundreds of Ballygarret/Kilmuckridge settlers to Refugio in 1834. He was very influential in the early life of the State of Texas .
On entering the village, we passed the local school where children were gathering in the playground for the 11-o clock break . They were delighting in their temporary freedom.
We head down the winding road to Cahore. We pass the well-maintained local graveyard. Next to the entrance there is a beautifully planted area with wildlife, pollination and pollinators information boards .Colour abounds here in the display boards about flowers and pollination. They also have a few 7-star bug hotels.
Next the welcoming sign for Cahore comes into view and we begin to feel the refreshing sea air. As the sea comes into view we are struck by how calm and beautiful the scene is on this beautiful spring day. Having captured our first glimpse of Cahore we stop at the car park near the rocks . We get out of the car, inhale deeply, and gaze longingly out to sea. Time stands still here in this oasis of calm and serenity. I captured the scene on my newly acquired I phone 11 with its mega pixel double lensed camera . In my minds eye I recalled beautiful beaches of Kerry like Banna and Ballyheigue.
We decided to move on and park in the small harbour area. All three of us are amazed that the place is so full of cars and people at this early morning hour. We also note the age profile with the grey brigade, including ourselves, being the dominant group. We read the following blurb to acquaint us of the challenge ahead of us.
North Wexford has an amazing coastline and now you can see more of it from the new Cahore Cliff Walk! You can do a loop walk of about 5k, starting at Cahore Point over to the beautiful Old Bawn beach, and back again. It’s level, it’s wide, and best of all, it’s got stunning views north and south. You will feel better after walking it, guaranteed! If you’re a committed walker, you can keep walking along Old Bawn Beach . There’s no shortage of Irish Sea waves lapping along this coast.
Having read the account we decided that the 5k loop would be adequate and was within our fitness levels. The start was a formidable challenge going up the steps from sea-level till you reach the top of the hill and the start of the Cahore Cliff Walk. We took two short breathing stops on the way up and then finally emerge, proud that we had made it to the start. I heard a voice calling’ By God you made hard work of that”. The voice belonged to a friend of ours who was sitting down on a bench drinking coffee, having finished the walk. Due to Covid restrictions The Strand Bar ,owned by Kenmare man Patrick Hanley and his wife Aileen ,has a very convenient excellent external food and coffee shack which has something to suit everyone. Even the canines have a dedicated menu . They also have the added amenities of two outdoor toilets .I loved their sign which encouraged all walkers to bring back three pieces of litter from the cliff walk.
Having exchanged pleasantries and chatted about our delight at being out and about we bade farewell to our friends and headed off to the start of the coastal walk. .
The view here was totally idyllic .We had scenic views of rocks, sandy coves and lovely deep clear blue sea waters. This is a well laid, well drained, safely fenced walk along the coastline. It was level as the blurb had stated.
We met two friends from Gorey who were on their way back .They had walked twelve thousand steps in two and a half hours. They were extolling the beauties of the sights and the refreshing clear sea air on this walk. Having dallied with them for a few minutes it was time to start the serious walking business. I looked down below and saw a lovely copse of planted hollyhocks. We stopped momentarily to take a few photos of Cahore Castle which was built in 1850 by MP and Solicitor General for Ireland , Judge J George. It was used as a residence and as a hotel The nuns of The John of God Order used it as a summer retreat for a period. My two walking companions recall attending discos there in the seventies .In latter years it is falling into disrepair. It is crying out for development. Hopefully there will be someone with deep pockets who will buy it and restore the castle and grounds to their former glory in this car free, safe ,unpolluted and unspoilt area.
On our left was a stairway from our lofty cliff path down to the sea below. We are informed by locals that these were known as the “Nuns’ Steps” because the nuns made their way down to the beach on these steps from the castle to wash themselves! These two locals giving us this information were volunteer litter pickers while out for their stroll.
There are a few viewing areas where you can stop, lean on the posts and watch the sea and rocks below. We observed a lone fisherman casting his line out to sea from a snug sun trapped cove in search of some elusive fish. I think the fish had advance notice of his intentions and had gone day tripping elsewhere. Nevertheless, he had his flask and was enjoying his own mindfulness moments with just a few stray gulls to disturb him.
We continued along the coastal path for approximately half an hour, enjoying the chat, the views and the sense of freedom. Being here had transported us away from Covid19 and other worldly concerns.
As we come to the end of the man-made path the beautiful vista of Old Bawn Strand was unfolding before our eyes and we found an easy pathway down to the beach.
We slowly made our way down the soft sandy path to this absolute gem of Old Bawn looking ahead at endless views of beach and sea . We are agog at the extent of the sandy dunes which stretched out to the distant horizon ahead.
Overhead a jet plane is slowing down as it heads towards Dublin Airport. The plane’s white contrails against a blue sky contrasted nicely with the white-tailed waves rising from a blue sea and lapping down on Old Bawn Strand .We observed some people sitting way up in the dunes. Many other walkers, like ourselves were just ambling along the sandy beach.
Two young people who had passed us earlier were swimming .It was their first trip to Old Bawn. They found the swim a chilling experience. I was delighted for them , remembering my own youthful experiences.
Other walkers unleashed their pet poodles and labra doodles to express themselves in whatever way they chose. I did notice that there is a discernible improvement in the use of poop bags. More dog owners are poop conscious and are bagging and binning it. It’s quite a simple thing to do. If your dog poops you must scoop even if no one is looking at you. I love one particular sign which says “ Dear Dog, please make certain your owner is always attached with a leash and is properly trained to pick up after you “.
As my walking companions traverse the beach, I notice a signal behind the sand dunes. It is like a rotating hand inviting me into an inner circle. I climb the sand dunes. I notice how well the dunes have been planted with grasses to ensure their long-term sustainability. As I climb, I notice the beckoning hand disappear momentarily. It is like some magical body is playing hide and seek with me. As I reach the summit of the dunes, I see a field full of twenty-one gigantic wind turbines. They are like some giant clockwork extravaganza glinting in the sun. All of them are working in perfect harmony, their movements being orchestrated by the gentle encouragement of the sea breeze. They generate their power so easily, with no carbon footprint.
Some people love the idea of wind powered electricity . Others hate to see these huge, monstrous wind turbines imposed on the countryside . They view them as a blight on our landscape . Many people living near them complain about the buzzing noise emanating from them. They will be the future green energy providers. Our planners will have to get them located out at sea and in remote areas away from where people live.
I re-join my walking companions as they have traversed Old Bawn Strand, and we are homeward bound. The beach ahead seems to stretch out endlessly in front of us. There is a sea mist rising in the distance. I could easily lose myself in the mindfulness of this moment, but I know the sun will appear again and clear this minor aberration for us. The vista in front of us was quickly cleared with the re-emergence of the sun.
This return journey has equally stunning views of the Irish Sea. Cahore harbour juts out and Tara hill is making an appearance in the distance. We get the strong smell of the salt sea air as a gentle cooling breeze blows in off the sea.
We noted a total lack of litter during our walking session. It was heartening to journey on pristine clean rambling territory. We were also lucky to encounter a perfect day for walking. When we arrived back to the car park, we met two other friends from Gorey. They were just finishing their packed lunch. Others were bringing down pizza boxes and take away drinks from the shack . They were all eating them al fresco on the benches overlooking the sun-soaked harbour. After dining people used the well-located bins to dispose of their leftovers.
We felt free, refreshed, renewed, and calm after our first exhilarating cliff and dune freedom walk following months of 5k restrictions. It was all great for body, soul and mind. We sat down at a bench to recuperate and soak in our final moment of tranquillity in this haven of peace, perfect peace.