The Longest (Barefoot) Day concluded

I’m back home again in Downpatrick. I would have written this update in Newcastle but for some reason the internet connection on my phone just wouldn’t work.

So what did I do on the beach and for how long was I barefoot? Well, to answer the second question, by my estimate it was ten hours.

To answer the first question, I arrived on Murlough Nature Reserve at 8.20am where I too off my shoes. I walked along the wooden walkway to the beach and turned left. I headed up towards Dundrum, turned back and walked down towards Newcastle. On the way I took a detour off the beach up to the caravan park and into the little cafe where I had a pot of tea and a lemon flavoured muffin.

By this time it was high tide and the lure of the sea (combined with the glorious summer weather) was getting stronger. I started off by having a paddle in the surf, gradually going in deeper; and even though my jeans are rolled up they still end up getting soaked. And then the water comes up to my hips and I think, oh well, I may as well let them get totally soaked.

After a few minutes larking in the surf I continued my journey to Newcastle. Now although it was unusually hot, especially by Irish standards, my jeans were still wet so I couldn’t very well take a seat in Maud’s ice cream parlour, so I got a baguette and a tea from Subway instead and had them on the grass beside the promenade.

I played on the sand dunes after that before I took the bus back to Downpatrick. So, from 8.20am when I arrived at the murlough nature reserve to 6.50pm when I left the beach at Newcastle to catch the 7.00 bus I was barefoot the whole time (except for the twenty minutes when I was buying my lunch from Subway) – more than ten hours!

A whole day on the beach in the sun! This has been my best Twelfth Day of July ever!

The Longest (Barefoot) Day

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The anniversary of D-Day was last week and the  summer solstice was three weeks ago. And today, the twelfth day of July, will be a special day for me. Why? Am I going out on the march to commemorate the Battle of the Boyne? Nope.

Today I’m planning to spend no less than eight hours in the sunshine by the beach barefoot. I arrived at Murlough Nature Reserve at 8.20am where I slipped my shoes off and stuck them in a plastic bag and padded down to the beach.

It was low tide so I turned left and walked along the sea front until I was almost in reach of Dundrum. In fact if I’d been wearing swimming trunks instead of jeans I would have been able to ford the little river and walk to the town.

At present I’m in the little cafe in the Murlough Nature Reserve near the caravan site. I’ll give you a further update when I get to Newcastle.

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I’ve said this many times before and I’m saying it again: Sunshine, I love you!

Summer has started at last

After many months of wondering if we’ll ever get a spring this year, let alone a summer, I am pleased to report that we have had several days of warm, sunny weather. And I’ve been taking maximum advantage of it.

On Saturday I took my usual barefoot trip to Murlough Beach and Newcastle. On Sunday I went to Tyrella Beach where I played on the sand dunes and in the surf. And today I went back to Murlough Beach and explored the sand dunes and the caravan park.

I also discovered that although I’m on the wrong side of forty I can still sprint.

Yes, I’ve discovered something here that I could never have discovered in Belfast or London: barefoot running. I never had much interest in running when I was growing up in Belfast and the only sport I actually attended in London was the Marathon. Not only that, I never liked wearing gutties (that’s the Belfast word for sneakers or trainers). They made my feet sweat and they’re not my style anyway. And London and Belfast are no places for a barefooter. London is swarming with cars, and in many of Belfast’s streets there’s broken glass and dog dirt everywhere.

And that’s why I’m so glad I live within walking distance of not one but two beaches where all I have to worry about is the weather and the tides and I’m not encumbered by such a petty and distasteful thing as footwear.

So now I’ve discovered the advantages of barefoot running, I’ve decided to put in a short burst of running whenever I visit a beach. Nothing too strenuous, you know, not more than a minute or so.

This is my favourite time of year and this year in particular I’m really coming alive!

Two Years

It was two years ago today that, after two decades of life in the vast urban sprawl of London, I packed up only what I really needed and got on a flight to Belfast. I quickly settled in Downpatrick and it’s here that I’ve been ever since.

The circumstances under which I came back to Ireland are well documented in this blog so I see no need to waste space repeating the story. I only need to say that, far from ever regretting the hasty and unceremonious way in which I left London, I bless the day I returned to Ireland. Thursday the 31st of March 2011 is the day when I was welcomed back to the land where I grew up. I may have many memories of my life in the capital but I have no intention whatsoever of leaving Ireland again, not even to get any of the stuff I left behind in London. I’ve severed all my official links with England (with the exception of an ISA with the RBS and a dormant account at NatWest which I must get round to closing). The only BBC radio stations I listen to are Radio 3 and Radio Ulster and I haven’t bought a British newspaper since long before I even thought about coming back to Ireland.

My past is in London and that’s where I’ve left it. My heart is in Ireland and that’s where I’m staying.

Still barefootin’

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Dundrum Bay, County Down


At home I almost never wear shoes. I’m either in socks or barefoot. But recently I’ve been going further. Some people reading this post will think I’m a nut and they might have good reason to do so. After all, who in his or her right mind would wander up and down the beach barefoot in the winter? Ireland isn’t really a good place to go about unshod. It’s often too cold and wet.
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The Mourne Mountains

But this afternoon I did just that at Tyrella Beach. And on the Sunday before last I took my usual route from the Murlouhgh Nature Reserve down the beach to Newcastle’s Slieve Donard Hotel, and, yes, I was barefoot there too.

Now I should point out that these are two extraordinary cases. I took these barefoot trips on days that were about as mild as a winter’s day could be, when there was no rain, no snow and the temperature was about 9° or 10° centigrade. Also it was at low tide, which means I could walk over flat sand instead of crawling over shingles and rocks, which is what I often have to do at high tide.

The question still remains, though: why do I do it? There are two answers.

1) Because I can. Yes, I’m not getting any younger and I don’t know how much longer I’ll have the physical and mental strength to go on walking trips that can be as much as twenty-five kilometres. In the near future I could be in a job that takes up six days of the week and leaves me limp as a rag on the seventh day. I want to do all my walking while I still have youth on my side and plenty of spare time.

2) I enjoy it. I really do. I love the feeling of walking about without worrying about sand in my shoes or having to walk round large pools left behind by the tide. Besides, wet feet are easy to dry off; wet shoes and socks aren’t. I could come wearing wellies but they’re not much good for the long distance walks I take. And my feet need to breathe as the rest of my body does. After a ten-kilometre walk my feet would stink like billy-o.

And I’m not the only one with a predilection for going around barefoot. Here you can read about people in fiction and in real life who are more or less like me concerning footwear.

Carlingford, October 10th, 3:15pm

Slieve Foy from St Oliver’s Park


Today has been Cooley Day. Those who are interested in Irish myths and legends will think of the cattle raid that took place here in the distant past, not to mention the roles of Cuchulainn and Ferdia, and also of Queen Maeve of Connacht. But I’m not. I’m most interested in the places of the present day.

The first time I came to this part of Ireland was in July 1982 when I was 10, going on 11. I came on a camping trip with my mother to Omeath. Now from the perspective of a man my age it was not the best possible weekend. On the first night there was a disco party going on at Warrenpoint on the opposite side of Carlingford Lough and the sound carried across the still waters, clear as a bell. And this was in addition to the incessant drizzle. If I had been the age I am now I would have upped sticks and fled over Slieve Foy to Jenkinstown.

But to me at the time I was happy to be in a place where there was greenery all around, beside the sea and where we wouldn’t be pestered by 11th Night bonfires and Orange marches, where July the 12th was just another day, business as usual.

Carlingford


Forward to October 2012. Thanks to the internet, and specifically the websites of Translink and Bus Eireann, I was able to plan ahead down to the minute. I got off the bus at Carlingford, walked up Saint Oliver’s Park, as high up Slieve Foy as the asphalt road would take me, down again through the little townlands Grange, Upper Willville and then on to Greenore. The Lecale Peninsula in County Down is recognised as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. The same recognition shold be given to the Cooley Peninsula.

Greenore


Now, I have to say there’s precious little at Greenore except a golf course and a lot of terraced houses that don’t really fit in with the Cooley Peninsula; they’d be better placed in Belfast or Dublin. Oh, and there’s a big, yellow crane at the harbour.

Food for Thought, Dundalk Street, Carlingford


Back to Carlingford I went along the R173, found my way up to Dundalk Street and sat in a café called “Food for Thought”, resting my bones and drinking tea. I would have stayed learning a bit more about Carlingford’s past and present but it was starting to rain. So I jumped on the bus back to Newry and another one back to Downpatrick. Maybe I’ll write a bit more about Carlingford if and when I go back for a second visit.

Barefootin’

The little café at Murlough

The little café at Murlough

One good thing about being unemployed in the summer is the freedom to come and go as you please. You’re not cooped up in an office or a department store where there’s no sunlight. If it’s raining, too bad.

But the past three days have been just what a summer’s day should be, hot and sunny. And I’ve been using those days as best I know how, to slap on the sunblock and get out and enjoy the sunshine!

In fact, not only have I been taking maximum advantage of the summer, I’ve visited a new beach. Murlough Beach stretches from the Murlough Nature Reserve near Dundrum all the way down to Newcastle. The first time I visited this beach was on August 8th where I decided to cool off my feet after a walk all the way from Downpatrick. Then I jumped back on the bus home.

Yesterday, however, I went further. If there’s one thing that’s guaranteed to get my energy levels up to maximum it’s a summer’s day in the countryside and the beach. So I used that energy to walk along the beach, in and out of the surf, all the way to the Slieve Donard Hotel in Newcastle. And when I reached Newcastle I walked all the way back. Nothing unusual about that, but I was barefoot the whole time, from when I reached the beach at Murlough caravan park to Newcastle.

I got into the habit of being barefoot on the beach at Tyrella. You don’t have to worry about sand in your shoes and you can walk through rock pools and the surf with total impunity. I put my shoes back on at Newcastle and had a walk about the town, but when I got back to the beach the shoes came off again and I didn’t bother putting them back on until I reached the asphalt path back onto the main road.

Now, according to Google Maps, the distance via the A2 from the Murlough Caravan Park to Newcastle is 3.04km, but the route I took along the beach is shorter, 2.5km or so. So, 2.5km there and 2.5km back adds up to a full five kilometres, give or take a few hundred metres. And that is the longest distance I’ve ever walked barefoot in one day. And my feet are none the worse for it.

I think I’ll make a pilgrimage to Croagh Patrick in County Mayo, and I just might be one of the pilgrims crazy enough to do it barefoot…

…though I’m not promising anything.