Thursday, 16 July 2020

Stage 15 - the bit I missed - Co. Derry - Magilligan to Ballykelly

Stage 15 (the bit I missed): Monday 13 July 2020

Running around Ireland - strictly by the coast - and ONCE a month since Feb 2017.

Because of the lockdown I had to temporarily delay my Coastal Run. Yes, it’s been a while (15 March) since the last Run when I reached Ballina, Co. Mayo (Stage 46). The plan is to continue into west Mayo (and beyond!) on Sat 22 August …but today I had to backtrack a bit to complete this section I missed when I originally did Stage 15 back in March 2018.

This was back in March 2018 at Magilligan Point

I think the main reason why Helen, Sean and I missed this part of Magilligan Strand (east Foyle shore) in March 2018 was because we were just out of prison! (See original blog for Stage 15). Yes, we had just done the parkrun inside the prison and we were already about a mile along the country road heading for Bellarena.

Anyway, back to today – Monday 13 July 2020. It was an early start as I arrive at Magilligan Point at 7.30 am. I’m joined today by my friend and ex neighbour Jeremy McLucas and we’re going to WALK along the coast (it’s not always about running!) It’s a dull July morning and to use a good Galway phrase ‘there’s Rain on the Wind’. 

Magilligan Point with views across to Donegal

7.30am leaving Magilligan Point

Low tide is at 8.30am – hence the early start. From here at Magilligan Point we can clearly see Greencastle in Donegal (only a mile across) and it’s good to hear that the ferry is operating again.

After a short walk on the road Jeremy and I get down onto a rocky shoreline (even at low tide it’s not as sandy as the Ordnance Survey map suggests!) There are ten or eleven streams to cross along this long stretch of coastline and shortly we come to the first one. 

This stream isn’t that deep but at this early stage I don’t really want to get my shoes wet and so I walk barefoot for a while (Jeremy is more prepared with proper waterproof shoes!) As we gradually crossed stream after stream, none of them were as wide as the first one. It probably helped that we tackled this stretch of the coast at low tide.

Crossing first of many streams

Jeremy investigating 'turf' on beach

We don’t meet anyone at all along this part of the coastline but we do see an old abandoned car on the beach! 

Jeremy checking out Capri or maybe Rover!

Our original plan was to leave the coast at Scotchtown Road (after crossing all the streams) and then come back onto the main road. However, Jeremy suggested we carry on walking along the coast, through a grassy path as far as the river Roe where the railway bridge crosses over. 

Sea Creature - Jeremy didn't want to get too close!

Even at low tide the River Roe would be difficult to cross (too deep and too wide). Instead we make our way up onto the railway bridge. Very cautiously, we watch, look and listen to make sure there are absolutely no trains coming and then we quickly cross over the railway bridge. Warning: Please be very careful here! We checked beforehand the times of the train (it was a bank holiday too) and we quickly crossed over the river, making sure not to delay in any way.

We still felt relieved to be on the other side and despite the light rain we stopped to have a deserved break. The good thing about walking is it’s much easier to carry food! 

Nice trail just south of River Roe

On this side of the river we had the option of varying our walk, sometimes along the narrow wall by the sea (Ballymacran/Ballykelly bank) or later on the nice country trail below. There were lovely views now across to the hills at Bienvenagh (looks a bit like Ben Bulben in Sligo). We passed lovely lush green grass. 

'Emerald Lawns' - green green grass of home!

This path is perfect for cycling

Jeremy pointed out that this grass is grown by a company called Emerald Lawns. You can buy lawns here and get it delivered to your door the next day! This whole area was once a dense forest (Jeremy informs me) and the building of the Ballykelly bank in the 1840’s meant that thousands of acres were reclaimed from the sea. 

Crossing Burnfoot river

Jeremy with Bienvenagh hills behind

We cross over a small bridge (Burnfoot river) and continue. The sun is even making an appearance now and it’s a very pleasant walk.

There was also an RAF airport nearby which was an important base for anti-submarine aircraft in WW2. A plane crashed into the shallow waters here in 1944 and even today Jeremy and I could still see the remains of aircraft in the sea.

RAF plane crashed in sea in 1944

Luckily, the Canadian pilot, although badly injured, survived the crash. (but earlier that year, nine Airmen were not so lucky when their plane crashed in the nearby Bienvenagh hills.)

Almost home!

We leave the coast and head inland and shortly we have reached our finish line in the village of Ballykelly. Jeremy’s wife, Tiffany meets us there (and after nice coffee and buns!) she kindly drives us back to Magilligan Point.

Ferry from Magilligan to Greencastle (Donegal)

 …And so that completes the whole coast of Ulster, even the bits I missed the first time around!  

PS: Our walk today was 21 km or 13 miles (we didn't actually make up any extra miles compared to my original RUN back in March 2018). So in total that's 1,586 km (985 miles) of ULSTER Coastline. If you add in the 219 km I've done so far in Connacht that's a Grand Total of 1,805 km (1,121 miles). The adventure continues in Mayo on 22 August 2020.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Stage 12 (the bits I missed): Fair Head, Co. Antrim: Murlough Bay to Ballycastle: Sat. 13 June 2020

Running around Ireland - strictly by the coast - and ONCE a month since Feb 2017.

 ‘’Take my body back with you and let it lie in the old churchyard in Murlough Bay’’ (Roger Casements last wish before he was executed)

 Yes another bit I missed when I did Stage 12 back in January 2018.

All to ourselves - enjoying the 'Dark Hedges'

It turned out to be another beautiful day! We left Bangor, Co. Down at about 10.30am and drove to north Antrim. Maureen, our sons (Matthew and Brian) and I decided to stop off in Armoy (about 10k south of Ballycastle) at the ‘Dark Hedges’ made famous by the drama ‘Game of Thrones’. It was our first time here and we were privileged to be the only visitors today at the hanging trees.

Leaving the 'Dark Hedges'

Afterwards we drove on to nearby Ballycastle and then to that exact spot on the road from Tor Head where its signposted to Murlough Bay. Remember back in Jan 2018, we (Helen, Sean, Helena & me) made the decision not to risk this route because of the ice and snow! So, Maureen and the boys let me off at that junction to continue Stage 12 on my own again. 

Back at starting point

And this was at the same spot in January 2018

From there I ran all the way down the steep, narrow winding road to Murlough Bay, passing a big Cross as the lovely blue Sea of Moyle opened up in front of me. The Cross and nearby plaque was dedicated to Roger Casement.

Caseman's Cross overlooking Sea Of Moyle

Sir Roger Casement

There is a lot of discussion now about pulling down statues of slave traders’, but Casement actually fought against human rights abuses in the Congo and Peru and campaigned for the anti-slavery society. He was knighted in 1911 for his work against these atrocities. Later he became an anti-imperialist and joined the Irish Rebels. During the 1916 rebellion he tried to import arms from Germany and was dropped off in a U boat (U19) in Co. Kerry where he was captured and then hanged for high treason. Diaries indicating his homosexually were also used against him in his trial.

These words were next to the big cross.

Roger was born in Dublin but lived for quite a few years in Co. Antrim. After his hanging in 1916, he was buried in Pentonville Prison in London. His remains were eventually released by the British Government in 1965, only on condition that they could not be brought into Northern Ireland. He had a State funeral in Dublin and was buried in Glasnevin Cemetery. He never really got his dying wish ‘‘take my body back and let it lie in the old churchyard in Murlough Bay’’.

At the bottom of the hill at Murlough Bay I ran as far as the coastal path would take me (keeping the sea on my left for a change) and then turned around to face the steep climb back up again.

I'm glad I had this banana - there was tough work ahead!

Murlough Bay, Co. Antrim
Murlough Bay -as far as you can go!

 I passed the Casement Cross again and then took the first right along a track. After passing through an open gate, I took an immediate right which brought me up onto a grassy cliff-top trail called ‘Grey Man’s Path’ (well named for the man climbing it today!)

Grey Man's Path

The weather is perfect now, no sign of any rain or wind with the sun shining through. Shortly I come to the very top of Fair Head (or Benmore). I’m also only about 20km from the Scottish mainland (Mull of Kintyre) which I can easily see now to the east. 

Mull of Kintyre - only 20k away!

These steep cliffs are now very popular with rock climbers. I see two small rucksacks with a rope tied around a big boulder and the rope dropping down the vertical cliff. I’m too scared to go too close to check if I can see the climbers! 

See rope tied to boulders with rucksacks
 These ‘climbing cliffs’ have been given their own names by the rock climbers. From east to west there's the ‘small crag’, ‘main crag’, ‘farangandoo’ and ‘marconi’s cove’ which was only discovered in 1988. I dont think I've ever seen cliffs with such a vertical drop!
Probably the most vertical cliffs in Ireland!

As I circle around Fair Head, I meet a family from Lithuania out for a walk in the warm sunshine. 

Lithuania family with Rathlin only 4k behind.

It’s only about 4km across to Rathlin Island now and it was on the Island that Robert the Bruce was inspired by a struggling spider to have the ‘’tenacity to keep trying till it succeeds’’ (I’ll heed this advice later!). Further north of Rathlin, I can even see the Scottish islands of Islay and Jura. 

It’s no surprise either that Game of Thrones was filmed here and in fact in Season 7, this was the spot (here in Fair Head) where Jon Snow finally gets to meet Daenerys Targaryen (probably the two most famous characters in GOT). 

Natural bridge!

I can see Lough Crannagh, in the distance to my left, with its ‘crannog’ in the middle.

Lough Crannagh with 'cranog' in the middle

I remember from school that a ‘crannog’ is usually an artificial island built in the middle of a lake for refuge and protection from enemies. As I continue around Fair Head, I see another smaller lake to the left of me called Lough Doo (or Dhu), the black lough.

So up to now everything is going well on this beautiful day! However, it looks like ‘grey man’s path’ has come to end and so I run further inland hoping to pick up the trail again. I come to a country road and to the entrance to a farm but there’s a ‘Private Property’ notice here.

I climb over a style on the other side of the road and try to follow a path, but it doesn’t seem to lead to anywhere! I decide to backtrack to the coast again, climbing over a fence and eventually making it down to the shore. I think I see Marconi’s Cottage in the distance. I figure I will have a nice run along the coast and soon I’ll be in Ballycastle…but it’s never that easy! The lower coastal path abruptly comes to an end and so I have no alternative but to leave the coast, climb up a huge hill to try to find another trail.

Looking back at Fair Head

Maybe I came too far inland as I end up having to run through a few fields and eventually (that word ‘eventually’ that never really explains how much I suffered!) I get back onto a narrow coastal cliff-path. Now I can see Marconi’s cottage very clearly down on the shore.

 Marconi’s Cottage

This is where Marconi’s employees made the first ever wireless telegraph transmission in the world. It was between here and Rue Point on Rathlin (just about 5k away). Marconi himself, the famous Italian inventor, only spent 4 days in this area, conveniently enough for him, to coincide with the annual Lammas Fair in Ballycastle!

Marconi's Cottage at last!

I thought I could stay on this cliff path all the way to Ballycastle but that also came to an abrupt end so I struggle down the hill through high grass and tree ferns to finally get to Marconi’s Cottage. I think if I was doing this run again it might be easier starting in Ballycastle at Marconi’s Cottage (there seems to be a path from the house) and doing this stretch to Fair Head with the sea on my left.

Ferry heading out to Rathlin Island

Anyway, I’m glad to be down on the shore again and now I have a nice straight run in along the coast road. I soon get down onto the beach at Ballycastle, run along the strand and Maureen and the boys are there to meet me at the point where the Glenshesk river flows into the sea……..the adventure continues!

Me arriving on Ballycastle Beach - picture taken by my son Matthew

 Total distance today was 17.3km, but I adjusted it down to 10.3km as I had already covered 7k of this stage back in January 2018.      

Total distance to date: 1,804 km (1,121 miles)

   Contact Gerry on or 00 44 (0) 7725613308

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Stage 6 (the bits I missed): Strangford Islands, Co. Down. Chapel Island, Mid Island and South Island): Sat. 30 May 2020
Running around Ireland - strictly by the coast - and ONCE a Month since Feb 2017.

‘’The central place I call “Z” is in a valley surmounted by lofty mountains. The valley is about ten miles wide, and the city is on an eminence in the middle of it.’’ (Percy Fawcett’s letter to his son Brian about his idea of the Lost City of ‘Z’.)
Taken in our back garden (before expedition!) with sons Brian and Matthew
 Another bit I missed! Yes today I had to backtrack a bit to my adopted home county (Co. Down) to complete this wee 'missed bit' when I did Stage 6 back in July 2017.
Just before heading across the sands to Mid Island
Today was a walk (rather than run) and I was delighted to be joined by my two sons Matthew (who has just finished university) and Brian (who attends Clifton Special School.) Since the lockdown in March, the weather has been warm and sunny and today was no exception. We decided to tackle these islands, starting our walk from a small car park just south of Greyabbey on Strangford Lough. 
No photo description available.
Yes looked like we were walking on water!

In front of Mid Island
Also, we thought it was wise to set out on our journey about 90 minutes before low tide. At the car park in Greyabbey we could already see across the sands to a small cottage on Mid Island. There was no causeway from here, so we just headed in the direction of the white-washed cottage, getting our feet wet as we plodded through the sand and puddles until we reached Mid Island.
Will McAvoy's cottage on Mid Island
Previously known as North Island and sometimes called Mid Isle. It was home to the Ulster-Scots poet Will McAvoy who lived in the cottage on the island - sometimes Will goes back to give poetry sessions. The island even became more famous recently as Brad Pitt’s movie ‘The Lost City of Z’ was partly filmed here. This film was about the explorer Percy Fawcett who really became obsessed with finding the ‘Lost City’ in the Amazon Jungle. On his eighth and final expedition in 1925 he was joined by his 22 year old son (same age as my son, Matthew!). Their last known communication was on 29 May 1925 (95 years ago yesterday) and the pair were never seen again. Fawcett’s other younger son, Brian who remained in England, spent most of his life trying to find his father and brother.
Matthew and Brian on Mid Island
l can now report that my two sons and I survived our own expedition to the three Strangford islands! Once we got to the cottage on Mid-Island, we took a left turn along the shore and walked along the track until we came to the causeway that took us over to South Island. Mid Island seems to have lots of vegetation/trees but South Island is like one big open field, perfect for grazing (on a lovely sunny day like today) with its thick, lush grass, although we didn’t see any cows or sheep. 
Crossing causeway from Mid Island to South Island
South Island
When we arrived on South Island we took a left turn immediately and then circled the whole island. We thought, when we got to the back (western side) of the island, we could then cut across to Chapel Island but we realised that with soft mud and sand that it was much more practical (and quicker) to come back to the same causeway again that we took from Mid Island. We then walked around the other side of Mid Island (keeping the sea on our left) and eventually we could see Chapel Island in the distance.
Matthew and Brian as we approached Chapel Island 
I was glad I had my son Matthew with me. Sometimes it was tough with difficult terrain and our shoes got so wet along the way but Brian, in fairness to him, seemed content and never complained (or never seemed to get tired) all day.
Once we rounded Mid Island we could see Chapel Island in the distance. There was no causeway from this side, so it was just a matter of ploughing through the sand, rocks and pools of water. We knew we were heading in the direction of the long island which we presumed (correctly!) was Chapel Island. I gave Brian and Matthew some celery and carrots and we munched these as we walked along. I was a bit concerned about the tide as it was now exactly low tide at 11.45am. In hindsight I need not have worried and I think we would have been ok even two hours each side of low tide.
Brian on Chapel Island
Chapel Island
As we got closer to Chapel Island, we veered to the left through the muddy rock pools so that we would arrive on the island on the southern side. We didn’t expect to see an actual chapel on the island but nevertheless it is disappointing to see just a small broken wall of stones where I presume the church had once been! 
All that remains of the chapel on Chapel Island

Matt and Brian on Chapel Island with Scrabo Tower behind

In any case this was the perfect location to either pray or just sit and contemplate life in general. Of course, here right in the middle of Strangford Lough, we are very close to Nendrum (just over a mile across to the other side of the lough) where Saint Mahee had his monastery (on Mahee Island). No doubt the saint and his fellow monks were regular visitors to the chapel here. Matthew and Brian were happy too that we finally had our picnic with (360 degree) views of the Mournes, Scrabo tower and other islands on the lough.

Still we didn’t delay too long as we were conscious that the ‘tide was turning’ and we still had to walk back the full length of the island (almost one mile long) before then taking to the wet sands again. 
On leaving Chapel Island it looked like there was a kind of causeway to follow but it seemed to disappear after about 50 metres.
Leaving Chapel Island
In any case Matthew suggested we walk towards the right (easterly directly) so that we could return to our car quicker. Soon we were back on the mainland and when we reached an old pier, we climbed up the embankment.
Heading home!

Here we found a nice country trail and we were able to walk on it along by the shore. 

That trail soon faded away but shortly we could see the cottage on Mid Island again and soon we were back (where we started) at the car park in Greyabbey and enjoying another (well deserved!) picnic in the warm sunshine. Stage 6 is now complete ...........and the adventure continues!

Total distance today 10.3 km or 6.4 miles      

Total distance to date: 1,748 km (1,086 miles)

Next Stage: County Mayo: Ballina to Killala: Saturday 22 August

Contact Gerry on or 00 44 (0) 7725613308