Sound advice on how to enjoy a walk on the wild side
Sometimes at weekends, when RTÉ fills the early morning with pop music that does not engage me (pretty well all of it since the Bee Gees and The Beatles), I leave earphones and MP3 behind on the half-hour march for my heart’s ease. Briskly downhill to the last farm before the shore, up again more slowly with a couple of pauses for reflection, and my attention is restored to the sounds and sights of the hillside.
There must be people with earphones whose morning chore is three times around the Parthenon, dodging all the stone blocks the builders have left lying around, or a kilometre or two of Grand Canyon, wishing they’d put in decent steps.
Familiarity breeds not exactly contempt but a readiness, let’s say, to disengage. Thus, without urgent affairs of state to grip my mind, I can appreciate the fuller experience of Thallabawn.
This must include mornings when I head out into gale or rain, zipped and Velcroed to the eyeballs. The recommended five days a week doesn’t work on the Atlantic coast: it’s up to gale force eight or nothing. At least it’s the cleanest wind and purest rain in Europe. And I am not alone.
As if timed to the minute for the same spot, I meet an approaching high-vis neighbour, halfway around a circuit twice the length of my own. “Not nice!” we empathise, in a passing swish of lemon jackets.
With any luck, however, even in the current squeeze of autumn isobars, there is enough pause between showers and hail squalls for me to do The Grand Old Duke of York on our hill all unanoraked. I judge it by the distant sweep of curtains along the sea’s horizon and the speed of their grey advance across ’Bofin or ’Turk.
The size of the rain pools on the road is another gauge of my chances. A heron stood there the other morning, peering hopefully into ankle-deep water, perhaps for a wandering frog.
Such amazements are few. Old friends are the hares, crossing the boreen between regular notches worn in the field banks at either side.
With Meg no longer sniffing ahead, they can safely pause in the middle, at the Mohican stripe of grass, to appraise me with a huge sideways eye.
I remember the boreen before tarmacadam: stones all the way to the sea. Where curling bracken waves now in its last, lacy fronds of beige and russet, the winter verges were mown by loose cattle set free to graze the “long acre”.
The few cattle left on the hillside today are well-fed captives, with yellow tags in their ears, and it’s sheep that climb field banks to strain their necks through the fence for the extra bite. Sometimes, panicking at my step, they get their horns tangled as they jerk back: I worry they will hang there, strangling, and sometimes stop for them to take their time.
The verges are thick with herbs and grasses, combed one way by the wind from the sea, and I note the empty glove of a hedgehog on the tar, its spines a bit flatter every day. Adding it to the records at biology.ie, it is the 697th dead hedgehog sighted on the roads this year.