Walk for the Weekend: North Bull Island, Dublin
This wonderful space with a genuine island ‘feel’ is there to be walked and enjoyed within the confines of our capital city
We walked on to its nicest part, along green grassy paths through acres of marram grass billowing in the west wind
Islands are special romantic places, much celebrated in literature and often longingly visited in our imaginations. Yet mostly it’s images of palm-fringed island refuges, of exotic colour, light and warmth that console us on dark winter days.
But much more attainable – indeed only a short Dublin Bus, DART or Dublin Bikes ride for us city dwellers – is a space with a real island “feel”, a place so wild and free that shy seals, wild flowers and a multitude of migrating birds find peace, sustenance and safety there.
This is the North Bull Island, the newest of Ireland’s wonderful islands, a gift of natural processes tweaked a bit by Captain Bligh (of Bounty fame) and others keen to create safe passage for vessels into Dublin Port in the early 1800s.
Four of us came here on a blowy but bright January day. We accessed the island via the “wooden bridge”, parked near the North Bull Wall’s Marian statue and started our exploration with coffee in the sun-filled, cosy little coffee shop adjacent to the wall.
Our first, caffeine-fuelled impression of the island was of a high sky, wind and sun, and especially the lovely mountain backdrop pierced only by the iconic red and white “ESB chimneys”; wrapped-up people were running or dog walking the wall, all a little enthralled by this place of bracing air, ruffled water and wave.
We set off up the interior of the island, mostly along the outside of the Royal Dublin Golf Club fence, noting Brent geese grazing its fairways, to the little interpretative centre at the Raheny access causeway.
Here we had the great good fortune to meet Gearoid, who generously and enthusiastically explained to us the centre’s exhibits and stories of shipwrecks, migrating birds, wild flowers and the mechanics of how a sandbank became the island he evidently loves.
Better informed now of the treasures of the island, we walked on to its nicest part, along green grassy paths through acres of marram grass billowing in the west wind.
We were soon at the attractive northern tip of the island, and we picnicked there in a sheltered spot, admiring the Hill of Howth and watching the “dinky”-like double decker busses on the built-up Sutton shore opposite us; we in turn were watched by a couple of wary seals from the safety of the sea just offshore.
Then a lovely 5km walk back along Dollymount Strand followed, with the Dublin Mountains silhouette ahead of us and sunlight reflecting on the wide, ebbing tide sand and dramatically illuminating the white steam from Dublin’s Poolbeg incinerator. Meanwhile all the time, huge high-sided vessels stood just offshore awaiting access to the port.
It was a revelation to us that such a wonderful and precious space, with a genuine island “feel” and fine interpretative centre, is there to be walked and enjoyed within the confines of our capital city. But remember that this is a wildlife reserve, so tread softly and carefully!
Map: Sheet 50, maps on view at access points and in the interpretative centre
Start/Finish: Optional; CP at coffee shop or Raheny causeway access
Effort: Easy, about 10km, no climbing