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                                        Slí Charmain – The Wexford Coastal Path

                                          Chapter Two

                                                    (i)

                            From ferry to fork in the road

I take my first photographs along the road between Ballyhack and Arthurstown.  Sometimes I am of the view that a memory is better than a mechanical image, other times I feel that the act of taking a photograph comes between ourselves and the moment itself.  Once, on a boat trip to meet some dolphins off the coast of Portugal I saw a lot of people taking photos and immediately turning to their friends to say, “oh, look at this one!”  While they peered in delight at the tiny camera screens the dolphins were right at hand, gazing at us.  What they thought of this strange behaviour I’ll never know.

For now I had time, everything was slowed down.  My perceptions were those of a man walking at a man’s pace.  The scenes around me I had seen many times before, from a car, never until now on foot.  I could absorb the views, linger over them and assimilate, at my own pace, aspects of the landscape I had never noticed before.

There were a number of levels to this.

Far away the lighthouse was a hazy smudge on the horizon.

In the middle distance I could look from the headland between me and Duncannon or look back across the water to a view of the fascinating little church perched on the cliff high above Passage East.

At my very hand numerous wild flowers grew and the Old Red Sandstone rocks across the road were a riot of colour.  Lichens and ferns were visible among the roots of the furze where coarse grasses also jostled for space.

I lingered a while simply because I could and then walked on.

With the estuary on my right I looked towards gentle slopes rolling down to the sea on the Waterford side.  Headlands thrusting into the water took the eye further out to sea, to the great rivers’ mouth itself, opening between Dunmore East and the lighthouse at the Hook.  From here the tower appeared as a delicate white coloured smudge in the far distance, at the limit of eyesight.

There it waited for me, a destination of a sort, for at that point the way will turn at the peninsula’s end and my face will be set Northwards.  Today’s journey is  resolutely Southwards bound and not as far as the Lighthouse, not yet.

Then sure enough, a bend in the road, a curve to the left and again the delight of walking as a way of moving through this world is mine.

I can stop, I can stare, I can take my time.  My actions are my own, the choices all mine.

I choose to pause and rest my little haversack on the wall and rejecting the camera in favour of the moment and of memory regard the little settlement of Arthurstown before me.  On a level with me and to my left, a row of what were once Coastguard Cottages runs inland at a right angle to the road and the sea.  The hill behind gives shelter from the cold northerly winds and the view is downstream and out over the rest of the village.

Dropping down, the way leads between an old sea wall and the first neat line of housing.  These are new houses, products of the building boom brought by the Celtic Tiger years.  Thankfully, here  they do not intrude upon the view and with a few more winter winds and rains mixed in with a pinch of “aul’ lang syne” they will look as if they were always here.

Their neighbours beyond have exactly that look.  Seaside houses one and all, they face the waves protected by the wall of Old Red Sandstone Conglomerate.  The ungainly geological name is also, however, an exact description.  Millions of years ago scorched red desert sands were swept along in some cataclysmic flood.  Surging along with the grains of sand was a mighty mixture of older stones.  Rounded by collision they also travelled in the flood.  Marbles and quartzes, schists and granites, their essential toughness preserved them and in time the red sands hardened like cement around them.

Now, like an ancient Giant’s fruit pudding, the rocks in the cliffs I have just walked by and over are here before me again.  Their blocks, cut and shaped, form the sea wall protecting the  shore line street in Arthurstown.  Larger blocks form the basis of the old quay jutting out at the foot of the opposite headland marking the little bay’s southern limits.  The walker can enjoy all these subtly varied views and today I now have both time and where I choose, uses for the camera.

The seaward side of the wall gently slopes towards the mainly shingle beach.  The sloping profile is an extra protection for the wall against winter waves.  As such it appears to me to be a little like the batter at the base of the mediaeval tower houses.  That type of base slope was used to  ricochet forward projectiles dropped from the battlements on high.  Bouncing clear of the base batter they buried themselves in the faces of the approaching enemy.

My little wall slope in Arthurstown was home to a profusion of beautiful flowers in bloom, the hardy Sea Pink.  In this early summer time of year their colours were glorious.  With the surface of the wall as firm as a tripod I could line up a series of photos in several ways.  Portrait and landscape gave way to close-up.  Foregrounding led to focusing on the buildings in the background, thereby drawing the eye towards the quay.

The photographic pause complete my perambulations proceeded apace.