The Wexford Way and the Knights Templar

(ii)

In the footsteps of the Knights Templar

            “Where are you looking for?”

“Well, I’m walking to the Hook for now, but I was just looking at some of these paths and trails marked here on the map.”

My faithful friend, the 1: 50,000 Ordnance Survey Discovery Series, Sheet no. 76, showed me an interesting looking road towards the sea and branching off in two further paths.  On paper at least they looked inviting and surely worthy of further investigation.

“Have you been down that way?”  I asked.

The younger man was studying the map, lifting his gaze to scan the landscape every now and then.

“You’re well able to read the map,” I commented when he pointed to a meandering line of hedges to our seaward side, adding that was where one of the dotted map lines went.

“I’m an engineer,” he smiled, “I’ve been down that way to survey a site for a client.”

“Really?  That would be a fine place to build alright.”

We were both quiet then for a moment, contemplating the serenely calm scenes around us.  Behind me, Northwards, lay the twin bays of Booley and dollar.  The coastline, trending South West here, was composed of much higher cliffs.

Broomhill, at 66 metres the highest point on the whole peninsula, was just ahead.  From the map again I knew the little summit was crowned with a Triangulation Point.  Small wonder various rough surfaced tracks meandered over the furze speckled landscape.

“I noticed some of these,” said my new friend the engineer., “but I’m afraid they’re overgrown now.  I’d say they’re hardly ever used.”

“Would I get through to the cliffs; do you think?  I’m trying to follow the coast as closely as I can?”

“I’d say not.  Well, maybe you could, but it would be difficult.  You’re probably better off following the road for now.  How far have you come?”

With that we were launched into a fine conversation about walking the roads at your leisure.  He was just one of what would become many.  Travel along with at a natural pace with the uniform of the pilgrim, of the walker, broad brimmed hat, stout stick, good hiking boots and you invite many’s the pleasant chat with random strangers by the roadside.

Yet another simple pleasure to be had for free.

We went our separate ways, mine bringing me south again.  The road, still rising, brought me to a little pass between Broomhill and an unnamed, 55 metre stretch of relatively high ground.  This anonymous little summit was crowned with mobile phone masts, broadcasting signals around the region.

I didn’t bother checking mine, that was unnecessary.  My world for the day was quite simply my immediate surroundings and whatever and wherever I could reach on foot.

As I ambled along I couldn’t help but think about the little roads disappearing everywhere across the land.  There were various times I can recall when, as a young lad, I walked over hills and uplands with my father.  To this day I have few memories of specific journeys or destinations.  What I do remember are moments when he would make observations, teaching me to notice the world around us.

It was from him I learned to look out for the ruins of long abandoned cottages.  Nearby, he often said, there would be nettles growing profusely because the old people ate nettles as a rich source of vitamins in the hungry months.

The people suffered a gap in late Spring and early Summer when the last of the previous year’s harvest was being consumed and the present years potatoes were still growing.  He also taught me to identify the outlines of the distinctive ‘lazy beds’ which were “the gardens where the praties grew” as the old song had it.

Now the cottages and their remains are also fast disappearing, becoming mere humps of stone with some nettles growing through them.  It is a rare sight to find now, the outlines of the little plots and cultivation ridges which fed so many in their day.

I was travelling two roads, one being “bóithrín na smaointe,” as they call it in Irish, the little road of thoughts, when the mind meanders at it’s own pace and takes us places we hadn’t thought of before.  An apt term surely for a day where little roads, the “bóithríní” invited the curious traveller to take their path and see where they might lead.

Now the road was dropping again.  Not far ahead I could see my next destination, the square castellated tower of Templetown Church.

templars-church

Soon I could see on lower ground inland from me another notable landmark.  The tall and elegant tower house of Kilcloggan Castle rose sternly towards the sky.  Built by the Knights Templar in historical reality as opposed to modern myth and legend, the Castle is yet another testament to the doughty warrior monks of yore.

At the nearby pub called, what else could it be, ‘The Templar’s Inn’, good food and refreshments were to be had for the hungry and thirsty traveller.  It is reasonable to conjecture the same was true in the heyday of the Knights.

On a day like this, early summer, warm air, fresh growth, light and gentle breezes, the world emerging again after the long sleep of winter and the struggle to be born again in spring, on such a day contentment is easily found.  You just have to reach out your hand and touch it.

On such a day as this to put my hand on the door of a wayside inn offering rest and refreshment is surely satisfaction personified.

On a day like this to wait outside on warm decking while lunch was prepared inside is surely appetiser enough.

Content once more to merely sit and be I could slowly absorb everything around me.

The Templars Inn or some such establishment has surely stood at this meeting of two roads for centuries.  It is also likely that a trackway passed along this route for centuries.  The decking ran parallel to the North/South route.  The Inn was built at the junction where an East/West route from further inland linked with the North/South route.

Across the road another track led down to yet another little cove.  Saving that for another day it was the Old Church beside that path that most attracted me , there was plenty to explore in that ancient place.

templars-inn

Over lunch I shared the warm decking with a Canadian family enjoying their own Odyssey.  It was the hat, the pack and the staff which served to, yet again, break down barriers and launch conversations.  Universal symbols of the wanderer, the pilgrim, they invite tales of the road, stories pleasantly shared with strangers.

The descriptions of their journey so far were fascinating.  The familiar is always refreshed and renewed through the lens of others.  Surely after the vastness of Canada and the great remoteness of continental scale distance our little Island would seem dull and uninteresting by comparison.?

“It’s so different,” one of the younger travellers, “nowhere reminds us of home.”

“And it really is green,” another added with a smile, “definitely an Emerald Isle.”  there was much nodding in agreement at this.  Although at home in their great land there was green a-plenty, apparently it was not quite the same as our own forty shades of green.

“Where are you heading?” I was asked.

Again there was much agreement that the lighthouse was a fine destination.  They had been very impressed both by its wild setting and fascinating history.  A lighthouse in continuous operation for over a thousand years was something that spoke volumes to all of us about the common threads running through all our lives down many generations

“Where are you heading?” I asked.

“Cork next, then further West”

“You’re sure to love it, everything becomes much more rugged the further West you go.”

“We have family roots in Cork, be nice to see where our kin folks came from.”

I wished them well on both counts, exploring Ireland and their own Roots.  They were lovely people to meet, reinforcing again my belief, and experience, that the world is full of friends we haven’t met, yet.

Settling my hat, pack and staff I took the next few steps on my own odyssey, across the road to the old Templar’s Church.

All across Ireland the most obvious ecclesiastical remains are the “bare ruined choirs” of the great mediaeval monasteries.  Templetown Church is nothing like those.  A simple square tower, not particularly tall adjoins an equally simple nave, now unroofed, bare to the elements.

On some of the walls, particularly on the windward South and West, slates cling to the walls.  I know houses in Wexford Town where the same weatherproofing technique was used.  Slate is an impervious rock.  Being waterproof they help protect against the furious onslaught of the storm driven wind and rain.

slates-on-wall

Someday I will travel to the maritime states and provinces of the North Eastern U.S and Canada and look out for the same practical, beautifully simple style.  Some day.

In Templetown Church some walls still hold large areas of their slate sheeting.  Elsewhere bare stone gives way to patches of weathered plaster before yielding in turn to the ever encroaching ivy.

It is marvellous to see, here and there the work of the old masons’ hands.  Nails used to hold the slates in place can be found where the slate has fallen away.  The curls and swirls on once wet plaster left by the skilled tradesman can still be seen, centuries later.

ancient-nail2

This was a parish church, ordered to be built and paid for by the Knights Templar, who one time supported the living of a priest who ministered to the people round about.  The tower can be entered from the ground floor.  Here is the fireplace where the incumbent could warm himself on wild winter nights.  There are the stairs to his living quarters above.

That troubled times came here, that it was built by an Order, no matter how religious, of Knights, is evident just by stepping outside and considering the battlements crowning the tower.  This then was a tower to live in but also take refuge in, a place to defend yourself.

Such clues are truly signs of troubled times.

sailors-names-templars

Walking around the churchyard grounds on the North side I stop and consider awhile the little rows of simple headstones telling us tragic tales of more recent troubled times.  Here lie at rest the remains of mariners who lost their lives during the War Which Did Not End All Wars, 1914-1918.

You know how much you are in area closely connected to the sea when space is made in their graveyards to bury those who are returned from the deep.  All ages, young and old alike, lie here, some named, some not, from both sides in that war.  They were lost from submarines, merchant ships, armed trawlers.  Their final resting place is in these ancient hallowed grounds.  Here they lie side-by-side, enemies in life, neighbours in death.

unknown-sailor

Continuing around the church to the seaward facing wall I find yet another heart wrenching piece of history.  At about the height a man might comfortably work at there is a poignant mark cut into the wall.  Bearing in mind that this stone is millstone grit you can but appreciate that this was no easy task.  ‘E Lymbery 1847’ So reads the inscription, a name I can barely read and a date.

Graffiti, in the true meaning of the original Latin, to scratch upon a wall.  Carving certainly, incised in stone but not by expert hands or someone with the luxury of precision tools.  Poignant definitely, the date being that of ‘Black ’47’, the worst year of the Great Irish Famine.  The most awful of those terrible times when 1 million died of starvation and disease, when another million fled in horrifying circumstances, a trail of corpses across the Irish Sea and from one side of the Atlantic to the other.

There were countless thousands buried that year in unmarked graves, the dying often burying the dead.  In my childhood the story of the hungry grass was still told, still passed down the generations.  It was said that where someone had dropped dead from the hunger and been buried where they fell, that place was cursed forever.  If you stepped on such ground, you would be overwhelmed by a sudden and terrible hunger.

e-lymbery-1847

Did someone later remember that Famine dead were buried on  that spot and marked it as best they could? Perhaps someone, before they fled, marked the place where they had hastily buried their own, taking then to the roads and perhaps the sea.  The silent testament is there to our very own day.

Stepping back onto the road, over a stone stile that itself must be hundreds of years old, I settle my pack, grasping my faithful staff I head due south again.

The Wexford Way Chapter 3

The Wexford Coastal Path

Chapter Three

(i)

The lost treasure of Dollar Bay

                                         duncannon beach sign                                                                                                                                                                                              

A warm bright day in early summer is perfect for the long walk.  Such breeze as there is refreshes.  With clear air and perfect light distant objects seem nearer, they encourage you to keep going, everything seems attainable.

Duncannon beach, from the headland crowned by the fort to the opposite headland at the southern end, is one stretch of the way where I am truly on a coastal path.  Waves lap gently on my right hand side, the last wave breaking in rhythmic tones on the clean, fine grained sands.  Others are also taking the air, kites flutter and fly, dogs chase seagulls fruitlessly and a lonely wind surfer catches the breeze to skim across the smooth waters.

boat and fort

Firm sand underfoot helps establish a steady rhythm and before long the fort and the village it protects are well behind me and the cliffs ahead come into sharper relief.  Geology in the whole Hook area is quite complex and thus fascinating to your average rock lover.  Clonsharragh to my North is formed from a rock known as Newtown Head Member, a relatively tough volcanic rock mixed with mudstones.  The geology map indicates that from here on southwards to Broomhill the underlying rock is Porter’s Gate Formation, comprising softer sandstones, shales and some limestones thrown in for good measure.  Consequently the sea has more success in eroding the the coast there over the millennia since the last Ice Age ended.

Walking by the foot of the cliff yields views of the bedrock in cross-section.  Between this beach and the very tip of the peninsula I will pass through eleven distinct geological zones, in the process crossing over twenty two different faults and sheer zones.  Some of the fault lines marking geologic boundaries are mere metres apart.  A few minutes walking can take you from one to another.  In places the coastal cliffs reveal these boundaries so clearly they can be read as easily as the pages of a well written book.

Nearing the end of this, the first of the day’s beaches, I observe other companions of my journey.  Flocks of gulls rest on the exposed sands of low tide, lazy and well fed they only stir for approaching dogs or humans.  A short flight brings them to another stretch of sand no different to the one deserted moments previously.  The important business of resting and preening then continues undisturbed.

 

A little river cuts across the beach and signals the end of that glorious stretch of sand.  Across the river a short, shingly stretch leads to the base of a line of low cliffs.  I turn left along the stream, a few steps leading to an old bridge over the stream.  Back on the road again I am climbing back up from sea-level, following the twists and turns of an Irish country road.

path underwood

At a point where the road takes a sharp left turn I notice something I don’t recall ever seeing before.  In the very elbow of the right angle a track leads straight ahead.  The driver needs to give their full attention to the sharp blind turn and has no time to notice anything else around them.  Yet there it was, classified on the map as ‘other roads’, of lesser worth than even roads, 3rd grade, and denoted by a grey colour it looked well worth exploring.  A road previously unknown to me, how could I resist the call?

According to the map this little road followed the valley of an unnamed stream.  That same stream seemed to reach the sea at my next destination, Booley Bay.  From the main road I was now ignoring, a little track led down to the Bay and the route I was now on seemed to merge with that.

Unkempt banks crowned with the rich vegetation of old neglected hedges soon engulfed me and closed off any views of the way ahead and the surrounding country.

I didn’t care.

The variety of plants in such profusion close at hand was fascinating.  Buds were budding, early flowers flowering and bees bumbled their way from one source of nectar to another.  All I had to do was let the path guide me along.  In spite of a rough, broken surface the way seemed easy enough.  After about two kilometres the path less travelled was about to merge with the regular descent to Booley Bay.

The last 100 meters or so were marked on the map by a single broken line, indicating a potentially rough way, for the walker only.  Reality and symbol combined in a harmonious whole as the Bay opened up.  The solitude that was so refreshing still held as sands stretched from side to side across the little bay.  The only litter left behind was simply the natural flotsam and jetsam carried in by the tides.  The only sound was that of a little wave murmuring along the tide line.

underwood

Bliss.

Pausing and savouring quietly was the way to absorb such peace.  The joys of unhurried walking are many and varied, being able to ease into the unexpected, refreshing body and soul being one of the greater.

Truly as W.B. Yeats reminded us, “peace comes dripping slow.”

 

Again the willingness to let the way take me where it would served me well.  It was low tide, glistening sands lay exposed.  even more intriguing the headland dividing Booley Bay from it’s neighbour, Dollar Bay, was no longer fringed by the sea.  The headland lived up to it’s name, Black Point, because at it’s feet, as far as I could see, dark rocks lay exposed in a questioning jumble.

Could I round the point?  Could I go beach to beach at sea level?  Was it going to be possible to avoid the obvious way, to refuse the road and choose the sand?

Surely worth a try.

It turned out to be easier than I thought it might be.  Easier and far more enchanting.  Rock pools were a riot of colour.  Fronds of seaweed waved gently, shyly revealing open tentacles of brightly coloured sea anemone enticing passing prey.  On the exposed rock the same anemones were little gelatinous colourful blobs distinct among the crusty barnacles.

Mussels and periwinkles in great clusters clung to the sides of the black rocks, secure in the knowledge that their comforting sea would return in a few hours time.

For the most part I was able to keep to the very edge of the rocks.  This area is technically a wave-cut platform, where the undercutting of the rock cliff from time to time caused the overhang to collapse, scattering rocks at the cliff foot, ready to begin the same process all over again.

The tide was so low that where the Ordnance Survey Map showed a sliver of sand between the adjacent bays was verified by my feet.  A few tidal hours more and this would not be the case.  Delighted with my discovery I stepped on, stepped through and emerged onto drier sand below the cliffs of Dollar Bay.

 

IMG_4649

Such a name!  For young and old alike the name conjures visions of pirates, gold, buried treasure.  I wonder how many times her sands have been swept by metal detectors?  I must confess that I haven’t, yet!

The bay was once known as simply Fishertown but that changed dramatically in the summer of 1765.  a ship,by name “The Earl of Sandwich”, left the Cary Isles, London bound.  she carried a tempting cargo.  Along with passengers and wine she carried securely in her hold milled Spanish Dollars and bags of Gold Dust.  A tempting cargo indeed, too much so for four of the crew.

Somewhere on the voyage, perhaps as they approached the English Channel, the four killed all on board.  With only themselves left to sail the ship she soon began to founder.  Taking to a boat with two tons of treasure on board the four landed on the beach at Fishertown.

Once ashore they buried a large portion of their heavy load and proceeded inland.  Arriving in New Ross they repaired to a tavern, “The Black Bull Inn.”

Spending freely they drew attention to themselves.  Soon enough they were arrested and found to have a considerable sum of money, over 1,200 dollars, about them.  they had little choice but to confess and they told their captors where they had buried their ill-gotten gains.  Soon enough the garrison ar Duncannon Fort were dispatched and they recovered the buried treasure.

That important detail has not deterred many’s the treasure hunter ever since.  However, who knows?  In the Public records Office of Northern Ireland a note adds the detail that as they were approaching Fishertown they knew their boat was overladen, in danger of foundering.  They jettisoned some of their loot overboard.  Where has that wandered to with the tides?

Meanwhile the unfortunate “Earl of Sandwich” drifted, finally running ashore on the rocks at Island Keane, a short distance west of Tramore.

Not all the bullion on board had been removed.  We know this as a Mr. John Rogers of Tramore lodged a salvage claim on 23rd February 1767 in the amount of, co-incidentally, 1,200 dollars.  He claimed he found this on board the wreck.

The four mutineers were tried, found guilty and hung in a public execution at St. Stephens Green, Dublin.  Afterwards the bodies of George Gidley, Richard St. Quenton, Peter McKinlie and a Dutchman, Andres Lukerman, were suspended in chain on the approach to the harbour of Ringsend, Dublin.  There they remained for years as a grisly reminder and a warning to others.

Murder, greed and gruesome ends seemed very distant on the day I basked in the warm sunshine and the sheltered air in Dollar Bay.

More of the Wexford way…

Slí Charmain – The Wexford Coastal Path

Chapter Two

(ii)

To the Fort by the sea

Two roads lead out of Arthurstown.  On my immediate left the R733 leads Northwards towards New Ross.  Rejecting that choice I remained true to my own tale and followed the same road Southwards towards my next stop, Duncannon.  Staying with the shoreline I came to a sharp left turn and the road turned it’s back on the sea for a while and climbed steeply inland.

Whether it was the time of day or the time of year I couldn’t say but Arthurstown was uncannily quiet on this occasion.  Even the smokers’ terrace outside the pub was deserted.  Of course it was still relatively early in the day, the sun not yet above the yard arm.  Still, not even the morning coffee drinking smokers were out and about.  The gardens were all neat and tidy but it was as if invisible hands tended them.  The gleaming windows might well have been that modern marvel, the self cleaning glass.

Arthurstown I had to myself.  Such traffic as there was came in almost measurable bursts, pulsing past to the rhythm of the ferry’s coming and goings.

This suited me because as I left the village, climbing uphill, I was running out of well defined roadside path.  For the walker, the verges of our roads often leave a lot to be desired.  It is important to be alert at all times to following traffic.  This is especially so where the scope for stepping off the road is limited.  Sometimes there can be a lovely grass verge, wide and soft.  Other times there might only be an overgrown drain, brambles and thistles further deterrents to usage.

Worst of all is a stone wall with nothing between the the foot of the wall and the edge of the road.  Luckily my side of the road had an overgrown grass margin, but thistle free.  At the sound of an approaching vehicle I was free to step aside in safety.

The roadside wall that stretched all the way to the summit of the hill was across the road from me.  Because of the turn in the road my direction was inland, away from the coast.  My aim was to follow the coastline of Wexford as closely as I could.  I would use the markers for the Slí Charmain, the long distance trail, as I needed, but my plan was to walk shoreline and cliff top as much as possible.  Here I was on the first leg of the journey and already diversions had set in.

The little yellow man with his walking stick and knapsack on the wooden markers indicating the route quite clearly said, “follow the road!”  I would have loved to cross the road and climb the wall, seeking for a direct route, as the seagull flies, to the Fort at Duncannon.

Not only did the wall seem too high for me, but my old friend, the Ordnance Survey 1:50,000 map, seemed to suggest that Private Property, in the form of fine Estate Parkland and matching Great House, lay in the way.  Tempted as I was to find a way in, to cross the grounds, to somehow come out the other side, I decided not to.  I passed on.

There was a small opening, a break, in the Estate Wall and glancing in I saw to my delight a fine row of traditional style cottages.  At the entrance to this holiday home development someone had lovingly and thoughtfully preserved and maintained an old style village pump.  Between the primary colours in strong gloss paint on the wooden doors and windows and the stark black and white of the pump and it’s horse trough, I was able to take a series of photographs, both coloured and monochrome.  Again, the pause left me feeling refreshed and ready to move on.

The R733 then took me the rest of the steep climb to a “T”-Junction where a sharp right turned back parallel to the coast and led on to Duncannon.   The gradient of the slope had a different feel on foot compared to zooming uphill in a car with the only effort required being the change of gears.  The different sense of the length of the road I was familiar with but this gradient difference I hadn’t thought much about.  The end result was a much slower climb than I had anticipated, but what of that?  Time was my own and as the old folk used to say, “the man who made Time made plenty of it!”

For me it meant there was time to look through gaps in the hedges on my left, time to admire the horses grazing in the sunshine flooding the fields beyond.  I could even take in the freshness of the newly emerging leaves on old mature trees.  It was a beautiful day to be out on the road when, as Thomas Hardy put it, “the May month flaps it’s glad green leaves like wings.”

There was a sweet source of strength in the air I breathed and therefore it did not feel long until I had climbed the last few yards.  My way now turned south and was thankfully level again.

Leaving the R733 behind my way turned on to one of the Ordnance Survey’s yellow coded roads.  These can vary from well surfaced, clearly marked roads to something just above the level of ancient trackways covered over with a sprinkling of tar and chippings.

It hardly seems worthwhile to me to engage in long distance walking without some visual rewards.  It doesn’t matter if these are the unexpected hidden gems or the awesome panoramic vistas.  All have their charms, above all when given the time to appreciate their charms.

Even as I turned off the R733 I took the time to admire an old Edwardian Post Box set in a wall, almost overgrown with old ivy and young honeysuckle.  Painted green, rather than Imperial red, on Independence, such relics of Monarchy are still to be seen and have now acquired the status of historical objects, worthy of conservation in their own right.

The level ground made progress easier and before long the road dipped slightly, trees parted and the wider estuary lay visible again.  As always the Hook Lighthouse was the focus of the scene, still distant but becoming sharper now.

I passed by more unexpected pleasures and scenes unnoticed in any previous drive-by.  On my left, the inland side of the road, I came across All-Saints Church, a little gem with neatly kept grounds, nestling among old pine trees.  I couldn’t recall noticing it before yet here I was, leaning on the old gate and admiring the stone work, the fine carvings, the well-made quoins and the mellow grey of the weathered slates.

A little further on there was a private road on the right hand, seaward side.  This led to yet another lighthouse, at Blackhill.  Finally I was taking the time to truly consider this beautiful old Eighteenth Century Lighthouse with attached keepers dwelling.  Numerous photographs in various styles were calling to me and indulged in.  The road proffered different angles and I took advantage of them all.

Another indulgence I allowed myself was to consider, not for the first time, what it would be like to purchase and live in this amazing building with incredible seaward views.  Twice in my memory the Lighthouse has been for sale and alas, twice I could not buy, but I could imagine myself in a curved wall room typing these words with a view of the passing ships by way of distraction.  Sometimes, we can but dream.

The road levels again and for a time there are only fields between towards the sea.  The Council’s Local Area Plan for Duncannon calls for that stretch of road to be held clear of development and the view to remain as it is now.  I agree heartily, enjoy and walk on.

Passing by the local school, St. Oliver’s and the Star of the Sea Church I catch glimpses of the day’s destination, the Fort at Duncannon.  The shipping channel sweeps in close and in olden times brought all ships passing by within range of the Fort’s guns.  Underwater Archaeologists have found the cannon on the sea bed of a Cromwellian ship sunk by fire from the Confederates of Kilkenny when the held the fort in the 1640’s.  That seems a neat symmetrical end for a days journey that began in the Confederate Capital and ends at one of their strategic fortifications.

Following the road downhill the pace seems to quicken and before much longer I am sitting on the se wall overlooking the magnificent beach .  If ever a community made use of a natural resource it can be seen here.  They boast the only St. Patrick’s Day parade in Ireland held on beach.  Later in the year there follow in succession a Military Re-enactment, a Sand Sculpture weekend, a  Kite Surfing Championship and all the time, lines of cars grace the beach in fine weather.

Taking off my knapsack I read the display board beside and am delighted to have ended this first leg beside a little way-marker with my yellow painted friend pointing in two directions, back the way I had come and onwards, to the next stage of my travels

More of Wexford Way

                                        Slí Charmain – The Wexford Coastal Path

Continue reading “More of Wexford Way”

Second Part of the Wexford Coastal Path

Slí Charmain, the Wexford Coastal Path

 

Chapter One

From quay to quay by bus

(ii)

            Leaving the station I cross the bridge on foot and admire the streetscape Waterford presents to the river.  A pleasing prospect stretches from Reginald’s Tower at the eastern end of the quays all the way to the bridge’s landfall before me.  Somehow Waterford City has managed not only to retain a wonderful unbroken streetscape from the river but even to generate a sense of pride and affection towards the line of shops and businesses, many dating back to Victorian times and beyond.  No ugly modern cubes break this skyline.  The only modernist touch is opposite the Viking era tower.  There on the boardwalk a beautiful public space is created by means of canvas, wood and steel.  Musicians at times play in this authentic representation of a boat.  At other times the boardwalk promenaders of all ages enjoy sitting while skateboarders glide skilfully by.

Waiting for a bus along the quay, just below the Bus Éireann depot I am surrounded by rich rolling “r’s” of the Waterford/South Kilkenny accent.  The bus I was waiting for was not easy to locate.  Sometimes I despair at how difficult it can be to access information on travelling without your own transport in Ireland.  The various websites supposedly offering timetables with destinations, route planners, fares and prices have been in my experience some of the most frustrating to navigate.  How do tourists manage?  They ask people.  Once on a Dublin bus I had the pleasure of watching a middle-aged German couple wondering whether they were on the right bus, asking for help from various fellow passengers, pensioners all.  The old ladies and gentlemen whipped out their smartphones’, checked their timetabling apps, cross checked with each other and with the kindest of smiles helped and reassured the visiting couple. Ireland of the welcomes, modern style.

The blue and white Suir Valley Transport bus was already waiting when I arrived.  Regulars chatted with the driver while waiting for the off.  As an unknown I was discreetly eyed up and down.  Wearing hiking boots, haversack and sporting a beard makes me easy to categorise.  It was to be a feature of my journeys that as a grey bearded rambler I was welcome everywhere and conversations began easily.  “Where have you come from?”  “Where are you going?”  So many people still take the time to stop and talk when you travel at the speed of an ordinary walk.

The bus loaded at a leisurely pace, information exchanged along with fares, smiles and greetings part of the ritual.  Smaller than the modern, sleek, air-conditioned inter-city buses the Suir Valley blue and white bounced along the quays.  Turning round by Reginald’s Tower we went past Thomas Meagher on his bronze horse, sword held eternally aloft as if frozen at Gettysburg or the disaster at Fredericksburg, half the Fighting Irish, the 69th New York Regiment of the Union Army, wiped out in a day.  Soon we left Waterpark behind and after the roundabouts by Ardkeen Regional hospital the open countryside beckoned.

The hospital at Ardkeen has grown and continues to grow through all the ups and downs of Health Services Provision over the years.  It began life, as far as I know, as a T.B. sanatorium built by the famous, yet ill-starred, Dr. Noel Browne.  A man fired by a burning desire to use a Ministerial position in the First Inter-Party government to eradicate the scourge of T.B. Dr. Browne raided the capital funds of the Hospitals’ Sweepstakes, a form of lottery, to build a chain of sanatoria across the land.  These were designed to accommodate those suffering from the dreaded lung disease.  Long covered over in an ever developing series of buildings and services the old sanatorium can no longer be traced and the folk memory of T.B. as a killer disease is finally fading away.  The old people in my youth spoke of Dr. Browne in hushed and respectful tones, his lingering on in the oral tradition a mighty monument to the man’s work.

Beyond Ardkeen, after a few more bends and twists in the road we reach the official boundary between urban and rural Waterford.  The city has now grown so far and so fast that where I remember fields and country cottages, now housing estates sprawl down to the very water’s edge on our left.  The little bus passes by a sign proclaiming that we are now entering not only County Waterford but the very Barony of Gaultier, whose symbol, the horned goat, looks most lordly like down upon the approaching traveller.  It never fails to make me smile and then the road divides at a “Y” junction, right for the fishing village of Dunmore East, left on the R683 for the estuary, Passage East and the ferry to Wexford and my true beginning, the start of the Slí Charmain, the Wexford coastal path.

Briefly the land changes again and we pass through an area of boggy, rushy fields, the signs of poor drainage and even poorer yields.  Before that we slowly cross the narrow viaduct sheltering a pretty unique pub, Jack Meade’s Under The Bridge.  Nestling under the arches of the bridge there is a centuries old pub where the discerning traveller can enjoy traditional food accompanied by traditional music enhanced by the fragrance of traditional turf.  In winter the open fires are warm and welcoming.  In summer the crowds, especially at the weekends, overspill along the length of a little nearby stream.  Children enjoy the playground, adults the outdoor bar-b-q’s and the music, ranging from Saturday Blues to Sunday Jazz.  Signs along the river warn that it is prone to tidal surges causing levels to rise and even the current flows at times in a contrary fashion.  Such are the dips and folds of the landscape, allied now with an abundance of magnificently mature trees that any sense of being near the sea is only displayed in these signs by the little river.  Yet the great estuary is now only a mere few miles away.

Almost bursting through a tunnel of overhanging foliage the bus quite suddenly brings us to a first view of the Nore, the Suir and the Barrow joined together in their last push for the sea, by Hook or by Crook.  In Irish it is known evocatively as “cumar na dtrí uisce”, the confluence of the three waters.  Across the wide river lies the Wexford shore where the trail will bring me in time to my initial major landmark, the old lighthouse at Hook Head.  Yet I must also remember that the great anticipated landmarks are not always the highlights of a journey, it is often the minor key which reverberates longest and it is good to be open to these and to their noticing.

As we sweep downhill with a cliff fall on our left between us and the sea the Wexford coast presents herself as a wooded, steep slope dropping to the shore with no trace of habitation or work of human hands.  Now the vista opens and down below the roof tops of Passage East appear.  Grey in various shades and multi-angled they must surely be an artist’s delight.  A slight glance left and the eye catches the ferry crossing from Ballyhack.  There an ancient castle of the Knights Templar stands sentinel over the river route and the handful of houses clustered around a little fishing harbour and the slipway landing for the ferry.

As on the Passage side the cliffs around Ballyhack are close to the water, so close that I can see my onward path, cut as a ledge through the rock to take me from Ballyhack to Arthurstown.  As always at this point on the road the little game begins, will the ferry have turned around from Passage before we arrive at the slipway?  The next move in the game is to estimate the number of vehicles visible on deck and thus the ferry’s turnaround time.  No such luck today, a single turn in the road means the ferry is out of sight and the bus enters Passage East.

Exiting in the square, thanking the driver, rearranging my knapsack, breathing in the saltier air I put one foot forward and walk to the ferry.  A few steps take me out of the square, down a side street and along a little quay.  From now on I am truly on my walking journey, free now from trains and buses I walk to the ferry and when we have crossed the wide water I will leave the ferry and walk along the road.  I am content to wait on the quayside and admire all around me while the ferry approaches again from the other side.