Monday, October 24, 2011

Castle and Coastline Adventures

Last Monday, Zach and I took a day trip up to the town of Malahide, where the famous Malahide Castle sits. 

We had yet to really travel north of Dublin. The confines of homework (lots of reading and writing) meant that in the whole weekend we only had enough time for a day trip. And these factors all combined to make Malahide the ideal destination. 

We set out on a partly cloudy and extremely windy morning. Travel was easy enough. We had to walk through our little town of Sandycove to the Dart stop (the Dart being the Dublin-area commuter train). We boarded and road to the end of the line--one of two lines. There is a junction where the trains split, sending some to Malahide and others to Howth (which, incidentally, is the huge land mass in the picture at the top of this website). 

Leaving the train station we set out on what looked like a main road and encountered something we thought to be a bit of a rarity in Ireland: signs! Clearly marked and extremely visible signs telling us exactly where Malahide Castle was! It was a miracle. Signage is not a big thing here. Not on campus and certainly not on the streets where the road name changes every fifty feet or so. But this was the exception. 

We followed the the sign to a public park (which was a massive grassy field ringed with clusters of trees). Following the path which skirted around the park we eventually came to another sign directing us down a shady concourse curving deep into a thick woodland. 

It was an ominous undertaking at the time. The wind battered and bullied the trees, wringing from their boughs and limbs the churning and charging roar of the ocean. But into the woodland we went--fearless adventurers that we are. The forest was gorgeous even as the wind swirled the tree tops and clattered the leaves. Debris fell all around us, but onward we progressed. At last the path opened up onto a parking lot for the castle. We passed through the lot and around a grassy hill where we were finally able to glimpse the great round bailey of the castle jutting out over the landscape. 

Malahide Castle sits amid a vast acreage of grassy hills and woodland clusters, much like the one we traversed to reach it on foot. Walking the gravel road leading up to the formidable structure was like hiking back in time--or became more so like that as soon as the service van parked out front made its deliveries to the gift shop and cafes inside the castle and drove away.

All joking aside, it was stunning. Ivy-swept stone walls. Mullioned, oriel windows, thick stone teeth lining the battlements. We were both in awe!

The wind flogged us until we nipped through the front entrance. We had read in a guide book that castle tours were all audio, so we expected to pick up some headphones from the gift shop and start meandering. In fact, visitors to the castle must go on a tour of the castle at particular times throughout which speakers and sound systems installed in various nooks and crannies broadcast the audio tour. We were only ten minutes away from the next start time and as luck would have it, we were the only two visitors in the entire castle at the moment!

(Unfortunately photography is absolutely forbidden so we only have pictures of the exteriors.)

Feeling very exclusive, and every giddy at the thought of roaming through a castle unsupervised, we took our tickets and scurried into the first room. The recordings started playing background music appropriate to the historical period of discussion and the narrator continually reminded us to not touch anything! Some areas of some rooms were roped off or enclosed behind glass walls, but we could otherwise move freely about the room and examine the dressers, the wood paneling, and the furnishings, which were as luxurious as they were musty!

Guilt-wood dressers, marble-topped everything, ruffled and tassled window dressings, cornices and wainscoting filigreed with wood-carved birds, fruits, and mythical animals! Much of the furniture was beautifully hand-crafted and inlaid with the kind of floral and Arabesque accents that would make normal people swoon, while a carpenter like my dad might be inclined to shoot a cool glance and mutter, "It's not aplomb."

The best room in the house was a small library located just off the dining hall. As the recording talked ad nauseum about all the portraits hanging in the dining hall, we snuck off to see this room. I'm sure you can just picture two nerds , gasping and gawking at the many shelves, stacked floor to ceiling, with old musky books! I'll not go into the depravity of our geekery here, for the sake of decency, but suffice it to say, we were in a small slice of heaven!

We learned a lot about the the castle, which passed from Viking to Norman hands after the Norman Invasion in 1066. Don't even get me and Zach started on the Norman Invasion, as it is one of those historical topics that both of us can talk about endlessly and with extra nerdy zeal. Suffice it to say that for those who don't know, this invasion of the Normans into England and the surrounding islands, changed the world!  

After the castle tour, we wandered back outside to the brutality of the wind--which howled and moaned through the castle crevasses like something out of the best Gothic novels! We found many fine lanes to walk which wrapped around the the castle. At last we emerged back on the main road and reluctantly gave up the thick woods for the sandy beaches girdled around Malahide's coastal town. 

We walked the scenic road through the village, which reminded me of Georgetown. Finally we reached the dunes of the beach, all spiked with tall grass. Though the wind blustered and barked and shoved us along, we stopped to pick up shells and poke at the carcasses of dead crabs. We shot some footage of the churning breakers which clawed at the beaches like the great foamy hands of deep-sea beasts fighting to be free of the water.

It was when we turned back that we saw a vibrant rainbow spanning the estuary. Soon after this discovery, rain fell like spittle from the looming black clouds encroaching from the south. We hurried off the beach and snugged up inside a coffee shop just as the rain began to pour down in earnest. We gave our feet a much-needed rest, warmed up with some frothy Italian-style coffee, and filled our bellies with a brownie--sent all the way from Cravin' Cookies.

With much reluctance we quit our day trip and made our way back to the train, happily knowing that not even gale-force winds could blow away the charm of Malahide, its castle and its coast.

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