Walking on water around the Maharees
The view from the breakfast room in Brandon Hostel looks out over Brandon Bay with the Maharees peninsular stretching out along the horizon. That’s my main destination today: more than 11 kilometres along Ireland’s longest beach, returning down more beach on the far side of the peninsula to Castlegregory.
The forecast is ‘rain’. I make an early start, get a sandwich for lunch from the Siopa An Phobail (Community shop) and set off along a few kilometres of road towards the Maharees.
A track through the dunes brings me onto the strand. It’s huge; a vast, wide, expanse of flat sand arching away into the far distance.
As I set out along the beach, the rain begins as a steady drizzle, driven by a blustery wind at my back. I test the different zones across the beach between the dunes and the surf for the best walking surface. Although the flat sands closer to the sea have a thin layer of water reflecting the sky, they are the best place to walk, firmer and out of the swirls of dry sand being whipped by the wind into long, low plumes from higher up the beach. It feels as if I am walking on water and in the sky too.
The sea rolls in with a steady roar, tendrils of spume blowing from the wave crests, high into the air.
Water courses flow down from the land and have to be waded across. A surf school is being instructed before heading for the breakers. After them, I see no-one except for a lone runner and a horse rider for the next two and a half hours. What a magnificent experience to be alone, just me and the elements, moving through this unique landscape!
Special but not comfortable. Rain and wind-blown sand splatter at my back. A crust of sand clings to my waterproof trousers. At times the roar of the sea is drowned by the noise of my flapping jacket hood. Balls of rolling seaweed speed past in the wind, tumbling over the rippled sand until they hit the dunes, sometimes startling me as they crash against my legs before rolling on.
Walking on the same surface for hours on end is hard on the feet, footfall after footfall the same as the next. There is nowhere to stop, no shelter and no respite from the weather.
The beach swings slowly to the west and the low buildings of Fahamore appear out of the cloud and sea spray. By the time I reach them, the rain has become heavier and I make my way along a road behind the dunes to ‘World Famous Spillanes Bar’ hoping for some hot tea. Closed, ‘Open at 5’.
Disappointed, I cross the narrow neck of the peninsula and turn south, the wind now in my face, strong enough to nearly knock me over at times, making my way along the low dunes between the clumps of pale blue-green sea holly.
Back onto sand; softer, more difficult to walk on. Eating my sandwich in the lee of a rocky breakwater. Pressing on, too chilly to stop for long. I cross a stony beach, round a pebble-banked headland, go behind high dunes and pass a sea of mobile homes and a surf school, shut and boarded.
I miss a turn back onto the dunes so continue along a road into Castlegregory, washing some of the sand from my boots in the roadside puddles.
Eventually reaching Castle House, I am greeted by Sheila who takes my wet things to dry. She has a warm fire blazing with walkers wet boots stuffed with newspaper sitting in a row before it. The hot shower is bliss.
Later, I eat at Pisces restaurant. The group of fellow hikers from Carolina whom I have met frequently over the last few days secretly pay for my meal. It’s such a kind gesture and I am truly touched. Thank you, lovely people and may all your hikes be as magnificent as this one!
About the route
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This route is the topmost yellow section on the map.
27km (16.75 miles) in about 6.75 hours
Total ascent: 192m, Max elevation: 42m