OBSERVATIONS FROM THE WILD – FAIR HEAD & MURLOUGH BAY – NORTHERN IRELAND

Root – definition

(n) the part of a plant which attaches it to the ground or a support, typically underground, conveying water and nourishment to the rest of the plant via numerous branches and fibres.

(n) the basic cause, source or origin of something.

Route – definition

(n) a way or course taken in getting from a starting point to a destination.

(v) send or direct along a specified course.


During February, my husband and I spent three wild, blustery days in a little eco-cabin in Ballycastle on the Causeway Coast. We arrive just as storm Dudley takes hold, fierce winds whipping the sea into an impressive frenzy of white horses. We walk on the beach, my hair flowing into a tousled mess, sand whirling around our ankles and blowing into our eyes, barely able to hear each other speak over the ruckus. It is most definitely weather for clearing away the cobwebs and shifting stagnant energy, and just so happens to coincide with February’s full ‘snow’ moon. I am feeling it all!

The children are enjoying some quality time with their grandparents, the first time we have all been apart since well before the Covid pandemic began, and although it feels a little odd to begin with, I soon settle into some grown-up time, grateful for some space to just be us. I hadn’t really realised quite how much tension I’d been carrying around in my body. The past two years have taken their toll on us all that’s for certain. So much loss and fear and sadness that has affected our nervous systems, trauma we are all feeling so deeply yet barely know how to begin unravelling or processing. It can sometimes be hard to imagine what life was like ‘before’ all the restrictions, lockdowns and disconnection became normal. And so, as I stand and watch the majestically fierce waves, I let go of some of the anxiety and sorrow that have accompanied the months that have passed, allowing my own salty tears to drop onto the sand, to become part of the greater force of nature that is captivating me and reminding me of my place in it all. I don’t wipe the tears away, I simply stand there, a small body in time, a mother, wife, sister, friend, daughter… a woman, sometimes so unsure, sometimes so free and confident, immersed in a moment that feels so painfully blissful and necessary, and I allow the tears to flow until they have run their course. I knew on the journey north that morning that I was tired, my body heavy and probably a bit hormonal, yet I know that this time spent marvelling at the wildness and allowing myself to lean into all my emotions is a precious and vital healing moment. I walk across the multi-coloured pebbles to meet my husband who has wandered on ahead with the dog, before we make our way to the cabin for an afternoon nap. That’s what these few days are all about, a time for restoration and collecting strength.

Morning follows a night of howling winds as Storm Dudley continued to make himself known into the wee small hours. Things settle down though as the day unfurls, blue sky hinting at the chance of some brighter weather, and over breakfast we talk about the possibility of getting in a little mini-adventure before the weather changes once again; another storm having been forecast to hit later that evening. This is our only real opportunity to get out and about along the rugged cliffs of the Causeway Coast; one short window, one sweet day sandwiched between two storms. So, with all the layers of clothing we’d brought with us piled on to ensure warmth, we make our way to Ursa Minor in Ballycastle to stock up on picnic supplies. Then, a short drive around the coast brings us to Murlough Bay, where we sit on a low stone wall eating our lunch, looking across the sea to Scotland and the Paps of Jura to the north-east.

Once we’ve finished eating, we follow the track around towards the foot of the iconic and towering cliff of Fair Head. We’ve walked around the top of this cliff with the children before, the sheer drops completely shredding my nerves as I begged them to stay close to me! But, this was our first time taking the lower path and I am totally blown away by the immensity of the cliff from this angle. I have friends who frequently rock-climb here and have heard them talking about the different routes up the jagged columnar structure and know that it is considered to be one of the best climbing locations in the world. I stand for ages looking up, trying to visualise the different ways you could make your way up the expansive, and somewhat nauseating, mass of dolerite until my eyes go funny and my head starts to spin. So many ways to climb one cliff, probably enough options to keep one climber busy for an entire lifetime. As we scramble over rocks to get closer to the sea and to get a better angle to look up at Fair Head, my philosophical mind springs into play, and I think about how, just as there are so many ways to navigate the dizzying cliff now behind me, so too there are so many ways to navigate this ‘one wild and precious life’ we’ve each been given; so many options, so many routes to take, no two paths the same.

We spend the next couple of hours walking along narrow trails, scrambling over boulders, lying back in the winter sunshine; making the most of the fine weather before the story changes once more. There’s no-one else around so we have the place all to ourselves. I love days like that, surrounded by rugged natural beauty and feeling like you’re the only two people on earth. Kicking back on the rocks, eyes closed, listening to the roar of the sea, soaking up the little heat there is, it is exactly the grounding I’ve been craving and so desperately need. The stormy weather we’ve been experiencing of late seems to mirror the tumultuousness of my current inner world, so this day of calm feels like a welcome reprieve, a grounding gift, rooting me in the earth, helping me to find the connection I’ve been longing for.

Storm Eunice arrives later that evening, bringing with her hailstones, snowfall and gale-force winds. A full moon glows boldly in the crisp, black sky as we dine on fish and chips from the comfort of the car and watch the gigantic waves crash over the harbour wall in Portrush. I’m so glad we went out for our adventure early in the day because there’s no way I am walking in that! I thought the car door was going to be ripped off its hinges when we stopped for food. It’s cosy sitting there anyhow, just the two of us, listening to to roar of the sea, waves glowing in the moonlight.

The next morning, the view from the cabin window reveals the snow-lacquered Glens of Antrim beneath a heavy sky and the beach in Ballycastle has been devoured entirely by waves; there’ll be no dander on the beach before we collect the kids that’s for sure! A quick stop for lunch and we’ve soon collected the children, said our thank-yous and goodbyes, and are on our way back home. When we’d booked the cabin I’d had in mind three blissful days of walking, picnics, prosecco in the hot tub and maybe a cheeky skinny dip under the full moon, but alas, all the optimism in the world couldn’t stop the ferocious weather and instead we’re returning home wind-battered and yet still somehow refreshed and invigorated and closer together. As usual, the best laid plans often have to be flexible, and in the end, we somehow got exactly what we needed from those three days on the wild and beautiful Causeway Coast! Nature knows best, eh?

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