Having lived for decades in Amsterdam, I considered myself a bit of a cycling connoisseur. The bike-path network in the Netherlands is vast. And hopping on your two wheeler is the fastest, cheapest and most efficient means of getting to pretty much any destination in the city (I once had a job where it took fifteen minutes to reach by bike, but thirty minutes by public transport). As a result everyone cycles – from the very young to the very old. Although the site of a baby strapped onto the handlebars as the parent whizzes by is still a sight that gives me shivers.
The bikes there are not fancy – granny bikes are the preferred model. Great honking rust buckets are favoured – and considering that bike theft is rampant I can understand the logic. It could also be due to the fact that as a society Dutch people tend to be quite modest when it comes to flaunting wealth. A flashy expensive bike might seem a bit gauche.
You grow fond of your hi-nelly bike though, and when it gets pinched (and it will unless you are extra careful to double lock it to an immovable object even when popping in for a litre of milk) it feels like a loss. The first time my bike was stolen I was distraught. Especially as the bike was nicked by the city council. It was my own fault – they had placed a sticker on the front mudguard telling me – in Dutch of course – that due to upcoming roadworks, the bike had to be moved by a certain date. I ignored it. And just like that, it was gone.
Since my return to Ireland I have not cycled. The city doesn’t seem to have the infrastructure for large scale cycling. And it looks a bit perilous.
But what does exist is a scheme called ‘Dublin Bikes’ where you can rent a bike by the hour from various locations around the city, and you can drop it back to any of these designated locations at your leisure. It costs about one euro per hour.
My friend has a Dublin Bikes card and suggested we go for a wander along the coast this afternoon. The sun was shining. What a wonderful idea.
We collected our bikes from outside my building and headed up through the East Point Business Park. As the name suggests this is an ugly place of commerce. But it’s on the harbour looking over towards Clontarf. It’s very picturesque.
From there we passed through Fairview Park. This is a park not far from my home. I have never been in it before and it has always given me the creeps because of its history. It’s in there that a 32 year old gay man called Declan Flynn was beaten to death in 1983, by a gang of teenagers, who were given suspended sentences for his murder. It was that event that galvanised the Irish gay community in demanding equal rights and protections under the law.
The park itself is pleasant and plain. The football team playing kick-about on the pitch had thoughtfully removed their tops however, so that was pleasing.
From there we passed through Clontarf – allegedly the area where King Brian Boru defeated the Vikings in battle about a thousand years ago. It’s on the water’s edge and is a very scenic place. A neighbourhood is not a community unless there is a great big fish and chip shop. Clontarf has several.
Then onward to Bull Island. Bull Island is an artificial island that grows year by year. Dublin Bay had a problem with silting and efforts to dredge it were haphazard. So two sea walls were built to keep the entrance to the bay clear. But where was the silt to go. Well it started depositing at what is now Bull Island and the island was formed in this strange way. It’s less than three hundred years old. You can cycle along the coast wall – the Bull Wall – and at the end is a strange and sinister statue – the Star of the Sea. It’s a giant statue of the Virgin Mary staring out into the harbour. It was built in 1972. I don’t think somehow that in the year 2016 you’d b able to get state funding to erect a mammoth religious statue on public ground.
At the base is the following inscription.
The sea views were wonderful. Water really feels incredibly calming. It is so vast that it makes your own troubles seem minute.
The view of the Poolbeg lighthouse was a good counterpoint to the view from said lighthouse – which I described HERE.
We attempted a shortcut to the other side of the island, but as the ground felt a bit squelchy (silty?) we made our way back to the road and continued our journey.
We zoomed through St Anne’s Park and it was all well manicured and picture postcard pretty – dare I say that I found it a little dull after Bull Island, which was more craggy in its loveliness.
By this point my body was crying out for chips. We had been on the go for almost three hours. And it had been a while since I’d been on a bike. And I was being re-introduced to cycling, in a place with hills. Horrendous.
We made our way home, re-inserted the bikes in their stalls and bid farewell.
I sneaked into the chipper. As I type this last sentence, I have my eye on the last chip in the box. It is tastefully smothered with garlic sauce and cheese. And why wouldn’t it be?