Hellfire via the bog of frogs

My weekend has left me with a pair of sore legs – and you can take your minds out of the gutter this instant – my tired limbs are the result of good, honest toil.

On Saturday I took the train to Howth. My mission was to do the Howth Head Cliff walk. This is a trail that I had done once previously – on New Year’s Day 2017. It is spectacularly beautiful, so I thought it would be good to try it when the sun was shining.

It turns out that there are 4 individual loop walks on Howth Head – varying in distance and difficulty. On my previous excursion I had done the ‘Green’ walk – the Cliff Walk Loop – advertised as the easiest. In fact, all four routes are the same for the first four kilometres – walking on top of the cliff face on the north of the peninsula. The views it offers of Dublin Bay are breath-taking – Lambay Island, Ireland’s Eye and the vision of the sea crashing into the rocks below.

Just as you approach Howth lighthouse (the last lighthouse in the land to be automated), the arrows split.  The Green, Red and Blue point in one direction. The purple diverges from the rest.  The purple route is the longest trail at about 15 kilometres (although it is falsely advertised as 12km) and the most difficult. It has the charming name ‘The Bog of Frogs Loop’.

There was nothing else for it – I would have to engage with the Bog of Frogs and attempt this route. It is not often that I am in Howth and seeing as the weather was pleasant and the opportunity was staring me in the face, I’d be a fool not to try it.

Almost immediately the number of fellow walkers dropped off to almost zero – clearly people were intimidated by the ‘Difficult’ grading on the information boards. This route takes you around Howth Head in its entirety. The paths are quite steep and narrow, but at certain points you can paddle in the sea as the stone path will take you there. The views from the southside of Howth Head were splendid. The sun shining on the sea gave an incredible vista of Dublin.

After almost three hours I had come full circle and found myself back at the train station. My legs throbbing with pain, I made my way to Leo Burdock’s Chipper for a well-deserved plate of cod and chips.

On Sunday my legs felt rested. I decided that because this weekend might be the only sunny weekend of the summer I ought to take advantage of it. Where should I go however. The answer was immediate – the Hellfire Club on Montpelier Hill in the Dublin Mountains.

The Hellfire Club was a hunting lodge built in 1725 by William Conolly – the Speaker in the Irish House of Commons, which existed before the Act of Union with Britain in 1800.  Upon Conolly’s death in 1729, the lodge was taken over by an unruly young gentleman who had been barred from all the taverns in Dublin for his licentious behaviour. So he turned this lodge into his own pleasure palace in the Dublin Mountains – The Hellfire Club. Members of the Hellfire Club allegedly used the lodge for satanic worship; occult practises, gambling and debauchery. I like to think that the lodge was a haven for sodomites in the early eighteenth century. It sounds like great craic altogether.

The problem with the Hellfire Club in 2018, is that it is inaccessible by public transport. I was not going to allow a triviality like that get in my way. I took the number 15 bus to its last stop in south west Dublin, and I started to walk along the road. A main road without a footpath. Even though I felt quite exposed to the passing traffic I refused to be frightened – the lack of pavement does not diminish my right to be on the road. I walked for about an hour. Uphill all the way. Like a mirage in the desert I stumbled across the Country Stove Café, where I took a rest and ordered coffee and a sandwich. My destination was close by – I had read that this café was near the entrance to the forest where the Club was located.

Onward I marched – into the woodlands and up the steep, mud footpath. My spirits were flagging. My exertions in Howth yesterday meant that today’s jaunt uphill meant my legs were in agony again.

I am nothing if not resilient. I was suitably hydrated having brought a two-litre bottle of bitter lemon in my stylish man-bag.

Upon arrival at the ruin I stared around – the views of Dublin from this position were majestic. The ruins themselves were a bit eerie. The bright sunshine may have robbed them of their normal satanic charm though.

The hour long walk back to the bus was easier as it was downhill.

Home at last with sore feet. All for the best though.

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