August 15 – Dublin
Aren’t those nature photographers and film makers a patient lot. They can sit for hours or days, waiting for their shot, waiting for something furred or feathered to do something that will be worthy of commentary from Sir David Attenborough. We could have joined their ranks today.
We left the hubbub of central Dublin behind us and put foot to pedal again, for a day at the park. Just a short ride out of Dublin centre is Phoenix Park and what a fabulous destination it is. The park was actually established back in 1662 by the Duke of Ormond and was originally a Royal Deer Park and in 1747 it was opened to the public. It is an absolutely fantastic place, spanning 707 hectares (1752 acres), of which 200 hectares (500 acres) are woodland. There are roads and footpaths running through it but it also has 14km of cycle lanes, so we thought it would be a nice place to explore and go for a ride on a nice, fine, if blustery day.
After a busy ride through the city streets we were soon pedalling through the gates of the park and passed by the Wellington Monument. This took 44 years to build, from 1817-1861 and was erected to honour the Duke of Wellington who was born in Dublin and served as Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant in Phoenix Park before he went off abroad and did famous things like defeating Napoleon at Waterloo.
The park had a nice little Victorian Tea Room and the time was right, so we know what that means…elevenses!
A ride through the park, a visit to the Visitor’s Centre for a map and then a look at Ashtown Castle. This dates from the early 1600’s and maybe even earlier, because it’s possible that it was built in order to earn £10. It’s a dinky little thing, not something you would normally consider assigning the label of “castle”. It isn’t big, it isn’t grand, it’s really quite compact. It’s the castle equivalent of a medieval “tiny house”. Back in 1429, Henry VI made available a grant of £10 to “every man in the Pale who, within ten years, built a castle of certain minimum dimensions.” It’s thought that Ashtown Castle was built at that time and its dinky design would certainly fit the criterion of being built to “minimum proportions”.
Near the castle is the Victorian Walled Garden, which is both a sea of colour with the multitude of blooms growing there and a kitchen garden supplying the park’s cafe. We strolled past the veggies and herbs and then along the garden beds of flowers.
Then I saw the bees. They were having a fabulous feast on the flowers, flitting here and there, hither and thither. That would be worth a snap. I zoomed in. The bee flew to another flower. I zoomed out to find another bee, saw it alighting on a bloom and zoomed in. Just as I was focusing, the bee flew off. Dang tarn it! I found another one, zoomed in, began to focus…bee buzzed off. I stood and waited and waited and every time I tried to capture one up close, the camera either took forever to focus or the little critter fancied a different flower and off it went. I stood there, patiently awaiting the landing of another stripy subject and snapped! Success. I patiently waited again…zooming in…zooming out…waiting to capture my buzzing bounty in the viewfinder…snap! Success. I moved onto a different bunch of blooms. I stood. I waited. I zoomed in and out. Success! When I eventually decided it was time to move on from admiring the flowers and their frolicking friends, I looked up and Steve was nowhere to be seen. I walked through the garden and there he was, back outside the walls, waiting patiently for me. I don’t know how long I’d been there, focused as I was on focusing on bees, but I think quite a few minutes ticked by! It was enough to give Steve a laugh at my determined staring! Well, I’m sure there are National Geographic people out there in the field waiting for days just to catch a shot of a sloth yawning, so I think I can be excused for taking multiple minutes to snap a few bees at luncheon!
I’m sure I just made your day and you are thrilled beyond measure that I included those exciting snaps of bees on flowers! Oh joy, what a blog bonus I hear you say! Well, they took a crazy long time to take, so call me crazy but I’m putting them in here!
The park is also home to about 300 fallow deer, all descendants of the original herd introduced way back when the park was established. Time to have a pedal about the park and see if we can spot one. We rode along the path beside a stand of trees, looking, looking…”On the left,” I called to Steve in front. “Deer!” I could just make out three white tips of tails wagging amongst the tall grass and shrubs. We stood and watched and waited to see enough of them to snap a photo and just as we got one, they were gone. They hadn’t actually run away, just sort of disappeared behind the grass. Oh well, if they’re trying to hide from people, well, good on ‘em.
We continued riding along the sealed path and then decided to go off road, past some more woodland to see if we could spot some more deer. We rode along a grass track, beside a small forested area and looked and looked. Nope No deer.
We pedalled on, past the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence and then stopped to look at the park map. Come on…we can be more determined than this! There’s supposed to be three hundred of these fellas roaming around, we shall not be deterred! We don’t see deer at home, so this is a chance to see them out and about…let’s have some commitment Team Tassie! We turned around and decided to head back to the far end of the park, where we could pass by some more forest and just see what we could see.
The ride was great, we had a nice sealed path, the wind was blowing a plenty but the sun was out, it was peaceful and all round just great! We passed by the spot where we’d seen the last three wagging their tails and slowed down…looking…looking…then we hopped off the bikes and quietly walked a little way towards the trees. We could just about spot them and then…they were gone. Not running, just gone. “They disappeared into thin air!” remarked Steve. Yep, they had their camouflage strategy well worked out. We stared at those trees and couldn’t see a thing. Full marks to the deer…zero to us.
On we pedalled, along the path, beside more trees. “Deer! I called to Steve, “on the left!” There were another three, (they must like travelling as trios) on the move but almost hidden in the shadows of the wood. Out came the cameras and we waited and then…off they went, lickety split. Sorry Sir David, we’re letting the side down here.
The path took us up and down some little hills, past trees…still looking! Then down a hill beside a pond and then…look…up ahead…on the bank! Deer! Not one or two, but a small herd of them. They stood and looked down at us, we looked at them…they stared…we scrambled for the cameras…snap! Success! That was worth a bit of backtracking and zig zagging and searching and looking and waiting…they were beautiful. So elegant and gorgeous in their spots and big brown eyes. Thrilled with that sighting! Well, we might not be the best of photographers, but I reckon we could get the Attenborough Award for Effort, because we kept pedalling until we found that group of gorgeous members of Team Bambi.
Happy that we’d finally seen some deer, we rode off to find the Magazine Fort. In 1734 the Duke of Dorset ordered that a powder magazine be provided for Dublin, so this was built to hold all the gunpowder, weapons and ammunition for the British military in Dublin. The outside looked a bit like castle walls, with a huge trench in front, a bit like a moat, but I guess that was some sort of defence to keep all that explosive paraphernalia from getting pinched. We rode along a grass track, around the edge of the walls and…I can’t believe it…look there…down there! Down in the “moat”, peacefully grazing was another deer and this one had beautiful antlers, well, sort of one and a half antlers, it looked like it may have had one too many scraps with fellow antler wearers and lost a bit. It was beautiful though. It stood as happy as could be, just snatching at the grass and chomping away. I stood for ages, taking picture after picture and then just standing and watching it. There were another couple of park visitors, just ahead on the path, equally transfixed by this lovely animal.
When I pulled myself away and left it to its grazing, I continued along the track to catch up with Steve and then…surely not…after all our searching…there were another two! With antlers! Well, almost a full complement of antlers! One was a beautiful pale colour and I had to stare to make sure it was real because it didn’t move. It just stood and stared, as still as could be. Then, just along from it was another, a darker colour almost blending into the wall. They weren’t bothered by us being there and we could stand and watch them. Steve moved on and I stayed and just kept watching. The darker one looked like it had been in the wars because its antler was quite torn, but they still just placidly stood there and let me take all the time I wanted to just watch them. Gorgeous, beautiful things.
When I eventually walked off, I was grinning from ear to ear.
“How was that?” asked Steve.
“That was pretty special,” I said, still beaming.
We made our way back towards the exit, through the People’s Flower Gardens, another lovely area of the park with flowers beds, trees and a lake and then it was into the busy Dublin traffic again to make our way back to our room.
What a wonderful day. A peaceful pedal through a park was just what we needed after the hustle and bustle and noise of the city yesterday. Phoenix Park absolutely delivered the antidote to the Dublin din and it’s right there, as close as can be, yet peaceful and green and just a special piece of nature right on the city’s doorstep. The day stayed fine until we were off the bikes, then it rained a bit, but we had a fantastic traffic free, rain free ride through a beautiful part of Dublin. We played for Team Attenborough all day too and came off with a win! Our riding time was only about two hours but we were gone for over five hours, so apart from a brief stop for elevenses and lunch, all that time was patiently stopping and waiting and looking for our subjects to snap. Oh…and quite a long time standing perfectly still staring at bees!…But we won’t go there again! So, Sir David, we await your call…if you have the narration, we’ve done the work…I’m sure the Master himself can find something fascinating to say and bring to life the thrilling, edge of your seat story of an hour in the life of…a two legged mammal hailing from foreign shores performing like a perfect pillock appearing to stand, motionless, staring intently at floral foliage in search of the humble bumble…!
Distance ridden: 21.3 km
Time in the saddle: 1 hour 57 minutes
Weather: fine, very windy, just a teensy bit of rain, 20C