The morning is brisk and the stress of getting ready to travel outside of Dublin is once again welling up inside of me, especially because this is my first time traveling solo. I request a taxi and wait outside of Centra, the on-campus grocery store. I had planned my kayaking trip to a T – how I was going to get to Dalkey, where I needed to be dropped off and how long it was going to take to get there. My plans, however, fell through the second I slid into the car.
“Mornin’,” the driver exclaims. “You’re headed to Pearse Station, yeah?”
“Yes sir,” I say.
“Where are you going?”
“Dalkey? I’ll drop you off at a DART nearby. It’s closer to here. No point in going into the city just to come right back out.”
I oblige. Little did I know I would be spending the next half hour with the taxi driver. Despite my recognition of transportation hours operating later on Sundays, I only associated this change with the buses and not the DART as well. So, when we pull into the empty DART station and I run back to the taxi within seconds to catch a ride south, a kind smile sprawls across the driver’s face because he already knew he would be taking me to my destination. And, it is only 15 euro more. In that moment, I realize that my scheduled kayaking trip is going to be much more of an adventure than just the activity itself.
Dalkey, a town just south of Dublin, is a quiet place on early Sunday mornings. Shop owners set up tables outside as the town slowly stirs to life. Individuals stroll along the roads and bikers quickly peddle through town to beat the growing heat from the rising sun. Nothing is open except for a small grocery store, so I pop in for a cup of coffee and head towards the coast. After all, my travel time to Bulloch Harbour had been reduced significantly. I have all the time in the world.
I find a row of benches facing the low-tide harbor. I pull out my copy of J.K. Rowling’s, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” sip my coffee and continue reading where I left off. A cool breeze is in the air, seagull conversation can be heard from above and the sound of dog paws patter across the quay as owners walk behind them in the distance.
A couple of hours pass, and the harbor slowly begins to bustle. Finally, there are other people. As half past nine approaches, I walk up to a building I think is the little kayak shop. I am wrong. An elderly man in tattered clothing gently greets me and points me in the direction of where I am actually supposed to be.
I approach the storage truck the kayaking company is operating out of and suddenly, a man emerges from behind the suspended life vests and piled kayaks with a hearty grin. He has sandy hair and tanned skin. Calluses stand out on his hands and his arms are defined from physical activity. He is sporting reflective sunglasses perched on top of his nose. After introducing himself, he immediately throws me into the work of helping him set up for the day: laying out wetsuits, relocating kayaks closer to the water and instructing people where to lay their stuff. Although I am nervous about being the only one to sign up, groups of two’s and four’s slowly arrive as the start time of the tour approaches. After quick, polite conversation with our group of eight, I learn that some were there for playful recreation and others return monthly because they believe being on the water is a lovely way to spend their time. Then, Tom Judge, the man behind the life vests and the tour guide for our morning trip, leads us to the water after we suit up, so we can begin our tour.
Judge quickly teaches us the basics of kayaking – how to enter the boat, to position our legs and to maneuver the water. After a few minutes of orienting ourselves, we set out for Dalkey Island. Casual conversation is held among the group when we are within reach of one another. Otherwise, most of the trip is spent in silence as we paddle through the clear water with aquatic life circling the boats and with the mountains materializing in the distance.
As the island gets closer, we park our boats on the rocky beach and scatter. The emerald green of the island calls to be explored. I run up the flattened, bunny hole laden path to the top and immediately take in the panoramic view before me. It’s moments like these that make the challenges of international travel seem trivial, a moment of beauty I could never see at home. The island features goats scaling the cliffs, native Irish flora and stone ruins of a historic monastery and tower which remind onlookers of the past. After about ten minutes of wandering, Judge catches up to a group of us walking along the stunning cliff pathway back towards the sea. He begins to give a detailed history of the island and why he is passionate about offering daily kayak tours to the public.
According to Judge, Dalkey Island is an important historical site where evidence of continuous settlements date back to the Mesolithic period. The name of the island originates from the age of the Vikings, Dalk eyja, meaning “Thorn Island,” because it resembles the shape of a thorn. The island was predominantly used as a base for the Vikings and later used by the English to signal danger to the numerous Martello towers lining the bay. Today, the island is uninhabited by people, but houses a variety of native flora, goats and bird species. The only invasive species is the rabbit which was brought over by the English themselves.
Judge finds that kayaking brings him a sense of inner tranquility and living in the moment. The peace he exudes while on the water is contagious. To him, it is simply wonderful. His interest in this pastime began when he was studying aquaculture in West Cork, which is apparent due to his extensive knowledge of the grey seals he shares with us, like that the males can grow to be 9 feet long. The rich marine life the bay offers and the cold-water coral and kelp beds living in the sea inspire him to keep studying and exploring. He takes part in countless activities along the bay: hiking, snorkeling, coasteering, mountain biking and kite surfing as of earlier this year. Kayaking on the sea, however, “is the place for [him] because it is very beautiful and less focused,” Judge says.
He has lived across Ireland and finds that kayaking can be done virtually anywhere a body of water is available. The popularity of kayaking along Dublin Bay is representative of Ireland’s natural inclination to participate in many forms of outdoor recreation. For visiting travelers, this is a way to be immersed in the country’s lively culture along with seeing parts of the bay not accessible by foot. The sea gives explorers the opportunity to get personal with the traverse surroundings of the bay and marine life beckoning visitors to come explore it. “Many locals have not even seen the entirety of Dublin Bay. Most people tend to focus on the more popular parts of the area, but many miss the hidden gems of mountains and islands that are hardly no trouble at all to get to, but offer incomparable views,” Judge explains.
During the excursion, grey seals lay on the rocks near Dalkey Island due to the low tide that morning. Once we leave the island and pass through their chosen resting place, the current pushes the kayaks towards the rocks covered with seals. The closer we get, the louder their grumbling growls warn us to keep a distance. However, their curiosity gets the best of them and they are within an arm’s reach for a majority of the time, constantly swimming under the kayaks with their eyes locked on us as they glide past. Their heads are constantly bobbing out of the water as they observe us paddle around. The encounter is unbelievable. Being close to a herd of seals allows me to experience an intimate connection with wildlife that cannot be found anywhere else.
All of this was possible with the click of a button. Reserving a spot is effortless, and Bulloch Harbour is easily accessible as it is located just south of Dublin. This guided tour is entertaining for the spectacular views, friendly conversation and enjoyable exercise. The experience allowed me to adopt the stance that I can enrich the simplest of activities, even in the most ordinary, unlikely circumstances, by trying something new and embracing my surroundings whether at home or abroad.