Summer has always been a time for ‘getting away’, and even if in this second year of the coronavirus it remains difficult to jet off to the distant beaches of our dreams there is still the possibility of new horizons in our own countries.
The writer John Connell decided to leave his home in the Irish Midlands and travel South to Co Kerry to trace the footsteps of St Brendan. He was inspired by the words of the poet and philosopher John O’Donohue who claimed that ‘A week by the sea could cure all ills and restore a person to a new equilibrium.’ Connell reflects on a lack of wonder during the last year and a half, when every day has felt the same and opportunities for travel have been restricted. In a ‘normal’ year he would be heading off to Spain to sip a café con leche on a beach or spotting coyotes in an American national park but he is richly rewarded by his travels closer to home, which is the “wild and beautiful” West coast of Ireland in order, as he puts it “to recharge my spirits.” He describes it as “a journey into wonder.” Connell argues that human beings need, like the birds, to move around each year, to go “in search of a new view, a new experience, a new form of wonder.” He certainly finds it on the ‘Way of the Saint’, an ancient pilgrimage route running from Ventry Beach in the South of the Dingle Peninsula to Mount Brandon in the North. He spots on the way fifteen different species of rare flowers, one of which is only found on the Dingle Peninsula and on the Iberian Peninsula. He also has an interesting encounter with three apparently stray dogs who become his companions on the trail and, later on, with the farmer who owns them. “Maybe that’s what every pilgrimage is about,” he concludes at the end of a long and tiring but happy day of walking, “rekindling the wonder of the everyday.”
Yim Soon and I may in one of our ‘normal’ years have been tempted to hop onto a plane and spend a week or two abroad, perhaps even making the long journey back to her native Korea. With such trips out of the question we’ve discovered that you don’t need to go quite so far in order to ‘get away’ and have a nice holiday. In October 2020 we decided to make a first ever visit to Cornwall, where we went for some spectacular walks around the wild and rugged coast and even attended a (socially-distanced!) performance at the open-air Minack Theatre which is built into the cliffs. We were told that the actors go ahead even if it rains. The show must go on, as they say, and one of the Minack staff explained to us that during inclement weather, the actors put extra energy into their work! It was during that rather magical week in Cornwall that I had the time and the mental space to put the finishing touches to my book before submitting it to a publisher (successfully as it turned out, to my pleasant surprise) the following week.
It seemed last summer, and this one too, that everyone in England was going on holiday either to Cornwall or to Scotland, the furthest places you could go to without catching a plane! Well, we’d done Cornwall, and so our destination this year was Scotland. Having spent six days walking the West Highland Way followed by a day going up Ben Nevis, we had hired a car in Fort William and driven over to the Isle of Skye for a few days. Whether in the lochs or around the coast the sight of water was everywhere; and we were lucky that for the whole of our fortnight in Scotland it wasn’t coming out of the sky at us, which it frequently does in those parts, by all accounts! As John O’Donohue says, there truly is something restorative, awe-inspiring, and healing about the sea, or indeed any body of water. On our first day on Skye I jumped off some rocks into the so-called ‘Fairy Pools’, a series of deep pools in amongst a valley of waterfalls. On the second day I swam in the sea at a coral beach: not for long, as it was absolutely freezing! To warm up I walked up a nearby hillside from where I could see the Atlantic Ocean and some outlying small islands dotted about in the bay. It was an utterly beautiful scene, and similar to the view from the Connemara coast. One final dip was in the harbour at Armadale before taking the small ferry back to the mainland at Mallaig.
The French have a fine tradition of taking the whole of August off each year and going off to wherever they go off to. Mind you, I’m told that at the start of September, ‘la rentrée’ as it’s known, can be particularly brutal! Yes, however lovely and rejuvenating our holiday or pilgrimage was, return we must; though hopefully with renewed vigour and with fresh spirit.
In a recent blog I wished everyone happy holidays; and may I also now wish everyone a good and safe return. May we be especially gentle with ourselves as we make the sensitive transition back into ‘normal’ life; and may our time away give us new eyes with which to see the wonders of the everyday.