Having spent considerable time hiking in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland we were looking forward to continuing the trend while staying in Dublin. We thoroughly enjoyed our Bray-to-Greystone hike (a Dubliner’s favorite) and wanted to experience more of what this part of Ireland had to offer. After reviewing the usual guide books as well as consulting with several locals, the Howth Cliff Walk kept surfacing as a must-do hike. We were in.
Excited to take another hike along the Irish Sea we were up early the following morning to catch the train to Howth. Our first attempt was thwarted due to weather-related problems with the train, making us all the more determined to return. Two days later on a bright, sunny morning, and with the train returned to full operation, we struck out again. To our surprise upon arriving in Howth, we discovered much more than simply a place to enjoy a day hike.
Down a set of stairs and a quick left turn out of the lemon yellow train station we encountered one of the most picturesque seaside towns we have yet to visit. Dozens of fishing trawlers filled the harbor backdropped by the Irish Sea and the Howth Yacht Club with its hundreds of sailboats and pleasure craft.
Then…a quick glance over our shoulder that revealed a dozen seafood shops and restaurants!
Along the length of the west, pier were numerous retail seafood shops featuring local specialties such as shrimp, langoustine, haddock, cod, scallops and mussels along with an international catch including sea bream, branzino, sea trout, swordfish and Scottish salmon. Exotic species including octopus, ray wings, Canadian lobster, razor clams, South African squid and many others rounded out a mouth-watering sample of the ocean’s bounty.
In addition to the fish shops, there were several restaurants featuring some of the freshest fish this side of Cape Cod. Many of the retail shops had their own restaurant attached so you know that you were getting the “freshest of the fresh” when ordering your carry out, lunch or dinner. Needless to say, chowder in one iteration or another, was on every menu as well as plentiful smoked salmon.
Headlining the options for take out or dine in was Beshoffs of Howth, the oldest and most highly respected of all the fishmongers in town. The Beshoffs family history is nothing short of amazing. Their story began over a century ago when a young Russian sailor named Ivan Beshoffs was an engineer on board the famous (or infamous) Battleship Potemkin when its crew staged a mutiny in 1903. Ivan escaped and made his way across land and sea arriving in Dublin in 1913. It was there, on the North strand in Dublin, that Ivan opened his first Fresh Fish and Chip shop. Ask the locals and they will wax enthusiastically about this legend, now in its third generation, as it is truly one for the history books!
Wait a minute!
In our fog of pelagic wonderment, it suddenly occurred to us that the reason we came here in the first place was to go hiking. Laughing we headed for the trailhead to the lower cliff walk to work up an appetite, confident that the restaurants would still be there when we return!
The hike was jaw dropping, made all the more beautiful by the clear blue skies, as it followed a parallel path along the Irish Sea coast. Unlike our Bray-to-Greystones hike this path was narrow and unfenced its entire length. At times it was dangerously close to drops so steep that hugging the inside of the path became essential. The numerous vertical plunges that await the unlucky kept us focused on where we put our feet.
After an hour or so the path descended to the Bailey Lighthouse. The Bailey Lighthouse is one of Ireland’s most photographed lighthouses due largely to its old-fashioned design, iconic setting and relatively easy accessibility. Once you get close it’s no surprise as to why it has earned its well deserved claim to fame. Though the lighthouse has been fully automatic for several years, essentially making the lighthouse keeper obsolete, an attendant still lives in the old Principal Keeper’s residence.
In real estate parlance “modest home with expansive views” would read the advert for this unique dwelling. No mention of the lashing your new abode would take in the grip of a dead-of-winter Irish Sea blower!
Back up the path from the lighthouse we chose the high cliff route as our return back to the promised land of seafood. The more open high route was through wild and bushy terrain dotted with Gorse, a spiny, prickly evergreen that thrives throughout Ireland. Should you want to admire its pea-like golden yellow flowers don’t get too close as the plant itself is deceptively thorny!
Soon the path turned to a paved road leading to several multi-million dollar hilltop homes. It was not long until we were descending through the backside of town to the waterfront. With the late afternoon sun bidding us farewell we decided to head home.
Before leaving we popped back into Beshoffs to pick up some fish for dinner. Decisions…decisions. It would be easier to buy a new car than it was to choose from their vast array of fish on ice. Finally, on the recommendation of Jack, Beshoffs’ head fishmonger, we chose some haddock that had come off the boat that morning.
We boarded the train for home anxious to prepare our “catch of the day.” If you’ve never enjoyed some “freshest of the fresh” haddock be sure to stop in at Beshoffs should you happen to visit Howth. And don’t hesitate to ask for Jack!