As a travel writer, I’m used to notion of going abroad to travel – just as a huge amount of us have become accustomed to doing over the last couple of decades. It’s only natural; after all, we love to get out and explore the wide world and cheap airline tickets make it all so accessible. So off we go, in search of adventure, culture and better weather.
But one of the main reasons we love to travel abroad is that we always feel that we already “know” Ireland. We feel that we know our country inside out; that, apart from certain exceptions (I have never been to Newgrange, for example), we pretty much know Ireland very well indeed.
Moreover, whatever about Ireland, you certainly know the area you call home. Sure, haven’t you often helpfully told your relatives and friends about the nice sites to see and things to visit where you live? But when was the last time you really took a good look at your own surroundings? When was the last time you really embarked on a detailed exploration of your home environment?
Maybe you’re a lot better than I am in the area of beginning your travel adventures close to home and getting to know your own area in detail, but I’ve found (to my shame) that I am rubbish at it.
Okay, maybe “rubbish” is a bit strong but there are definitely gaps in my knowledge of some of the most beautiful places right on my doorstep. I just didn’t realise how big those gaps were until a scary virus and a Lockdown policy forced me and my huddling family to emerge from our home and start exploring the world around us –2km and 5km at a time.
The shoreline of West Cork is only a kilometre or so from our house as the crow flies but getting down to the sea for a swim is another matter. Any time we do go to the seaside, we tend to get in the car and drive somewhere where there’s a nice beach with uncomplicated access.
But when you can go no more than 2km (as was the case for the first month and a half of lockdown), then you force yourself to explore every possibility of getting to the shoreline – ones that you just didn’t bother exploring before. So we found the right of way that led to a stony half-moon bay overlooked by sheltering trees with a view we’d never witnessed before across Dunmanus Bay to the Sheep’s Head Peninsula. It was incredible – we were 1.7km from our house and it felt like we’d walked to a far-flung desert island.
For years, we nodded our heads and said things like “We must get into swimming in the sea… So- and-so down the road does it. They go every week… some of them every day.” We’d nod our heads and stare out the window at the waters of Dunmanus Bay but in our minds, we’d always be dreaming of swimming in the Mediterranean.
Our first efforts were more like feverish spasms than relaxing swimming motions as we fought our way through the cold barrier. But, once you keep doing it, it becomes a little more bearable each time. Miraculously, your body seems to have a kind-of shock memory that prepares you and you gradually become accustomed to it until you can just walk into the water and start swimming in a calm and civilised manner without screaming or swearing.
Our two grown sons (who were back at home with us for the lockdown – another unexpected bonus) showed little enthusiasm for swimming in the sea but they did feel like going walking the hills. A quick check of Google Maps revealed that the 220m-high Mount Corrin was just within the 2km range. We had climbed it before, of course, but we hadn’t done so in several years.
There’s something innately satisfying about going on a long walk with a medium-level challenge.
There’s a feeling of achievement and of inner peace. It’s what we humans were put on this earth to do. Even better – when you combine a long walk with a dip in the sea at the end of it, you have a perfect combination or rigorous sweating activity and plunging into refreshing waters. Many people pay good money for a similar experience in hotel spas. It’s also a chance to talk and catch up with your closest loved ones. Walking side by side, taking your time to get to a particular destination together brings you closer together.
The expansion of our world from 2km to 5km on May 18 increased the area to explore even more and suddenly it felt like we had the keys to an enormous kingdom. Not only did the range of stunning walks we had increase dramatically, we were now also allowed to go kayaking.
The kayak that had been sitting quietly and that hadn’t seen sea water in about two years was produced, transported to the sea and launched into the water with me sitting on top of it. Just like with the walks that we’d discovered for the first time, we found that the variety of sights and coastline within just a tiny stretch is extraordinary.
The days of the lockdown are disappearing now and the experience has left a deep and lasting impression on each and every individual in the country. It has pressed the “reset” button on our planet but also on our minds.
Looking again at the map, it struck me that with each increase in the radius of the circular area allowed in lockdown Ireland, the actual size increases exponentially. Thus, an increase from 2km to 5km might only seem like three miserable kilometres, but in terms of area, it’s a more-than six-fold increase from 12.6km2 to 78.5km2. You add another miserable 3km of a radius from your home and the area becomes 201km2.
In other words, the world around me actually expands at an exponential and infinite rate… and it took the lockdown to make this travel writer realise it.