I love my quartzite, and nowhere more than on the Ben of Howth in Dublin where it has fused with iron and taken on all the warmer hues: pink to red, golden yellow to rusty brown. It’s even more attractive than the rose-tinted quartzite of Bray Head or the whitish variety of the Great and Little Sugar Loaf in Wicklow. It’s a good rock to walk on, too, since it yields a thin soil that doesn’t support much growth. It hasn’t got the messy habit of clothing itself in deep bog like granite, or the nasty one of turning to soap in wet weather like schist. It’s the kind of rock you can stride on with jaunty confidence.
There are really two bens on the Howth peninsula. The slightly lower one, Shielmartin, lies to the west and rises above the raised beach at Sutton that now links what was once an island to the mainland. The higher one, the Ben of Howth proper, with its trig pillar and ubiquitous mast, lies to the east and is just the cockiest of several surrounding hummocks. At this end, the pockmarks of old quarries are a reminder of how prized Howth rock has been in the past as a decorative stone for building. Between the two bens, Howth Golf Club has managed to turn what was once rough lowland into manicured greens (see photo). Not being a golfer, I’m never sure whether to consider this a stroke of ingenuity (pardon the pun) or just an intrusive incongruity.
It’s easy to turn a ramble across the bens of Howth into a fine circular excursion by linking it with a stretch of the cliff walk between Howth and Sutton. Guidebooks are full of indications in that direction. All along the way, the views are exceptional. My own snapshot, taken from the vantage point of Shielmartin, looks across to Howth Harbour and Ireland’s Eye (itself mainly of quartzite, too), with Howth Castle tucked away just to the left of the trees. The great white veil in the distance marks the approach of a hailstorm that would soon wrap itself around me.
P.S. Yes, with a film of frost, or mud, or lichen, quartzite can become slippery. Like any good wine, it, too, needs to be savoured with care. Linkback: mountainviews.ie/summit/1046/comment/4390/