For our second Free Range Tuesday, we headed to the Phoenix Park, with the aim of exploring a small part of the south east of the park near the Magazine Fort. The Magazine Fort was built in 1735. It’s been used at times for weapons storage but is now locked up and abandoned – see here for some fabulous photos of its innards from the Abandoned Ireland website. There’s no access to it for the general public but it looks ferociously commanding on its ridge and seemed like a good focal point for the walk and to spark imaginations a bit!
We parked on Chesterfield Avenue, the main road right through the park, not too far up from the turn for the Zoo. The magazine fort is on the not-Zoo side of Chesterfield Avenue so we walked across the fields there, past the cricket club, and into some trees which were very deep-dark-forest-like and got the lads right into the spirit. The ground dips down sharply here and we followed the hill down through the trees, crossed the road at the bottom and then made our way up the ridge on the other side. We had to ford a very, very small stream to get up onto the ridge and there was high excitement as CaveBoy and CaveCousin tried to find firm stepping stones to get through, oh I’d say about two inches of water. It’s all about perception.
The terrain is great for adventure around here. There were more trees at the top of this ridge and we could see the fort through them and then we came out on to open grass leading into another dip and hill with the fort looming at the top. CaveMammy was building up a decent prehistoric sweat at this stage, what with the weight of CaveBaby on the back and all this exciting upping and downing. The boys were panting a bit too and were glad to get to the top I reckon. It would have been cool to get into the fort itself and explore but we settled for a full circuit of its walls and a fantastic view of Dublin City from the back.
After breaking apart a fight between the boys (CaveBoy: “I see my house”, CaveCousin (with better sense of direction): “You can’t, your house is the other way”. Rinse and repeat with rising pitch.), we went back around the front of the fort and ran, tripped, stumbled down the deep grass at this side of the ridge. I was looking for a nice hill for them to roll down but everywhere either had a big dirty road at the end of it (considered Not Safe) or was laced with stinging nettles (known to be Very Sore). We played some supergero games (me and CaveBaby are always Joker and Penguin) and I was starting to think this afternoon had reached its peak when we came across… the Mud.
Thick, oozy mud. We can’t go over it. We can’t go under it. Oh no. We’ll have to go through it.
And by god did they love it. It was a patch of mud about six foot long by two foot across and in places it had reached the consistency of quicksand. Wellies were lost and found. Little boys fell on their hands and knees and got up with a slimy layer of gelatinous muck over every part of their clothes and skin. CaveCousin had mud on his ears and in his eyebrows. CaveBoy was deliberately getting himself immobilised in the stickiest part and screaming for rescue. It was mucky mayhem. After ten minutes I shooed them on and we started walking back towards the road. At this point, I couldn’t for the life of me see how I was going to get their hands and faces clean enough with my modest packet of babywipes to even sit in the car!
Enter… the stream. The little dribble of water that they’d heroically forded earlier on goes under the road at this point and emerges from some big piping as a proper, earned-the-name stream. With magical mud removing properties. OK, I wouldn’t have them drink the water and I’ll admit that I was doing a bit of the modern mammy “don’t put your hands in your mouth!” type screeching but I let them get right in and rinse off as much of the dirt as possible. And then we stayed there for the guts of an hour. The sun broke through, two other little lads came along who were out on a walk with their dad and the dog and the whole lot of them had a grand auld time in the water, sloshing through deep bits, moving stones, throwing rocks (sometimes at unoccupied parts of the river, sometimes not) and making daring forays into the dark mouth of the under-road piping. CaveMammy and CaveBaby had a little sit down for ourselves on the walled edge and kicked our legs and watched the action.
Back up the ridge then and on towards the car. We had the happy and unexpected accident of spotting two men doing some kind of boxing training across the field, one in black and one in bright red and yellow. So I spun the lads a superhero and villain yarn about that to round off the day. When we got back to the car, it turned out they had to full strip as all that crouching in the stream had left the boys with damp undercarriages. CaveCousin had the modesty to stay under the tree where I’d put him. CaveBoy streaked on the bike path.
A good day.