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  • Milena Williamson

Come to the Beach with Me

It’s been a little while since my last blog post. Fall semester has come and (nearly) gone. My first semester TA-ing and the first time TA-ing during a pandemic took up a huge amount of time and energy. I’m ready for the holidays—on my dining table there’s a real, if mini, Christmas tree and advent chocolates that are ready for tomorrow. My traveling menorah (it packs up into a box!) is coming in the mail. In a few weeks, I’ll celebrate my 26th birthday—my first birthday in Belfast.


The days may be dark, cold and short now, but that’s not what I want to talk about. Tonight I want to look back at some of my favorite days over the past few months (and okay I’m putting off doing the dishes). This year, what with museums, bookstores, and shops closed due to Covid, I’ve found more time to explore the gorgeous Northern Irish landscape. And I’m lucky to have found an excellent driver/navigator who loves the beach as much as I do. He does the driving and I’m in charge of the sandwiches. When he’s not running (or talking about running), he’s walking on the beach with me, holding my hand (or stealing my warmth).


Beach #1: Helen’s Bay. This beach is an old favorite of mine. Easy to get to by train, I’ve brought several friends and family members here over the years I’ve lived in Belfast. On this day, I got rained on (naturally), walked barefoot and dipped my toes in the ocean. I also remembered how much I love the clink of the stones on this particular crescent slice of beach. My navigator lent me a jumper when we got back to his car and this quickly became one of my favorite articles of clothing.

Helen's Bay

Beach #2: Bloody Bridge. Although I had been down to Newcastle before, this spot was a gem that I was very happy to find. It was a quick stroll from the car park to a quiet spot on the rocks. This is one of those beaches that feels like you’re looking out onto the edge of the world. It was warm enough still that I didn’t even need a scarf, so my rainbow dangly earrings were on full display! Thanks to my navigator for this suggestion.

Bloody Bridge, near Newcastle

Beach #3: Murlough Beach. On one of the last sunny (and warm-ish) days in October (?), my navigator and I dragged ourselves away from our respective desks. We said hello to the hills and managed to run into an Olympian and poet. Have I mentioned that Northern Ireland is a wee place? I went for one last toe-dip in the ocean before my navigator helped me into sand-free socks (not my most graceful moment).

Murlough Beach with the Mournes in the distance

Beach #4: Groomsport Beach. At this beach, my navigator and I watched the sea and the sky change color, not knowing which change happened first. The tide was low and the occasional dog came round the corner and jumped in the ocean. It was a typical day in NI—gray and blustery, but we kept ourselves warm by looking at the houses overlooking the ocean and dreaming about which one we’d most like to live in.

Groomsport Beach
Sea and sky in matching grays at Groomsport

Beach #5: Donaghadee Harbor. Not even period pains could erase the small town charm of Donaghadee. Thanks to Bridewell’s coffee and sandwiches for perking me up (bringing me back to life). Despite the cold rain, my navigator and I took a short walk down the pier, stopping to appreciate the painted rocks left by people—all the messages of hope and solidarity about the pandemic and lockdown.

Donaghadee Harbor
Donaghadee, bright and bold again the gray sky

Beach #6: Lough Neagh. Not technically a beach but it is the largest lake by area in the British Isles. This ‘beach’ had a surreal element to it because the tides were quite choppy. And when I say tides, of course I don’t mean actual tides, but rather waves made by the wind. Plus I got an amazing photo of a bird perched in a tree growing straight out of the water. How magical! There was almost a small disaster when my flower crown got blown off my head, but thankfully I grabbed it before it went into the water. My navigator is a gentleman, but even he wouldn’t have braved the freezing waters to retrieve it.

Lough Neagh

Beach #7: Ballygally Beach. Last but certainly not least. This beach exuded a sense of calm and care. The beach was litter-free and there was no green seaweed. There were some wholesome drawings in the sand left by children by the time my navigator and I strolled along. I dipped my fingers in the water, but no toes. We did witness a baptism in the ocean (it was an adult and they were wearing wetsuit), which is something I have only seen once in my three going on four years living in Northern Ireland. The sun came out briefly and my navigator and I walked down to the lookout point, playing the ‘which house would you like to live in’ game. A polar bear rock put a smile on both our faces.

Ballygally Beach
Looking back at Ballygally

No blog would be complete without a wee bit of poetry. In Berck-Plage, Sylvia Plath writes, ‘The grey sky lowers, the hills like a green sea/ Run fold upon fold far off, concealing their hollows…’ I think the Mourne hills, visible from Murlough beach capture this sense of the green sea. And later in the same poem, she writes, ‘Behind the glass of this car/ The world purrs, shut-off and gentle.’ I feel lucky, real lucky, to get to share a car and the world with my navigator. Yes, the pandemic and lockdown have meant our world is ‘shut-off’ in a certain way. But there’s still plenty of gentleness to be found—people talking quietly, late-night dinners, purling waves.

Polar bear rock at Ballygally Beach

Follow along with my beachy adventures, from my house in Belfast to each spot!


Sending love an ocean away!

Milena Williamson is a poet and PhD candidate at The Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen's University Belfast.

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