Steady Donegal tunes from the early hours of the morning are in my head as I drive.
It’s a spectacular journey through the rain and autumnal Donegal bleakness. The rivers are full and frothing the colour and texture of the top of a pint of Guinness. Rounding the bends along the cliffs, near Rathlin O’Beirne Island, choughs are enjoying the wind, all splayed wing tips and glossy blackness. They are my father’s favourite bird.
I get to the end of the road, pack my rucksack, and head towards the steps where breathless others, wind and water proofed, are just going home. I am glad.
On the way down the steps I observe that even in the shelter of this bay it is rough today.
First thing I want to do is check if the dolphin is still there. My friends on Rathlin have a dolphin skull sitting in their stairwell, and I always wanted one too.
After Glen Fiddle Week I found a decomposing dolphin at the far end of this beach. The flesh was well on its way with the help of an army of maggots. I had contemplated making the journey from Belfast to Malinbeg armed with a hacksaw a few weeks later but I never made it. Now I take off my boots and paddle across the stream to reach the rocks where I had found the body.
Alas, after high tides and many months, it was gone.
I am alone on the beach in the rain, the dark waves looming towards me as I push into them through the surf and splash. This place is sometimes unnerving and intimidating. But today is OK.
It is really exhilarating in the water, and I am enjoying being on my own.
The rain is making momentary pock marks in the peaked volumes of water; black, navy, dark green.
When I get out, I stand with my back to the bare rock face, and look over to the waterfall crashing down the cliffs opposite; an uncompromising gush pushing into the sea and mixing there: salt and fresh and bog and rain water.
After getting dressed my body is fine, but my feet are numb. So cold that it feels out of control: like I could whack my toes on the concrete steps and not feel a thing, that I could glance down to see blood. I walk flat-footed and clumsily.
As I begin the long ascent to the top, a young couple and their child pass me on their way down. I stop half way to catch my breath and push my feet into my boots. As I sit on the cold wooden bench I watch the proud, indulgent parents; the bundled-up wean toddling towards her daddy’s iphone, her arms outstretched.