The eastern terminus of Boston’s blue subway line beckons with the gilded potency of Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house, a charming name that conceals the gritty concrete buildings and dull sandy beaches that ring the outer edges of the harbor. It’s the type of place you should stay clear of after dark, or perhaps never visit at all.
I think that was always part of its devilish appeal to me: a place whose name alone evokes childish nostalgia and sepia-toned memories, pastel-colored icing covering a cake well past its expiration date. As magnetic as the name itself is, the pull I have always felt toward Wonderland—despite never going there—also comes from the simple fact that it is the End of The Line.
The subway is a blunt tool that pares open the heart of a city and shows us where different socioeconomic and demographic lines collide and form anew. Traveling across a city by subway and then exiting it at the very end brings you into contact with the most diverse crowd imaginable, in the shortest space of time (and quite often the least amount of personal space, to boot).
And when you finally exit the train, you find yourself toeing the line of some new boundary: the city and the suburbs, the poor and the wealthy, the land and the sea. At Wonderland, it is a combination of all of these things. At the moment, I am back in Dublin after a weeklong sojourn in Belfast, and yesterday I decided to fulfill my long-held desire to ride the train to the end of the line and see what new frontier awaited me.
From the southeastern side of the bay I rode the train all the way around to the other side. The end of the line forks off to either Howth or Malahide; I took a Howth train because of the hiking trail that starts there. For about 45 minutes I stared out the window of the train, transfixed by the vastness of the bay passing off to my right, then later to my left as the train exited the city center and continued northeast to Howth.
I imagine that Wonderland and Howth share certain things in common, though it is clear the demographics here are different. Howth is clean, has a sizeable marina, and its main street is cluttered with gastropubs and gourmet markets. What the two share is their proximity to the sea, and I imagine this time of year Wonderland is an equally inhospitable place to walk around outside. As I passed by the marina, the frantic whistling of wind through the masts reminded me of the panicked clucking of chickens in a coop during a storm.
I walked along the seawall, ducking my head into the gusts that lashed me with a fine combination of seaspray and rain. Then I turned around and ascended the trail running parallel with the cliffs.
After rising steeply for 50m, the path more or less evened out, turning to the left and heading in an easterly direction. A few minutes later, the squall cleared up just enough for me to take this picture, and then it picked up with twice the fury it had before.
Despite wearing gloves, my fingers were numb from the sheer power of the wind. The cliffs are completely exposed to the elements, so I did my best to find a place on the trail where I might be able to wait for things to calm down a bit. Several times I dug my heels and hiking poles into the ground to keep from being blown in the direction of the seething water below. Finally, the squall blew itself out, and I was able to continue without worrying about being blown off the cliff.
The clouds quickly receded over the open sea, and I continued in a southerly direction, savoring the solitude despite civilization being a stone’s throw away on the other side of the cliffs. It wasn’t too much later than midday, yet the sun was already sinking slowly toward the western horizon.
Soon I came to the lighthouse on the southeastern tip of Howth, at which point I could also see the other side of the bay and beyond to the mountains south of Dublin.
The twin towers of the plant in the middle of the bay dominated the waterline, with the rather tame skyline of Dublin sitting back in the haze of late afternoon. Looming cranes along the docklands area of the city punctuated the sky like jagged rocks sticking out of the sea.
With the last remaining light of day flickering behind the city skyline, I came to a fork in the road. The track was supposed to cut inland, back across the moor and finally into the village of Howth. Instead I chose to follow the seashore, where a road soon appeared and led me along the windswept coastline. With darkness came the cold, and I quickened my pace until finally I arrived in Howth, ravenous from my efforts and numbed by the freezing wind.
I entered the first pub I saw, ordered a hot whiskey and a bowl of steaming seafood chowder. Then I walked the short distance to the Howth train station, and made my way back from the end of the line.
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