North Dublin’s Sandy Shore – 5

The station at Clontarf Road was an addition to the Dartline in 1997. The old Clontarf Station was at the start of the Howth Road, a bit further inland, which operated for a century from the eighteen forties to its closure in the 1950s. Dart dates back to 1984, and provides fast, frequent and affordable transport along the Dublin and North Wicklow coast. Clontarf Road is the last coastal stop between the city and Howth Junction, as the line plunges inland to serve the suburbs of Killester, Harmonstown, Raheny and Kibarrack. Aesthetically, the stop’s a dump on stilts, but function and convenience save the day. Numerous bus connections can be made along Clontarf Road itself, and I found the station ideally sited for visiting the Casino and the start of a few good walks north along the coast as far as Dollymount. 

Escaping the station, one is rewarded with a nexus of parkland and seafront promenade. To our left lies Fairview Park and Marino which we’ve recently explored. To our right, the road curves along the coast with the well-to-do suburb of Clontarf inland, and a pleasant linear park laid out on the seaward side. It’s similar to the coastal stretch on the southside at Sandymount. Across the water we see industrial East Wall and Dublin Port and Docks, and a bit further, the dominant striped towers of the Pigeon House and the Incinerator on the South Bull. An urban streetfront of red brick two and three storey premises continues as far as St Lawrence Road and the Yacht bar and restaurant. Cafe society clings to the pavement, an uneasy but distinctive mix of environments; city street and seafront.

Clontarf means Meadow of the Bull, and is deeply resonant in Irish History and identity. This goes back a thousand years to the Battle of Clontarf, where, it is said, the Irish under Brian Boru, drove the invading Danes into the sea. There is an information sign for the Battle of Clontarf at the start of the esplanade.The battle took place in 1014 and was not the Ireland v Denmark match of our schoolbooks. Brian Boru, King of Munster and High King of Ireland, led a coalition of forces, mostly Gaelic, but including Munster Vikings whom he had subjugated. Ranged against him was the alliance of Danish Dublin and Gaelic Leinster, with a number of Danes from the Isle of Man and the Orkneys. Leader of this alliance was Sitric Silkenbeard. Sitric was born in Ireland around 970 and became King of Dublin in the late eighties. 

At the end of the century he was obliged to submit to Brian Boru, becoming Brian’s ally in helpng him assert his rule over Ireland as High King. As part of the deal, Sitric married Brian’s daughter, Slaine, while Brian married Sitric’s mother Gormlaith. In marrying Brian, Gormlaith was on husband number three. She is cast as the femme fatale of her age, exercising a magnetic attraction at the apex of sex and power; a Celtic Cleopatra. But, hey, that’s the way the gals are in Dublin. 

She was the daughter of Murchada King of Leinster and brother of his successor, Mael Morda. She first married Olaf Cuaran, King of Dublin and York, with whom she had Sitric. Olaf abdicated following defeat at Tara in 980, and died in exile. The victor Mael Seachnall, High King of Ireland, aka Malachy II became husband number two. 

Gormlaith’s ardour waned with the arrival of a new force of nature. Brian Boru had by century’s end established himself as Ireland’s ruler and then captain of Gormlaith’s heart. Well, maybe. Things turned sour in a war between the sheets and Gormlaith left the ageing King. She also coaxed her brother and son away from their allegiance. The Gang of Three were now in open revolt. Sitric enlisted help from offshore Viking adventurers. Brodir and Ospak were Danish Manx brothers whom he hoped to persuade to join him at his day at the races. As it turned out they fought on different sides in the battle, Ospak finding Brian too good a king to oppose. Sigurd of Orkney supported Sitric. 

The battle took place on Good Friday, 1014. A day, you will be aware, the pubs were all shut. It could have ranged all along the coast from the Tolka River as far as where the North Bull now stands. Slaughter was huge on both sides. As many as ten thousand died. Brian’s son, Murtagh, and grandson Turlough were slain. Mael Morda also fell.

By the end of the day, the numerical superiority of the Irish forces began to tell. Many Vikings were marooned by the high tide and were drowned or slain. Sitric led what few remained of his forces back to Dublin. Brian, seventy years old was in his tent where Brodir found him and killed him, before himself being killed by Brian’s bodyguard. Legend has it that Brian was on his knees in prayer, giving thanks to God for his victory. Although he could have been trying to get the cork out of a bottle. Either way he was dead, as was his son and heir, Murtagh. This was a pyrrhic victory for Brian’s kin. 

Malachy resumed his High Kingship. He had brought his forces to Dublin, but they hung around the back smoking and playing cards, having forged a secret non aggression pact with the Dubs. He reigned until his death in 1022. Sitric, meanwhile, remained to rule the Fair City for a further two decades. Skilled in the not altogether disparate arts of piracy, pillage and politics, he is best known as patron of the church, establishing Christchurch Cathedral in a fit of piety after a pilgrimage to Rome in 1028. After almost fifty years in power, he was usurped in a palace coup in 1036, and exiled to York where he died in 1042. Gormlaith, the beautiful schemer, had died in 1030, in her seventieth year.

It’s thirsty work contemplating the legendary battles of yore. The wanderer, Dub or Dane, Gael or Gall, is welcome at the Yacht, a rare oasis in this seafront suburbia. They serve a good lunch, with battered fish and chunky chips the appropriate choice, either in the lounge of gleaming wood and glass flooded with seafront light or the windswept patio to the side. There, the cool wind blows, the seagulls call, and sometimes you’ll hear the echo of an ancient battle cry.

We come from the land of the ice and snow

From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow

How soft your fields so green

Can whisper tales of gore

Of how we calmed the tides of war

We are your overlords

Immigrant Song, was written on a visit to Reykjavik by Led Zeppelin, and opens their 1970 album Led Zeppelin III. Sitric would have loved it.

Dublin Castle

Dublin Castle stands on the spot where it all began. Towards the middle of the ninth century, a longboat of Viking raiders found the confluence of the Liffey with its tributary the Poddle, sailed up that to beach their boat on the shore of a large, dark pool. A low ridge extended to the west and here was established the Danish settlement, taking its name from the Gaelic for the pool, Dubh Linn. There had been other settlements hereabout, of course. St. Patrick establishing a church where his designated cathedral now stands. Greek geographer, Claudius Ptolemy, noted the importance of Eblana in the first century, though its size and exact location are disputed. For the Danes, and possibly their Celtic predecessors, the area now occupied by Dublin Castle seemed a logical spot, hard by the tidal harbour of the Pool, the higher aspect of the south bank affording dominance over the surrounding landscape.

Looking south over Dubh Linn

Looking south over Dubh Linn

The Danes were to dominate the East and South coast for a century and a half. We read at school that Brian Boru ‘drove the Danes into the sea’ at the Battle of Clontarf. This is true of the forces on the day, a day of carnage; but the Danish leader, Sitric Silkenbeard, survived, Brian did not. The Danes were not expelled and survived another century and a half before the Norman invasion. It was Sitric, overtaken with piety in his later years, who established Christchurch Cathedral at the height of the ridge in 1028. The Danish city was already walled.

To the Norman though, goes the credit for establishing Dublin as a city of stone. The Castle was constructed by order of King John in 1202 at the south east corner of the city wall. The Pool lay to the south while the Poddle was harnessed to form a moat to the north and west. This rejoined the river at the north east corner of the Castle’s Lower Yard, flowing north into the Liffey near where the Clarence Hotel now stands. The Normans reconstructed the walls enclosing the growing city as far as the Liffey and westwards to St Audeon’s at Cornmarket. The extent of this walled enclosure was little amended over the centuries, until they were dismantled in the eighteenth century.

The Castle remains, itself greatly amended in the eighteenth century. For eight hundred years it was the centre and symbol of foreign power, first Norman, then English. It has never aspired to the romantic or picturesque. From the outset is was a functional, rectilinear structure comprising four stubby towers linked by curtain walls. There was no decoration, unless one counts the grisly occasions when rebel princes had their heads mounted on spikes at the gate. My own namesake, Shane O’Neill was to suffer this fate.

Bermingham Tower

Bermingham Tower

Unpopular with host and guest alike, detested by the Irish, the Castle nevertheless fulfilled its function. Edward the Bruce’s invasion of 1315 failed to rattle it. Silken Thomas’s revolt in 1534 went close, but no cigar. His first attack from within the City Walls got no further than punching a hole in the wall. The citizens expelled the attackers who attempted two more attacks. In a last, audacious onslaught the attackers gutted the buildings on Thomas Street to use as a covered ramp to breach the defenses. The garrison, facing the real prospect of defeat, made a great show of pretending that reinforcements had arrived and, rushing to meet the attackers head on, managed to see them off.

Robert Emmet’s fiasco came to naught, degenerating into a bloody riot on Thomas Street. In 1916 there was an attempt by rebels to seize it and the adjacent City Hall. Their forces weren’t up to it. They were responsible for the first death of the Rising when they shot the policeman guarding the gates. The Rebels briefly held the Upper Yard but were driven back by the garrison, though the battle raged about the Castle precincts for the rest of the day. The most significant breach of the fortress occurred during the War of Independence in the early twenties. Michael Collins, Ireland’s most wanted man, strolled into the Castle and pilfered details of Britain’s undercover network, with desperate ramifications for them. With the greatest guile and intelligence Collins effected revolution where centuries of armed assault had failed. In January 1922, Collins accepted the surrender of the Castle to the new Irish Nation.

The Lower Yard

The Lower Yard

The Castle today is quite different to the original thirteenth century structure. That had fallen into ruin by the middle of the seventeenth century. Within the walls at that time was the Irish parliament building, decaying and further degraded by Cromwell’s marauding troops. When a fire broke out in 1684, the Lord Deputy, the Earl of Allen, took extreme measures to prevent its spreading to the more valuable towers, by blowing up connecting buildings. A blessing in disguise, Allen having described the place as the ‘worst castle in Christendom’.

Rebuilding started immediately and the south-eastern building was completed within four years. The colonnaded ground floor indicates the architectural style of the Jacobean period. The remainder of the refurbished Castle is in the Georgian style, typical of the explosion in development in Dublin throughout the eighteenth century. The main entrance is overlooked by the Bedford Tower. Built in 1761, this elegant neoclassical tower is the most imposing in the Castle complex. To each side are identical portals, it’s the easternmost that acts as the main gate. Atop this is a statue of Justice, pointedly turning her back on the city outside.

Records Tower

Records Tower

At the southeast corner of the yard stands the only remaining visible structure from Medieval times, the Records Tower. This was the main prison of the Castle up to the nineteenth century, and it is from here that the young Red Hugh O’Donnell escaped in Elizabethan times. The battlements were added in the nineteenth century at the same time the Chapel Royal, now the Church of the Most Holy Trinity, was built in the Lower Yard. The Church is built in the neo-Gothic style, then replacing the Georgian in the affections of Dublin.

Shortly after surrender, the Castle was occupied by the Civic Guard, later the Garda Siochana, the national police force. So, much of its original function as the focus of law and order persists. For a time the Castle was also used ad hoc for emergent government departments of the new state. The Revenue Commissioners remain on its eastern side, Bord Telecom on the Ship Street side. As a young man in the 70s, my first fulltime job was with the P&T, the telephone company, and I was posted here for training. With my urban hippy chique, all hair and patchouli oil, I was not best clad for a trip past the Drug Squad HQ every morning. The Castle felt like an old, forgotten outpost then. The satellites were sodden pubs, the rained-on cobbles of an empty Temple Bar.

Older now it may be, but the Castle itself has been rejuvenated as a venue for civil and state occasions and a major tourist attraction. The State Apartments along the south wall have been lavishly refurbished. There’s a garden on the site of the old Dubh Linn, overlooked by the Chester Beatty Library. Rehoused here at the turn of the century, this holds the collection of the American mining millionaire, a priceless treasure of Oriental manuscripts, art and artifacts.


Standing at the entrance beneath the Bedford Tower, you stand very much at the crossroads of Dublin. The ancient settlement is a palimpsest here, overwritten by Norman Gothic, Jacobean, Georgian, Victorian and Modern, it is still a story contiguous with scattered settlements of Celts and Danes by a dark pool. Looking north, Parliament Street makes a straight line with Capel Street to disappear into the distance. This is the axis that bisects Dublin, the dividing line between the old, downmarket westside, and the new, more salubrious eastside. The divide is evident still

The Liberties of Dublin

As a child on early forays into Dublin, I’d sit upstairs on the bus looking over the jumbled roofs of the Liberties. Church spires punctured the sky, shifting landmarks against the sea of slate as the bus crawled down The Coombe, toiling up past St Patrick’s and Christchurch cathedrals on its way into the city centre. I recall a friend of my mother’s laughing as I blessed myself passing Saint Patrick’s. It was a Protestant church! In fact both cathedrals, though almost adjacent, are Church of Ireland. However, the persistent Catholic claim on Christchurch means the Diocese only maintains a Pro-Cathedral for Dublin.

It was down by Christchurch that I first met with Annie,

A neat little girl and not a bit shy.

She told me her father, who came from Dungannon,

Would take her back home in the sweet bye and bye.

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral

Christchurch Cathedral marks the ancient centre of Dublin. It was founded in 1028 by King Sitric Silkenbeard. Dublin, more than a decade after the Battle of Clontarf, was still Danish. Sitric, one of the few survivors of the battle, became determinedly devout in his later years, the cathedral his enduring legacy. The king didn’t stay in his city to die. His throne was usurped and he decamped to York on the eve of the Norman invasion of England. A century later, the Normans came to Ireland’s green shore. Strongbow (Richard De Clare) took the spoils, including King Diarmuid’s daughter Aoife. Having defeated the Danes, in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford, and ultimately at Bloodybank in Bray, he funded the restoration of Christchurch for Archbishop Laurence O’Toole. Strongbow’s remains were interred there, while his effigy reclined peacefully on the tomb. The original stone knight has not survived, however, destroyed in one of the cathedral’s several collapses; the current figure being a substitute.

St Patrick’s, Ireland’s largest church, is close by at the foot of Patrick’s Street. Another ancient institution, it was, up to Tudor times, the equivalent of the city’s university. It’s most starred connection is with Jonathon Swift, Dean of the cathedral and creator of the permanently resonating world of Gulliver’s Travels. Next door is Marsh’s Library, a precursor of the public library. Neither borrowing nor lending were the thing then and readers were locked in cages with their chosen book to stem pilferage. Librarians these days are too soft by far.

While no visible barrier currently exists to explain the existence of two cathedrals in such proximity, that was not always the case. All those centuries ago, Christchurch was within the city walls, St. Patrick’s, without. Those ancient walls have well and truly crumbled. A portion remains to the north of St Audeon’s Church, encompassing the only remaining city gate. A couple of fragments of the wall have been unearthed nearby. At the corner of Cornmarket and Lamb Alley, a good chunk of wall gives you some idea of where the western extent of the city was.

A portion of the city wall at Lamb Alley

A portion of the city wall at Lamb Alley

Beyond here lies an area known as The Liberties. Liberties were manorial possessions, usually attached to a monastery that enjoyed benefits and independence from the walled city. Today the term applies to two ancient liberties, The Liberty of Saint Thomas and Donore, and the Liberty of Saint Sepulchre. Saint Thomas’s is delineated by its two main axes, The Coombe to the south and here, all along Thomas Street as far as James’s Street to the west. St Sepulchre’s ranges east from Patrick’s Street and Clanbrasil Street, to Whitefriar’s Street Church off Aungier Street.

All along Thomas Street and down to the Liffey,

The sunlight was fading and the evening grew dark.

Over King’s Bridge and beyond in a jiffy,

My arms were around her up there in the park.

A striking landmark nails the start of Thomas Street. From afar it always seemed to me a castle in the sky, floating tantalisingly out of reach on those distant bus journeys. It is the fabulous, metred spire of the Church of St John the Baptist and St Augustine, the highest in Dublin, rising to more than two hundred feet. The church was built in the late nineteenth century where a monastery and hospice had stood in Norman times. It was designed by Edward Pugin. He was of French Hugenot stock and the building does indeed have something of the air of a French chateau about it. Described as a poem in stone by John Ruskin, it is that, it also it sings with gothic romance. The twelve statues set into niches on the tower were rendered by James Pearse, father of Patrick Pearse. Harry Clarke, that most gifted Irish exponent of Art Nouveau, is responsible for the stained glass windows near St. Rita’s side-altar. It is an interior for prayer and contemplation, a welcome respite from the antic city outside.

John's Lane Church, Pugin's 'Poem in stone'.

John’s Lane Church, Pugin’s ‘Poem in stone’.

Thomas Street evolved as a market street without the walls. Cornmarket would have been at the old western gate of Dublin. Brewing, distilling and weaving, especially silk weaving, became the main industries of the area. The busy thoroughfare was often the focus for more than industry and commerce. Thomas Fitzgerald (Silken Thomas), Earl of Kildare, made this the site for his rash assault on Dublin Castle in 1535. His forces used the upper stories as a causeway of sorts in their attempt to breach the city walls. The citizenry remained firm however, and Thomas was ultimately captured and executed.

The original monastery, the manorial centre of the Liberty, was at Thomas Court, at the top of Marrowbone Lane. It had extensive land holdings well beyond the immediate area, including lands at Ardee in County Louth and Kilruddery in Bray. At Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, these lands were given to William Brabazon with the title Earl of Meath. Hence, some of the names you will notice in streets throughout the liberty.

Robert Emmett had no more luck than Silken Thomas with his rebellion in 1803. Despite careful planning, his assault on Dublin Castle degenerated into a grim fiasco, with mob violence along Thomas Street. Emmett was executed for his trouble, at a gallows close to St Catherine’s Church.

Music and art have become a more notable feature of the area than riot and rebellion. Or perhaps they’re simply different facets of it. The National College of Art and Design located to the old Power’s Distillery in the nineteen eighties. Myself, amongst others, has tramped its hallowed halls. Some never escaped at all. BIMM, originally the Brighton Institute of Modern Music sends stray notes and students into the air around Francis Street. Vicar Street has become Dublin’s most comely music venue.Here, I’ve seen Patti Smith gather a group of local musicians together for a Celtic take on Smells Like Teen Spirit. Imelda May radiate love and rockabilly as the local girl made good. I’ve seen Jack L hold the audience in his hand, with the lights down and the electricity off, with nothing but a concertina and a voice to evoke the troubadour of another century. The Waterboys are coming soon, and there’s always something there.

Saint James's Gate Brewery

Saint James’s Gate Brewery

These days, Thomas Street remains one of only a couple of places in Dublin where street trading is permitted. It is, always has been, a rambunctious street. The heavy aroma of hops seeps through the air from Guinness’s brewery to the west. Arthur Guinness, from Celbridge in Kildare, founded his brewery in 1759 at Saint James’s Gate. The distinctive Stout has become something of a national emblem. As the country lurched from boom to bust, the brewery celebrated two hundred and fifty years with the inauguration of Arthur’s Day, raising a pint to the man at one minute to six on the chosen day. The great and the good, as usual, getting a whiff of people having fun, sucked in their cheeks, waved a boney finger of prohibition. But they can’t stop you doing it if you so desire. A visit to the Guinness Hop Store nearby, can be topped off with a pint and a panaromic view at the Gravity Bar. Or you can simply walk into any bar.

And what’s it to any man whether or no,

Whether I’m easy or whether I’m true.

As I lifted her petticoat easy and slow

And rolled up my sleeve for to buckle her shoe

St. James's Church

St. James’s Church

Where Thomas Street ends, St James Catholic Church marks the beginning of the street of that name. It can also be the beginning of a more ambitious walk. Passports for the Camino de Santiago are available here, a first step on the pilgrimage across northern Spain to Finistere, the very end of the earth.

The Liffey at Kingsbridge

The Liffey at Kingsbridge

For me, I take a right turn down Steven’s Lane to Houston, formerly Kingsbridge Station. A fine piece of Victoriana from 1846, it’s the principal western rail terminal for Dublin. also serving the southwest. There’s a good bar to the side, and seating outside not far from the Liffey. To the west lies the Phoenix Park, to the east lies the city. The Luas line carries trams regularly to and fro. I will catch one, when I’m ready, leaving me conveniently near Connolly Station for my Dart home.


York was once the dominant city of the north of England. Founded by the Romans as Eboracum and becoming, about a thousand years ago, seat of the Danish kings. They lorded it over the natives, if we could apply that term to the Anglo-Saxons of the age. Its influence extended as far as Ireland. The Dublin Danes were inextricably linked with York, Jorvik as it was then known. The great Sitric Silkenbeard retired here to die in the middle of the eleventh century, leaving Dublin with the legacy of Christchurch cathedral. York’s own cathedral, York Minster, would have been in an earlier, smaller incarnation then. Both Dane and Norman would conspire to destroy, and rebuild it, before the present Gothic masterpiece arose in the thirteenth century. One of the largest cathedrals in northern Europe, its majesty underlines the importance York enjoyed into the late middle ages. York

York’s influence on contemporary Britain may have waned somewhat, but the city has nurtured its original grandeur. Few places that I have seen have attained such a harmony between ancient and modern. The great cathedral still crowns the hill, a hymn to the power and endurance of medieval church architecture. Meanwhile the ancient walls are virtually unbreached, enclosing a sizeable city and straddling the mighty River Ouze. Having walked the walls of the early-modern city of Derry, and very impressive they are too, it’s another treat to walk these older, more extensive walls, two and a half miles in circumference. We reach York in bright sunshine, the bricks and trees of the suburbs alive in the charged northern air. We circle about the walls to find our hotel hard by the railway station. It’s a grand, nineteenth century pile, from the halcyon days of Victorian industry, when railway hotels were the acme of wealth and elegance; this was the place to be! There are extensive formal gardens to the front, with the picture-perfect city hung above us, tantalisingly close. To complete the harmonic transition of the ages, the hotel is thronged by a science fiction convention. There’s a great buzz with eager groups huddling in frantic, and often hilarious, discussion. There is a higher than usual percentage of hirsute geeks, aging goths and, unexpectedly, lesbians. After the mayhem of reception, it’s time for a grander entrance at the most impressive of hotel staircases.

Walking along the city walls

Walking along the city walls

The city walls are there to be walked, taking us an hour into the slow sunset. They encircle a large urban area of about two hundred and sixty acres. Although earlier defensive ramparts have been unearthed, it was the Normans who established the extensive fortifications. York Castle was the centre of the defenses, this complex surveying the only unwalled section, where the River Fosse forms a natural defensive moat. The walls also helped generated wealth through establishing a secure customs point on the major river, The Ouze. Everyone who was anyone passed through here. The Romans, the Danes and the Normans all left their mark. Richard III looms large; the last king of the House of York he is held in higher regard here than elsewhere. Richard, still stooped under Shakespeare’s caricature, is receiving some rehabilitation since the recent discovery of his remains in a Leicester carpark. York has a museum dedicated to him, housed in the largest of the four city gates, Monk Gate, with a functioning portcullis to boot.

York Monster from the city walls

York Monster from the city walls

We step off at the cathedral. The illusion of passing through a gate in time is strong here. York Minster dwarfs the surrounding medieval city. The old town tunnels further into history.The Shambles, its most famous and ancient street, becomes literally a tunnel of wood-framed leaning buildings, stooping across the narrow passageway to hinder the sky. The shambles were the shopfront counters of butchers, primarily, and other selling their wares. Back then, you stayed on the street to do your shopping, the vendor displaying their goods on the shambles, conducting transactions through the ground floor window of the shopfront. Medieval wood and stone still survives, worn smooth through centuries of use.

The Shambles

The Shambles

The tiny streets weave and flow, thronged with shoppers, tourists and the blooming party scene of early evening. There are plenty of old traditional bars. The Olde Starre Inn, is York’s oldest. Dating from 1664, its foundation coincided with the birth of Kronenberg, a happy coincidence indeed which must be honoured. The Judge’s Lodgings has a pleasant raised patio where we soak up the evening sun, sampling the ale while the ‘girls’ gather for the night. Wilde’s of Grape Lane is, for some reason, dedicated to our own great Oscar. An eclectic mix of Edwardian frippery, contemporary music and brown cafe ambience, it’s just right for drinking and dining pleasure. Burritos and Kronenberg, if you must ask, and very good too. On another day, more basic delights are catered for with a stop at a vernacular cafe near the markets for pie and chips washed down with a bottle of local ale. Ah yes, Black Sheep Ale, how wonderfully named. With the weekend on top of us, hens, clad in minis and sashes, teeter on stilettos over centuries old cobbles. Meanwhile, stags in their civvies are starting to rut, so we must weave our way home, as you can imagine. Betty’s Tea Shop is another Yorkshire institution. Founded in 1919 by a Swiss baker, Francis Belmont, it strives for a traditional ambience,elegant and deferential. On the last morning, as the Boss seeks out the White Stuff (it’s a shop, honestly!), I take coffee at Betty’s on Stonegate. Its upstairs tea room forms an oasis of sorts, bustling but somehow calm in its certainty of caffeine and spices. It’s a perfect pick-me-up for our morning departure. Back at the hotel the SF gig is winding down. People are getting ready to rejoin the real world. The throng meanders along the swirling corridor from some classic movie, then winds down the massive staircase to reception. A couple of starry trekkers prepares to check out, or as one says knowingly, to no-one in particular: “to boldly go.” I suppose we must. But look forward to going back, when time and space allows.