Monday, 22 July 2013

The Burren & Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

The very morning after I arrived back in Ireland, myself and two friends hopped into the car and headed on our first adventure of the summer. My friend is new to driving, so to get some experience she drove the whole way. We stopped off in Athlone, the town that she went to boarding school in, for some lunch. Then it was back in the car (with ice creams!) for the remainder of our 3+ hour road trip.

The great thing about modern Ireland is all those shiny, delicious EU subsidised roads. It's literally so easy to hop on the motorway in one part of the country, and arrive at the opposite end of our fair island in what feels like mere minutes. It's fantastic. Thank you, Celtic Tiger, thank you!

For those not familiar, The Burren is a truly unique and spectacular landscape of limestone rock, called a karst landscape, which is located on the western coast of Ireland in Co. Clare. The Wikipedia page is, as always, a great source of information. The permeable and corrosive nature of limestone rock means the rocks have been eroded in such interesting ways, and the caves that exist below ground are unique. There exist arctic and Alpine flora and fauna, remnants of the ice age.

Our first port of call were The Ailwee Caves. I've been to wild caves in The Burren before, and while they're a lot more fun and you get a great feel of the reality of the rock formations in the caves of the area, Ailwee is a great tourist experience. The tour guide gave us some back story to the discovery of the caves, and I found it so funny that the farmer who discovered this massive cave structure waited 30 years before telling anybody! Astounding. The tour was fairly short, but it was engaging, and the lights focusing on the specific features our guide was describing was helpful.

An underground waterfall

A stalagmite

I would definitely recommend a trip to the caves if you're a tourist in the region. The visit is affordable and informative, perfectly safe as long as you're mobile and not scared of the dark. A fun introduction to the underground features of The Burren.

Our next port of call was the Father Ted house. Father Ted was a wildly popular Channel 4 tv show in the 90s, featuring three Irish Catholic priests and their contrary housekeeper who lived on the fictional Craggy Island. If you've never seen it, you have lived but a half life. The exterior of the parochial house is a big house located in The Burren, and we drove for miles and miles to find it. And it was good.

I can almost hear The Divine Comedy's theme tune blaring from the tv on a Monday night. Golden.

The weather forecast for the weekend was very optimistic, but sadly as evening set in so did a thick mist, obscuring the hills of The Burren, and making driving difficult. AK wasn't totally comfortable driving on the winding roads in the fog, so we headed back to the hostel for the night after having a pub dinner. I can't remember the name of the pub, nor what village it was in, but the area is filled with pubs, many of which play traditional Irish music and serve classic favourites like fish and chips.

Our hostel was a simple affair, Clare's Rock Hostel. We paid €2 each, we got a private room, we got breakfast, access to the kitchen, a parking space, and a hot shower in the morning. What else do you need? This is their profile.

The next day we said goodbye to our hostel and headed to The Cliffs of Moher.  Featured in The Princess Bride (a childhood favourite) as the Cliffs of Insanity, they are beyond belief. Also beyond belief is the fact that the charge to use the car park is about €6 PER PERSON (to just park the car). I will write a separate post ranting about tourist extortion in Ireland, so I'll leave it out for now. The visitors centre is expensive and, like most visitors centres/art galleries in Ireland, smells unmistakably like soup (why is this?). I would recommend parking on the road outside, schticking on your walking shoes and heading straight out to the cliffs themselves, where you can be terrified and amazed all at once.

After our trip to the Cliffs we headed to Lahinch. As we arrived, the temperature increased, the sun came out, and we took a look around this lovely little town. We went, again, to one of the traditional pubs for lunch, and then went in search of a nice typical bit of karst landscape to take a walk on. We found it, in the middle of nowhere, uneven and smooth and absolutely beautiful.

After that it was back to Meath, back on the fancy motorways and away from this wild little bit of the world. It's my third time visiting, and Clare is fast becoming my favourite place to be in Ireland.

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