A week in mid/late May exploring Connemara, Dingle, Killarney, Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, the Ring of Kerry and the Skellig Ring.
More photos at: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmdQBWZL
INTRO AND DAY 1: CLIFFS OF MOHER/THE BURREN
I loved our 7 days driving along Ireland’s evocatively named ‘Wild Atlantic Way’, with a bit of easy walking thrown in too. There are some beautiful corners to see, great accommodation, pretty villages and towns , good pubs, nice people and we were blessed with superb weather (mostly).There was only one disappointment and it was a big one – not getting over to the World Heritage Site of Skellig Michael because of rough seas. I’d booked our trip about 5 months in advance but despite the sunny weather, the seas were too big for landing.In fact, although the season had officially started on 14 May by the 21 May, no landing trips had been possible.
We flew Aer Lingus from Edinburgh to Shannon, a pleasant 1 hour 20 min flight, picked up our hire car at the airport (Thrifty – £160 for the week including full insurance covering all the extra possible damage issues) and were soon on our way, under sunny blue skies, to the world famous Cliffs of Moher.
THE CLIFFS OF MOHER
It was barely an hour’s easy drive on good roads from Shannon to Lahinch, a seaside town popular with surfers and with a renowned golf course, in a fine location and 15 min drive away from the Cliffs. Thought it best to stop off and grab something to eat as we’d been up at 5am to catch our 9am flight. Hunger pangs were beginning, plus we now planned to do part of the cliff walk. It’s never much fun walking on an empty stomach and we’d only had a coffee each and a couple of mugs of tea so far all day.No point in being light-headed on a cliffside hike either ( my tendency towards vertigo gives me a good start on that anyway….)
Found Joe’s Café, going like a fair, looked nice inside and the food was excellent. Bacon and scrambled eggs for Chris, a HUGE home-made apple, pear and plum crumble with cream for me. Absolutely first class. Gallons of tea. (We got consistently good cups of tea in Ireland too, none of your wishy washy stuff.)
It was also great to pick up the very distinctive accents around us ; I’ve always loved that soft Irish lilt. I’d even felt a small thrill at the car desk when the guy serving us shouted to a colleague something about the time – ‘Tree o’clock . No earlier.” Tree. Much nicer than ‘three.’
Fuelled up, we had a brief wander along the beach front, always happy to be beside the open ocean.
Research and Tripadvisor advice had suggested we access the cliffs from this end, not the Doolin end and the Visitor Centre. Two reasons: it was more scenic to walk the cliffs from this direction and it only cost 2 euros to park, compared to the 8 euros per person at the Centre. So, no contest.
A very friendly, slightly harassed lady was directing traffic into two parking areas on her farmland at Hag’s Head, making a nice bob or three (or I should say, ‘tree’) which we were very happy to give her. At 1.30pm, we got the last space and I heard her tell the driver behind us that he would have to wait until someone came back to retrieve their car before they could get parked. It was all really busy – and this was a Wednesday lunchtime in mid-May. Not yet full tourist season.
We had a bit of chat with her and she shouted a ‘take care of yerselfs now!’ warning as we headed off up the path.
It was a truly glorious day. Blue skies and warm sunshine though with a cold breeze; perfect for walking. Sea-thrift was out too, dotting the greenery on the cliffs with clumps of pink. The sea was as blue as the Aegean.
We spent the next 2.5 hours just strolling along the beautifully built cliff top path, lined with flagstones and always offering a safe barrier between us and the 200m metre drop to the boiling ocean below.
Braver souls were happily skipping along on slightly more exposed paths but I was very happy with the standard trail. There were the usual nut-jobs clambering down onto ledges too, desperate to dice with death for the sake of a selfie. I feel total bewilderment that they don’t feel enough of a thrill in just being here – but given my vertigo, I envy them too at being so bold.
Were the cliffs worth seeing? Yes – they are quite a sight. They aren’t the highest cliffs but the walking access along the top is very well done. To some, maybe too well done , making the whole place very touristy as there are huge numbers of visitors but sometimes a landscape is so impressive that it transcends the crowds. I thought so anyway plus I expected it to be busy – Chris admitted to being a bit staggered at the sheer numbers of people and cars (having done no research homework, as usual, for the trip. A regular bone of contention!)
We were only about a 10 minute stroll away from the Visitor Centre when we decided to turn back and yes, walking in that direction DIDN’T offer the impressive views that we had on the way out. Met a lot of the same faces on the return too, people who’ d started at the centre and were now returning.
The Shuttle Bus
There is a shuttle bus that plies all day between Doolin – the Visitor Centre – Hag’s Head.The timetable is posted at each start point of the walk. We could have caught it at the Centre, taking us back to the parking area at Hag’s Head in about 15 minutes. But our timing was out and we’d have had a 45 min wait for the next bus, so we decided just to re-trace our steps. If we’d planned it better, it might have worked well but somehow, we walked straight past the timetable at Hag’s Head, so eager were we to see the cliffs! I think it was also around 8 euros each for the bus, a bit of an ouch.
Back down to the car park, we exchanged a cheery wave with the lady there, still looking harassed and directing an endless procession of cars; if anything, at 4pm, it was even busier.
DRIVING TO THE BURREN
What a beautiful drive it was from the Cliffs past pretty Doolin to the Burren coastline. We could see the 12 Bens of Connemara on the horizon, the Aran Islands lying almost flat off the coast and of course the hills around us were now covered in grey/pink limestone – very beautiful against the emerald green fields, which were themselves criss – crossed heavily with stone walls. I love stone walls; we have a lot of them in Scotland but there are even more in Ireland. I noticed signs around The Burren – ‘Save our Stone Walls’ or something to that effect; quite rightly trying to prevent ugly fencing replacing that lovely part of Irish heritage.
Couldn’t resist a stop near Fanore at Vasco’s deli and café on the way, in a glorious position near the coast and with an outside terrace. Home baking to die for ! I just can’t resist the chance of a good cake or a scone.And it all looked SO good, I could hardly choose. Plumped for a Treacle and Orange Tart with dollops of cream, while Chris had an Almond Sponge topped with Raspberries and Blueberries and served with Ice cream. First class stop. I would say that the home baking on offer in and around County Clare was the best we saw on the whole trip.
The road wasn’t busy as we made our way to Bell Harbour where we had two nights booked into a self catering cottage, sitting inland a bit. It became one of our favourite memories of the whole trip.
Stopped off in bucolic Ballyvaughan, a pretty little cluster of houses with a good shop, very peaceful wee place. Stocked up on milk and wine and some food for later. After a long day’s travel, we rarely feel like going out for a meal and enjoy just relaxing in our accommodation. I do spend a LOT of time sourcing places that will really add to our trip rather than just being a bed for the night, so to speak.
After a bit of a faff trying to find the correct minor road up to the house, we finally made it and turned along a lovely grassy track lined with stone walls. Cows mooed in a nearby field, swallows darted and swooped – what a beautiful, serene place to arrive at.
The house (Airbnb) was built on Margaret and Richard’s land, near their own and was a little dream of a place. Very spacious and bright inside, tasteful and charming. We loved it immediately. We had a ‘breakfast’ terrace off the lounge, which caught the morning sun and an upstairs balcony off the bedroom for sitting out in the evening light. Perfect.
The couple had also left us a starter pack of milk, butter, wine (always welcome:)), bacon, eggs , yoghurt and soda bread. And jam. In summer, when their beehives are producing, they leave a jar of honey for guests.
It was now 6pm, the sun well past the yard – arm so time to pop open the Prosecco and sit with a bowl of crisps and hot salsa dip on our balcony, and enjoy the utter peace and quiet of this delightful part of The Burren. There were no other houses to be seen, it all felt very private and secluded.
Cooked a quickie meal of a bacon, cheese and onion omelette and had some toasted bread with it and tomatoes. It was such a lovely evening, we had a walk for an hour or so along the small country road that wound it’s way up into the higher ground.
What a great first day in the Emerald Isle.
Day 2 – Exploring Connemara IRELAND’S WILD ATLANTIC WAY(Connemara)
Day 3 – Burren and Killarney IRELAND’S WILD ATLANTIC WAY (The Burren/Killarney