The Burren Beckons

AFTER A WEEK-LONG FIESTA OF FOOD, BOTANICAL BOUNTY AND PERFECT PERAMBULATIONS, WE BID A FOND FAREWELL TO OUR FAVOURITE PLACE ON EARTH. BUT NOT BEFORE WE SAMPLED THE WEIRD WATERS OF LOUGH GEALÁIN AND PUT OUR UNDERPANTS ON OUR HEAD…


orchid
On top of Mullaghmore. The buzz of bees here was remarkable. Ag crónán, as you would say in Irish.

Holidays. They are all about eating and drinking without a care in the world, interspersed with some sight-seeing. We are not a family of slobs, but neither are we fully paid-up members of over-actives anonymous. We usually find a balance when we go away; we like to explore the locality, and that usually means getting out on foot. It certainly involves some driving, and at times other modes of transport, such as ferries and that more personal of aquatic experiences: swimming. I have been known to go running on holidays too, and last week was no different.

Once we had located our holiday home in Lisdoonvarna (a great base from which to explore north Clare) our trip to the Burren started out with stocking up on basic provisions, and explaining gently to our teenage daughter that, no, there was no wifi in the house. In fact, there wasn’t even a phone signal. Which was a mixed blessing. I loved it, as did S. Tamsyn was not convinced of the merits of being cast adrift, untethered in a world of no signal bars and zero social media. Streaks would be lost, apparently. And if that’s lost on you, good luck. You are the better for it.

Tams
What any loving father does for his daughter… he takes her to the local pub where he can sample the local brews whilst she catches up with her friends, many of whom she won’t have been in touch with for at least 24 hours…

Lisdoonvarna is of course famous for its match-making festival. You can find more about this online, and of course, make sure to have the Christy Moore song as a soundtrack to your travels. Suffice to say, unless you are a farmer with some land but no love, this is no place for you to be. They sell over 7,500 tonnes of bacon and cabbage* during festival week…

bar

I could write a very long blog about the Burren. Indeed, probably a book. But there are plenty out there, and one book would not do it justice anyway. The geology alone is fascinating. The archaeology would take several volumes, before you even got started on the botany.

I had a good slice of luck. We always meet up with old friends who live in the Caher Valley near Fanore, and on this occasion, they had friends visiting too. Long story short, I ended up going caving on Wednesday with a local expert guide, along with a small group. I am awaiting some photos of this experience but it was definitely a highlight of the week. The cave we visited was Pollnagollum, though in Irish this is more correctly Poll na gColm; sometimes translated as Colm’s Hole (or cave) but far more likely to be derived from colm meaning dove, or in this case, the Rock Dove. They prefer to nest on rocky ledges and cliff faces, and the entrance to Pollnagollum is certainly that! The other fun fact about this cave (other than that it’s one of the longest cave systems in the British Isles) is that JRR Tolkien may have got the inspiration for his devious character Gollum from this very spot. He was a regular communicant with the Burren and without doubt, when you walk some of the landscapes of north Clare, they would appear to be lifted straight out of one of his novels (Do the Lough Avalla Loop if you don’t believe me). In this case, the Burren was most likely the inspiration. And I suspect the two famous illustrators who are the real visionaries in terms of bringing the Tolkien world to life, John Howe and Alan Lee, must have spent some time around here too.

At the end of the day, the trick with these rich veins of wealth deposited on your doorstep is to exploit them gently. This oxymoron neatly sums up how to live on, and off, the Burren. It truly is a gem of a place, but get to know the locals, and you will learn that making a living here can be as tough as the hazel eking out an existence on the karstic landscape. Since we have been visiting there, some of the staples have really made a good business out of it, be that a ferry company or a craft shop. The current trend is in food, and in particular, what you could disparagingly call ‘trendy’ food. I would not class myself as a ‘foodie’, but I do enjoy good food, and that usually means something with a local provenance and something ‘authentic’. Which can sound a bit wanky if you’re not careful, but if done well, then it’s a delight. The food, that is…

fish

For example, the fish and chips above from the Ivy Cottage café in Doolin. Best fish and chips ever? Possibly. Light and crispy batter, delicious chips, unfussy salad and dips. Perfect after a trip out on the ferry to see the Cliffs of Moher.

cliffs

The sun came out and we all got lightly toasted on the boat trip, but we were well entertained by Polish man Chris, so we didn’t notice.

We made sure to do some of the tourist spots we had missed on previous visits, so we visited the Burren Perfumery and Hazel Mountain Chocolate. The latter is quite hip indeed, and the food is most definitely chic.

There is a definite flavour of Shells Café about this place. Shells is one of our fave places in Sligo, and you naturally want to try and bring some of the love home with you by buying the book. We have a couple of Shells books, and now we have the Hazel Mountain one to add to the collection. This does not automatically translate of course; crossing the Shannon seems to add an extra sprinkle of magic to any trip. That is, if you are heading west. Perhaps it also works in reverse on the return journey? You may be able to duplicate the cakes and savoury dishes of these places, but you cannot replicate the settings… the landscape adds an extra twenty percent of flavour to any dish…

We had a quick tour of Ennistimon. There we found the fire station and an Aldi. And more evidence of that malaise which is never far from the surface in the country; decay. Empty shops and derelict buildings are a part of the rural landscape now, sadly.

station
Ennistimon Fire Station is lovingly cared-for, without doubt.

Ennistimon, for all its positives in terms of location, suffers from this like many other Irish towns and villages. Indeed, you could do a rather fascinating but somewhat sombre photographic study of these buildings. I’ve no doubt someone out there does just that.

oldpub

We also paid our regular homage to the T-shirt shop in Lehinch. And we had a fun moment too, when Saoirse was talking to the crew that work there. She casually mentioned that last time we were there a year ago, she had left her hat behind. What was it like, they enquired? Just like the one I’m wearing, she replied. Oh, here it is, they said, turning and retrieving it from a hook behind the counter where it had hung patiently waiting for its owner to return. Now that’s service!

We did take in the Rock Shop too, at Liscannor. Personally I think it’s a disappointment, given how much importance rocks are to the local economy. It’s one big monument to healing crystals, and all that sort of crap. Crystals don’t heal anything, no more than homeopathic remedies. Gems and other interesting rock deposits are enough in themselves, but of course, that probably doesn’t wash with some tourists. Anyway, enough of that crankiness and snobbery. Buy healing crystals if you must.

cogs
Arty (read ‘wanky’) shot of the crane outside the Rock Shop, Liscannor

S and I also visited the Rhine Peninsula. Not sure where the name comes from, but it is a wonderful spit of land near Ballyvaughan, and there is some rare machair here. Google that, if you are not familiar with this mini-ecosystem.

rhine

I could have written a whole blog on this one walk. It’s one great big photo opportunity.

Another visit on the to-do list was Mullaghmore. If you have been, you know how enchanting it is. For a relatively low-lying hill (about 200 metres) it’s quite an energetic climb. When we set off, it was warm but cloudy. By the time we reached the summit, the sun had burnt off the cloud cover and was getting to work on our skin.

helleborine
Dark Red Helleborine. I think. It’s one of many orchids in the Burren, and the only other thing it could be is another type of Helleborine. Happy to be corrected on this. Taken halfway up the green route to Mullaghmore.
cranesbill
Bloody Crane’s-bill

There is a small cairn on top of Mullaghmore though I don’t know if it’s an ancient or modern construct; a mystery for another day perhaps. The view from here is spectacular. Of course, you can see the famous Father Ted house, but that is just one (rather odd) jewel in a fabulous vista.

By the time we reached ground level again, and the shores of Lough Gealáin, my wild swimming gene was buzzing. Even though the waters here are too shallow to swim, I had to strip down and wade in to the lime-rich water to cool down. There is a good four inches or more of thick lime ooze underfoot which is a little disconcerting. But the water was clear and delicious. It was later when doing a little reading for this blog that I discovered the turlough is home to some monster leeches, so thankfully I was unaware of this at the time. I like my wildlife, but there are limits…

swim

Dec

The above pics capture my valiant attempt to get a stroke in. Not possible. Just too shallow. But as an exercise in cooling down; invaluable. And also, as the above pic shows, an excellent example of the classic Farmer’s Tan. But what to do with your wet boxer shorts? Had this been a more remote location, modesty would not have entered the equation and there would have been no damp underwear to worry about. With so many tourists passing close by, both underwear and modesty prevailed. Anyway, the answer to that conundrum, when the hot sun is beating down on your head like a coal shovel is to wear your pants on your head. I don’t have any pictures of this, and that’s perhaps for the best…

I have hundreds of pics. These are just a few. I may try and load up a few more later. These are just some from the phone, which in fairness does take a good pic. Tamsyn spotted a Dark Green Fritillary on one of our walks near Carron, and the insect was good enough to pose long enough for us to get some decent shots.

fritillary

Again, happy to be corrected on the species if anyone out there knows better. The only other option is a Silver-washed Fritillary, but I don’t think so. We saw some more on a walk out to Cahercummaun, but they were far too flighty for photographs.

grikes

We also found some wonderful limestone pavement on this walk, with some truly gargantuan slabs of unmolested limestone. Though the section above does look like it’s done a few rounds with Wolverine…

I did manage one actual run of about 5k. The highlight of this was meeting some donkeys. They were shy but three of the four did pose for a great shot.

donkeys

And so our wonderful week had to come to an end. We had squeezed in a lot, including a trip out to Bearna in Co. Galway to see S’s sister and family. On the way home, we pulled in to a service station. As I munched on a few chips and supped tea for energy to get us back safely, I checked my phone and an app I use for the news. It was the first time I had done so in a week. And I hadn’t missed it at all. What I will miss is the scene below…

fanore

That’s muggins there, on Fanore Beach, with a boogie board. I don’t surf. Sorry, correction… I can’t surf. At least, any brief attempts to date have failed. But that’s okay; the surf is there to be enjoyed whether in a wetsuit or without, and on a board or not.

Yesterday (Monday) was a day of trying to get back into the swing of things. Vehicle checks had to be done in the station, so there’s nothing like a few hours over there to start that relentless erosion of holiday bliss. And then I had a tedious meeting which went on for ever, and so as I sat slumped in front of the telly at nine o’clock with my dinner (reheated) on my lap, I had quite forgotten my plan to go for a run with Mark. Until, that is, he knocked on the door.

We managed a decent enough ten kilometres, and so begins my official marathon programme which won’t end until the Dublin Marathon on October 29th. Which is already down to the last 500 entrants, by all accounts. Don’t say you weren’t warned!

Burren, à bientôt…


* They may not actually sell that amount of bacon and cabbage. I may have made that up…

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14 thoughts on “The Burren Beckons

    1. Cheers Franck. Yes, I was thinking of you a few times; the botany is obviously truly wonderful, but then so is the birdlife. I got talking to an English gent on our last day who does a lot of survey work for Birdwatch, and he regularly goes out checking on peregrines. And he casually mentioned egrets too, and choughs, and a load of other species. Tough old life! But yeah… those chips… damn, I’m hungry now!

      Liked by 1 person

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