The Cliffs of Moher, the Burren, and a Boat Ride to Remember
Saturday, June 16
Through County Clare to the Cliffs
The Cliffs of Moher and the Ring of Kerry are probably the most visited tourist sites we would see on this trip. Well, and the Blarney Stone, but I consider that a lot of blarney! 😉The Jazzman and I had enjoyed lunch in Doolin after our 2011 visit to the cliffs, and just loved this quaint little town.
As we were following a winding back road toward Doolin, Paddy came upon a biker, then two bikers, then ten bikers, then a whole danged road race of bikers. We had happened into the middle of the Tour de Burren! When you’re on a narrow two-lane road, and bikers are consuming your entire lane, getting around them is a challenge. So our drive to Doolin took at least half an hour longer than it should have.
Ali had offered us the option of a boat ride to the base of the cliffs after lunch in Doolin. This gives the visitor a very different view of the cliffs than that from the top. Probably over half of our group decided they wanted to take advantage of this opportunity. When Ali called the boat operator to explain our delay, he told her it would probably be best if we not eat lunch before the boat ride. Little did we know he meant we wouldn’t want anything in our stomachs.
When we arrived at the docks in Doolin, we wrapped up in every warm garment we had on the bus, visited the loos, then got in line to board the boat. There are several boats that embark from this dock, but the most frequent are the boats carrying residents and visitors to the Aran Islands and the Cliffs boats. We waited while the boat to the islands loaded, then boarded the boat to the cliffs. Mike, Marilyn, the Jazzman and I wanted to sit at the back of the boat where the views from our cameras would be unimpeded. We got seats on the very back bench, and the bench that faced it. The boat backed out of the dock and then we noticed the height of the waves. And the wind causing the height of the waves. (To be honest, we noticed the wind the moment we stepped out of the coach!) As soon as the boat was clear, set out, and picked up speed, we were getting soaked! I moved inside, under cover, while hanging on for dear life to ever bench I passed on the way in. A few minutes later Marilyn came inside.
Then I looked at my Google map and noticed we weren’t heading for the cliffs. We were heading for the islands. Hmmm. Had we gotten on the wrong boat? Was there a stop at the islands first? Turns out there were a number of people who had tickets to the islands, but the boat company employee was not diligent in making his voice heard when he issued last call for the island boat. So in order for the company to save face, we had to make a mercy visit to the islands and drop these people off. The pilot was trying to get there as fast as possible in order to get us over to the cliffs and not cause the company to lose any money that day. Oh. My. Gosh. A very windy day (gusts to 25mph), a very choppy sea, and a large, very fast boat made for a WHOLE LOT of people holding garbage bags to their faces, if you catch my drift. One poor woman could not stop retching until we got back to the dock, over an hour later.
We arrived at the island dock, let off the travelers for that stop, then headed to the cliffs. When we arrived at the base of the cliffs, the pilot got us in position and idled the boat so we could get pictures. Remember what I said about winds and waves? Have you ever tried holding your camera, getting your shot framed, and shooting, while avoiding falling on your butt on a moving surface? Not easy. Not damned easy! The pilot slowly moved us a little ways north along the base of the cliffs, then headed back toward the dock. I am not a person who suffers motion sickness, but I’ll tell you, there was a feeling in the pit of my stomach that had me concerned. That trip was a nightmare. A freaking nightmare!
Finally, finally, we got back to the docks, got off the boat and back onto the bus, and congratulated all our tourmates on their wise choice for not taking the boat ride.
Paddy then took us down the coast to the parking lot for the cliffs. There’s a lovely visitor center at the cliffs that’s about ten years old. They have a nice cafeteria and delicious food (butternut squash soup on that cold, windy day made me happy), and clean restrooms.
We then had about half an hour to walk up to the top of the cliffs and take pictures. The fairly new walkways they’ve constructed along the cliff edge make it safer for all visitors, but hamper your ability to take good photos. But you can judge for yourself in the photo gallery below.
And then we loaded the bus again and took off, heading through the Burren for Galway and the Maldron Hotel. On our 2011 visit, the Jazzman and I had not driven through the Burren, choosing instead to continue up the coast road until the Atlantic Ocean met Galway Bay. The barren rockiness of the Burren was eerily beautiful, and I was glad we finally got a chance to see it. When we got closer to Galway Bay, I was able to see places we had passed on our earlier visit. I love that sense of familiarity.
We arrived at the Maldron and checked in. We had been assigned a handicapped room. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The bathroom had only a curtain around the shower and no vanity on which to place our toiletries. The room was very large, but I should have followed the Jazzman’s suggestion and gone down to request a different room. Oy. Water, water everywhere. (Honestly, if that’s the most I have to complain about on this trip—and it pretty much is—then I had a darned good vacation!)
There was an excursion to a castle banquet dinner that night, in which we did not participate. As the restaurants in town were a mile’s walk away, we had dinner in the hotel restaurant. I was just happy to have my feet on solid ground.
Sunday, June 17
Between the Connemara and Galway Bay to the Aran Islands
Another excursion that I had earlier opted out of was a visit to the Aran Islands. When Marilyn and I were planning our trip, I had said I really wanted to go there, to the land of heavy knitted fisherman sweaters. However, when it came time to sign up, I thought I’d rather explore Galway with my pals. But after seeing the islands up close the previous day, I checked with Ali to see if there were any spaces remaining. Wouldn’t you know it, several people who had been on the boat ride the previous day opted not to get on a boat again so soon. Imagine! So I got to walk that sacred knitter land.
Paddy drove us half an hour out the south coast of the Connemara to the docks in a little inlet. We boarded a large boat, where we all sat indoors. The ocean was not nearly as rough as it had been the day before, and the boat didn’t go nearly as fast, and we all sat inside. There was some major rocking side to side, but it didn’t give me the “Perfect Storm” feeling I had experienced on the previous passage. In half an hour or so, we were docking on Inishmore.
I immediately headed to the Aran Sweater Market. I live where it can get outrageously cold and stay cold in the winter. (With apologies to my friends who live in Idaho and Minnesota and Wisconsin and Canada, anything below 35 degrees for days on end is outrageous to one who grew up in Central Florida!) I had long wanted an Aran sweater. But the cardigans I tried on all had tight sleeves and were knit of rough wool. Then, in the front of the store, as I was about to abandon my desire, I found a cowl neck sweater that was soft and beautiful and fit my body just right. It’s being shipped to me—see, you knew I could find a way around that no-room-in-the-suitcase issue.
At 12:30, the group met in the Bayview Restaurant for lunch. The owner is Guatemalan, his wife is from New Jersey, and the food is great. Fish and chips for me. Delish!
Ali had arranged for a van and driver to be waiting for us after lunch to give us a scenic tour of the island, which is one mile wide and nine miles long. We saw thatch-roofed cottages that had been on the island since the time of the potato famine. We learned about schooling for children, and how many of the young people, after heading to the mainland for college, never return.
We saw great views of the ocean and the Connemara in the distance. Then we came upon a large rock wall and some ruins inside, and stopped to explore the Seven Churches. There was a cemetery around the ruins, with both old and new graves. When you think of the number of fishermen who have given their lives to the sea, it’s sobering to see the graves, especially of men in their twenties and thirties. The grave that touched me the most was one that was heavily planted with flowers and contained several photos of the young man whose remains lie there.
That reminds me—do you know the reason the women on these three islands knit heavy sweaters? Here’s an explanation from the website Blarney.com: ‘Aran’ is a style of sweater that takes its name from the Aran Islands off the west coast of Ireland. Often known as a Fisherman sweater, they are distinguished by their use of complex textured stitch patterns, several of which are combined in the creation of a single garment. Originally, Aran Sweaters were knitted using unscoured wool that retained its natural oils which made the garments water-resistant and meant they remained wearable even when wet. The distinctive cabled knit patterns allowed a man’s body to be identified by his family when he washed up on shore. Sad but precious.
After the Seven Churches, we rode over to the Dun Aengus fort site, which dates from 1500 BCE. The fort is situated at the highest point on Inishmore, about 300 feet elevation. The walk up there is not easy once you leave the paved path. The rocks are rough and at places the steps are difficult to maneuver. But the views when you reach the top make it worthwhile. I snapped a lot of pictures and just breathed in the salt air while listening to the waves crashing on the rocks below. Then we walked back down to the visitor center and on to the van. Of course, I had to grab a scoop of the “award winning ice cream” (just quoting …) before getting back on the van.
We drove back toward the docks, the driver pointing out several seals sunning on the rocks in the distance. And then we were back on the boat and to the mainland. As Paddy drove us back to the hotel, he stopped at the base of Shop Street to let a few people out to find a restaurant for dinner. (While I had been exploring on the island, my pals had enjoyed lunch at Martine’s in Galway, which they highly recommend.)
I admitted to my pals that I had no strength to walk another step after that climb to the fort and insisted on eating in the hotel restaurant. Then we packed to head back to Dublin.