Ireland Day 10
This morning dawned with the view from our hotel window of the stone wall with the cemetery behind it misted by fog. Somehow the good night's sleep and lack of doing stuff had re-energized my spirits and I wasn't the least bit concerned about the fog. This was our day to see the Cliffs of Moher, another extra excursion, one where the tour company was careful to warn us that it could be completely fogged in. I decided I wasn't going to worry about it, and if the fog lingered throughout our morning, I would just take misty foggy interesting photos of the invisible cliffs.
In addition to the Cliffs of Moher, we were to explore the Burren. With my trusty book on Irish geology, I had read about the sandstones and limestones of the Burren, perused the photos and the diagrams and stratigraphy but nothing really prepared me for the drama and wonder of this limestone uplifted plain adjacent to Galway Bay and gateway to the Aran Islands. Who knew.
The route toward the Burren and the cliffs followed the coast along Galway Bay, with fog making everything misty and magical. We passed the Flatley pub, owned by Michael Flatley’s parents, (creator of Riverdance) and stopped in another charming little village for a coffee and a rest stop.
I expected to be enthralled with the cliffs, but had no idea that the Burren would be so magical. The fog stayed with us for most of the drive south and west toward the cliffs, and yet as we went higher and higher into the wild landscape, the fog began to lift as well. Burren means "rocky place", and it is an understatement. The limestone plateau and glaciated mountains are some of the rockiest I have seen other than Southern Utah. Most fascinating are the fields, all beautifully fenced with gorgeous limestone walls that were built from rocks gathered in the fields.
The soils are extremely shallow above the limestone, so in order to make something that could grow grass, farmers cleared the rocks, built the fences, and then covered the fields with seaweed and sand to make soil. I couldn't figure out how they kept them from being salty, other than the high precipitation leaching out the salts, and the process was completed over centuries. Now the fields for the cows and sheep stand in sharp contrast to the extremely rocky and stony surrounding landscape.
On the coastal portion of the Burren, we stopped on a cliff overlooking the sea to climb up into the Burren rocks. It is a karst landscape, with the limestone dissolved by rainwater and has underground caverns and tunnels that are filled with air. This air comes in from the warmer areas along the shoreline and heats up under the ground, making the Burren much warmer than it should be based on its location. Plants grow here from alpine to mediterranean in the grikes (deep cracks) between the clints (distinct blocks of solid limestone). Botanists come from all over the world to study the plants growing here.
We had a great time climbing and hunting for tiny flowers, breathing in the magnificent ocean views to the west. I could spend a lot of time in this place exploring. Even with the sunshine , it was still a bit windy and chilly so Mo and I were happy for jackets and scarves which we haven't had to use much so far on this trip.
Not far from our stop at Black Head, we came to the beautiful visitor center for the Cliffs of Moher. It is a newly built center, with a ton of parking for the big tour busses that must be a huge part of the Irish economy. Built into the side of the mountain, it reflected the green mindset of much of what we have seen in Ireland. It is a very green country, not only in color but in its commitment to the environment.
Mo and I decided to begin our time at the cliffs with a visit to the center, but before we had much time inside, Isabella found us and said, "You need to get outside while you can since the fog has lifted and it could always come back". Best advice of the entire trip so far!
The Cliffs extend for several miles in both directions from the center, with paved trails that go both right and left. We randomly decided to go right, and it was an excellent choice since we saw the iconic sites that I have drooled over in photos ever since I knew we were going to Ireland. The cliffs are more than 600 feet high and are famous for their swirling winds that can blow people right off to the sea below. A few years ago, Ireland built beautiful walls from the local slate to keep people safe from their own folly. I would have been grateful for those walls if it had been windy or wet, but with a dry trail and very little wind, we felt just fine walking the narrow packed dirt pathways adjacent to the cliffs.
I can barely describe how this felt. The paths are worn into deep soft green grass, with only a few places that have steep limestone steps to negotiate once it leaves the "official" pathway and becomes the "Burren Trail". From a high point, I suggested that Mo go ahead so I could get photos of her on the cliffs from a distance, and then I would go and she could return and get some of me. It was a great plan, with photos that show the magnificence of the cliffs with each of us in turn looking very tiny next to the drops.
It was probably the most exhilarating hike I can remember. Mo and I hiked the Na Pali coast on Kauai and this was every bit as thrilling and a whole lot easier without the steamy heat. It is a world class iconic landscape, like seeing the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. What an incredible treasure.
This is the first night I have been especially frustrated with having no access to my photos to share with you. (Aren’t you glad you are reading the blog?!) I didn't take the phone on the hike, which I have sometimes just to get a photo or two to put on facebook, but I suppose a phone photo of the cliffs would be a sad imitation anyway. In fact, I think any photo would be a sad imitation of the real thing. Put it on the list of ten things to see in the world. Really.
The drive back to town was gorgeous as well, with the fog lifted and the sunshine illuminating all that wild landscape that we couldn't see this morning. The limestone steps of the Burren are huge mountains, glaciated in the last Ice Age, with the soft green valleys below a stark contrast to the rock.
This time, when we got back to the hotel, we didn't linger long, and without even a change from our hiking boots, we took off walking toward the Spanish Arch, the Latin Quarter, the Pedestrian's and Eire Square. It was my goal to try an oyster in Galway, home of what are called the best oysters in the world. Most pubs and restaurants have oysters, but I had hoped for something steamed or fried for my first time.
Instead we landed at the Quays pub where they served fresh, raw oysters on the half shell. I ordered one, and it came with Tabasco, horseradish, and lots of lemon. With a glass of Guinness for support, I loosened the little slimy squiggly thing with my fork, covered it with the stuff, and tipped up the shell. I had no desire to actually taste it, much less try to chew it!. What a surprise! It slid down so fast there was no taste at all really, except for the incredibly delightful fresh smell of the sea beforehand. Once it was down I looked at Mo in shock wondering...what is the big deal either way?? It happens so fast and there isn't any real taste either. So I have yet to see the lure of raw oysters, but maybe someone who loves them can tell me why they are so wonderful. And yes, I will have to ask MBZ from Texas who swoons over Galway oysters, if she chews or what.
After the little appetizer, we had fresh haddock fish and chips that was perfect. Lightly breaded the way we love instead of that greasy beer batter stuff, it was the freshest sweetest white fish I can remember eating. Served with a tasty salad of cole slaw and cucumbers and a whole dish of tartar sauce, we both managed to eat the entire portion and most of the wonderful chips (fat french fries) that are so prominent here in Ireland.
After dinner we found the historic Spanish Arch, the obligatory swans on the river, just two of them when we arrived, and the busy life on the pedestrians where folks were laughing and eating and walking and pubbing. Checking out a few of the pubs was fun, but after awhile they all begin to look the same. They are lovely, though, with many small rooms and "snugs" and incredibly dark wood everywhere. Most of the pubs we have been in have several bars on different levels and pretty cool art work. I just can't imagine all that drinking being the focus of life, which it definitely is in Ireland. Probably not just the drinking, but all that laughing and singing and socializing must be a big part of the draw. At 7 in the evening however, the party atmosphere hadn't really begun in earnest, and my batteries suddenly ran out completely as we headed back to the hotel.
My mind is filled with the day, the cliffs, the rocks, the green fields and sheep, the sea. Somehow the pubs take second place to all that, but I am still glad we found fabulous fish and that I finally ate an oyster.
Next: Another magnificent day at Connemara National Park and Kylemore Abbey