Tuesday, January 19, 2016

9/22 – The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare

9/22 – The Cliffs of Moher, County Clare
More pics here.

Our lodging here (Glasha Meadows B&B) was pleasant – a bit spare on the cuteness but clean and comforting. Our lodge was set a bit out in the country, surrounded by sheep and cattle and horses, stone walls and modest houses (new and old). In Ireland, even the oldest and most economical housing is clean, well kept, and charming. It’s really quite a blast on our version of poverty – nothing is disheveled or forsaken, even in the quite poor areas. Of course this is in the countryside – the city has a different kind of poverty of course. But our local ranchettes (which are by no means poor, in Yolo County) have much to learn about keeping a house and barn tidy from the Irish! This was also our first taste of Irish breakfast – that enormous meal that sticks to your ribs. We also had great Irish brown bread here – I toasted mine like beer bread (not sure if that’s allowed) and it was heavenly.

It had rained fairly heavily recently in Doolin, and we were advised multiple times not to try to walk to the Cliffs of Moher. This was a favorite memory from my first trip to Ireland, and I was sad to give up repeating it. In the end, we drove to the Cliffs and decided we could hike around the top instead – which was equally lovely and meaningful. The Cliffs have been developed for tourism and I had read about some mixed feelings on this before the trip. You now had to pay to park (admission free – but no street parking and parking costs money….), but you also got bathrooms and an interpretive center for free – so it seemed reasonable. I wanted to dislike all this tourism-development, but it seemed the area was more protected for having walkways and services, and the interpretive center was really educational.

The Cliffs are really more of a headland, with several bluffs extending out one after the other. The top is very flat and exposed, and the cliffs themselves drop almost perfectly vertically hundreds of feet into the crashing waves. These dramatc cliffs might look familiar – they have been in several movies,mostly famously as the Cliffs of Insanity in Princess Bride. Seabirds, including puffins (seasonal guests – we didn’t see any) make precarious nests in the rocks of the cliffs. Diverse marine life swims beneath the surface. The sky is large, the ocean is large, and the people seem very, very small. It’s stunning and magical. And we came on a day with GREAT weather!

We walked around the tourist end and saw O’Brien’s Tower (a tourist spot dating back to the 1835), which is at the end of the cliffs nearest to Doolin.  The place was filling in quickly with tourists and buses, so we took a nice long but flat hike out to the far tower, which used to be a guard tower. The walkway is lined with local stone slabs, which have fossilized sea creature trails all over them. Even the walkways are magical in Ireland! We found a few spots sheltered from the wind with abundant local fauna: butterflies, spiders, wildflowers, and scaly lizards soaking up the sun. To our left, the lush green plateau spread out and gently downhill and adorable furry cows were everywhere. To our right, the dramatic cliffs and the sea, looking back to Novia Scotia.


I’m not sure we would have ever gotten our fill of this place, but it was getting windy and we were getting hungry, so we headed back. I reluctantly went into the tourist center to use the rest room and got sucked in for another hour or so (thus missing the eating-window yet again). They had a fantastic interactive movie, something similar to Imax but on a smaller scale, that was digitally created to give you the feel of being a sea bird who dove off the cliffs, through the swirling nest birds and into the water below.  It was a fantastic way to think about the space, and to learn about the various “levels” of wildlife and all of the interactions we can only get glimpses of from up above.


In the late afternoon, we headed back to Doolin. We dropped off our laundry and found one café still open – where we had the best food of our Irish trip, in my opinion.  Sea Salt Café was also charming and adorable, inside and out. And did I mention, open? Just closing really, but willing to accommodate us. We had a steak and onion sandwich and a lamb burger and devoured both (not to mention the appetizer and lavender meringue dessert). All of this extra eating turned our late-lunch into lunch/dinner, which was just as well. Nothing else was going to taste good after that meal!


We wandered down to the sea shore again, this time to the actual harbor. The sun was setting through another round of storm clouds in what felt like typical dramatic fashion, as the sea swirled around us and cows lowed right next to the crashing waves. There is a staircase built into the jetty, labeled for surfers and not tourists, which I found mesmerizing. I tried to imagine donning a wetsuit and walking down these steps right into the crashing sea – it seems like the bravest start to a set I can think of, short of big wave riding. I read later that there are also sea caves here that you can get to only by scuba diving from this area into narrow rock channels. Tidbits like these keep me from feeling too brave!  Ty also spotted a dead dolphin that had washed up on to the rocks. It was too wet and slippery to walk out to it but we nerded out on seeing even a dead dolphin – and not a Pacific bottlenose like we are used to. We took photos but won’t share them here to spare you. He was not, ahem, freshly dead.

On our way back up the hill towards food and music, I convinced Ty to stop at this lovely modern tourist shop just up from the old down and just down from the turn to the cliffs. Smartly situated and smartly designed, if plainly named (Irish Crafts in Doolin) the shop has modern Irish gifts and local crafts – or what they call cultural gifts. We fell into a good conversation with the owner, whose husband is an engineer and designed the building. They are attempting to be a link in the local tourism and craft development chain here, and talking with her was fascinating. Even though their items were mostly out of our souvenir/gift price point (a budgeting mistake on our part), it was lovely to see something other than cartooney sheep with googley eyes on plastic bits made in China. We splurged on a wool blanket as our anniversary memento to ourselves and are saving it until Christmas to open up as a reminder of our great trip. The shop owner was also a wealth of knowledge about the area, and gave us some tips for visiting the Burren. We had thought we’d skip this tour, thinking it was for old ladies – but based on her stories, we decided to spend the next day checking it out. It was a great day for us and I’m grateful to her for taking so much time to help us create an itinerary. 

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