Wonders of West Clare

On hillside three miles (5 km) farther on, a large car park on right announces that you have reached Cliffs of Moher and some of grandest scenery on earth. Forming a bastion five miles (8 km) long and rising to seven hundred and one feet (214 meters) above ocean, cliffs drop sheer to boiling surf below. Many thousands of seabirds nest on ledges and thousands of visitors come to walk cliff paths. Moher has welcomed visitors for centuries – but it was made even more welcoming in first decade of 21st when superb visitor center was created, mostly underground and incorporating all best technology in eco-friendly building. Take a walk around center and enjoy, in particular, exquisite photographs of cliffs – then go outside and have your breath taken by their grandeur.

North of Moher, next village is fabled Doolin, in a little seaside valley, with a narrow main street and a harbor which is not much more than a cleft in rock. While nearby cliffs have a sense of rugged austerity, Doolin is a place of warmth and welcome. One of great centers of traditional music, it is inhabited not only by musicians but by quite a collection of artists in other disciplines. There are hostels and B&Bs, numerous pubs and small local craft shops. No fewer than three ferry companies provide daytrips to nearby Aran Islands. The ferries are about most modern entities in Doolin, rest is as naturally oldworld and simple as can be found anywhere in Ireland.

A little to north of Doolin you may visit a particularly fine show cave, presenting some of very best stalactites to be seen anywhere. Just beyond it Ballynalacken Castle perches dramatically on a hilltop, surrounded by a small forest – just about only one in west Clare. A comfortable hotel stands nearby. The road runs between green fields and into wood and comes out other side to a total change of scenery.

You are entering an extraordinary region of karstic limestone, not just tree-less but almost grass-less, too. The land rises to north and east, while ocean beats on shore to west. Over most of Ireland landscape is green, or maybe brown in moorland. But here it is a pale grey, bare rock forming flat pavements in some places, cliffs in others. That is very far from being whole of it. All around are little patches of green turf and wild flowers, white, yellow and purple. The month of May is best time to see them – but Burren is bright any time of year. The flowers are an extraordinary assemblage, many of them confined to high mountains or arctic wastes – except here, where they live by seaside.

You drive northwards for ten miles (16 km) through this wonderful wilderness until a little lighthouse appears on left below road. It marks point of Black Head where Galway Bay begins and you turn towards east. The seaside village of Ballyvaughan – with plenty of good food available – marks end of our coastal trip. From there you have choice of turning south for Ennis, capital of County Clare, or heading eastwards to Galway, both of them less than an hour’s drive away, through fabulous scenery. But much better to settle for a few days in more remote parts with their plethora of comfortable dwellings in all conceivable shapes and sizes.

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