2014 – Day Twenty One

Continuing our travels in county Clare. We’re travelling around the Loop Head Peninsula. Our aim is to end up at the Cliffs of Moher before the day is out.

The peninsula drive is lovely. The road opens out and is a little less nerve wracking. The landscape is open farm land, small herds of cows and sheep appear every now and then. No sighting of my funky black and white striped cows though.

We are quite low down and so, when we do see the sea, it’s mainly just below the line of sight. This section of the Wild Atlantic Way comes slightly inland (and trying to follow a tip from a local we get a little lost) so there is more farm land than sea, but all in all, it’s very pretty. The sides of the road are in flower and where we don’t have a profusion of small red fuchsia we have pale yellow, white and purple wild flowers. It’s a soft colouring that’s very pretty and pleasing to the eye.

The Celtic Tiger has left its paw prints across the land. We have come across many new partially built houses that are left incomplete. We also see new completed houses left abandoned and also, to be fair, many grand new houses, very beautifully finished and clearly loved. When they build here, they build big. There’s always a touch of colour in a door, a sill, or trim. There is often a portico at the front, and conservatory at the side. The houses are usually two storeys, but would still be a large home if left as one. We also see the Tiger’s effect in the state of the roads – it’s clear that the counties are challenged for funds for road repair, and hedge trimming. As you take in the landscape, you can clearly see the deep history, the flash of gold with the Tiger’s prance across the land, and the sure but steady decline. We also see it in raised eyebrows when we top up a phone credit, pay for fuel or groceries. Compared to the locals, we’re living it large, and we are by no means doing that. It’s a bit sad really.

We stop for lunch at Kilkee, a Victorian seaside town, and it looks just that – very Victorian in its appearance, terrace houses built around a perfectly shaped horseshoe bay. At the deeper side of the horseshoe is a series of bathing steps that walk into the water. I can just see women in long skirts and men in knitted neck to knee bathers “taking the waters for one’s health”. The Victorians had such a funny views on matter of health. Bathing was considered very bad for you, never mind immersing yourself in the sea! What will they think of next!

We stock up on soda bread, ham and a few other bits and pieces. I have been looking forward to trying soda bread after Sandi told me how yummy it is. And it is…yum! With fresh Kerrygold butter and local Irish cheese, it’s heaven on a stick. Dense and not at all yeasty, it’s reminiscent of damper. Just lovely.

We see some evidence here of the huge storms that raged through Ireland and the UK this past winter – the main through road is closed off as a large section on it as fallen into a sink hole, undermined by the work of storms. Quite confronting to see close up. Not sure that there is a great deal of money to fix it either. It’s hard not to feel sorry for these small towns.

As we leave Kilkee, we see a coach…and I say to Chris “this might not be a good sign.”

Chris saw the cliffs 36 years ago. He drove right out to the edge of the cliffs on a dirt track and there was no one there. He has a vision of us staying at the cliff edge and gazing at the view, at our leisure. Well. Things have changed. I was right, the coach was a portent of things to come. When we get to the Cliffs of Moher, there are dozens of coaches, a new visitor’s centre, video displays, shops, buskers, you name it. But the cliffs have not changed. They’re spectacular. Not only does the name evoke tomes of Tolkien, but the cliffs themselves are a perfect Middle Earth setting. Apt, given that they were created 320 million years ago. Half a dozen headlands jut out over 8 kilometres, eroded over time to sheer escarpments. They are softly green in the afternoon light and home to many seabirds. We search in vain for puffins that are meant to be here, but see many others instead. There are 30,000 breeding pairs who make their home here.

We track up one side of the headlands, then the other. Tourism is not new, despite Chris’ protestations. There is a tower to the right side, built in 1835… to provide a viewing platform for the hordes of tourists who came to view the cliffs. Today, over a million tourists a year flock here.

There is no way we can stay here. Not only can’t you get anywhere near the edge of the cliffs by car, but there are masses of people here. We set off instead to Doolin, the set off point for the Aran Islands. Our aim for tomorrow.

Settled and a quick bike ride and photo op from a local little brown donkey later, we know the drill for tomorrow (up early, blah) and ferry out to the Aran Island. No cars allowed, so we will be on bikes!