Saturday, May 05, 2007

Doolin, and the Cliffs of Moher

Doolin My final excursion of the trip was to Doolin, a place small enough to make Dingle look like a big, bustling city. I stayed at the Doolin hostel, which also happened to serve as the town bus station and currency exchange point (handy, since there were no ATMs in town). I got put in room 17, which is normally an 8-bed dorm room, but which I got all to myself, since tourist season wasn't yet in full swing to fill up the rooms.

Music Cafe Doolin, small as it is, is known internationally as a hotspot for Irish music. So for the first time since my ill-fated Dublin excursion, I took my mandolin out to find some sessions. I found the local musicians here to be much more welcoming, probably because they go to these sessions expecting some folks to come along and join in, as well as just to listen. It is a little odd, though, to realize that they're basically human tourist attractions. Things there are really half session, half performance, with microphones and everything. Not sure how I'd feel about that if I lived there and played there regularly. It made it a little intimidating to join in as a newcomer too, but like I said, the people leading the sessions were nice, and that helped.

On the first night, I went to McGann's. The session there was being led by a very good guitarist/singer, and by probably the best tenor banjo player I've ever had the pleasure of playing with. Whereas in the Dublin session I went to I had felt relatively on a par with people skill-wise, here I felt rather more out-classed. But I played decently and had a great time listening as well. Would have liked to have picked the banjo-player's brain about a number of things, had there been time. On the second night, I went to O'Connor's pub. Instead of taking over a corner of the pub, this session was crammed into a little booth, around a little table. Didn't seem like people would actually have room to play pressed in elbow to elbow like that, but it worked somehow. This one was led by a trio of folks on flute, fiddle, and button accordion. Again, really good music. It was nice to finally get a really good fix of Irish music actually in Ireland.

Destination in Sight On the morning of my one full day in Doolin, I decided to hike out to the Cliffs of Moher, rather than taking the bus. If you take the main street out of town, you see a sign directing you towards the main visitor center / lookout point, which is about 9 km or so down the road. Just next to that, however, there is a barred-off cart path with its own sign, reading "Caution: Very Dangerous Cliffs Ahead." Now really, which one looks like a more interesting hike? And besides, option 2 seemed to have a perfectly well-defined path, well back from the actual cliff edge. So naturally I headed off that way, between the cow pastures.

Obstacles For a couple miles, things were pretty easy going. I just followed the path with occasional side trips to admire the various views or check out the ruins of some old building. It was a beautifully quiet, clear day, with no one else around. But after a bit (specifically: once I'd gone too far to want to turn back), it started getting trickier. First, I had to climb a fence to follow the path through a field of sheep. Then there were some streams to maneuver around, one of which sent me down a ways until I found a place I could get across, after which a marshy area disguised as a meadow tried to eat my shoes. I escaped that alright, though. Then I was climbing and ducking a few more fences before the path disappeared for a bit and I was just cutting clear across open cow pastures in the general direction I wanted to go. (Still paralleling the cliff edge, though not all the way down at the edge, since it was getting steep in some places.) After that, I went up and over what I think may have been the highest point on the Cliffs of Moher, at least from what I could see. I was back near the edge now, confronting a helpful sign indicating more danger due to continuing erosion. This would have been by far the scariest part if I had actually followed the path that reappeared here, especially with the wind picking up. But I scooted a couple yards to the left and went on the other side of a fence, which was a bit better.

By this time I was pretty sure that this wasn't the legitimate, alternate route I thought it was. But I could see O'Brien's Tower, which was where I was headed, and once I was over the peak it wasn't too much farther to get there. Just when I thought I had it in the bag though, the last fence turned out to be electric, for one final challenge. I wouldn't have minded so much except that it looked exactly like all the non-electric fences I'd been climbing, so I didn't know until it threw me off. (Well, after it through me off, really. Not much actually goes through your mind while you're being zapped.) Luckily, it was just one wire going across a metal bar fence, so once I knew where it was, I was able to climb more carefully and avoid it.

Made It The main tourist lookout point at the Cliffs of Moher has some very nice views, though to be honest it's a bit anticlimactic after you've just hiked 5-6 miles along the cliffs to get there. The helicopter tours and the tourist crowds affect the ambiance a bit, too. But it was still worth spending some time there. And also getting the bus back to Doolin.

Killinagh Beach Back in Doolin, I had some simpler walks around to explore the area. The area known as Doolin seems to be sliced into numerous little town-lets or something, each of which is only about the size of a single road with cow pastures on either side, stretching a mile or so from the main Fisher Street to the ocean. If you head out towards the ocean, you find some really interestingly rocky areas, with occasional standing stones and old wells and such. I would have quite liked to have had more time to wander around there.

Relevant Tunes:
  • 17
  • The Cliffs of Moher
  • The Road to Lisdoonvarna
  • The Humours of Ennistymon
  • The Clare Jig

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thank you so much for that detailed description of your hike along the cliffs. I wanted to do this same hike, but I wasn't sure if there was a safe route the whole way. I think I will stay inside of the fence as you did.