WHERE THE KARST LIMESTONE PAVEMENTS STRETCH DOWN TO THE OCEAN; A STARK BEAUTY.
The Burren National Park in North County Clare is a limestone wilderness with green grasslands interspersed and divided by a latticework of amazing dry stone walls. Neolithic Dolmens, burial tombs of the wealthy, once covered with soil and now laid bare as the ice movements across the land cleared away the soil now stand as mysterious monuments to the past inhabitants of this region.
Along the west coast of the Burren, , the Karst limestone pavements stretch down to the shoreline in a stark bright grey contrast to the blue Atlantic seas beyond that wash these shores. Large dramatic boulders lay scattered sporadically, some balancing precariously on each other, others split in half and deteriorate from the resilience to the harsh weather that rolls in from the Atlantic ocean. This in itself is special as it is one of the few places in the world where karst environments interact directly with the ocean. These boulders are “erratics” lifted by the great ice flows, transported across the land and gently dropped there when the ice melted.
A really good place to start a tour of the Burren National Park is in Kilfenora, the city of the crosses. A sleepy village on the southern reaches of the Burren, it is steeped in tradition, antiquity and ecclesiastical history. The Kilfenora Burren Center has a wealth of information on the history, geography, the topography and wildlife of this unique region. A walk through the interpretive displays will bring into perspective what you may expect as you travel around the region.
Vaughans Pub, a good spot for excellent bar food and a good pint and at night you may well be entertained with a spontaneous outpouring of traditional Irish music. Have a look at the “Wedding Shed” next to the bar, a cow house which has been tastefully converted whilst still retaining the general structure including the galvanize roof. You never know, it may well be the venue you have been looking for!
Next door to the pub is the Kilfenora Hostel. Caters for the family, groups and the independent traveler the Hostel is comfortable, well equipped and well located as a base for exploring the Burren.
Leaving Kilfenora on the R476 a ten minute drive will bring you to the town of Lisdoonvarna. Internationally known for its match making festival in September every year, the town has a festive mood with music, dancing and partying till late. Ladies and gents go here to seek true love and marriage. On arrival, they log their credentials and the kind of partner they are seeking with one of the local matchmakers in a hope that they will find a life long partner. This busy town has a natural spa, hotels, bars (some with very creative wall paint) a salmon smoke house and good restaurants.
At the north end of the main street is the Salmon Smoke House, where fresh salmon is smokes and a visit to the store is an experience in itself; creative Interior design incorporating full wall “terrazzo” art, local artisan foods and a most pleasant staff expressing naturally a true Irish friendliness and welcome.
Just up the street and back towards town from here is Kieran’s Kitchen. Fantastic food! They use local artisan foods and ingredients and specialise in salmon dishes, but also have a wide range of traditional pub food on offer. There’s a real West of Ireland laid back atmosphere in the bar whilst still being proficient in their service and a fun staff who have the “time of day” to pass a quick quip. They brew their own “Craft Beer” on the premises: Red Ale, Black Stout and Larger. My own experience, I had a pint of Black Stout; beautifully smooth and very pleasant with a distinctive taste. Must try!
Out of Lisdoonvarna on the R477 road, you are heading for the coast. As you drive along the coast the vistas are Luna like. Spectacular landscape of endless grey Karst Limestone Pavements, large “erratics” placed sporadically breaking the flat views, the surface worn from the harsh winter weather creating crags and pools with a hint of green foliage popping through here and there and now and then the glimpse of a purple orchid or Mountain Avon.
You eventually come to Fenor. It’s really a crossroad with some homes, a caravan park and a couple of farm houses. Here the sand has built up and the coastal terrain changes temporarily to sand dunes. The secluded beach is small and flat, well known for surfing and surfing.
At the crossroad in Fenor, if you head up the Caher Valley for about two miles, the cascading Caher River runs next to the road, you will come to a small, hidden garden, “Caher Bridge Garden”. This is privately owned by Mr Carl Wright and represents a personal life project. The cottage, his home, was completely rebuilt by Carl. This garden has been constructed entirely on top of the natural limestone terrain and he has maintained its natural state. He told me he brought in 20 tons of topsoil and created the earthen content by containment on top of the natural stone base. Natural Willow and Laurel are the main wooded foliage and by clearing some of this created natural walkways that make up the core of the garden. Stone features, colourful displays of flora, ponds and water features add atmosphere, the sounds of wildlife, flittering butterflies and darting dragonflies made this most stunning garden a space I just wanted to sit in. The garden may only be visited by appointment, but maybe take a chance and arrive. Carl may have a tour coming into which you could fit in. I found this a very inspiring experience and a tribute to Karl on what he has achieved single handed over many years.
Headding back to Fenor, head along the coast towards Black Head and Black Head Lighthouse. The land is elevated on the inner side and the limestone falls sharply to the coast on the Atlantic side. Rounding Blackhead, the mountains of Galway appear in the distance and before you know it you are in Ballyvaughan village. The Hyland Hotel is a good place for a lunch or a snack and it would also be a good choice for and overnight. There are plenty of good B&Bs, a grocery, a takeaway and petrol station.
Main St, Kilfenora, Co. Clare
Phone: (065) 708 8908
The Burren Center
Kilfenora Co Clare
Phone: +353 65 708 8030
Caher Bridge Garden
Phone: +353 65 707 6225
Hylands Burren Hotel
The Square, Ballyvaughan, Co. Clare
Phone. +353 (0) 65 7077037
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