Pounding the pavement

The best thing we did in County Clare was go walking in the Burren, where the thin layer of farmland is worn through in places, exposing the limestone pavements underneath. We chose more or less at random to take the Wood Loop trail. It starts in Ballyvaughan, a village on Galway Bay, quaint with all mod cons:

The path out of town sneaks through shrubby woods, with occasional arrows spraypainted on rocks to indicate a general direction, then travels along country lanes and across a series of pastures.

Someone really should make a potato Western here. Obvious title: To Hell or Connacht.

After a couple of hours, the road gets higher and rockier.

Then back down to Civilization.

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The Cliffs of Moher Experience

We reached the Clare coast when there was still plenty of daylight, so I thought we might as well go to the Cliffs of Moher. I’d heard the area had been pretty heavily commercialized, but still, it was nice out and we were only a couple of miles away from one of Ireland’s greatest Natural Wonders, so why not take a look?

Well . . .

The location now has an official brand: The Cliffs of Moher Experience. The Experience involves paying a large number of Euros to leave your car in a vast parking lot. Then you walk across the highway to a shopping-and-interpretation-and-more-shopping center; after that, you arrive at the Great Wall of Moher.

I can understand why the huge stone barrier was built: the cliffs are high and windy, and they are home to various forms of wildlife whose chances of survival are not helped by tourists traipsing all over them. And of course I understand why the shopping center was built: who doesn’t want foreigners’ money? What I don’t understand is why, of all the scenic and historic places we visited in Ireland, this was where we encountered by far the largest crowds of tourists. Americans, Brits, Germans, Italians, Japanese, all here to look at this wall. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial should have it so good.

So instead of lingering to see the sun set over the CoMEā„¢, we went for a walk outside Doolin, passing a long breadcrumb-trail of holiday houses until we reached something that began to feel more like the middle of nowhere.

Then we turned around and went to dinner. We had been forewarned that, like the Cliffs, the village of Doolin offers a version of the Irish Rural Experience thoroughly tailored to tourist expectations; however, it was a convenient place to stay the night, so we booked a room and an evening meal at Roadford House. What we hadn’t been warned about was that we would be sharing the restaurant with a giant group of Americans in town for a destination wedding at, of course, the Cliffs of Moher.

After the decibel levels of the wedding party (much bellowing about the relative merits of various Irish golf courses) it was a relief to hang out with the drunks down the road at McDermott’s. Here again most of the patrons were Americans, but the musicians were skilled, and when the Americans weren’t attempting Riverdance moves the ambiance was reasonably pleasant.

As often happens, everything seemed less overwhelming the next morning.

Ruins burnout

By the time we got to County Clare we were starting to suffer from ruins burnout. Or, more precisely, from driving-to-ruins burnout. So we didn’t meander as much as we might have, although we did take the potholed detour to Dysert O’Dea, which presents a fine portal.

We also stopped at the little church in Kilnaboy, which is crammed with graves. Given the levels of Sunday-afternoon-post-pub speeding we encountered on the winding road through town, the high mortality rate is not surprising. A carving over the door is purported to be a sheela-na-gig:

But to me it seemed more ambiguous than, say, this sign in downtown Dingle: