Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ireland, Part IV: The Burren

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In the morning we had our second Irish breakfast of the trip before departing our B&B – but only after running out to the ATM to get some cash, because they couldn’t take a bank card. We filled up the car with gas too, and the people at the gas station were so friendly! Our fellow guests at breakfast were all Italians, and they’d been up talking loudly with each other since about 5am.

Our new debate now that we’d spent a day on the Aran Islands was whether to see Connemara, to stop in Galway, or to skip both and head on to County Clare. As much as I wanted to see more of Connemara, and even though Galway had featured in our original Ireland plan (as much of one as we ever had, anyway), we voted on Clare and set out southward.

At Kinvara, still in County Galway, we saw a castle, Dunguaire, at the side of the road and decided to stop. It was sort of a mistake because there were many cars, several buses, and a couple of hen/stag party vans all stopped there, and the castle was very small and not really all that interesting! (I am not really a castle person so take it with a grain of salt. And can anyone really beat Heidelberg’s castle!?) We looked around it a bit, took in some nice views of Kinvara from the grounds, and decided not to pay admission to go in and went on our way.

Further down the road we found a church ruin and graveyard, and the sun had just come out, so we stopped for some more pictures! The sun was only out for about an hour, on and off, and we tried to take advantage of it by getting lots of photos! Ireland is so beautiful even without the sun, but with the sun, it’s just unbelievable. Even still, the photos don’t really capture it.

The Burren Aug 08

We then continued into the Burren, a strange rocky landscape full of ancient tombs and other structures. One type of structure is the dolmen, a tomb consisting of a large top rock balancing on side rocks all around, forming a kind of box. We wanted to first see the most famous dolmen, Poulnabrone, before it got too crowded, so we headed there first. There were already a lot of people there, but we managed to get some photos of it without anyone in them! The landscape in the area of Poulnabrone is some of the most interesting we saw in the Burren. Some areas are covered in lots of loose rocks, some are grassier, and some even have trees, but this area had a ground paved with flat rocks. In the crevices between them, some of which are really deep, all kinds of different plants grow.

The guide book we had mentioned a cheap restaurant in a town called Carran, so we turned off on a teeny tiny road in that direction. The views along the road were incredible, as it was very hilly and lonely out there. A lake sitting in a sort of bowl-shaped area came into view, and Carran was situated above the lake. It turns out the lake isn’t really a lake but a turlough, which is sometimes a lake, and dry at other times of the year. Normally the summer is the dry season for the turloughs, but this year has been particularly rainy.

After lunch we stopped at the Burren Perfumery, a little garden, café, and perfume-and-soap-making shop northeast of Carran. They had a video about the various plants in the Burren, but it wasn’t as informative as I hoped – more artsy and new-agey. Plants from both arctic and Mediterranean climates can live in the Burren and I was hoping more for a tutorial on identifying some of the more common ones. But, we did find a map of the area there that was had a few more points of interest listed on it than what were included in our book, and there were some cool plants in the garden!

After we set out from the perfumery we saw a sign by the side of the road for St. Fachtnan Well and pulled off to go look. The well was on the right but we first ended up wandering off toward the left, where there were 5 big cairn-looking piles of rock standing around. We didn’t know if they were actually really old or not but the whole experience of being out there in the misty, rainy weather, with absolutely no one else around, and some weird man-made rock formations was really something else. After checking out all the cairns we found the well, which was actually pretty near the road. It was pouring at this point but with the umbrella we managed to get some pictures of the well without drenching the camera! Definitely see the photos to see what was there.

We wandered southward on some more teeny tiny roads and came upon something the book said would be there, Cahercommaun, another fort like the one we saw on Inishmore. We pulled over and hiked for 15-20 minutes to get to the site of the fort, in a big grassy field on top of a hill. Three sides of the fort had rock walls and the third side was again a cliff, although not as dramatic as the ocean cliff at Inishmore. Inside the fort some underground tunnels which lead to the side of the cliff were found, but it was pretty clear we weren’t supposed to go in there. (And, it was really pouring again.) We saw no other people on the trail or at the fort! Again, it was just really eerie to be at this ancient ruin in the middle of nowhere, all alone. I wished we just had weeks to spend hiking around the Burren finding spots like the well as this fort.

We continued on in the pouring rain, and saw a wedge tomb right off the road, then got caught behind a guy herding cows right down the road. In Kilfenora, we stopped to see a cathedral ruin. It looked like a pretty cool town, but we were absolutely drenched from our earlier hike in the rain and just wanted to get to Doolin, our goal for that night, to check into our B&B and change, so we continued onward.

On the wrong road.

2 comments:

  1. Sara: hehe, I should have let it sit for longer, but I really wanted to finish this project up! I have a paper due Friday!

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