As usual, we looked to Rick Steves for ideas about how to see The Burren, which literally means the "Rocky Place." He recommended Shane Connolly who leads in-depth 3 hour guided walking tours through the Burren, explaining the diverse flora, geology, history and man's role in shaping this landscape. He is a proud farmer who really knows his stuff.
The Burren is a 10-square-mile limestone plateau so barren that a disappointed Cromwellian surveyor of the 1650s described it as a "savage land, yielding neither water enough to drown a man, nor a tree to hang him, nor soil enough to bury him." He was wrong--the Burren is a unique ecosystem with flora that has managed to adapt since the last Ice Age, 10,000 years ago. The first human inhabitants came to the Burren about 6,000 years ago and began cutting down trees, making them partially responsible for the stark landscape today.
We drove about 90 minutes south from Galway to get here, and are now staying in the tiny town of Doolin in a WONDERFUL campground called Nagles Camping and Caravan Park. The price of €23, including FREE WIFI, is reasonable. The showers are €1 each for 10 minutes. The bathrooms are even clean. Hurrah! The Burren is located around Doolin and the Cliffs of Moher in County Clare--we will visit the Cliffs tomorrow.
To find our location, click on this map. The clarity is much better.
We met Shane and the other hikers at 10 am in the church car park in the town of Ballyvaughn. When I asked him on the phone which church, he told me we couldn't miss it, it was the only one in town. Our group consisted of 4 Irish, 2 English and 7 Americans including a very nice 9 year old boy. It was a good group and we really enjoyed them all.
One of the couples, Susan and Steve from North Carolina, offered to let us ride with them to the starting point of the hike. That was a big help since parking was on the side of the narrow, curved road. Shane opened his Jeep and started handing out hand made walking sticks and gave us a lecture on the importance of watching our steps due to the rocky, difficult and ankle twisting terrain. I was wearing my hiking boots but did worry a bit about doing further damage to my ankle (I didn't).
We walked for awhile then stopped at various points along the way so that Shane could describe the plant life and the geology of this area.
We met this fella first thing
Life in the Rocks
We had vast views across Galway Bay and to the mountains and lucked out with the weather: it wasn't raining. It did sprinkle here and there but it didn't pour like it's doing now.
We came to a ring fort, dating from the Middle Ages.
He told us about building his own small rock wall and how much energy and effort it took to do it, walking to pick up a rock, hauling it and then breaking it. He compared that to this huge ring of rocks.
Inside the ring
This wall is at least 400 years old.
Our hike lasted 4 hours and looped around Blackhead Mountain ending at a nice grassy path. It was strange seeing so much vegetation after the bare rock. The hike was great, Shane was wonderfully funny and had a serious knowledge of everything to do with the Burren and plenty more. He covered a lot of ground and welcomed questions about anything and everything.
After Steve and Susan dropped us at Homer we decided to walk into town and find a place to eat. Naturally, we ran into them (this is not a big place) and decided to eat together. We had checked out one place that was just too expensive (€14 sandwiches) so we all opted for the tea house near the harbor. What a great decision. I had a blue cheese and walnut quiche while the rest had soup and toasted sandwiches with small salads. With tea, the bill came to only €34 for all four of us. It was delicious and we really enjoyed ourselves, relaxing while it rained and rained outside. I was so engrossed in conversation I forgot to take photos of our food and ourselves. This is our table after we vacated it.
We found this campsite with no problem--it's hard to get lost in a block-long town. Later, we walked into town for dinner and some traditional Irish music. We found both at O'Connor's.
During our hike, we asked Shane to recommend some good, traditional Irish food. One of them was bacon and cabbage. Chuck went for it and loved it. It came with mashed turnip (the orange stuff--I tasted it and thought it was yams), mashed potatoes and sautéed cabbage. I'm told the loin of bacon was delicious.
I ordered the House Salad with chicken. It came with a pesto dressing and lots of surprises inside: olives, tomatoes, marinated red peppers, onions, cucumber and red and green peppers. Fantastic. I had a Smithwick and Chuck had a Guinness. Later, he tried a Murphy's and has decided to give it more of a chance. I liked it a lot better--it has more kick to it and lots more flavor.
We snagged a very good table for hearing the music.
The place was pretty packed but it had a nice, comfortable feel to it. It was still light out when we walked home at 10:30.
You know it's summer in Ireland when the rain gets warmer. ~ Hal Roach