Another weekend, and another place that I really should have visited more often during our first year in Ireland. While I’ve ridden a couple of times around the area, this morning was the first time that I’ve taken a walk in the unique landscape of The Burren and got to see it properly.
The Burren is an area in North-West County Clare that’s known for its apparently bare hills of exposed limestone rock. This karst environment is UNESCO protected, unique in this part of Europe and home to several species that grow nowhere else in the world.
It was once described by one of Cromwell’s officers as a country where there is not enough water to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury him, although when you get closer, especially now in May’s peak growing season, the rock is actually crawling with life.
The Burren National Park has a trailhead on the eastern edge of the park, north of Kilnaboy and just a few hundred meters south of Father Ted’s house! From here five signed trails run in the shadow, or to the summit of (depending on which you choose) the spectacular Mullaghmore. Mullaghmore is a karst dome, or a geologist’s wet dream. Layers of seabed formed 325 million years ago have been pushed skywards, twisting and curling as they’ve done so, resulting in what looks like a giant grey layer-cake.
The trails are very well marked and vary from the 1.5km Nature Trail through to the 123km Burren Way. I went for the Mullaghmore Loop and followed the blue markers. If you’re going to walk these routes, please park at the trailhead and not on the tiny road that passes the entrance to the trails. At the trailhead there are two large laybys and plenty of room for cars – there really is no need to park on the verges and destroy the very scenery that you’ve come to visit.
The routes take you across a limestone ‘pavement’ is riven with ‘grikes and clints’, meaning that you need to pay close attention to where you’re putting your feet. That in turn means that you’ll need to stop often to take in ever improving view as you climb.
You’ll also need to keep an eye out for the route ahead. The path is obvious in most places, but occasionally, you’ll need to look off into the distance to spot the coloured trail markers fastened to the rocks at strategic points along the way.
I was on the trail by 8:30am and had the hill to myself. It felt like I was wandering into a rehearsal for ‘Burren’s Got Talent’, with dozens of small birds (that I’ve since looked up and discovered to be Stonechats, Wheatears, Skylarks and Pippits) singing in every direction. It was a beautiful soundtrack to accompany the magical views.
The trail brings you to the summit of the hill almost by surprise as due to the stepped layers of rock, you can’t see the top as you climb. While the last section is not quite a scramble, you’ll be using your hands for the final few feet up to a large cairn. Even if you’re planning to turn back and follow the same path back down to the start, it’s worth walking a few meters past the cairn for the view of the hill next door – Knockanes; it’s shape is even more bizarre than Mullaghmore’s.
It’s also the perfect place to stop and snack on Pom Bears that you’ve stolen from your daughter’s supply (or perhaps that’s just me).
Another reason to watch where you’re standing is in an effort not to destroy the carpet of wild flowers and their attendant butterflies. This is a Purple Orchid (I looked that up too).
On the way down, there’s this ‘camera club’ moment. Irresistible.
Being lucky enough to live only thirty minutes away, I was able to have walked the route and be home by 11:30am, meaning I could enjoy quality time in the hills and not burn up too many Brownie points.
You can see the route that I walked here – https://www.strava.com/activities/2361006399
All pictures taken using a Leica M (typ.262) and either a Summicron 35mm or Zeiss Sonnar 50/1.5. Tweaked in Lightroom, and that last black and white picture is actually two frames stitched.