August 18, 2013 — Clifden, Ireland — The series of roads along the west coast of Ireland is called the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s easy to see why.
After the Puck Fair and the Gap of Dunloe, we headed north along the coast. The weather changed. Our first stop was Kilkee, a popular spot for vacationers from Limerick. In the grey light and heavy mist it looked like one of those 1960s black and white British movies shot in a bleak sea side vacation spot. I’m sure Kilkee is lovely when the sun shines.
We weren’t there for the town, however, but for the hikes along Loop Head at the bottom of the Peninsula a few miles south. According to the Lonely Planet Guide, the views rival those further north along the world famous Cliffs of Moher, but without the crowds of tourists. They are right about that. We saw no one else on the trail around the lighthouse at Loop Head, but that was probably because it was pouring. It was a wild, beautiful hike, but we spent most of the rest of the day and part of the next drying out our boots and rain gear.
The bright spot in our brief visit to Kilkee was dinner. We stumbled upon Murphy Black’s, which I have since discovered is one of the best restaurants in Ireland. This was one of my favorite dinners of the trip. The star of the evening was the crab claws grilled in butter. We also had excellent mussels and a lobster cocktail, plus another excellent but hard to find Irish craft beers.
From there we drove north a couple of hours to Doolin, near the Cliffs of Moher and one of the jumping off points for the ferry to the Aran Islands. We spent most of the evening at McGann’s Pub about 100 yards down the road from our B&B. The food wasn’t fancy – I had sausage and mashed potatoes — but it was hearty and very tasty and cost about half what we had been paying at some of the tonier restaurants.
The next morning we visited the Cliffs of Moher. It’s easy to see why they attract so many tourists. Imagine a jagged coastline of sheer cliffs several hundred feet high. The trick is getting there early before the horde of huge coaches show up packed with tourists. When we arrived around ten the parking lot was almost empty.
The next trick is walking along the cliffs as far as you can. The further you go, the fewer people you see. I estimate that we walked about two miles south along the cliffs to an stone tower called Moher’s Tower dating back to the Napoleonic era . The handful of tourists we did see were essentially swallowed up by the vast landscape of sea, sky, plunging cliffs and open fields stretching away from the cliffs to the sea on the other side of the peninsula. By the time we got back to the visitors center a couple of hours after we started the crowds were overwhelming and the parking lot was full.
From there we decided to head to Connemara further up the coast. It took about four hours to get to Clifden on the coast, including about half an hour or more lost in the suburbs of Galway while our navigation system had a psychotic break.
As I sit in the living room of our B&B writing, the sun is shining after a night of rain. Connemara is supposed to be one of the most beautiful counties in Ireland, an empty brooding landscape with moors, lakes and hills. We haven’t seen much yet, except for what passed by our windshield as we drove through on our way to Clifden. We plan on spending the next 2-3 days here hiking and exploring.
For the last three nights we haven’t stayed any place that I would recommend, but this afternoon that may change. We are checking into a lodge a few kilometers south of Clifden on the water. I’ll let you know how it works out.