Thursday, August 22, 2013

Day 102 - The Burren/The Cliffs of Moher

I have never seen the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher. For those that are unfamiliar, these two very different places in Ireland are some of the country’s most stunning features in a land full of stunning features. The former is a mountainous area that very suddenly turns from lush green landscape to a landscape of barren perforated gray stone covering hundreds of square miles. The Burren held so mush meaning to the people of Ireland in centuries past that some of the earliest settlers saw it as a spiritual place of transition from life to death, which caused them to erect stone monuments across the rolling gray hills. The former is one of the most impressive and beautiful sea cliffs in the world. At over 700 feet tall, the Cliffs of Moher are a near vertical drop into the Atlantic Ocean on Ireland’s west coast. Their massive size and position made the Cliffs of Moher a place of historical significance, serving as an outpost and lookout point for rulers from eras gone by. Given these backgrounds, The Burren and the Cliffs of Moher were two of the things I looked forward to most during my first trip to Ireland. I knew experiencing both of these unique places would be something to remember, but I didn’t realize exactly how captivating they both would be.

Our day began with a journey toward the Burren. Patrick and I rose earlier to ensure we had enough time to experience both the Burren and the Cliffs of Moher to their fullest extent. At little more than 30 minutes away, we figured the trip to the Burren would occupy the first half of our day, which would leave the second half open for the Cliffs of Moher. We were correct on both counts, but we didn’t expect the Burren to occupy our time in the way that it did. After following our directions to reach the Burren, Patrick and I found ourselves driving down narrow two-lane roads through the Irish countryside with little success finding our first destination.  At points during our drive we would catch a glimpse of the unmistakable sight of the Burren in the distance, but every turn we took led us around, but never to, the huge stone hills.

After nearly an hour of searching, we eventually found ourselves driving in circles encountering the same small communities near and around the Burren. Even after stopping and asking for directions, we were stuck in a loop, unable to find a route that could take us to the base of the Burren. As we drove back and forth over familiar roads, Patrick and I started looking for any route to take to lead us to the location. We could see it, but we had no idea how to get to it. Then, as we passed by a location we had seen some three times before, Patrick asked me to roll the dice and pull onto an aged, one lane asphalt road surrounded by overgrowth that appeared to lead closer to the Burren. With nearly three hours of searching and an encounter with another vehicle that left out car laden with liquid cow manure behind us, I agreed we had nothing left to lose and took the turn.

We also stumbled upon this along the way...

The undulating and weaving road provided us a much need break from the familiar and ultimately ended up being a wise choice. After spending several minutes buried beneath walls of greenery, Patrick and I emerged at the base of one of the tallest mountains in the Burren. The sudden transition to a nearly barren stone surface after leaving the forest provided a stark contrast that was initially hard to grasp. The hills of stone within the Burren almost appeared to puncture the blanket of lush Irish landscape around them in their effort to climb skyward. The change was stark and altogether foreign. Even now I find the memory of that moment to be uniquely strange in comparison to other things I have encountered in my life. The sudden transition was different, but it was beautiful. It was certainly a sight to behold.

A view of the Burren from afar

After taking in some of the views of the surrounding hills, Patrick and I discussed the rest of our plans for the day in an effort to stay on schedule. Realizing our effort to find the Burren had cut deep into our time to spend at the location, we hopped back in the car and continued toward the far side of the Burren. There we came across a unique feature of the natural are, the Poulnabrone portal tomb, which had been constructed some 4,000 to 6,000 years ago by the people of what is now Ireland. Against the brilliant blue sky the stacked stones held a commanding presence. To experience such history in such a unique place was amazing and unforgettable. The few moments we had before Poulnabrone was powerful and meaningful. I know it is something I won’t forget for a very long time.

The Portal Tomb

Eventually Patrick and I left the Burren and headed west to find the Cliffs of Moher. This time we had no trouble finding our destination, which gave Patrick and I the better part of five hours to walk the several miles long cliff and take in the stunning views of the Atlantic and the surrounding islands that pierced through its surface. As we walked the cliffs we were able to experience their effects on the surrounding area. Massive drafts rushing up from the Atlantic caused notable changes in air temperature and produced unique cloud forms over the cliffs. Over a period of minutes we would watch as sunny skies would become blotted with clouds perched directly over the cliffs and nowhere else. Just as quickly as they came they would vanish once more, leaving a cascade of cloud layers that seemed to move in opposite directions as they gave way to the sun. The majesty of the cliffs accompanied by this ever-changing backdrop was incredible. It was another moment on this trip where I was left speechless. As a result, I will simply let the pictures do their best to give an impression of what it was like to be there (Oh, and I stood on the most extended point of the cliff. See below).

At the center looking left...

The full length of the cliffs

A lake near the cliff's edge

A rise in the trail

The ruined tower at the south end of the cliffs

Patrick and I stayed at the Cliffs of Moher until the last bits of sunlight clung to the horizon. Driving back to our hotel we talked about the day’s experiences and did our best to wrap our heads around the sight we saw. Although we both agreed we would have liked some more time to hike through the Burren, we couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed by the unforgettable moments and experiences that occupied the whole of our day. After a few days in this country I can say it is everything I have ever been told and more. The people, the places, and the experiences here are amazing and beautiful. I’m lucky to be able to have been able to make this a part of my life. I’m just left with a feeling it took too long for me to make it happen. That stated, a little idea and some motivation made me act on it now, and for that I’m grateful.

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