After seeing the Cliffs of Moher, we headed east to check out the Burren, a unique natural landscape in western Ireland made of layers of limestone rock. At almost 100 square miles in size, the Burren is enormous, especially considering Ireland isn’t that big of an island. Without the assistance of our B&B host who had given us a map with all of the best spots for scenic drives and hiking marked, we’d have been completely lost. Don’t get me wrong, we still got lost, but our map helped us get lost less. And so we spent the rest of our first day in Ireland roadtripping through the Burren, checking out the sights and meeting friendly folks along the way.
Cliffs of Moher to Lisdoonvarna
We started off from the cliffs heading towards Lisdoonvarna. This portion of the Burren isn’t nearly as rocky as areas we’d see later, but it’s unique in that instead of fences, farmers use pieces of limestone rock to enclose their properties. The walls made completely of rock look surprisingly sturdy.
These pictures will always make me laugh – not because of our goofy photo hanging out of the car windows, but because there’s something you can’t see in these shots. For at least half an hour we were driving down this little gravel country road. We didn’t pass a single car coming from the opposite direction, but there was something following close behind us – a tractor. And anyone who has ever lived in the country knows you do not want to get stuck behind a tractor on a road not quite wide enough for passing. So to avoid driving the rest of the way through the Burren at a snail’s pace, we had to stay in front of him – a usually easy task unless you’re constantly seeing things you want to stop and take photos of. So this entire stretch of the Burren, Cory would slow down to let me out, I’d take the shot, and then jump back in the car Little Miss Sunshine-style. (Climbing in while the car is still moving, for those of you who haven’t seen the movie.) Half of my shots didn’t even turn out because I was either running while taking the photo or laughing so hard I couldn’t maintain focus. Good memories.
Caherconnell Stone Fort & Poulnabrone Dolmen
Our first official stop where I didn’t have to exit the car at a run was Caherconnell Stone Fort, but there are no pictures of it because we didn’t see it. Er, what? Well, see, we didn’t realize until we got there that you actually have to pay to see it, and us being all, “We’re in a national park. Let’s just see the free stuff!”, we decided to skip it. But I still took a picture of the stone walls leading to it, so just imagine that, but bigger, and that’s the fort. Kidding. Sort of.
So then we drove another kilometer and stopped to see the Poulnabrone Dolmen. This portal tomb, where archaeologists have found the remains of at least thirty people, is more than 5,000 years old. Now that we were deeper into the Burren, I was noticing way more limestone ground cover. It was pretty neat, but we did have to watch our step because of the grikes, the gaps between the rocks. Lexie took off hopping and running across them and I was sure she was going to twist an ankle.
Anyway, when we reached the dolmen, I realized it was simply a large slab of limestone propped up by a few other slabs. Well, that’s not very interesting. Not to us, I should say. There was another lady there who kept jumping from spot to spot, taking no less than fifty pictures. Maybe it’s just me, but how many pictures do you really need of a slanting stone table? (Maybe her ancestors are buried in there?)
We stayed about five minutes and then realized it was 2:30pm and we hadn’t had lunch yet, so we made our way to The Perfumery in the heart of the Burren. The Perfumery is a little oasis with free gardens, a shop, and an organic tea room. Why they chose such an unusual location, I don’t know, but we were awfully grateful – their Carrot & Coriander Soup really hit the spot!
After lunch we got back on the road with Mullaghmore as our intended destination. What should have taken us ten minutes to reach, took over an hour because we got lost, just as Sean warned us we might. But he also said not to worry because people who lived in those parts were friendly and more than happy to help, and he was certainly right about that! After getting directions from multiple people, including a man standing in the middle of the road with a horse dressed like a Spanish matador (just to be clear – the man was dressed like a matador, not the horse), we met this lovely lady who went out of her way to help us out and actually got in her car and had us follow her to Mullaghmore. I’m pretty sure we wouldn’t have found it without her. And as you can see from the photos, it was totally worth all the detours!
Mullaghmore is in the national park portion of the Burren and consists of hills made of tiers of limestone. You can hike up them, but what we wanted to see were the lakes at their base. After we arrived, I understood why so many people looked as us questioningly when we told them this was where we wanted to go. Mullaghmore is not your typical tourist spot. There wasn’t a single other person there with us – it was like having our own private lakeside retreat.
The waters at Mullaghmore were crystal clear. The limestone that covered the ground we were walking on carried on beneath the lake and we could make out its weaving patterns like the water wasn’t even there. We stayed here taking photos, skipping rocks, and relaxing until the sun began to set.
I didn’t want to leave – this had been my favorite part of the day which is saying something since we’d also seen the Cliffs of Moher that morning. I think that, generally, Ireland is a pretty peaceful place to visit and live, but nowhere else did we find such quiet seclusion as this, and with phenomenal scenery to boot! I’m actually glad it’s a bit difficult to find – maybe that’ll keep it unspoiled a little longer.
The Coast in Doolin
Back in the car, we headed west to see where the Burren stops on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean in Doolin. I already spoke a little about this part of the Burren in my post about Doolin. It’s beautiful here – there are lots of places to sit and watch the waves crash against the black limestone. A few boats come and go in the harbor, but otherwise it’s a pretty quiet spot.
It was a very full day seeing the Cliffs of Moher and the Burren National Park in the same day, but I didn’t mind a bit. Being busy in Ireland feels different than being busy in a city – definitely less stressful. However, if we’d had more than three days to spend here, I’d definitely have dedicated a whole day to the Burren. There were so many spots that Sean had marked on the map for us that we didn’t even get to because we didn’t want to feel rushed. I really would have loved to hike up one of those terraced hills at Mullaghmore, too. Ideas for next time, I guess!
If you visit the Burren National Park, there is a free parking lot at the beginning of the hiking trails, but don’t forget to venture outside of the park, too. The national park is only a small portion of the much wider Burren region which offers a wide variety of things to see and great places to hike!
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