Retracing steps in Co Clare
The Cliffs of Moher coastal walk again tops John G O’Dwyer’s favourite list
“I turn round and immediately can’t suppress a ‘wow’ at a view I never tire of.”
Ten years ago in this column, I bemoaned the fact that the superb coastal walk from Hags Head to Doolin never reopened following the foot and mouth outbreak of 2001. Now I am back in Co Clare, seduced by news from rural recreation officer, Eimer McCarthy, that this extravagantly compelling route is up and running again. It’s a dog of a day, but nevertheless, I feel an odd urgency to get going, for I am traversing what, pre-2001, I regarded as my favourite Irish coastal walk.
From the trailhead at Moher Sportsfield, I head up an attractive boreen and then cross some innovatively constructed stiles that cleverly integrate vernacular Liscannor flagstone into their design. Hags Head is crowned by a commonplace enough Napoleonic watch tower and a rock formation that is reputed to resemble an old woman gazing seaward, although this somehow eludes me. So far so pleasantly unremarkable, but then I turn round and immediately can’t suppress a “wow” at a view I never tire of – the marvellously bleak line of huge, malevolent cliffs frowning down upon a spiritedly agitated ocean. Now it’s on through the rain as a well-constructed path leads me above the storm beaches and spectacular sea arches of the wind-tormented Clare coastline. To the west, the Aran Islands are a shifting maelstrom of mournful hues as if created by the uninhibited brush strokes of a tortured artist. Buffeted by angry but strangely invigorating gale gusts, I am reminded of Keats’s wild west wind “thou breath of autumn’s being”, except it’s Ireland’s high summer. As I approach the Cliffs of Moher people thicken around like vegetation in an oasis, for here we have one of Ireland’s premier mass-tourism honeypots. Preferring the less visited to the commercial, I don’t tarry, however, but push onwards past the impressive O’Brien’s Tower which, surprisingly, is actually an observation tower of fairly recent origin. Alone again above the great precipice of Aill na Searrach, I banquet upon inspirational views and am reminded that it was here a group of fairy horses reputedly leapt into the ocean on the arrival of St Patrick.
Beyond, the descent is steep but well paved and so I have leisure to gaze over the celebrated Burren “karstscape” laid out beyond Doolin. Then, the route swings right to shake hands briefly with the busy R478 before regaining the coast. Here the cliffs aren’t so spectacular. The constructed path dribbles out in places, but generally it’s pleasant going as the route alternates between spray-spattered clifftops and small stonewalled fields.
Eventually, I find myself on an ancient green road that conveys me pleasantly to a public highway from where it’s just a 15-minute walk to O’Connor’s hostelry in Doolin village. Here, I enjoy sumptuous seafood chowder and conclude the Cliffs of Moher coastal walk has surely reclaimed its pre-eminence as our finest coastal ramble.