Walking the Ballyvaughan Wood Loop
I’m getting soft, it seems, for my offering this week comes from a comfortable armchair in Hyland’s Burren Hotel, Ballyvaughan. I haven’t claimed the bragging rights to any of Co Clare’s hill’s either, yet I’ve had a great time and am now enjoying the warm glow of accomplishment. I have just discovered a little gem of a walk that is exactly the ticket for anyone seeking an easy introduction to the best of the Burren landscape.
This morning I set out from the trailhead without, it should be said, huge enthusiasm. My objective was to explore a newly inaugurated local walk, but a cursory glance at the map seemed to suggest the Wood Loop was somewhat truncated and rather boringly confined to what, I guessed, was lowland tarmac. On the plus side, however, it was a lovely bucket and spade day as I strode out of Ballyvaughan and followed the arrows for both the Wood Loop and the Burren Way. Crossing a series of vernacular stone stiles, I reflected how much more appropriate it is when stiles are constructed from local materials and not from awful, slippery, imported steel. Then I was agreeably surprised when I sauntered into a lovely little hazel wood, which acted as a reminder that this is the natural vegetation of the Burren that could, once again, completely obscure the limestone pavements if the present paradoxical balance of agricultural overuse is not maintained.
Exiting into fields, I continued to a surfaced road where the Loop parted company with the Burren Way by swinging left. Crossing the main Ballyvaughan to Lisdoonvarna road by going left, and immediately right, I gained a delightfully enclosed laneway. Following this to its terminus at a gate, I was drawn left and entered a system of tiny fields, which despite the best efforts of European agriculture policies remained resolutely unaltered by modernity. More variety followed as the trail tagged another ancient woodland pathway that had clearly carried the footfall of many bygone generations and now led me conveniently to the access road for Aillwee Caves.
Resisting the lure of bears, birds of prey and coffee on a giant hoarding, I continued past the cave entrance gates to join a green road through a bleak but never barren landscape, with Aillwee Mountain towering above. The ageless appeal of the Burren now became inescapable, for in this place the history of every succeeding era is written in stone and so remains all around. Even my untrained eye can pick out a mesmerising array of ancient enclosures, stone forts and cairns alongside the route.
Then it’s left through Dangan Gates to join another green lane leading to a double gateway. Continuing, as the laneway morphed into a surfaced roadway, I reached another junction where arrows pointed left to the N67 Galway road. Now it was just a five minute stroll to the heart of Ballyvaughan village. Here I concluded, while rewarding myself with coffee and scones, that the not very aptly named Wood Loop makes for a great introductory walk for those wishing to sample the hugely varied Burren karstscape.