Walks: The Burren, belatedly

A peaceful trek around Black Head is worth the wait

Black Head, Gleninagh, Co Clare: moderately demanding route requiring navigation skills in misty weather

Black Head, Gleninagh, Co Clare: moderately demanding route requiring navigation skills in misty weather

 

I am now at that age where I sometimes wonder how many things I already have done for the last time. Stood on the summit of Mont Blanc? Emerged from a nightclub blinking at sunrise? Jogged a kilometre in 5 minutes? Probably, I will never experience any of these again, so with ever narrowing options it is particularly heart-warming to do something special for the first time.

Never having fully completed the route that many consider the finest in the Burren, I enthusiastically struck west on a sunny June morning to fulfil this omission.

Starting from Fanore Beach (see panel), I abandoned sun worshippers and surfers to follow the R477 north-west to Fanore Bridge. Beyond, the arrows led right and uphill along a lane before pointing over a stile into fields. Joining an old famine road, I glided easily onwards enjoying coastal views to the Aran Islands.

Deserting the famine road above Black Head I sallied uphill over the renowned clints and grykes of the bare limestone escarpments. The celebrated Burren landscape began to weave its eerie magic as the slope eased and I was drawn towards the ancient fort of Caherdooneerish.

The advantage of visiting the Burren early or late in the season is that you can enjoy the best of summer before the crowds. So, with no other soul in sight, I rambled southeast and up the hill to a cairned summit, unnamed on my OSI map, but referred to locally as Doughbranneen. Here I lingered to take in views across Galway Bay and the Connemara Mountains.

Now divorced from the cares of 21st century, I descended to a limestone pavement atop a broad ridge before negotiating a series of small, manageable cliffs on the ascent to the trig point on Gleninagh Mountain.

Views immediately unfurled over the Feenagh Valley to Cappanawala Mountain and I reflected that the unrelieved emptiness of the high Burren must seem, to the uninitiated, a skeletal landscape filled with nothingness, while actually it discreetly hides a treasury of complex flora.

Beyond Gleninagh the going became increasingly vegetated as I strayed south and then southeast over several dry stonewalls to reach a green road and the stony remains of Caheranardurrish. This occupies a more accessible and hospitable location than Caherdooneerish and so the local tradition that it once served incongruously as both a community chapel and pub carries a ring of credibility.

Descending west to the public road, bisecting the magnificent Caher Valley, I recalled immediately that this area is referred to locally as the “Khyber Pass”. This valley carries the unique distinction of hosting the only Burren river flowing entirely above ground. So, accompanied by the unfamiliar sound of water gurgling alongside, I swung right through while noticing several recent landslips on the steep mountainsides.

Later, as I returned to Fanore, the soothingly tranquil waters of the Atlantic were extinguishing the fiery June sun – the perfect vista to end a charming outing in the high Burren.

WALKS: BLACK HEAD, GLENINAGH, CO CLARE

Directions: From Ballyvaughan, follow the R477 west around Black Head. The start point is Fanore Beach, GR 13893 08241 

Suitability: Moderately demanding route requiring navigation skills in misty weather

Map: Discovery Series, sheet 51 

Time: 5 hours 

Distance: 15km

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