Walk for the Weekend: Experience the wild beauty of the Burren
In a well-defined landscape, the area around Mullaghmore is refreshingly ambiguous
“On a grey, tepid day in early May I set out to undertake a grand traverse of this region, following the Burren Way”
The Irish uplands are often a study of definites, in open spaces and hard borders. Desolate mountains stretch into the distance. Dark blocks of spruces end abruptly at fences. Drystone walls enclose green fields perfectly.
But one particular corner of the Burren is full of ambiguity. The area around Mullaghmore, in the south-east Burren, is an amorphous place where grasslands, turloughs, scrub and woods shift and dissolve into one another.
I am drawn back here over and over. And on a grey, tepid day in early May I set out to undertake a grand traverse of this region, following the Burren Way with two friends.
We started just south of Lough Bunny under marbled grey skies. From the Gort-Corofin road, the trail crosses a stone wall and meanders through fields. The air was thick with the honey-scent of flowering whitethorn, the ash leaves were just out, and a still donkey watched us cross her pasture.
The trail joins an old laneway across the bone-bare limestone, then sinks down between lime-green fields and groves of hazel. When you emerge to a road, the Burren Way goes left (the signpost here was knocked when we passed, and was pointing the wrong way) and then, after about 500 metres, left again.
Further down this quiet road we passed some eccentric dwellings at Coolorta, hidden among the hazel woods. “Do not feed the bears”, said the sign outside one, on a wall of glistening trinkets.
At the junction, the Burren Way carries on straight, leaving the road and joining the red arrows of the Mullaghmore Traverse. The trail leaves the green road and meanders up the mountainside. Keep your eyes out for the waymarkers (they’re often close to the ground) as the trail gets remote, and can be hard to follow.
In between the great slabs of limestone, the grasses were coloured with the bright pink of early summer orchids, the cream and yellow of mountain avens, the pure cobalt of spring gentian. Cuckoos were calling from the woods throughout the day.
At the summit plateau, we found the waymarkers a little confusing, because the same trails lead in the opposite direction too. But you’re basically continuing straight: when you reach the summit, follow the obvious trail heading in roughly the opposite direction from which you came. As you descend, the red and blue arrows follow the same route as the Burren Way, looking out over a clear, green turlough.
Trailhead at Gortlecka
When you reach the road, turn right for the trailhead at Gortlecka. The Burren Way continues straight through the crossroads on the green road towards Carron. After a short while the Lough Avalla Farm Loop leads off to the right – but carry on straight.
I had never climbed this mossy old lane before, and its sights filled me with fresh wonder: scrawny ash trees grasping boulders, strange fields fringed by dark woods, high cliffs shading old whitethorn groves. Halfway up I was shocked to see an old whitewashed cottage, where tea and coffee is served in season, the only dwelling in this remote valley.
Soon, thick hazel woods close in, their low canopies creating strange, dark underworlds. The Burren Way emerges to a quiet road deep in the the high Burren, where I finished my day’s walk. You will need to arrange transport from here, or alternatively, the village of Carron is about 6km further on the Burren Way, and has a pub/restaurant and hostel that are both open seasonally.
The Burren Way, Co Clare
Map: OSI Discovery Series sheets 51 & 52. Trail maps at irishtrails.ie.
Start: Join the Burren Way just where it crosses the R460 Gort-Corofin Road, south of Lough Bunny, at 53.008872 -8.947206 / R 36475 95753.
Finish: I finished where the green road from Gortlecka meets a small country road near the townland of Clooncouse at 53.004877, -9.084666 / R 27243 95433.
Effort: 17.5km / 5-6 hours approx
Suitability: Mostly easy walking on lanes and quite roads, but the traverse of Mullaghmore is slow, remote and tough underfoot. Good navigation skills with map and compass may be needed on this section.