It was a “typical” Irish morning — cold, wet, raw. We woke, for the first time during our stay in the country, to slate grey skies. The clouds were a steady sort of gloom, not the sudden onslaught of the storms I’ve braved in Colorado or California, but gentler, smooth and thick above our heads.
The weather mirrored my mood: it was my last full day in the country I had fallen so deeply for, and it turned out that I wouldn’t be able to see a person I’d really hoped I could while in Ireland.
But we were in Galway, and the lively spirit of the town was infectious, so we three Californians bundled up in our coats and scarves and sweaters and braved the Irish mist.
The drive to the Cliffs of Moher was almost as incredible as the cliffs themselves. The barely-big-enough-for-one-car-let-alone-two road snaked through the countryside — just as green as expected, and dotted with the violent mustard yellows of whin, a local low-lying shrub covered in riotous golden blooms.
To get to the Cliffs of Moher from Galway you can take the N67, a road that clings to the curving Irish coast and connects Co. Galway to Co. Clare, hugged by farms and ranches and rolling pastures. We drove through the tiny, picturesque town of Kinvara (if you go, stop at the thatched-roofed Merriman Inn for a drink or two, the barstaff are friendly and the atmosphere great!) before crossing over the county line.
Co. Clare’s crowning jewel is the Cliffs of Moher, but lying just north of the cliffs is a lesser known treasure — The Burren.
The Burren is an area along the coast of Co. Clare that can only be described as otherworldly. Unexpected, picturesque, and in a way somewhat bleak, the landscape is marked by unusual rock formations leading down to the bluffs by the sea. Wind-weathered limestone, bleached by sun and sea, served as the barrier between the raging waves and the green land.
My mom’s boyfriend pulled our car over on the side of the road, and, camera in hand, we set off to explore (hopping what was possibly the stone fence for a pasture, judging by the lazy-eyed cows grazing in the distance.
After clambering around the picturesque boulders we piled back into the car and continued our drive.
The mist began to get thicker the closer we got to the Cliffs, and it settled like a blanket over the entire area, so dense that I couldn’t see where the land ended and the sky began.
It was absolutely insane — and while we were disappointed that our view wasn’t as clear as we’d hoped, the thick rolling clouds made the scenery all the more dramatic. We stuck around, exploring the castle-like O’Brien’s Tower that jutted out of the fog above the visitors’ centre and boasted a sweeping view of the jagged bluffs and the sea beyond.
As if the overall dampness wasn’t enough, that afternoon a powerful wind tore through the coast, whipping my hair against my cheeks, forcing me to hug my coat tighter against my frame.
But the wind did more than freeze us where we stood — it blew away the heavy mist and revealed, like pulling back a curtain, the staggering cliffs all around. They rose, in all their storybook glory, out of the clouds as if by magic.
It was breathtaking.
Only a very little portion of the trails along the cliffs are managed by the visitors’ centre, and they actually form a long, spindly path flush to the cliff edge connecting the villages of Liscannor and Doolin. It winds away from the tourist hub of the centre, and there are signs posted everywhere to proceed at your own risk. Despite the wet weather, we decided to follow the path, at least for a bit, and began our sludgy trek onto the now mud-slick trail.
Unlike the well-maintained steps and sleek pavement that form the portion of the paths in the visitors’ centre, the trail was narrow, unpaved, without handrails or barriers to protect you from slipping and falling into the churning sea hundreds of feet below. My mom’s boyfriend nearly had a heart attack.
Of course, we only wandered a few yards from the safety of the centre due to the weather, but managed to take plenty of sweeping, dramatic photos. In fair weather, the trek from the visitors’ centre the the town of Doolin takes about two hours and leads you along the cragged coast, past the rock formation of Hag’s Head (named for its resemblance to the head of a woman looking out across the waves).
Overall, the Cliffs of Moher were stunning, spectacular, just as epic and melodramatic as I’d heard them to be. I’d recommend a visit to anyone.
Have you ever been to the Cliffs of Moher? What other natural wonders are on your bucket list?