A few years ago I read a blog of someone hiking the Wild Atlantic Way and the photos were enough to make me dream of following in their footsteps. As well as our hiking trips we also home swap and this year we had the chance to swap houses with two families in Ireland and of course this meant that we could walk sections of this glorious trail. I didn’t have any particular sections or places in mind, I just love the idea of coastal walking through a land steeped in legend and history.
The Wild Atlantic Way begins on the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal and continues along Ireland’s west coast through the counties Leitrim, Sligo, Mayo, Galway, Clare, Limerick and Kerry, finishing in Kinsale, County Cork. The entire route is over 2600 kms long… which is a tad too much for us on this trip as we only have 14 days but we hope to make the very most of those days.
Our first home was near the little town of Ennis in County Clare. It’s a sweet little town, with lots of shops and bars and restaurants, a pretty old town centre full of brightly painted shops and plenty of history too. It’s been called the friendliest town in Ireland and it certainly lived up to that!
After settling into our fabulous County Clare base, we headed off to the Cliffs of Moher for a few hours hiking along these spectacular UNESCO listed cliffs .
The cliffs of Moher are one of Ireland’s favourite tourist attractions, towering over the rugged West County Clare coast. Visually spectacular, they sit astride the striking landscape of the Burren on one side and the Atlantic Ocean and the Aran Islands on the other. Rising out of the water to a height of over 700ft they run along the coast of Clare for almost 14 kilometres, the Cliffs were formed over 320 million years ago and today form part of the Burren and Cliffs of Moher UNESCO Global Geopark. Their natural beauty has inspired artists, musicians and poets for generations, as well as absorbing scientists and geologists, drawn by the unique landscape in which they sit.
From the south you can walk out to Hag’s Head and from this viewing area, you can see the south cliffs and also look out towards the mighty Hag’s Head. Located near the highest point of the Cliffs, Knockardakin stands at 214m above sea level; this platform is located close to O’Brien’s Tower and from here you have marvellous 360o views. If you walk in the other direction, at the south platform you’re perfectly placed to see the puffin colony that makes its home on Goat Island.
O’Brien’s Tower stands on a headland offering up incredible views and was built in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien, a descendant of Brian Boru, the first High King of Ireland. From here, on a clear day, you can see across to the Aran Islands: Inis Oírr, Inis Méain and Inis Mór and looking the right if you’re lucky you are met with beautiful views of Galway Bay.
We purchased our tickets online, it saves you a few euros and also saves you queuing at the ticket booth. We parked on the edge of the car park looking down over the coast and headed off in the direction of the visitors centre; it’s worth stopping here first as you learn a lot about the cliffs and what you’re about to see.
We followed the crowds up to the main footpaths. The trail around the main visitor areas is very good. It’s paved and fenced and very safe, indeed it would be suitable for anyone, including wheelchairs. We walked along these paths stopping to view the wildlife, the birds, the flowers and of course the amazing views. After a while the main path peters out and becomes a little more rugged and the fences that protect you from the cliff edge also stop. Most folks stop here but we of course continued. The trail wasn’t dangerous in anyway but it wasn’t suitable for tourists just out for a sightseeing stroll. The crowds disappeared and for the most part it was just us and the view and the cows. We walked on and on and came to a section with lots of very old steps. Lots of steps. If there were any remaining walkers it was here that most folks turned around. But of course not us. We continued on and on and gosh it was a beautiful hike.
I was feeling really strong as it was only 10 days ago I returned from my 700km hike on the Camino Frances, but I forgot that Gerry had been working hard whilst I was in Spain and hadn’t had a chance to train, so his legs were really feeling the elevations. I think he was more than a little grateful when the trail came to an end. There had been some kind of landslip and the trail was fenced with barbed wire and lots of signs warning of danger or death. We could opt to take a path across country back to the car park or simply turn around and go back the way we came, we choose the latter.
The views here are spectacular, along with the amazing clouds and as our introductory hike to the Wild Atlantic Way we were very happy hikers! We managed around 12 kilometres this afternoon which we were happy with.
We returned to the car around 17:00 and as the clock struck a very happy Mr S reminded me that he was now officially retired! (the smile in the photo says it all) However, Mr S being as he is, decided a while back that if he was going to be a pensioner then so was I! He arranged for my old work pension to be drawn early on the same day as he retired. And so it was that today at 5’oclock in the afternoon, as we finished our hike along the Cliffs of Moher, we both became pensioners. (although I should add there’s no way I’m retiring! Singing is the best job in the world and our fabulous group had a promo photoshoot just 2 days before we left for Ireland!)
We celebrated with a cup of tea from the flasks we were carrying in our packs (I bought these little flasks from Decathlon a few years ago when we walked the Camino Lebaniego, it was right after the first COVID lockdown and we thought it would be better to carry our own hot drinks… oh my word we love them so much!) So we sat with our tea, in the car to escape the strong winds but whilst still enjoying the warmth of the sun, looking our at the glorious coast and the green green fields of Ireland… and we were very happy with our lot