Day 11 (April 30, 2011)
Itinerary: depart cottage to drive to Cliffs of Moher, stay the night in Shannon
Today is a sad day because it is the last day that Mark’s family will be spending with us. Tomorrow they take off back home to the States to get back to regular life. We have a lot of driving in front of us for today, so it was early to rise for all of us and out the door 30 minutes ahead of schedule at 9:30am.
A note from the future: I have become hopelessly behind in my journal entries. I’m typing this several days later and hope to remember all of our activities.
Back to today… The Cliffs of Moher are supposed to be one of the top natural attractions in Ireland, so even though it is a bit of a drive, I tacked it on to our vacation itinerary. It is about 3 hours north of our cottage on the west coast of Ireland and then about another hour away from Shannon, our final destination for the day. However, I planned to make this an all day trip with several stops along the way.
The first half of the drive was rather uneventful since we’ve pretty much already done all there is to do in our area of the peninsula. We were headed towards the little town of Tarbert where a ferry would shuttle us across the estuary so that we did not need to detour off our coastal drive into Limerick just to bypass the water. We arrived at the ferry about 10 minutes after one had just taken off. So, with 45 minutes to spare, we left the car in line and went exploring. This part of the estuary had a huge section that appeared to be just mud. It almost looked like a large beach, but clearly it was nearly an acre of just mud. The ocean water level was only slightly below the level of the mud, so we contemplated if the tides would cover the mud at any point. No answers of course. At one point I walked out to the end of the pier to look for the ferry and found a lighthouse around the corner. It was so windy out here on the pier that my ears began to hurt from the wind and cold. The ferry was fairly fast moving and very low to the ocean. We boarded the ferry on a ramp that just barely skimmed the top of the water. Our ride to the other side was only about 30 minutes and we used the time to read up on where we were going.
Lunch in the town of Kilrush turned out to be an experience. Firstly, we only found this place because of a self-advertised note on the side of the road saying they had good food. It turns out they had REALLY good food at Crotty’s. Unfortunately, we arrived before the bread truck bringing the hamburger buns and we had to wait a little for our food. The menu was interesting. I ordered a baked potato with tuna that turned out to be excellent. Everyone else was happy with their food as well.
Back on the road, we decided to drive out towards what the guidebook termed, the “Cliffs of Amazement.” These were supposed to be coastal cliffs that would rival the Cliffs of Moher, but be less touristy. On the way, we found a castle to tour. This castle, Carrigaholt Castle, was accessible by untying a rope and opening a gate into a cow yard. We couldn’t scramble in this castle like the other one we found the other day as it was deemed too dangerous and the doors were gated off. But we did get lots of good views of the tower from the outside.
We had several detours on the way to the cliffs of amazement just due to lack of road signage and lack of good directions in the tour book. But, eventually we found them and they were pretty amazing. With waves crashing into the rocks below, we stood out over the cliffs and marveled at the size. We marveled until the obnoxious bugs in the area drove us back into the car. These bugs latched themselves on to us and in seconds we were all covered in black bugs. Yuck! Luckily they did not seem to bite or be otherwise harmful. Mostly they were just annoying. We found some other scenic spots, but stayed in the car when the bugs swarmed the windshield. Finally we found a little walk that seemed to be fairly bug-free and took a stroll out over the cliffs. I should point out that once again the weather is fantastic with sunny skies and temps up to 70ish.
From here, we pretty much just drove straight to the Cliffs of Moher. Driving in Ireland is incredibly scenic as you might imagine. I can’t get enough of the rolling hills covered in intense green. Littered throughout the green countryside are colorful flowers, sheep, cows, and horses. Needless to say, driving through the country is not a problem for me. The rest of the car felt the early morning wake up call and dozed off. I could look in the rearview mirror and see 3 rolling heads. As far as I’m concerned, everyone should sleep when they can. Mark stayed up and we chatted away as we found the parking lot for the Cliffs.
The Cliffs of Moher cannot be seen from the road. In fact, just driving down the road, I would not know I was on top of the cliffs if it wasn’t for the signs to the huge carpark. Those of you trying to avoid tourists should avoid this area. Oh my was this place the tourist trap. Firstly, they charged you per person to park/enter the visitor’s center. Secondly, they added walls and a safety patrol to the area to keep the cliffs idiot-proof. Several people were standing on the wrong side of the wall and a cart with several safety-yellow clad security pulled up and chased them back over.
To fully appreciate and be able to see the cliffs, the trick is to leave the walled-in tourist area, climb over the wall and past a sign that says: “Please do not go beyond this point.” Well, there is a well trampled path and several groups of people past this sign, so we all tromped past and used our common sense to stay a safe distance from the edge. Ah, there are the cliffs. We are standing on a cliffs edge looking down about 600 feet. As the waves crash below, hundreds of colonies of birds zoom around the cliff edges looking for nests and food. I hear that on a clear day with binoculars, a colony of puffins can be seen somewhere. No binoculars for us, but there was still plenty to see and plenty to photograph. We hiked out towards Hag’s Head quite a ways, though not all the way to the point before turning around and coming back. The winds on the cliff’s edge are intense and could blow you over the side on a stormy day if you weren’t careful. As our hair whipped across our faces, we realized that the high winds did not keep the bugs away. Those same pesky black bugs were back and pelleted us like BBs. There was nothing to be done about them, so we just forged on giving the bugs a free ride to a new location as they hung on for dear life.
The visitor’s center had several educational exhibits that were interesting as well as some photos and artwork of the area on the way. We spent some time here before heading back to the car. At this point the only plan was to stop for dinner in the town of Ennis and then end up at the Shannon Lodge B&B for the evening.
Mark and I have already been to Ennis, but that was a week ago on Good Friday. Today many more shops and restaurants are open. We had options! At Brogan’s restaurant, we tried champ. Champ is basically mashed potatoes with cabbage and spring onions. It is delicious! The rest of the meal was delish as well. Between the five of us we had shank of lamb, black and white pudding, sausage and champs, and a salad. Everyone was happy with the food. Traditional Irish food at its best for sure at this pub/restaurant.
We had Shannon Lodge B&B all to ourselves as there are only 3 rooms here. The owner greeted us on arrival and we settled in to celebrate an early Mother’s Day and recount the adventures of the past week. Mark and I still have a couple more weeks of vacation, but we will miss the family when they leave. This vacation so far has been wonderful.
Tomorrow the family is off to the airport and Mark and I switch out our rental car and start driving east towards the Rock of Cashel.