Monday, June 09, 2008

Day 8- County Clare; the Burren, Cliffs of Moher, Lehinch, the Loop Head Route

This was out last day to sightsee; we had to be at the airport by 10 am next day. We were very close to the Burren when we stopped for the night. Within minutes, we were in the otherworldly landscape of limestone deposits that form the desolate and eerie land of the Burren. We stopped at the ancient Neolithic tomb site known as the Poulnabrone Dolmen (a dolmen is a burial site marked by huge stones). It was dry and sunny but very windy out on the hills where the dolmen is situated. I have older photos of Dan posing beside it and inside the entrance, but now it is roped off and you cannot go very close to it (I understand why after seeing the damage at Newgrange). We got some good pictures and walked all about. We stopped down the road at Caher Connell stone fort; there is a nice visitor center there now with a cafe and gift shop. We bought some art at the shop, and made a pit stop but Bren wanted to push on to the cliffs, he felt he had seen enough stone ring forts for the nonce.
On to Cliffs of Moher, on the coastline of County Clare. It is so different from the first time we saw them. There is now a huge parking lot, then you cross the road, and enter the park. If you are just touring the cliffs, there is no fee, but of you want to see the exhibits, there is a charge. The old gravel road that once we hiked up is now a series of limestone steps, graduated to make it easier on the legs, but still quite a climb. The sides of the steps and trails are secured with thick limestone slabs to give added security against wind and erosion. The cliffs are dangerous; the first time we went, a German couple had been blown off the cliff and fell to their death. Everyone is always angling for a better camera angle and ignoring the danger. My own boys proved no exception. Dan was particularly keen to get some good pics because it was windy and rainy, slick and slippery when I took him there in 2003. The Cliffs are gorgeous; a habitat for seabirds and a place of desolate beauty. Dan had his binoculars so we could see the birds flitting in and out of their tiny holes. Dan wished we could have taken a boat tour that goes along the cliffs; it definitely went on the list of "must do next time"! The boys went beyond the park boundary on to private land (as did 99% of the other tourists) to take more pictures at better angles. I was too nervous to try.
After the Cliffs, we had pretty much fulfilled all the goals we had set ourselves, so we just headed down the coast, angling our way toward Shannon. I estimated Ennis would be a realistic place to end the day, so we just meandered on down the coast. We passed through Liscannor, with its awesome golf course and stopped at Lehinch, one of Dan's favourite towns.
Lehinch was always a very touristy town, but now it's even more so. It is a haven for surfers, and since the tide was right, we saw a lot of people heading down to the beach and hitting the waves. We had lunch at a little cafe with a surprisingly diverse menu and very bright and colorful decor. We walked about town and did some shopping; I got a Celtic painting on papyrus at the Bord Failte that was very unusual and a few other gifts. I stopped at the knitwear shop and managed to get the girls sweaters. While I was negotiating sizes, the boys visited an art gallery that they very much enjoyed, but felt I should stay out of. Heading down the coast, Dan suggested we do the Loop Head route that meanders down the coast; from this we could loop back east and head to Ennis. Great idea. Off we headed, through Miltown Malbay, Quilty, Kilmurry, Doonbeg to Kilkee. At Kilkee, we got out and discovered an excellent cliff walk that was extremely photogenic. Apparently, this walk extends for miles; I imagine this must be a very nice place to live. It started to rain and gust, so we headed back to the car and drove out. After a number of miles, it was pretty obvious that this was a very isolated road we were traversing, with few towns ahead of us. That's when I noticed I had only 1/8 tank of gas.
Normally, I am willing to chance things. With so little gas, roads marked in Km when I am used to miles, no cell phone (WHO do you call anyway?) and a deserted country road, my anxiety began to mount. After about 20 minutes, I decided I must head back to the town for gas. Back we went, and entered the town. We drove around and around (it's now about 7:30 pm- things do NOT stay open late in Ireland like they do in the US) and could not find a gas station. We pulled up and asked a local; there was none in Kilkee, he said, the closest is Doonbeg, and the road behind us (that would have taken us back toward Ennis) was closed for repair and a detour was on. I drove like a maniac back to Doonbeg and we quickly found a station and got gas. Now it was too late to jaunt out to Loop Head (another next time), so Dan navigated me back to Miltown Malbay to pick up a road that led straight to Ennis. Reaching Ennis at about 9 pm, we looked for lodging without success; no vacancy signs everywhere. I recalled a hotel out on the N18, so we headed out of the city and I found the hotel quickly. At this point it was raining pretty steadily, I was exhausted from the stress of driving and I felt that out aborted trip to Loop Head was a terrible way to end a vacation. Actually, there are worse ways to end a great vacation.
We checked in, had a lovely dinner and just as we were considering ordering our dessert, a HUGE cockroach ran out from the table next to us. The wait staff appeared unsure how to deal with this situation: we warned them not to step on it (it releases billions of eggs) and Bren put a glass on top of it. Another diner begged us to let it go in the garden; I encouraged the waiter to kill it and he poured boiling water on it. Dan insisted on speaking with the manager; he was polite but emphatic that the staff needed to take measures to eradicate the pests and should close the kitchen in the meantime. The manager felt that just one bug was a problem taken care of. I went to the desk and cancelled our breakfast. I might have left had I not been so exhausted; at least our room was far from the kitchen. You would think they would have cancelled the cost of our dinner, or given a discount on our stay. NOPE. West County Hotel, part of the Best Western chain and run by the Lynch family group. I emailed them hotel and made a complaint; I have yet to receive an apology or acknowledgment of any kind.

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