I once had a fair flame named Clare in the long long ago. I’d like to think she was a real beauty but as the memory of her has long faded the reality was probably quite different as I was not overly fussy back then The County of Clare however is utterly unforgettable, and if you come to Ireland from afar then the Clare section of the Wild Atlantic Way will remain a vibrant memory until the day old age finally forces you to hang up your motorbike boots.
If you’ve been following my previous posts on the WAW route you’ll make the correct guess that I’m going to pick up where I left off on the Galway-Clare border. On my last ride along the WAW in 2014 I chose to stay a bit south of Galway city but I suspect many of you riding the WAW road will choose to stay in the fun loving city on Galway Bay. So, assuming you start your day here I’d be shirking my duty not to tell you about the option of a pleasant ride out into the Galway countryside.
South Galway. Fields of Athenry. The Burren Route
If it’s a sunny day a relaxing run through the “Fields of Athenry” might be an option for some – if only to try and figure out why Irish sports fans have a curious habit of singing about a soggy field by the town of Athenry at every international match. A classic example of this compulsion was during the UEFA Euro 2012 group stage game against Spain. The Irish fans started singing the song non stop from 83 minutes into the game and kept going well as past the full-time whistle despite the fact they were going to be eliminated from the tournament. This left commentators the world over in a state of total confusion as the Irish refused to stop singing the bloody song.
So, if you fancy a little exploration of the south Galway countryside, from rolling fields, villages and boglands the routes above and below will bring you a sense of what rural Ireland is all about. This would be an easy day’s ride that would allow you to wonder about Athenry and few other small towns before finishing in the seaside town of Kinvara where you’ll find a couple of good bar-restaurants like Keoghs and the Pier Head down on the quay. There are a few good places to stay overnight like the Merriman Hotel Kinvara which has the largest thatched roof in Ireland – although there are two others that make the same claim lol.
Here is another alternative route from Galway city would be the Galway Bog & Burren Route which you can find on the GPS Download page. This route brings you out to see an bit of rural Ireland (The Fields of Athenry) before running back to the coast via the R353 which is a lovely bit of road through wonderful bogland views. From here it’s back onto the coast along a beautiful rocky limestone coast road out to the Martello Tower at Finvarra.
Not far from here you will find the interesting ruins of Corcomroe Abbey,an early 13th-century Cistercian monastery located in the north of the Burren region of County Clare a few miles east of the village of Ballyvaughan in the Barony of Burren. (see map download).
Heading inland again and this route will bring you through The Burren which is a massive plateau which covers the whole of northwest Clare. It’s name derives from the Irish “An Bhoieann” meaning “rocky place” as it is covered with huge flagstones called clints broken by deep fissures called grikes.
The landscape here is uniquely incredible and no discription I can invent can capture the beauty of this area, you simply have to put The Burren on your must ride list. In 1651 a Cromwellian Army Officer named Ludlow remarked, “… of this barony it is said that it is a country where there is not water enough to drown a man, wood enough to hang one, nor earth enough to bury one. This last is so scarce that the inhabitants steal it from one another and yet their cattle are very fat. The grass grows in tufts of earth of two or three foot square which lies between the limestone rocks and is very sweet and nourishing…”
If you can stay a day to do a bit of hiking as it’s by far the best way to see it. But if this is not an option this route will bring you through much of it, although you could spend a full day riding the many lanes and boreens in the area.
Father Ted’s House
Along this part of the route there are a couple of interesting POI’s, the 1st is Father Ted’s House (Craggy Island Parochial House).
If ye have not heard of Fr. Ted it was a well known TV comedy in Ireland/UK about three Irish priests, two being idiots, the third an agressive, foul mouthed alcoholic. I’d strongly suggest you buy and watch the DVD before coming to Ireland as it will help explain many things about Irish culture. If you do know of Fr Ted you might be interested to know that it’s possible to phone ahead and organise to visit the house for a cup of tea and bit of cake, click the link above to book
The next POI is Poulnabrone Dolmen, a large portal tomb dating from around 2,500BC and one of 70 in the area and probably the most photographed in Ireland.
I’ve visited this place many times trying to get a good photo with little success as either the weather was not playing ball or there was a coach load of fat twats standing around in front of it. I was lucky during my last visit in 2014 to get off a few good shots in fine weather before a cattle truck pulled in to offload a herd of geriatric Japanese tourists.
It’s definitely worth a visit, but if ye want to get a half decent “people free” photo you’d need to visit first thing in the morning or just before they shut the gates to the carpark in the evening. Or even better, visit in autumn, winter or early spring when the whole west coast is devoid of people and traffic.
Just down the road from Poulnabrone Dolmen you’ll find the Aillwee Caves which I’m told are spectacular, I’ve not visited myself due to irrational claustrophobia issues and a firm belief that I’ll be spending more than enough time underground when I’m dead.
The end of this particular section of the WAW is the north Clare fishing village of Ballyvaughan, known as the gateway to The Burren it’s also where I prefer to spend a night instead of Galway City. Don’t get me wrong, Galway is a great city to spend a few days, but in all big cities I always tend to feel a bit lost and my pub crawling Galway girl hunting days are well behind me now. It’s simply a case of been there – done that. These days prefer the more laidback feeling of smaller towns and villages villages where I have a better chance to talk to the locals who know the area, and therefore the best or most interesting roads. On first look Ballyvaughan seems a quiet and fairly typical rural village, but it’s got a few hidden secrets not shown on any map. There are two hotels, The Highlands Burren Hotel and Logues Lodge, with the Highlands probably being the better of the two even though it does not have Wifi. Either is fine for a couple of nights. Strangely enough this little town has a rather good upmarket Italian restaurant L’Arco hidden away out of sight in a courtyard just off the main street.
It’s easy to forget Ballyvaughan is a fishing village unless you decide to stretch your legs and wander down to the quay where you will be rewarded by some splendid ocean views as well as a cosy little bar and seafood restaurant called Monks.
But for me the real treasure of the village is O’Loclainns Pub which has to be one of the last old world Irish country pubs in the country. It does not look like much from the outside in the fact it’s easy to miss, but once ye walk in you will never want to leave. It’s old Ireland at it’s best where quiet conversation or song is revered, pulling out a camera somehow feels sacrilegious in this shrine of pubness because it really is that special. It’s the warm, friendly Irish country pub that time forgot and has been mentioned in more than one book over the years, to me it stands as the original Irish pub that all others trace their lineage. In my youth I spent many happy summer hiking and camping around rural Ireland and it’s in places like this that I spent my evenings long before Dublin pubs were polluted with TV’s, bouncers, neon lighting, drug dealers, lithuanian mafia, stag parties, hen parties, vomit and alcopops.
Time to move on. Leave Ballyvaughan heading south on the R477 on a fair day is about as good a road as any biker can ask for.
It’s a smooth curvy run down the coast to Black Head Lighthouse with the Burren landscape on your left and brilliant ocean views on the rocky right. There are plenty of good places to pull for a few photos where the Burren plateau is being carved up by the relentless Atlantic waves.
Take your time and don’t rush the coastal road from Ballyvaughan, it finishes all too soon 30km south as you roll into the village of Doolin. If Clare is the heartland of traditional Irish music Doolin is the music capital, brimming with music pubs and shops. Doolin has been a popular holiday spot for as long as I remember and these days it’s lost a bit of it’s charm over-catering to tourists, or in other words – “The Authentic Irish Experience” crock-of-shit
Burren Way and Cliffs of Moher
However, I’d not dismiss Doolin as a great place to put up your boots and use it as a base for some off motorbike activities. At the south end of the town you’ll find the Burren Way and Cliffs of Moher Walking Trail, this is a great way to see the cliffs in all their glory. Watch out for the sea fairy’s, as I’m writing this (30th May 2015) it’s in the Irish news again that yet another tourist has been attacked by the fairy’s and fallen off this trail along the Moher cliffs. The area is so beautiful it can kill you which maybe why so many find it so morbidly interesting. But don’t be put off by this, stick to the trail and don’t try sticking your head over the edge on a windy day trying to get a selfie and you’ll be fine..
It’s about a 7km hike so you’ll need good walking shoes but it’s one of the best hikes I know of. From Doolin you can also take a boat cruise along the cliffs (another unforgettable experience and arguably the best way to see the cliffs) or take a ferry out to the Aran Islands for a day. As Doolin has so much to offer I’d consider it similar to Westport as a possible base for a couple of “off motorbike” rest days. There are a few good hotels and plenty of B&B’s about, but in summer you’ve obviously got to book well in advance.
A couple of miles south of Doolin there is a car/coach park where you can find paid parking and walk up to the cliff viewing point. This would not be the ideal way to see them as it’s a really busy spot and as it’s a bit of a hike it becomes a sweaty endeavour on a hot day in bike gear. If you can treat yourself to a stop over in Doolin and take a cruise.
Heading south from the cliffs there are a few more great stretches of Atlantic road, but to be honest it’s hard to beat the Ballyvaughan – Doolin stretch. Heading south of the Cliffs of Moher you’ll ride through the seaside town of Lahinch then join the N67 south to Kilrush. From here you can catch a roll-on-roll-off ferry across the Shannon estuary and into the Kingdom of Kerry. Alternatively you follow the R473 past Kilrush along the coast into Limerick city.
If you like your castles then I highly recommend you visit King John’s Castle situated on ‘King’s Island’ in the heart of Limerick City. If you stay overnight in Limerick and ye fancy a few pints there is a well known and long running watering hole called Flannery’s Bar in Denmark Street in the city center thats worth a visit. Just be careful the girls there don’t eat you alive lol…
If you want to skip Limerick you can simply roll up to the Ferry outside Kilrush, in winter it runs on the hour every hour, in summer it’s every 30 mins and costs €5 one way for a motorbike. For more info or pre book a ticket online visit Shannon Ferries