It’s funny sometimes what thoughts come into your head while out hiking. Day One of walking the Burren Way strangely brought back memories to me of the World Cup in USA 1994.
The Good Old Times
Saturday was always the shopping day in our house when I grew up. I remember it as a really happy occasion. We would pile into the car and drive into Mullingar. I’d be given a few coins and I’d wander around the shopping centre figuring out how to spend my money. Usually I’d go for a comic or a soccer magazine. Maybe a bun from the bakery beside Crazy Prices. Then in to the supermarket find my Mam and Dad and see if I could convince them to add a few extra sweets or biscuits into the trolley. Finally, home to lunch which usually consisted of a massive French Stick, sliced ham, cheeses and lashings of Pate and Jams.
These Saturday morning memories have formed into a vague haziness of happy reminiscence. That’s what decades do I suppose. However, I do have a very specific memory of one drive home from our Saturday shopping trip of the 18th June 1994.
A Day to Remember
The country was in the grips of World Cup Fever. As a 7 year old, I was overcome with excitement just thinking about it. Other people were the same, some of the residents of Mullingar had even painted their houses Green, White and Orange just for the occasion.
The 18th of June was Ireland’s first match. Against Italy. One of the giants of world soccer. It simply doesn’t get any better. Doesn’t get any bigger.
So on our drive home, you can imagine how perplexed I was when we passed by a wedding party on their way into the Greville Arms Hotel.
“What sort of eegit has their wedding day on the same day as the match?” was my question.
I wasn’t old enough to comprehend my Mother’s patient explanation that the wedding was probably planned months and months before Ireland even qualified for the tournament. I just thought of the poor couple sitting through an unhappy dinner with all of their unhappy friends and unhappy family. Everyone just wanting to watch the match.
I said to myself that I would never put myself in a position where I would plan something that would clash with a major sporting event. I would never be that fool.
Back to the Present
Fast Forward 27 years and I am racing along a cliff edge towards the town of Doolin. I had organised a week long holiday hiking the Burren Way. Shortly after I had put the finishing touches to booking everything that needed to be booked I realised my problem. I was due to start the walk on the same day as the All Ireland Hurling Final.
I had become the fool.
Hopefully, if I started early enough, I could still make it to my accommodation in Doolin before the 3.30pm throw in time.
Day 1 of walking the Burren Way from Lahinch to Doolin is 28.4km. Plus another 1.5km for me to get to my B&B for the night. If I was able to average about 15 minutes per km, it would roughly 7.5 hours. Unfortunately, on arrival in the Sancta Maria Hotel in Lahinch the night before, I discovered that breakfast only started at 8.30. As such, I found myself facing a tight deadline. On explaining my predicament to the friendly owner of the Hotel however, he agreed to opening the breakfast room a bit earlier the next morning. Lucky for me I was in Hurling Country.
After demolishing a full Irish breakfast in the hotel on Day 1 of walking the Burren Way, I hopped across the road to pick up a packed lunch from the local Spar. All in all it was just before 9a.m. before I was standing at the waterfront in Lahinch and ready to go.
Starting Day 1 of Walking the Burren Way
So off I set off from the Lahinch Promenade. I have uploaded a map of the entire 28.4km walk to alltrails.com (I’ve used this resource on other trails before such as Climbing Lugnaquila in County Wicklow and found it useful). It’s somewhat difficult to find information online of the exact route so I think this map will be helpful to people.
I walked along the promenade for just over a kilometre in beautiful late summer morning sunshine. With the golf course to my right and the beautiful Lahinch beach to my left. The promenade ends and then it’s on to the golden sandy beach.
Just a word of warning to take note of the tide times before you set out as the water comes right in to the rocks when the tide is fully in.
I continued along the beach and turned right to follow the course of the Inagh River. The aim is the road bridge that goes over the river at the 2km mark. Here was actually the first Burren Way sign that I encountered.
Usually on Way-marked trails like the Burren Way, there are signs on two directions. This is to allow walkers to travel the route in both directions. This location only had one sign, pointing me back in the direction I came from. However, thanks to my map I knew I needed to turn left and cross the bridge.
Walking the Roads
The next 14km of Day 1 of walking the Burren Way consists entirely of road walking. Luckily, the majority of this distance is along quiet country roads. There are a couple of exceptions. The first one being the initial c. 400m along the busy R478.
A turn to the right brings me inland and onto quieter laneways.
It’s steadily uphill then for about a kilometre and a half. I don’t especially like road walking, however as I move uphill, there are nice vistas of the Atlantic to my left and open green countryside to my right.
In addition, there are frequent donkeys and horses in the fields that I pass. Which is always nice. Plus, there is an abundance of wild flowers and colourful foliage in the hedgerows that I pass by.
Turning left at the 5km mark, I make my way towards Liscannor. The Burren Way sign-posts are now keeping me going in the right direction. However, there is a sign at just past the 6km mark that appears wrong to me so it’s important that I keep checking my map after each junction.
I meet the busy R478 again as I enter Liscannor. A combination of the warm weather and the salty fried breakfast has meant I am flying through my water. So I’m glad to be able to stop in the a petrol station here to stock up further.
Again, there is a short stretch along the main road before turning left and back towards the coast. At the 12km mark, I’m finally back at the seashore once more. The tide is out and a rock beach lies in front of me. I know that the next stretch is mainly uphill so I stop here to get some chocolate on board to give me an energy boost.
I can see cliffs in the distance and then fills me with a huge sense of anticipation. The main attraction of Day One of walking the Burren Way is definitely the Cliffs of Moher. And I’m nearly there. Well, 4.5km away but the excitement grows with every step. While this next section is still along quiet roadways, the views are more enjoyable as the ocean is visible for a large portion of the walk.
Turning right at around the 14.5km mark, people with local knowledge are parked up along the side of the road outside the entrance to the GAA pitch (what a location for a sports field by the way!). There is also a paid car park about a kilometre further along the road just at the start of the Cliffs of Moher coastal walk. This car park is quite busy as I pass by.
I need to cross over a few stone stiles along the pathway. I’m steadily moving upwards with the Moher watchtower looming before me.
I’m able to stop and have my lunch looking out over the cliffs which is such an amazing thing to do. The Cliffs of Moher are simply spectacular. Everybody is well aware of this. I have visited them a couple of times previously, parking across the road from the visitor centre. This time I’m walking from Hag’s Head towards the visitor centre.
Being 4km from the visitor centre means that the Cliffs feel much more remote. I’m not completely on my own but there are only a few other walkers near me. As a result, the 4km towards the visitor centre is an amazing experience.
On this section of the walk, there is no barriers on the cliff edge. So it is a little nerve wracking at times.
The trail gets busier as I approach the visitor centre and O’Brien’s Tower (the highest point of the Cliffs of Moher). The Tower comes 21km into Day 1 of walking the Burren Way.
Towards Doolin on Day One of Walking The Burren Way
After about a kilometre there is a steep descent where you need to be careful as move downwards. The route is well marked out and it’s simply a matter of following the signs. This can seem a little counter intuitive as at one point the path is through a cattle pen! Which is a little odd. I needed to trudge through one mucky field after the cattle pen and then it’s back to cliff walking. Indeed you are walking along cliff paths for the next 4.5km or so.
While not as spectacular as the Cliffs of Moher, they are still pretty high up.
There are a few lovely little stone bridges that you need to cross along the way. The streams below you rushing out towards the sea.
Ahead of me is the picturesque 16th century Doonagore Castle and I pass close to this as I begin the last couple of kilometres to Doolin. It’s back to road walking again for the final section.
Finishing Day One of Walking the Burren Way
The beauty of the scenery for the last 10km or so has distracted me from my worries about missing the All Ireland. It’s just after 4 o’clock when I reach my accommodation for the night (Dubhlinn House B & B). It’s taken me nearly 7.5 hours to complete Day 1 of walking the Burren Way. While I have missed the start of the match, I console myself with the thoughts that at least I will get to see the second half.
Unlike my beautiful day walking, the All Ireland final turns out to be a disappointing affair with Limerick running out easy winners. I’m not too worried though and spend the evening looking forward to my next day of walking the Burren Way. Day 1 will be hard to beat (unlike the Cork hurlers).