Cant wait to get on the plane to Shannon and hit the countryside and its infamous pubs (been listening too much to Riverdance type music recently though ;o). Plan is a ca. 140km / 6 day hike along the Burren Way. A beautiful hike and also a good way to practice for what challenges lie ahead. Downside is that even a normal summer in Ireland is not very summer-like. 10-17 degrees and rain is to be expected. Who cares, a good Guinness and in my view nice folks will be around every night to make up for it! Ireland, here I come!
Day 1: Ireland: Lahinch to Liscannor (30 July)
Day 1 of my journey started with a nice and certainly full English breakfast (and a sneaky pint of lager) at Heathrow. 1.5 hour flight to Shannon and by bus to Ennis and on to Lahinch. Not unsurprising as my dear friend Walter W. would say, the first conversation happened quicker than the first shower of rain dared to arrive. Rory also lives in London and took the same flight over. He is here to watch the local Hurling final (hockey type Gaelic national sport) between Clare (the county he is from) and Limerick in Ennis tonight. I shall be following the action in the pub and to make it somewhat more interesting will be chanting for Clare as well!
The route of the day was meant to be a fairly short 6km, but since the Burren Way doesn’t follow the road between Lahinch and Liscannor, it turned into 15km (about 900m up, 900m down included). The scenery was beautiful and there was no rain (likewise little sun ;o). Arriving at ‘Vaughan’s anchor inn’ feels good. The Guinness appears well deserved too.
Key take aways of the day:
(1) Need better shoes.
(2) Need something to fight the dogs
(3) 5-6 km/h is no problem
(4) Rucksack is not heavy at all
Now lets see some hurling action!
Day 2: Ireland: Liscannor to Doolin (31 July)
First a quick update after the hurling match. Team Clare lost the final first time in 4y. Such is life I guess. Met a nice Irish couple while watching hurling that provided for some entertaining conversation. Otherwise the evening finished with a half dozen Irish oysters, a chunky Irish rib eye and some local music before hitting the mattress.
Quite a hike today of 23km along the scenic cliffs of Moher coastal walk to Doolin including the last 4km to my rather remote B&B. Today’s hike included quite a bit ascent & descent, which are still well felt ;o) Weather was forecast at 14 degrees with rain and Ireland surely didn’t disappoint!
The route alongside the coast exposes you fully to natures’ forces. Strong winds from the Atlantic and plenty of rain were abundant and created a distinctly romantic environment (‘end of the world type’). When rain bashes against your outer shell while you try to keep balance hiking uphill you kind of forget about blister pain and everything else. You just live in that particular moment. Beautiful.
Once a little uphill (max altitude doesn’t go much above 300m), the cliff begins to show off its beauty. Given the poor weather, there weren’t many tourists out and thus one gets to keep it all for oneself. First stop was a ruin where I bumped into two French girls that had camped out the night before and looked a little too wet for their liking. From there it’s really just a massive panorama all the way until you get closer to the cliff of Moher visitor center where plentiful tourists introduce yet another hazard on the cliff! On the plus side, they have a little canteen at the center and I scored myself a nice beef stroganoff.
From the center the way leads past a castle / tower a little more uphill until the 8km decent into Doolin begins. Winds were back on time and I have to say some parts of the route were not for the faint hearted and should actually not be open to hikers under such conditions. Some parts had less than half a meter to the cliff while strong gusts are toying with you. Anyway, at 2pm I arrived I Doolin and got myself a we deserved Guinness only to find out that my B&B is another 4km (uphill, of course!). Let’s see what the night holds. It’s bank holiday weekend and apparently expected to be busy. Live music from 7.30pm!
Physical diary: the blisters remain painful, but not a huge issue. What felt worse was the left leg that felt like little stiff. I guess body still adjusting to new daily routine. However, considering the distance of past two days (38km) are still less than tomorrow’s 40km stage I do have some respect. Certainly requires an early start even if my average walking speed should pick up from today. 8-9hours of straight walking is still on the card.
Day 3: Doolin to Ballyvaughan & 11 hours of pain (1 Aug)
The last night out was fun meeting people from all over Europe. A Swiss guy on gardening leave, two local Irish guys out for a drink (well, the usual), a Slovakian girl in her 4th year in Doolin working in a B&B, an Irish and a young Dutch couple (thought they were a family at first) and a Czech au-pair.
Now the latter I consider statistically significant. I have been in London 13y and never met a single Czech person (only two Slovakians from memory). Now, I met her and a Czech bartender in Liscannor in the space of two days. Seems like Czechs prefer the Irish over the English ;o)
Anyway, having been out little too late (including 4km each way to and back from town) I started the walk at 9am after a full Irish breakfast. Weather conditions at 16-18 degrees without rain were close to perfect for this region.
Body conditions were far from perfect to start with. I was still in my old boots that have caused huge blisters on each of my heels (no pictures here!) that in turn causes one to walk not properly and to consequently pass on pain elsewhere. Pain was no longer a thing of individual spots, but a wider issue all the way down from my knees really. Not great on the day of the longest stage of the Burren way.
The walk itself was pleasant as always leading through endless limestone formations with their stone walls (who built them?) and, once up the hill, offering great views of the Atlantic coast line many surfers adore. There wasn’t many people on the road, mainly bikers and the odd hiker taking the dog for a walk. However, there was no shortage of horses, cows and donkeys (why would they keep so many donkeys? donkey milk? children outdoor experiences? god only knows).
My initial speed wasn’t great at 4 km/h, but not bad given elevation changes (1.2km up / 1.5km down). Pain was mitigated by views and good music in the earphones (or at times, ‘Goehte’s Faust: The first part of the tragedy’, which makes for interesting listening for those that like it). Once I crossed the Burren at c20km into the walk, however, I took a wrong turn to add estimated 7km to the trip and things changed. I felt a little lost when way markers seemingly didn’t match my map and I grew exceedingly hungry (no food since 9am as there was simply no place to eat anywhere).
It took me some 2 hours at painfully slow pace to get back on track only to find there is yet another 10km ahead of me. Pace slowed to 2-3km/h with feet and legs sore as can be. At 8.30pm (11,5h after leaving Doolin) and 37km I made it to the hotel ‘Burren Atlantis’ to my (feet) absolute delight.
Quick pint of water and then quickly out of the boots. Not a pretty picture! One thing was for sure … Tomorrow I need to rest. Can’t kill the feet much more or will not be able to walk in coming weeks. So I extended the hotel stay, which comes handy as the coming night would have taken me to a place where all accommodation was full anyway (plus due to my getting lost earlier in the day I had already walked half the next day’s hike!). Now dinner and straight to bed.
I slept 13hours straight and missed breakfast. Feeling better today and weather isn’t great so happy to rest ;o) there will also be the community shield between Arsenal and Chelsea. Now I just need to figure out how to cope with last 50km of the hike. I still have no new shoes for there is no shops here … more pain or more rest? Maybe shorter stages?
Day 4: Day off in Ballyvaughan (2 Aug)
Interesting place this village with 224 inhabitants right between the limestone hills of the Burren and the Atlantic coast line. The village has only one spar shop, but 14 pubs/restaurants (one for each of their 16 inhabitants ;o) catering for the large amount of tourists passing through. At the nearby castle you can also find the Burren College of Art. However, there ain’t a cash machine (10miles to the nearest).
The day got off to a slow start with lunch at a nearby seafood restaurant (fried cod and a delicious vegi soup) and given the poor weather I spent most the time inside following irish football quarterfinals (strange sport that looks like a mix of rugby & football) and Chelsea losing 1:0 to Arsenal in the community shield.
Almost missed dinner as all pubs stop serving food at 9pm. Thanks god there as an Italian place around … Actually a decent restaurant. In my Havaijanas, shorts and fleece I was naturally completely under-dressed, but dress code seems less of an issue here. Carpaccio and the local interpretation of pasta carbonara went down well. In the meantime I got engaged in reviewing life. Entertaining. Critical. Mostly.
Back to the Hyland’s pub afterwards for some life music. Actually the same band than at the hotel last night. Just this time I wasn’t dead tired. Makes a huge difference. Guinness just goes down better with a good fiddle in the background. Riverdance anyone?
Day 5: Ballyvaughan to Corofin: Rebound! (3 Aug)
I decided to walk in my Havaijanas for lack of a workable (walkable) alternative. A solid as usual breakfast got me going and though blisters no longer hurt in my new light hiking shoes (rocketboots ;o), the stiffness particularly in the left lower leg remained.
At first the weather also seemed to play ball and the sun helped me hike out of Ballyvaughan though this changed already 30mins later as rain clouds gathered out of nowhere. Rain and me in my Havaijanas. Must have been a funny picture to passers by!
Anyway, not long after the leg was on a revolution again and in pain. I thought i will need hitch from here, but then things improved as i approached ‘portal tomb’ (stonehenge like rock formation that you find a lot in the area). A lunch break at a stone fort provided for an early lunch and to my surprise the leg problems disappeared. I could walk 5km/h without problems and enjoyed it a lot. So the km were just flying past as i hiked towards Corofin. just after passing a lake close to Corofin and about one km outside town, a horse farmer stopped and i jumped into his car to get a lift into town. The conversation turned out to be rather hilarious:
He: ‘bad weather here, isn’t it?’ / Me: ‘good enough for hiking. at least not too hot’
‘where are you from?’ / ‘Germany. but i live in london’
‘you are in the army?’ / ‘i was. now i just have these boots that are killing my feet’
‘if you don’t mind me asking, what german people make of hitler these days?’ / ‘not much. the younger generations are getting over it.’
‘i like the IRA. without them we wouldn’t have our country. The English only understand one language!’
He dropped me off at a pub where two guinness marked the end of my time on the Burren way after c30km on the day. The walk from the pub took me past to local Irish football pitch where a game was underway and a last time past the yellow Burren way markers. It is done and the first good 100km bagged. A few more to be added tomorrow on my way to Ennis.
Half way to my Airbnb my host (as it turned out, the hosts mother) contacted me and, to make sure I will make it to the house safely and decided to pick me up. We had a fun ride and within a few minutes shared at least some of our life stories. From walking trips over family and Irish crisis and the Anglo tapes to where to get dinner and a few more Guinness. Brilliant stuff. I can only recommend to stay there. Its like a little souvenir that you just cant buy in the shop.
I was offered a lift to Lahinch, where I set out for my walking journey just four days ago, and dine in the Randaddy’s (Canadian restaurant) where both daughters of the family work during their summer break from school/college. Great view right opposite the Atlantic coast line where waves kept rolling land wards (helped by poor weather). Pork ribs, a detox drink and funny enough a ‘blackrock irish stout’. Happy days!
While the girls were working, I hit the town and enjoyed live music in ‘the nineteenth hole’. Brilliant. Later on, I checked if the girls were finished (at last, they’d give me a lift home …). With a little help from me, we got in the car and had a brisk ride home. Time to sleep for me. I was dead.
Day 6: Back home, sadly (4 Aug)
There was no need to rush in the morning. The flight back to London was only 5.30pm and the walk to Ennis only some 17-18km. Breakfast was served promptly and last nights adventures briefly reviewed. when I was about to leave I also briefly met a group of three french woman. Most importantly I got rid of my army boots that had caused me so much pain in the first three days. No way i would ever wear them again. The ‘rocketboot’ improvisation would need to last just a little longer.
Weather wise the day didn’t look as promising as yesterday. grey was the colour of the day and hence i left the house in full rain gear. I would need it throughout the day be it for very brief yet very intense showers. The way to Ennis leads mostly along the mid clare way and is very quiet traffic wise and views are great. Just towards the end the roads get bigger and one has to hike along the busier roads for 5km or so. Not much to report from the way other than a funny post to a ‘soup school’. Once in Ennis, a quick pint in the pub, facetime with son Alex (who is seemingly enjoying his time in Latvia) and off to the train/bus station to get over to Shannon airport on time.
So that was it. some 120km done. Body feels good again.
So what did we learn?
- Get new boots got to be the key takeaway ;o)
- Weight of rucksack is just fine. nice bag to carry really (thank you osprey!)
- 2.5l aquapack wont be enough in warmer areas on hikes of more than 5h
- Gear (ex shoes) works fine and keeps me dry
- 30km a day is doable, but rest days here and there make a huge difference
- Get a hiking pole in case legs dont work & for the dogs
Bye, bye Ireland. Its been just brilliant!
Confirmation of health insurance
Wet cover sleeping back
Laptop and phone charger
Hydration pack for ruck sack
2x merino socks
North face rain jacket
Hat (warm and baseball cap)
Two hiking shirts, one normal shirt
Travel wash liquid
Sun screen / spray
Pack of tissues