It was time to add dramatic seaside cliffs to our road trip, so after leaving the Dingle Peninsula we drove north crossing the Shannon River into County Clare. Here we would discover the Kilkee Cliffs on the Loop Head Peninsula.
Just the previous day we were ignorant about this area. It’s not discussed much in the travel guides or on any blogs we had read. This is the bonus of chatting with local folk in the pub on a dreary Sunday. The couple we met the night before gave us all sorts of tips on underdog destinations. They both ensured us that these cliffs are just as beautiful (if not more so) than the Cliffs of Moher.
Arriving in County Clare on a short ferry we skirted the coastline into the seaside town of Kilkee. Here is where the Loop Head Drive starts. We passed Kilkee’s famous horseshoe shaped sand beach and took the road headed south out of town. A few minutes later it turns towards the edge of the peninsula and the cliffs come into view.
The drop off is a bit scary if you have a fear of heights, especially when the conditions are windy with wet boggy grass.
We parked at the first spot available and crept slowly down the bank as near to the edge as we dared. The cliffs are magnificent to witness – groups of craggy rock shooting up from the sea meeting the soft green grass. Isolated sea stacks have water swirling in and out of hidden holes. Sea mist sprays into the air. Both of us stood there entranced by the sight for several minutes. The road continues to follow along the cliffs for about eight kilometers which easily took us an hour to navigate. This is because we seemed to stop every several hundred feet in awe.
Eventually we shifted away from the coast driving through farmland. Herds of grazing cows and horses and a large number of wind turbines greeted us. Several of the hamlets have art studios and I could just imagine how this isolated landscape must inspire others.
The Bridges of Ross were our next stop before the Loop Head Lighthouse.
While there is only one natural bridge left out of three, the plural name still sticks. Here you can walk a short loop out to the remaining bridge and cross it to a rocky jetty. There is also a small cove with a beach perfect for kayaking. We saw several fisherman and a group of older men with serious photo equipment and a collection of binoculars. They were most likely scouting for the dolphins that frequent this area.
The Loop Head lighthouse is at the southern point of the peninsula, where the River Shannon and the Atlantic Ocean meet. Unfortunately we got there after it closed, but we could still walk along a short path to the eastern side of the peninsula. The surf here was crazy, easily flinging sea spray and waves over the edge of the cliffs. It was mesmerizing to watch the sheer power of the ocean. Then we trekked to the western side, checking out a nesting area for birds on a sheltered sea stack.
Before we returned to the Bridges of Ross to park for the night we drove up the east side of the peninsula to the little town of Kilbaha. It has a beautiful sheltered cove and Keating’s Bar is a perfect stop off for a tipple with a view. Our day was topped off as we were treated to a beautiful sunset over the Atlantic.
The next day we headed to the town of Doolin, a great spot to stay when exploring the Cliffs of Moher.
We set out that afternoon to walk to the famed cliffs. The path takes you through part of Doolin and then heads south of the town, following the cliffs. There is a bit of a fence in some areas, but you are mostly on the edge the entire time. The coastline takes you up and down passing sheep, cattle and horses as well as crossing several streams. It ramps up bit by bit as you get closer to the cliffs.
The Cliffs of Moher are everything I thought they would be and I’m glad we experienced them the way we did.
Since we were approaching from the north it was not nearly as busy as the actual visitor’s center. We didn’t have to jockey for a view with hundreds of bussed in tourists. In fact, we were quite alone and it was magical. Taking selfies with goofy faces and making fools of ourselves because there wasn’t anyone to make fun of us made the experience. We saw the cliffs, walked along them for a bit enjoying the expansive views and then decided to turn around before we hit the chaos. It was fantastic.
That night, buoyed by our two days of cliff side walks and little interaction with tour groups we camped out at O’Conners Pub. Here we got to chat with two Americans who were on quite the package tour. They balked at how we were traveling while we were thinking we could never travel the way they were. Buy hey, they were having the time of their lives and so were we. Different strokes, right? Plus, hanging out with two ladies from Staten Island made for an entertaining evening.
In the morning we left the cliffs to tackle part of The Burren, an area with erratic limestone karst formations that make it seem otherworldly.
We were driving through farmland and then we were not. It was like we went over a hill and through some kind of portal to a rocky planet. There were striated rock formations with wildflowers jutting up in between as far as the eye could see. Bushes and grasses clung to the small amount of soil in the crevices. It was gorgeous in a desolate kind of way. I can’t imagine the beauty of the flowers in the spring when they are in full bloom. It was just odd to see in the middle of a country with so much green.
One of the big draws to the area is the Poulnabrone Dolmen, a portal tomb from ancient times. It was fascinating to see and hard to imagine just how people propped these rocks on one another over 5200 years ago. The tomb itself was excavated in the eighties and found to contain the remains of twenty one people. Thanks to carbon dating we know how old it is. Is it crazy that each week in Ireland we see something older than the next? The area surrounding the tomb also has some of the best examples of the different rock formations in the Burren. It was fun to explore and the Office of Public Works has a ton of information for the nerd in you.
The Burren Perfumery piqued my interest the first time I heard of it on one of our favorite podcasts.
A boutique perfumery in the middle of nowhere. One that uses only local herbs and flowers in their scents and line of body products. Add in an awesome little organic cafe and herb garden. This was a must do in my opinion and Todd was a sweetheart for agreeing to this little detour. Several winding one lane roads later we arrived. The wooded glen is like a haven on the rocky planet that is The Burren. The perfumery itself was delightful and even showed a movie all about the flora and fauna of the region! I found a new scent for myself and our lunch at the cafe was delicious. We left happy and wanting to spread the word of this little gem of a place.
Before we called it a day, we had two more stops.
The ruins of Corcomroe Abbey are another treasure we discovered in The Burren. We were particularly impressed with the care taken in the upkeep of the graves and the intact arches in the church nave. Following, we swung by Dungaire Castle which is perched on a small peninsula in Kinvara Bay. We wish we had planned better as they do nightly medieval banquets in the castle which would have been a treat.
I have wanted to visit Galway since originally coming to Ireland in 1999.
It’s a great city with an intriguing history and a lively nightlife. Unfortunately, we had crappy weather with torrential downpours and a stinging cold wind. We made the best of it – enjoying the shelter of several churches and even joining in on a free walking tour in which we learned a lot about the Norman history of the area. Later that evening we watched live music and warmed ourselves with Irish coffees. As a bonus we caught up with a friend we met in the Philippines early on in our adventure. And that was pretty much Galway. Something tells me we will be back to explore more of the city.
The last area we explored on the Wild Atlantic Way was Connemara.
Honestly, we felt we rushed through and want to return to do it more justice. Todd and I plan to come back to Ireland and finish the northern part of the WAW, so starting out in Connemara makes sense as it’s easily accessible from Galway. Our one day there solidified what we had heard about the moodiness of the area. Fog lingers on mountains obscuring them from view for minutes at a time, then suddenly disappears. The sheep pretty much rule the road – and they are everywhere. And the lakes are like glass, so still that even the smallest fishing boats have reflections.
We left the main road to drive past Lough Inagh, another suggestion we got from locals. It is full of scenic pullouts and we made good use of them. Our next stop was Kylemore Abbey where we ate lunch, basking in the stillness of the lake and the mountains. Then we checked out Connemara National Park and hiked the middle loop up to Diamond Hill. It’s a great little hike – once up there you can see to the coast and the surrounding mountains, provided they aren’t covered by clouds.
From here we drove north towards Tully, then followed the coast past several small beaches and around Lough Fee, another moody lake. Then we skirted Killary Harbor to the town of Leenaun where we celebrated with a pint of Guinness for three successful weeks of campervan bliss on the coast of Ireland.
The western coastline in Ireland is second to none for the amount of scenery, ancient sites and charming villages you encounter.
Three weeks flew by and left us wanting more. I can only dream of a summer in years to come when we can return and discover the northern part of the Wild Atlantic Way.
LIKE IT??? PIN IT!!!