Few visitors to County Clare will not have heard of the Burren; indeed, for many, experiencing the Burren landscape is the main focus of their visit.
The Burren landscape is unique to County Clare though, as landscapes are inclined not to acknowledge the niceties of man-made county boundaries, a small part has wandered north into Galway.
For the geologist it is called a karst landscape which, in layman’s parlance (well, almost), is a landscape underlain by limestones of the Lower Carboniferous (Visean) period. That’s long before the full Irish breakfast was invented.
The limestone formed as sediments in a tropical sea which covered most of Ireland (yes, ‘tropical’ and ‘Ireland’ in the same sentence) approximately 350 million years ago; these sediments were compressed into horizontal strata and contain fossil corals, sea urchins, sea-lilies and ammonites. And, hey presto, the Burren.
Many drive through and across the Burren and marvel at the unique landscape while others want to leave the car behind and experience it close up and personal, want to feel the bracing landscape hard under foot and, more often than not, feel it clearing out the sinuses.
One of the best places to start such an adventure, and with the built-in certainty of not getting lost in the process, is just north-west of Corofin on the southern edge of the Burren National Park, the starting point for a series of walks. Each is colour-coded and well-signposted (‘way-marked’ has evolved as the correct terminology) and there are interpretation boards that explain the length and difficulty of each. In reality there are only two levels of difficulty, moderate and very difficult. The orange and white walks, both moderate but across different terrain, make a great figure of 8.
Access to the park from Ennis is via Corofin from where you take the R476 (signposted to Ballyvaughan, pronounced Ballyvocken); 3.5 km later, at Kilnaboy, take the right turn (L1112) before the ruined church and approximately 5 km along this road you will reach a crossroads, just before which there is a lay-by on the right.
(When the lay-by is overflowing—which is almost every day during those tropical summers—drivers need to be aware that this is a public road and should only park where to do so does not impede other traffic; also, walkers should be mindful that, between car and way-marked walk, traffic may be approaching from one or more of four directions.)
Further north at Slieve Carron there are two more ‘Burren’ walks, both moderate but longer than the moderate ones on the L1112; once again both are described on interpretation boards and are well way-marked.
From Corofin follow signs to Ballyvaughan on the R476; just short of 8km later, turn right onto the R480, still following signs to Ballyvaughan and, 2.5km further on, take another right onto the L1014, signposted to Carran. Drive 5.3km to Carran and turn right by the church on the left. Slieve Carran is 8.7km from here; take the first left and keep driving until you see a parking area on the left. Just remember that 8.7km on a narrow, serpentine road can seem much further than you think.
A good day out would be to combine a walk here with a visit to the Burren Perfumery, midway between Carron and Slieve Carron and well signposted. Here there is an excellent cafe and lots of outdoor seating and tables where you can eat your own packed lunch ... though good manners would suggest that you buy something at the shop first ... even just a bar of soap.
Walks in the Burren are more exacting than the walks described in Blog 7 and the right footwear is more important than, for example, a walk through Ballygriffey Wood. But if you want to experience the Burren other than from the car or a short, roadside halt like, for example, at Poulnabrone Dolmen on the R480, then Shanks’ Pony is the only way ... and well worth it.
Details of all these walks can be found here: www.burrennationalpark.ie/walking-trails/
Incidentally, Poulnabrone Dolmen is believed to be the most-visited dolmen in Ireland. Perhaps this is because it is a well-known Burren landmark but my own theory is that it’s because it’s right by a main road from which it’s almost as visible as the adjacent car park that feeds it.
Dolmens are ancient burial sites and this one dates from 3800 BCE to 3200 BCE; we’re just so lucky that the local Neolithic farmers responsible for it, made sure it was close to a main road with space for a car park ... don’t you think?
An American tourist I once bumped into at Stonehenge, shared with me such a well thought-out theory when he observed how fortunate it was that Stonehenge was constructed so close to the junction of two main roads ... and he wasn’t joking,