Saturday, June 8, 2013

Ireland 2013 – Day 4 – The Burren

Today we decided to go for quality, rather than quantity, and planned to devote all day to a walk along one of the many paths of The Burren. Personally, I think that the name of this region is an Irish mispronunciation of The Barren, because this limestone plateau seems to support nothing but barren rocks and scrawny grasses. Yet, in its barrenness it has an enormous charm. For one thing, it is one of the few areas I have visited where there are miles upon miles of rock walls that separate enclosures of many sizes (the other one that comes to mind is the Yorkshire Dales). Some of these walls, it seems, date back to the time of the Celts, who may have used them to delineate forts, towns, and family parcels. Nowadays some of the enclosures are used for penning sheep or cattle, but the great majority seem to be left alone, as a symbol of times gone by.

The stone fences are also unique in their craftsmanship, because the limestone breaks off in large slabs, so the rocks were accommodated standing on edge, as if they were rows of vertical books leaning against each other, with now and then a horizontal slab to tie the whole complex together. The slabs were also well suited for the erection of dolmens and menhirs, which you see sprinkled here and there throughout the landscape. You get the eerie feeling that you are walking through a ghost town.

Then again there are the fabulous views you get of Galway Bay, which shimmers in the distance as if a myriad of diamonds had spilled over a bed of emeralds. As I was writing the previous sentence I remember my grandfather, who would mesmerize his audiences with stories of “waterfalls that look like cascades of diamonds”. Under his spell one of his favorite nephews would sign up for the next hike, which more often than not would turn into a death march from which my poor uncle would take weeks to recover. Not that history would repeat itself, but what started as “a short hike to the top” evolved into a 13 km death march, at the end of which Annie’s legs were beginning to tremble.

After we came back we stopped for a well deserved lunch/dinner of Irish Lamb Stew for Annie, and Fish Pie for me. It was pretty good, but I had a hard time staying awake in our way to Ennis, where we spent the night at the Rowan Tree Hostel.

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