Day #220 The Burren: Karst Land

Yesterday was the last full day of our holiday in Doolin. We had a good run of weather mid-week, but when we woke up on Friday morning it was grey, wet, windy, and generally miserable. It was a day for staying in, cuddling under a blanket, reading, building couch forts, etc. All those things were done, and I will write about them tomorrow (the blanket fort requires needs its own post to do it full justice). For a few hours, we left Hawkeye in the care of family and drove off. Despite being here for a week I hadn’t actually had a chance to see much of the Burren and Hawkeye’s new-found reticence for car trip meant we kept any journeys to a minimum.

So we took our chance and bolted from the house, despite the cold and damp and headed down the coast toward Liscannor, just south of the Cliffs of Moher. Our destination was The Rock Shop, which I wanted to explore just for fun, having found a flyer for it in our rented house. The mist started to roll in as we left Doolin. The tower in the middle of the farmland (we don’t know what it is, only that it’s on private territory) that we previously photographed bathed in sunlight was now backed by ghostly fog coming off the water.

Pretty soon, visibility shrank to nearly nothing – the land past road wall could have been farmland or a sheer cliff. Houses swam up out of the fog at the last minute. The road curved into the eerie ether. The effect was awe inspiring to watch, but less fun to drive through. Thankfully it didn’t last too long. We either drove out of the worst of it, or it began to lift. Either way, pretty soon we were back to the usual dreary grey wet wind which we dodged as much as possible as we ran into the doors of the shop.

The Rock Shop is exactly what it sounds like – a shop that sells rocks. Out back you can order Liscannor slate and other construction materials. Inside, you can buy a mind-boggling array of gems, minerals, fossils, and jewelry. The shop was surprisingly large and very well stocked, with a comfortable cafe selling a mouth-watering selection of baked goods. The centre of the shop was occupied by a giant bear skeleton.  I got lost in here for a good amount of time which The Mister suffered good-naturedly, passing the time by winding up his mates by sending them photos of the more ridiculous claims being made about the various healing properties of minerals. I love gem stones, and I’m aware of certain benefits of things like copper and magnets, but even I draw the line at reading about positive energy and feeling a stone’s vibrations, etc etc. He was particularly baiting the scientist in his group who was predictably apoplectic.

I spent a good amount of time browsing followed by a cup of tea and pie while we decided on what to do next. The weather had lightened somewhat and we decided to go for a circular drive through the Burren, heading up through Kilfenora and then straight up to Ballyvaughan before turning left toward Black Head and Fanore and then heading back down south toward Doolin by following the coastline.

It was a good thing the visibility improved because we were driving on your typical back country roads. What does that mean? Well, the two main qualifying factors are grass growing up in the middle of the road and the width being wide enough to only admit one and a half cars across, meaning any oncoming traffic requires one party to pull over into a driveway or a flattened out ditch specially created for this purpose. Oncoming traffic, you ask? Isn’t this a one-way road? No. This is a two-way local road with a standard speed limit of 80kph (50mph). Welcome to rural Ireland, people.

We did not stop and get out of the car much, so all the photos I took were limited to the roadside. We followed the same road we took to get to Aillwee cave, with its hairpin turns and burren-scaped ravines. I had not gotten a chance to appreciate this route previously as I had spent the entire ride to the cave trying to distract Hawkeye from the possibility of being sick all over thee back seat. Eventually the land evened out past Kilfenora and for a while it resembled regular farmland before we drove back into the rocky, lunar landscape of the Burren. The area is distinctive for its formation of layers and layers of sedimentary rock (mostly limestone) which was transformed by the expansion and retreat of glaciers creating the present-day glacio-karst landscape – the best example of this phenomenon in the world. You may recall I had been uncertain in my previous post about the Doolin Pier if the rock formations with their even slab-like stones were natural or not. It turns out that this is in fact a purely natural phenomenon known as limestone pavement. Being somewhat soluble in water, limescale cracks over time, along the various fissures and joints forming deep grooves called “grikes” and slabs called “clints”. The unique landscape means that arctic, alpine, mediterranean plants can grow side by side, with the slabs providing rocky mountain terrain for the alpine plants while the grikes provide sheltered moist hollows for the more delicate flora.

We took a slightly longer stop at Murrooghtoohy to gaze over the rocky beach and the mountains behind us. The sky clashed between the misty clouds still resting on the peaks and the clearer skies over the ocean ahead of us. There were many more places I would have loved to stop at, and someday I intend to come back and clamber over the rocky beach and explore the area better. It is wild, savage and unforgiving and absolutely breathtaking to behold. A viscerally refreshing break from the city that I desperately need from time to time.

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