On the Edge!

The Burren is a plant lover’s paradise, an area of outstanding scenic beauty and so a joy to all who visit. When the opportunity arises we jump at the chance to visit, enjoy the long walks and search out the many wildflowers which we could see nowhere else in the country – indeed, one might more readily expect to see some of the plants here on The Alps or the Arctic tundra rather than in other areas of Ireland.

View Limestone Pavement  (1)
A roadside area of grassland south of Fanone on The Burren, Co. Clare, an area rich in plants
View Limestone Pavement  (4)
A stretch of limestone pavement which may appear an inhospitable place for plants but is actually teeming with interesting species.

After driving from Waterford recently we were walking along the coastline south of Fanore by half past eleven among Sea Thrift, Sea Campion, Thyme, Rock Samphire, Kidney Vetch, Bird’s Foot Trefoil, Hemp Agrimony, Lousewort, Common Dog-Violet, Bloody Crane’s Bill, Mountain Everlasting, Common Milkwort, Heath Spotted-Orchid and many others and all with wonderful views of seaside, cliffs, spreading limestone pavements and in perfect weather. The selection of plants which are literally at one’s feet within a few steps of parking the car is quite astonishing and a perfect treat.

A small selection of plants in this area: Clockwise from top left: Common Milkwort, Spring Gentian, Bloody Cranesbill, Lousewort and Sea Thrift with Bird’s Foot Trefoil 

Dactylorhiza maculata subsp. erictorum Heath Spotted-Orchid is a feature plant of this area

We drove to the car park at Fanore Strand – a fabulous location for Sheep’s Bit Scabious later in the season – and then headed off on The Fanore Loop Walk which quickly takes one off the coast and uphill on a minor road for about two miles where it meets with one of The Burrens “Green Roads” which leads north across the limestone hillside before descending to the Caher River Valley, and the road leads back to Fanore. The walk is estimated to take two and a half to three hours but generally takes us longer as I stop every few steps to photographs flowers. Well, this is understandable when one comes across delicious groups of the Spring Gentian, Mountain Avens, Water Avens and a super abundance of the Early Purple Orchid many of which are pink and we have found the occasional white one.

Along the Green Road on the Fanore Loop Walk with limestone pavement to either side, clint and gryke, and views to the sea and the Arran Islands. 

With, clockwise from top left:  Early Purple Orchids – three different colour forms shown here – Water Avens, Mountain Avens and Spring Gentians and all in great numbers and easy to find 

Back on the Caher Valley road we made our way back towards Fanore but, as the road passes Carl Wright’s Caher Bridge Garden, we dropped if for a visit. It was not part of our plan as we were to be back in Limerick for dinner but when we saw Carl we couldn’t miss the opportunity for a chat and walk around. As ever, it was a delight to visit with many interesting plants and the whole garden a fabulous creation made on The Burren limestone pavement.  We eventually got to that dinner, well over an hour late, and were the last to leave the restaurant late that night. A lovely end to a wonderful day!

Caher Bridge Gardens, Carl Wright’s creation on The Burren.

On the following day we drove to Doolin and parked the car there – I recommend parking on Fisher Street as it is very convenient to the Cliffs of Moher walkway and also to the bus stop for, The Paddy Wagon, to take us to the Visitors’ Centre at the Cliffs of Moher. This is a twenty minute or so drive at 6 Euro per person which I thought was good value for the convenience it provided – linear walks can be a nuisance as there is always the difficulty of returning to the car. The Cliffs of Moher hardly need my recommendation as they are so well known and so justifiably highly regarded and live up to the hype and praise they receive as they are jaw-droppingly impressive and beautiful.

As a cliff-top walk it was no surprise to see Sea Thrift and Sea Campion in profusion but it was spectacular to see them in such number and making such a pretty addition to the views.  Along the way there were also generous patches of orchids and even an early Sheep’s Bit Scabious.  It is quite a competition for one’s senses on this walk with the challenge of fabulous views and interesting flowers. The stretch of the walk nearer to Fanore featured Sea Mayweed, Common Scurvy Grass, Tormentil and the ever attractive Ragged Robin. It is an easy, interesting and very pleasant walk.

Armeria maritima Sea Thrift and Silene uniflora Sea Campion with cliff views  (2)
Sea Thrift providing a beautiful foreground to the view of the Cliffs of Moher

Along the Cliffs of Moher

If you haven’t been to The Burren and wonder where to start you could do as we did on our first visit and join Tony Kirby of Heart of The Burren Walks for a guided walk. Our first visit to The Burren was a weekend special organised by The Old Ground Hotel in Ennis – a fabulous hotel, by the way – when Tony came and gave an introductory talk on the Friday evening and collected us in a minibus on Saturday morning, with packed lunch provided by the hotel. We had our walks, a picnic, and were brought back to the hotel for dinner. This was repeated on the Sunday.  We have repeated this arrangement several times since with The Old Ground Hotel for accommodation but making our own arrangements for the walks. Tony has a very helpful handbook guide to The Burren with information on a range of walks which is an excellent resource.

So, put on your walking boots and enjoy the experience.

Paddy Tobin

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