Ultimate bike route through the Burren, County Clare

Are you coming on a trip? OK, let’s start with a dream. There is a strange light in the room, in fact the whole room is strange and you are pleasantly taken aback. Gradually you realize that you are far from home, in a quaint cottage in the town of Ballyvaughan on the west coast of County Clare.

This article originally appeared in the Ireland July / August 2018 print edition of Welcomes magazine. Subscribe here.

It’s going to be a beautiful day. Your first big spin of the summer, a 70 kilometer loop over the hills and back by sea. You have a wonderful bike and you are in shape like a violin.

You have a nice breakfast, dress for the unexpected, check the brakes and tires, and take one last look at the map. Today’s cycle is full of “new materials” – previously unexplored routes and interesting places to visit. It’s a dream ride.

It started by pedaling; on the road signed for Lisdoonvarna.

The colorful town of Lisdoonvarna.

As usual, the first few minutes are slow and slightly uncomfortable as your legs and muscles gradually get used to the bike. You don’t want to put too much pressure at this point. “Standy now and make yourself comfortable”.

You know from the map that there is a left turn to watch out for. It is only about three kilometers. It is clearly signed for the Aillwee cave. When you find it and leave the main road, there is a noticeable wind in your face.

You pass the entrance to the visitor center for the cave and a bird of prey exhibit. It would make an interesting visit but today you are on another mission. The road becomes steeper.

You remember the first law of the bicycle “if there is wind, it is against you” and the second law “if there is a hill, there is another”. These laws keep you in the right frame of mind. You control your thoughts and your body; other factors such as elevation and weather are part of the course. It’s you against the course and you have to take what’s coming. It’s already starting to bite.

The terrain is rising and you must increase the pressure to complete each pedal stroke. Keep your head down now to protect yourself from the wind. Every few seconds, squint on the road to make sure it’s clear. Check the line ahead for potholes or stray stones. Get the job done, push! You have the privilege of being here, it’s your choice, get the job done and push again.

Forward and up, but also inward as you fold up on your bike. Your world is shrinking, all that matters is making the next move. Then stroke and stroke again. It’s getting stiff now and your breathing heavier. Get out of the saddle and push hard for twenty seconds. Sit down again and stable. “This ridge is not the top” – keep saying it and you will never be disappointed.

The Coastal Road, on Black Head, County Clare.

The Coastal Road, on Black Head, County Clare.

And then it comes, the trees fall on either side. You turn onto the corkscrew route again, but this time you get a slight push from behind when the wind turns. You notice rivers of blue sky starting to break between gray clouds. The incomparable marbled stone landscape of the Burren is revealed all around.

You now climb with greater ease. You gaze over your shoulder at the distant coast of Galway Bay, miles away and far below. Beautiful all the same.

Facebook trip
Traveling to ireland

Planning a vacation to Ireland? Need advice or want to share good memories? Join our Irish Travel Facebook Group.

Every now and then the bike rushes forward and seems to be self-feeding. It’s easier now and you cover greater distances with each turn of the pedal. These roads are bumpy, up and down, short bursts of vigor uphill followed by moments of euphoria in coasting. You are high in your mind and body and your dream continues.

Turning now, the gradient is gently downward while the hard work is done. It’s time to pick up the pace. No sudden bursts, you think; just regular increments as you make your own wind. It’s a beautiful wind, “keeps you cool”. The faster, the cooler.

Cattle driving on the Burren in County Clare.

Cattle driving on the Burren in County Clare.

You head south through the Burren Highlands; surely the strangest landscape in Ireland. Weathered limestone hills where cracks and fissures are home to exotic wildflowers and unique Alps.

Soon you arrive at the Poulnabrone Dolmen, the oldest dated megalithic monument in Ireland. It is definitely worth stopping and taking a look around. A dolmen is an ancient tomb made of rocks; it basically looks like a kitchen table for giants, a large, flat stone held in the air by simple rock pillars. It is a wonderful piece of engineering. It is also a sacred place and human remains unearthed at the site reveal that it was built over five thousand years ago. It stands today as a reminder of our ancient heritage and as an example of the many wonders of the Burren.

Poulnabrone Dolmen, Ireland's oldest dated megalithic monument.

Poulnabrone Dolmen, Ireland’s oldest dated megalithic monument.

You must be on your way. Back on the bike and pushing gently. The plan is to go to Leamaneh Castle, then turn right towards Kilfenora. You get there sooner than you think. And it’s a nice feeling to know that you are heading west towards the sea.

There is still work to be done. The road is relatively busy but it is wide. There are hills but they are manageable. It’s windy, but the sky is getting bluer and bluer.

You speed through Kilfenora, home to the famous band Céilí, with music in the lead as the clicking of the bike follows the rhythm with a “keep on, keep on, de-de-de-dum” jig.

Kilfenora Cathedral.

Kilfenora Cathedral.

Continue towards the coast, staying on the interior road long enough that as you swing and descend towards the sea, the broad Atlantic coastline rises in front of you.

Stop briefly at Doonagore Castle to understand it all. Feel the sea in the breeze and feel the increasing heat of the sun.

Doonagore Castle.

Doonagore Castle.

Loosen the outer clothing to the sleeves of your shirt and put on your sunglasses. Place the bike in the large ring and take to the coast road with the wind at your back and the ocean by your side.

You pass through Doolin as tourists congregate in the many small cafes. You navigate the coastal paths and line the long beaches. The rhythm of the gentle hills slowly ascending to the north. Zip with no effort. And during this time, like a succession of illustrated postcards, magnificent views are offered to you and you fully enjoy them. Heading north now, pass Doolin Cave and Ballinalacken Castle – so many places “leave some for another day”. Stay with the coast the whole way.

Town of Doolin, County Clare.

Town of Doolin, County Clare.

Around the headlands at Craggagh, Fanore and thence to Black Head. Stop again and take in the view. The gray lunar landscape of the Burren meets the turquoise sea, and you join others in taking in the spectacle.

Come on. It’s time to go. It’s dream time and you are right in the heart of it. You are Superman and Finn MacCool and your bike is magic and no one can see you. It’s a rush of joy when you break the euphoria world record.

No need to keep energy in reserve now. You are five miles from completing the loop back to Ballyvaughan. Release the pressure. Spend all that energy. This is what you trained for. This is why you are riding a bicycle. Be here, fly, enjoy the ride. Sprint now for the last mile, open your lungs, take it all in. You arrive in Ballyvaughan with nothing more to give.

What a pleasure, what a dream ride, say hello and enjoy the rest of your sleep.

Ballyvaughan, La Tete Noire, County Clare.

Ballyvaughan, La Tete Noire, County Clare.

This article originally appeared in the Ireland July / August 2018 print edition of Welcomes magazine. Subscribe here.

Facebook trip
Traveling to ireland

Planning a vacation to Ireland? Need advice or want to share good memories? Join our Irish Travel Facebook Group.

Iht 600x300px with button2

About Cheryl Viola

Check Also

Strong Leona Maguire ready for Solheim Cup call

Leona Maguire is expected to be named Ireland’s first player in the Solheim Cup today …

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *