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So You Think You Know the Cliff Coast?



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Think Wild Atlantic Way and chances are that clifftop scenery, salty swells below sheer drops and beautiful beaches galore spring to mind. Luckily, that’s precisely what the utterly enigmatic Cliff Coast treats visitors to.

Rugged, wild and simply brimming with adventure, this region spans the south of County Galway, the whole of Clare and edges into North Kerry. It takes in world-famous natural sights, delightful seaside towns that double as surf hotspots, idyllic coastal drives, iconic lighthouses and its share of stunning wildlife too. Nestled on the western edge of the route, the Cliff Coast’s towns and villages attract all manner of visitor with festivals and events that celebrate the area’s close connection with traditional music, literature and wider Irish culture.

Here you can dive into thrilling trad sessions, breezy walking routes, cosy pubs full of local chat, an underground of ancient history, inviting islands and a taste of coastal life you’ll never forget.

Curious about the captivating Cliff Coast? Here’s the inside track on making the most of it:

 
  • The Aran Islands, County Clare
 

Aran Islands

Escape the world for a spell and set sail to one of the three exceptional Aran Islands. Accessible by ferry from both Rossaveal, County Galway and Doolin, County Clare, Inis Mór, Inis Meáin and Inis Oírr promise tranquility, breathtaking Atlantic views and a gentler pace.

On the largest of these Gaeltacht idylls, Inis Mór (Inishmore), you can marvel at some 50 ancient Celtic, Pre-Christian and Christian monuments. Or better yet, rent a bike and pedal your way over to the impressive prehistoric hill fort of Dún Aonghasa, perched on the island’s cliff edge 300 feet above the ocean.

Hop over to Inis Meáin and its intimate population of 200, to find some relaxing seclusion. Roam the island’s hill-strewn landscape, spy its patchwork of stone-walled fields and embrace those serene salty breezes, not to mention the exceptional vantage point of the iconic Cliffs of Moher. Once a beloved retreat of renowned Irish playwright JM Synge, this lesser visited Aran Island is also gaining popularity as a diving destination thanks to those invitingly clear waters.

The littlest but by no means the least impressive, Inis Oírr (Inisheer) has some 5,000 years of civilisation under its belt. Boasting real fishing village charm with its pier, sandy shoreline and even a shipwreck, stroll this compact three-kilometre by three-kilometre island and get a feel for its traditions, its close community and vibrant musical heritage. The views of Connemara and the Burren are just a beautiful bonus.
 

Cliffs of Moher

One of the world’s most visited natural attractions, standing at the magnificent Cliffs of Moher really is one of those bucket list, breathtaking experiences. Just one of the Wild Atlantic Way’s 15 Signature Discovery Points, these juggernauts hug eight kilometres of Clare coast with their highest point hitting 214m.

Spy craggy sea stacks, the Aran Islands and beautiful birdlife from that lofty vantage point. Then, after embracing this raw beauty and that glorious expanse of ocean, view the cliffs from an entirely different angle by taking an exhilarating cruise beneath them. Or if shelter from the elements is more your thing, unwind among Atlantic panoramas at Liscannor’s calming Cliffs of Moher Retreat.
 

Doolin, Lahinch & Kilkee

Peppered with so many world-beating tourism destinations and compelling cultural activities, County Clare, with its wealth of character spilling from beaches, townlands and beyond, is a bit of a wonder.

Spend a day in the life of a local in some of its lively towns to truly get to know the Banner County. Considered the trad music capital of the whole country, Doolin sings with kicking sessions, sensational surf and social life, art, culture and fantastic food. With the lunar-like Burren on the doorstep and the longest free-hanging stalactite in the Northern Hemisphere tucked away in Doolin Cave, marvel at the area’s millennia of heritage.

A place where you’re bound to see more people in wetsuits than dry-land attire, Lahinch is a watersports wonderland. With its renowned Blue Flag beach, even if you’re not tempted to brave the waves you can live vicariously through those daring surfers, kite-surfers and sea-kayakers. Nearby, roam the ruins of 15th-century Dough Castle or soak up the creativity at Lahinch Art Gallery.

If you’re still seeking the seafaring life, head down to the Victorian seaside resort of Kilkee, nestled on the exquisite Loop Head Peninsula. A coastal corner that’s welcomed visitors as diverse as Lord Alfred Tennyson, Charlotte Brontë, Che Guevara and Russell Crowe, its beach is considered one of Ireland’s safest swimming spots thanks to its protective reef. Clamber along Kilkee’s impressive cliff walks, enjoy a round of golf among mesmeric landscape or get really indulgent with some relaxing thalassotherapy – west coast bliss!

 
  • Inishmore (Inis Mór), Aran Islands
  • Kilkee Cliffs sea mist at dusk
  • Loop Head Peninsula, Co. Clare
 

Loop Head Peninsula

A vibrant landscape carved from rock by the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the force of the River Shannon, on the other, Loop Head Peninsula encapsulates so much of the Wild Atlantic Way’s beguiling charm. With Loop Head perched at the peninsula’s western tip, the narrow, winding drive to reach it is exciting and laden with anticipation. The snaking road opens out to a marvellous horizon complete with an historic lighthouse and cottages you can even overnight in.

The Loop Head Heritage trail is a treat too. Designed to open the peninsula to visitors and expose them to its culture, history and archaeology, you can immerse yourself in all of it whether walking, driving or cycling. Loop Head’s roads are well maintained and include specifically marked cycling sections. The route towards the tip of the peninsula, a must-see destination in itself, cuts through the landscape and its pasture land, bogs and woodland. You’ll pass castles and islands and really enjoy the pace of life here.

While many places claim to be at the end of the world, few would contest that the tip of the Loop Head Peninsula deserves a shot at that crown. It’s a wild and wonderful place, whipped and sculpted by the elements over countless centuries.
 

Dolphin Watching

Meet the locals and some resident marine life in Carrigaholt, a beautifully situated village full of coastal appeal. With great restaurants and traditional bars, its identity is forever bound to the sea. With some 200 dolphins living in the mouth of the Shannon, one of Carrigaholt’s best-known attractions is, of course, dolphin watching.

Board the Dolphin Watch boat and see the 15th-century castle that the village was built around come into view as it moves out into the bay. Where the mouth of the Shannon meets the Atlantic is a rich body of water, full of marine marvels and a permanent home to Europe’s largest resident group of bottlenose dolphins. With one of the highest sighting rates in the world, seeing these intelligent creatures up close is almost a given. Pods often move alongside the boat, with cheeky ones even breaking the surface into flamboyant leaps. It’s a captivating experience and a privilege to see these flippered fellows in their natural habitat.
 

The Burren

With its unusual karst plains and rough cut ridges, a ‘park’ in the conventional sense may not  be quite what comes to mind when you think of the Burren. But then again, this is one unconventional place. One of the Wild Atlantic Way’s five national parks, The Burren National Park’s rocky landscape never fails to capture the imagination.

Between its guided walks and hikes, the resplendent and unique flora and fauna that bloom there (it’s home to 1,100 species of Ireland’s 1,400 plants), its resident diverse wildlife (hawks, wild goats, foxes, bats…) and its status as a Special Area of Conservation, this rocky, moon-like expanse sets a memorable scene.

Enjoy your pick of more than 20 Burren-based activities. Ideal for thrill-seekers and relaxed ramblers, you can hike, bike, surf, kayak or forage your way around this natural playground.

 
  • Sunset over Kilkee, County Clare
 

Beaches

No trip to the Cliff Coast would be complete without freeing your toes and leaving some footprints in the sand. Take your pick of resplendent shorelines at Doolin, Lahinch and Kilkee – the beauty of which have been noted above – or roam new territories further south in the region.

Between Miltown Malbay and Quilty, let loose at Spanish Point, a picturesque Blue Flag beach just made for picnics and refreshing, windswept walks. Get poetic at New Quay’s Flaggy Shore, described by Seamus Heaney in his lauded work Postscript as a place that can “catch the heart off guard and blow it open”. With its mountain views, unusual limestone pavements and rock-embedded fossils, it’s a special strand indeed.

And right where the Cliff Coast ends you’ll find Ballybunion in North Kerry. With rugged cliff walks and those breathtaking views over Loop Head, there’s plenty of scenery to soak up here. You even have your choice of beaches, the old-fashioned titles of ‘Men's Beach’ and ‘Ladies Beach’ are a throwback to the days when men bathed separately to women and children. Today though, the beaches are for everyone with only their names hinting at those old school seaside rules.

A coastal treasure trove of dreamy landscape, seaside fun and great cultural craic, the Cliff Coast is a destination you’ll adore getting lost in again and again. Check out these exciting itineraries for the area to start planning your perfect west coast adventure.

Source Article: Cliffs, Dolphins and Drama on Loop Head Peninsula

 
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