On the west coast of Ireland is a fascinating natural environment that is just waiting to be gently explored and discovered- the Burren.
The Burren, meaning “great rock“, is an important, fragile environment that beckons to those with interests from archaeology to geology to botany, or just those, like us, looking for beautiful views and landscapes. It is easy to see why the region was awarded the prestigious UNESCO Global and European Geopark status in 2011.
There are many activities and sights in this area and today I’d like to share a couple of those with you.
Poulnabrone Portal Tomb
The karst landscape is a plateau about 150 m above sea level and was made from slabs of limestone over 5,000 years ago. This type of landscape has several features like clints, grikes, kamenitzas, and dolines. It really reminded me of the rocks on the Bay of Fundy shore but instead of being surrounded by water and little tide pools, these rocks in Ireland are surrounded by plant life.
The grikes are the crevasses in the limestone pavement pieces called clints which are formed when rainwater dissolves the limestone. Kamenitzas are the small hollows that form in limestone surfaces by rainwater dissolution and the dolines are large hollows and depressions in the limestone that form when a cave roof collapses into the underlying cave.
And don’t they look so neat? Almost like puzzle pieces, that if it weren’t for all the grass, could be snapped right together.
The large rocks used to construct the portal tomb were likely brought in during the Ice Age in ice sheets that deposited them when the ice melted. They were then used during the Neolithic (New Stone Age) times when megalithic tombs, like Poulnabrone, were constructed. There are over 90 megalithic tombs known to survive in the Burren with the earliest of these built in the 4th millennium BC. Poulnabrone is believed to be the best made in Ireland with the remains of 16 people found at this ancient site.
Cliffs of Moher
Not far from the Burren is a dramatically different landscape with steep rocky cliffs that rise 200 meters above the Atlantic Ocean- the very famous, Cliffs of Moher.
About 320 million years ago, during the Carboniferous era, sediments were washed up to the mouth of a great river and these layers of mud, silt, and sandstones were compacted into the rock that makes up the cliffs today. These rock layers are full of fossil formations that now tell researchers more about the environment that existed all those millions of years ago.
Today the cliffs are undergoing constant erosion as the ocean’s waves wear away at the base of them until a section of the cliff face finally collapses and falls into the sea. This is one of the reasons it is very important to stay back away from the edges, although many people, in their effort to get photos (and the adrenaline rush?) do venture off the paths and had me quite nervous for them. I was plenty happy taking in the dramatic cliffs well back from the edge. :-)
Learn More: Rick Steves show – The Best of West Ireland: Dingle, Galway, and the Aran Islands (includes scenes from the Burren and Cliffs of Moher)
For those with more time than we allotted (and oodles of energy) the Cliffs of Moher walking trail would make a great day out hiking. The trail links the villages of Liscannor and Doolin and brings hikers to one of the most outstanding landscapes of Ireland with views over Aill na Searrach, the Aran Islands, and Galway Bay. The path starts on the protected part (where we did all of our wondering) near the visitor’s centre but changes quite quickly to a remote and demanding trail. There aren’t any barriers, handrails, or fencing and there are steep ascents and descents and loose gravel so the signs in the area do caution that ones physical ability should be considered before heading out.
At the Cliffs of Moher there is a visitor’s centre that is worth a little wander, if only in to the gift shop like we did so I could find my one souvenir that I like to pick up in new countries- a tree ornament. There is also a tower visitors can climb, but we opted to stroll instead figuring a few more feet up weren’t likely to change the already impressive view of the steep, craggy cliffs.
Have you visited either of these places before? What were your impressions?
To read more about our adventures on our Ireland Road Trip, please feel free to check out these posts:
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