Yesterday we headed to Burren, (from the Gaelic “great rock”) a national park loosely situated between Limerick on the south, the Wild Atlantic Way along the western coast, and Galway to the north. We traveled along narrow roads with little or no shoulder, carefully navigating the “wrong side of the road” and fighting muscle memory and instincts to avoid mishaps with locals. There are virtually no wooden fences in this region, rather, low stone walls are everywhere. Not pretending to be knowledgeable, we reckoned that was because rocks don’t rot, and also that since the region has been inhabited for over a thousand years, any given wall could be hundreds of years old. It’s pretty cool, and gives you a different sense of place and your stature living within a place. Plus it makes you extra wary when buses or “lorries” (trucks) are hurtling toward you (in what feels like the wrong lane—even though they ARE in their proper lane) and you’re driving a rental car that you really don’t want to scrape against those walls.
Many kilometers of rolling farmlands similar to those in our region of Virginia occupy this central western area of Ireland, designated as County Clare. Following the final proscribed one lane route to the park, the foliage on the tree-lined road suddenly ended and exposed a strange, surreal view. A landscape and hills as far as the eye could see, made mostly of small layered fragments of stone, (of course the park roads are all framed in by more handbuilt stone walls). A limestone formation, further scraped by glaciers, left this uniquely scarred, ruggedly beautiful region of small mountains and hills. It’s dotted by lakes and scrubby bushes and patches of grasses. Apparently at some point there were a few forests in the area but overgrazing by sheep and goats led to them losing their fragile foothold.
We made the slippery trek on a trail toward the crest, up a few hillsides, roughly 1.5 miles. A steady wind and driving light rains created foggy mists that limited any views from the top. Somewhat surprisingly, we both agreed to the wise choice of returning to our vehicle after conquering only about half the hike. Given the weather it was no surprise few humans, let alone more sensible critters, were out. A crow laughed at us a bit as we passed. The winds seem to whip through these lands at a very steady clip. It was fascinating to consider the strength and agility of the birds in this region, and how strong they must become from constantly facing such harsh circumstances, especially compared to those elsewhere. Hard not to wonder also about the folks who have lived in these regions for generations, and become used to wet winds that nearly blow one over, have carved a life on lands where “soil” is often half rock, and property lines have been defined by hand-built, meter high, stone walls many kilometers in length, weighing billions of tons. F*cking tough lads and lassies!
Despite the soaking rains, as we ambled back down the hillside, we honored our duty by making sure to take the time to “test” the ever-present blackberries. We found them to be of excellent quality.