Looking back at my photos I struggle to believe what I saw. Was the sky really that blue? The paddocks that green? Did the water sparkle like that? Quite simply, it was one of the most incredible sights of my travels. An estimated one million people visit the Cliffs of Moher each year, but I doubt many see them as we did – in blinding sunshine.
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The Cliffs of Moher
At their highest point the layers of sandstone, siltstone, mudstone and shale that make up the Cliffs of Moher rise 214 metres above sea level. Their jagged edges are visible from the car park and stretch for 8km, with paths guiding visitors along the edge. To the north sits O’Brien’s Tower, the only structure in our panorama. It was built as an observation tower, which it still is, in 1835 by Cornelius O’Brien who recognised the tourism potential of the Cliffs.
The Cliffs of Moher sit on The Burren’s south-west coast in Country Clare. In 2011 the region was listed as an UNESCO recognised Global and European Geopark, an accolade that acknowledges the area’s geological and cultural significance, as well as conservation efforts. The latter is a priority. Several programs are in place to protect the large numbers of seabirds that nest in the area. The visitor centre, discreetly built into the hillside, opened in 2007. The design minimises the visual impact of the building and was selected through a competition in the early 1990s, but construction didn’t start until 2005. It’s a very clever concept and I felt it really enhanced the experience of visiting the Cliffs. There’s nothing to detract from that view.
Inside the centre are the usual facilities of shops, cafes and toilets. The visitor centre also houses The Atlantic Edge Exhibition, an interactive display of the geology and history of the Cliffs and surrounding area. When I first visited the Cliffs of Moher two years ago, this was where I spent most of my time. It was also where I found out what the Cliffs actually looked like. But this time around, I made the most of being outside.
A view to remember
Our guide, Mike from Paddywagon Tours, gave us 90 minutes to explore. Based on my previous visit when the weather was so bad I couldn’t see a thing, I wondered what I would do with all that time. But this day was different. I could have spent hours there. Sitting. Staring. The views of lush paddocks, sparkling water and that outstanding blue sky didn’t get tiring.
We walked to the north first, with hundreds, if not thousands, of seabirds flocking around Branaunmore, a 67-metre high sea stack below us. A couple of boats drew up close to the base of the Cliffs – what a sight they must be from below. The Cliffs are home to the largest colony of seabirds on mainland Ireland and as we’ve come during nesting season (April to July) it’s busy!
Most of the cliff edges are lined with grass, but there’s one point at the north end where a smooth, rock surface allows visitors to stand scarily close to the edge. I crept forward as far as I felt comfortable, which wasn’t very far.
To the south the path cuts a thin, gravel line along the cliff edge. The paths are divided by a stone barrier and visitors chose their comfort level – the brave ones walk along the outer path with only a patch of grass separating them from the edge and the waters below.
Turn in any direction and the view is stunning: the incredible Cliffs and the expanse of the ocean on one side, and gorgeous Irish countryside to the other.
See it for yourself
Paddywagon runs several tours that visit the Cliffs of Moher including day tours from Dublin, Cork, Limerick and Killarney. The tours, which start at €25 from Limerick and Killarney, include entrance fees to the Cliffs and the visitor centre. For accommodation nearby go to Travel Republic Ireland who have a range of hotels, suiting all budgets.
Admission to the Cliffs is €6 for adults, €4 for students and seniors and free for children under 16 years. Entry to O’Brien’s Tower is €2 for adults and €1 for children.