Day 5: Lahinch to Ballyvaughan (66.7km)
If you're an Irish reader you'll probably be a bit a fed up with my rather dismal attempts at humour with the word 'craic'. So look away. Because today was all about 'limestone craic' - actually 'cracks' between grey rocky fractured limestone plateau escarpments that characterised an unbelievably scenic day in the Burren. It proved a shorter day on my attempt to cycle the length of Ireland in 12 days along the West Ireland route known as the Mizmal. But absolutely the most scenic this far.
I'll explain. We left beautiful Killkee early morning as usual. Royal blue sky had broken out. The winds had ceased. From Killkee the road climbs to one of Irealnd's most scenic locations. Its easily indicated by the amount of tour buses giving you about 6 inches of breathing space when pedalling - although the traffic along the Mizmal is never an issue as there is so little of it. Although we did get stuck behind a pony and cart on Sunday leaving Killarney.
The Cliffs of Moher are giddyingly high - rising up to 200m above sea-level. Jane, a fellow cyclist from Belfast, said to me: 'Mark, you'd make more sense if you pronounced Moher without your English accent'. So just for Jane, I was wrong to pronounce them 'Mohair' and from now on they shall for ever be ... The Cliffs of 'Moor'. Always handy though to not sound like a tourist and I do sympathise with visitors who come to the UK and are heading to Towcester ('toaster') or Bicester ('bister').
I short ride thereafter after our entire group outrun a snarling Jack Russell who saw all 20 of us off and we're in the Burren. This is where the crack comes in although it was a craic just riding through this landscape. There. I'm doing it again.
320-340million years ago during the Carboniferous era the Burren's sediments were being lain down undersea in a lime-rich shelly environment. Subsequent uplift, glacial scarification, and water erosion has created a limestone pavement of blocks divided by deep cracks known as karst scenery. It's an international famous area for thermophyllic and calcium loving microflora and visually, after the green rolling fields, seems a strikingly stark almost lunar landscape. Yet its cracks are mini microclimates for all manner of vegetation. It's very much alive.
To get the full effect of the Burren Paul had added a loop inland. Technically unnecessary as the crow flies but a sensational 11% at times climb into the surrounding hills. Time stands still there in the interior of The Burren. Well-fed chestnut hued cattle dozed in lush pasture and at times the meadows surrounding the limestone pavement sparkled with harebells, scabious, ox-eye daisies and sea-thrift.
Whilst limestone streams, like the Cahar, rippled the soft quiet air with a gentle trickling like a water fountain; interspersed on occasion by the loopy calls of lapwings and curlews on the coast.
The final 10km into the pleasant little seaside town of Ballyvaughan is a
sensational coastal ride above the limestone pavement that looks down into the lime-green Atlantic shallows so transparent I can see the great kelp fields.
When I commented to the receptionist at the Hylands Burren Hotel upon arrival that it had been a glorious day's weather, he responded it's always like this in The Burren as they have their own microclimate. He also told me of a whisky bar and the imminent arrival of a new distillery.
I could end blathering on about how I'll be heading that way just for the craic. But I'll stop not wanting to further perpetrate that rather lame pun.