Day 10: Newton Castle, Aillwee Cave, the Burren, the Loop Walk
Saturday 25 Jun 2011 - Saturday 25 Jun 2011
Today was spent walking the area. I began by going up the road a little to the Burren College of Art and Design at Newton Castle to look around. Although the grounds were open, e buildings were closed and the current exhibition of student work was also. From what I could see, the facilities look nice, although it is much smaller than ECA and DJCAD. I believe that there is only a small number of students allowed, so this makes sense.
I wandered back down the road and turned up the A480 to head out to Aillwee Cave. Now, walking along a road in rural Ireland is an experience that is unlike anything most Americans are familiar with. First, the roads are uncommonly narrow, each lane being just barely the width of a car. Secondly, there are stone walls covered in brambles lining each side of the road, and finally, there is often no shoulder at all, and when there is it is less than a foot of grass between the bramble covered wall and the dotted yellow line marking the edge of the lane. Apparently drivers use some form of sixth sense to avoid hitting walkers (which is how pedestrians appear to be designated), while at the same time avoiding oncoming traffic. How they do it, I'm not certain.
The Aillwee Cave was discovered in 1944 by Jacko McCann's dog while chasing rabbits, but Jacko takes all the credit. He apparently kept it to himself for some thirty years, though, until he mentioned it to some cavers in the 70s. It was developed as a showcave in the 90s, apparently as a way to get people to pay money to see a hole in the ground. There is everything you'd expect to see at a showcave, snack bar, farm shop, pub, tearoom, gift shop and of course, birds of prey center. Although I did see some of the birds of prey, I did not actually visit the Birds of Prey Centre. I had already paid way too much to see the cave and did not feel like I could part with more.
The cave is....ah....cavernous. You walk through the tunnels and look at the bones of a bear (10,000 years old, possibly the last bear den in Ireland!), some limestone formations, stalactites and stalagmites, waterfalls and underground rivers. Interesting but it simply wasn't a long enough tour to be worth the price. You could however, make a day of it with kids, and they'd probably have a ball.
When I left Aillwee Cave, I joined the National Loop Walk and headed toward Ballyvaughan. The National Loop Walk are a series of circular routes in Ireland that have been planned out as scenic walks. This one is about 8k and cuts through Ballyvaughan. I followed the trail through the hills, past great deposits of limestone, by pastures until finally I was back in the village. From there, I went down to the docks where the jellyfish were playing by the pier. I imagine that a combination of plentiful food and easy currents caused them to hang around there, but it was odd to see a dozen jellyfish just casually floating alongside the pier.
From there I went to the Monk's Restaurant where I had their Seafood Platter. Crab claws, mussels, shrimp and crab meat served on a bed of smoked salmon, with a side salad. Yum! It was fresh, local and delicious. Alongside this feast, I had a pint of Guinness, with which I silently toasted my friends who are elsewhere.