Cycling along the Clare coast would take Karli the Australian cyclist from Quilty to Doolin on her first leg of the journey. Along the way, she would experience the differences in the Irish landscape. She would see cute cottages, huge cliffs, gloomy waves and deep caves. She would also experience the famous Irish hospitality in more ways than she had ever hoped. Here is the journal of her adventures.
The first challenge of this adventure was making sure that all of my gear would fit on my bike. I had opted to bring large impractical things like a foam roller and a sleeping bag because I find making good decisions burdensome. With significant help from my uncle, my bike was geared up and ready to go. I strapped on my helmet, donned my high visibility vest (to repel any potential love interests), feigned confidence and was on my way.
It was a cloudy and cold but otherwise nice day and I was already awestruck by my surroundings. Cute little beach side cottages, flowers of incredible colour variance and the biggest seagulls I had ever seen. I also became immediately aware of the stark difference in attitudes Irish drivers had toward cyclists compared to Australian drivers. I was not only being given a respectful distance but people were waving at me everywhere I went!
My auntie had accompanied me for the first 45kms which gave me a great opportunity to not get immediately lost. We arrived in this town called Lahinch. Famous for its surfing culture. As an Australian that cannot handle the cold, I struggle to comprehend temperatures of less than 25 degrees. On this particular day in Lahinch I was convinced we had entered another ice age. Irrespective of our perceived demise there were beach babes and hot blonde haired surfer dudes laughing and running toward the cold water, surfboards in hand. It was like an episode of home and away in grayscale.
We left the beautiful Lahinch and made our way to Doolin. My uncle met us at the cliffs where he wanted to show me the less tourist populated section of the cliffs near Moher Tower. Moher Tower is believed to have been a watch tower during the time Napolean was doing his thing. It is technically out of bounds but I accidentally overlooked the keep-out sign, stepped over the barricade and snapped a great shot from inside the tower.
We eventually rode on to Doolin where I was staying. I’d heard that Doolin was the traditional music capital of Ireland so I’d opted to stay there for a few days. Doolin is a beautiful, quiet little seaside town lined with brightly coloured houses. I decided to visit O’Connors pub on the first night as my uncle had excitedly identified the best spots for music in Doolin.
O’Connors was absolutely packed to the rafters. Right in the middle of the pub sat about five men and women holding various instruments. They were playing gorgeous upbeat instrumental tunes whilst smiling and engaging with one another. It felt less like a performance and more like an intimate musical gathering. At one point this man from the crowd stood up and without any instrumental backing began to sing ‘It’s a long way from Clare to here’ and then a hilarious song featuring a melting plastic Jesus figurine (I don’t even know). The amazing part was that everyone around knew all the words to every song. There was a real sense of community which I had never experienced in a pub back home.
That night I spent sharing music and talking politics with two lovely German girls on post-school holidays. I also had my first experience of pre-emptively stripping for a nice hot shower and jogging naked on the spot while the shower playfully jumps between burning hot and freezing cold temperatures.
The next day I had decided to return to the cliffs, as I had only visited the Moher Tower the previous day. From Doolin I hiked a spectacular and laboured 2.5 hours in the rain to reach the cliffs. I am a passionately ‘not-at-all-into-hiking/walking’ person but the scenery was gorgeous. To my right was a full view of the Atlantic Ocean and I had even spotted a seal floating in the waves! The walk is worth doing even without an intention to visit the cliffs. Having said that, the cliffs were incredible. I also found the visitor centre a great resource for information, food, souvenirs and triggering your claustrophobia whilst surrounded by what felt like the entire world’s population of tourists.
That night some fellow hostellers and I went to McGanns pub to enjoy another “trad sesh” – I had learnt this term and it made me feel cool to use it. The music was so beautiful. I was mesmerised and just a little intoxicated. My mind was adrift with images of all my Irish fantasies. The green rolling hills, the fairies, the Guinness, Colin Farrell. We stayed till close drinking, listening to the music and talking. A truly gorgeous night and a fantastic pint. For my final day in Doolin I joined a fellow hosteller to the Doolin Caves right by the town (a decent walk for any fellow ‘not-at-all-into-hiking/walking’ people).
Inside the Doolin Cave hangs the Great Stalictite, known to be the largest stalactite in the northern hemisphere. A tour guide explained to us that about 60 years ago these super adventurous blokes had wriggled their way through this tiny space about 400 metres before discovering the Great Stalactite. We descended the stairs, grabbed helmets and walked a short distance through the cave before reaching it. It was super big. Like crazy big. I don’t know how else to describe its mass.
On the way back to the hostel I gained my first of many many Irish kindness stories. The weather had turned and walking back to the hostel was a struggle. I decided that we were going to hitch hike back to the hostel. I thought back to the hitch-hiking tips I’d received from these two gorgeous German girls I’d spent time with in Glasgow (also on a post-school holiday). ‘Look desperate but happy and wave your hands heaps’, and so I did. I received many pity smiles and deliberate avoidance of eye contact (totally justifiable) before someone stopped. It was this Irish man in his thirties that picked us up kind of grudgingly. I had this odd sense that he felt it his duty to get us home even though he was not necessarily up for it.
When we had arrived back in town I was very hungry and so ran straight over to a local eatery. There I discovered a small sign that would become something of a theme for the rest of my journey ‘Cash Only’. The closest ATM was in the visitor centre near the cliffs (not a red hot chance in hell). I accepted defeat before the owner, a lovely gentleman, said ‘Will you post me the money if you remember?’. I laughed at this angel man thinking he was pulling my leg, but he was 100% serious. I responded that I would absolutely send the money (which was received 4 days later) and then sat down to a big, delicious meal consisting of fresh battered fish, chips and salad. I just couldn’t believe it. The generosity, the hospitality, the trust. I had never experienced anything like it back home.
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