There are two ways to set out on any adventure:
- The way the Lonely Planet tells you
- The secret map hand-drawn for you by a local.
I mean really, is there even a choice?!
Laura and I were ready to tackle the famed Cliffs of Moher and Carl, the owner of the fantastically accommodating and friendly Aillie River Hostel in Doolin, Ireland, let us in on a little secret – as long as you don’t park your car on the main road leading to the Cliffs, they won’t ticket you and you don’t have to pay the €8 parking fee.
And to sweeten the deal, in addition to this parking tidbit, there’s a couple hour hiking path that hugs the cliffs and drop-offs that lead up to the main Cliffs of Moher from the tiny little town of Doolin.
The Cliffs of Moher are traditionally visited as a day-trip from Galway…but I loved the highly dangerous and cow-filled adventure of hiking to the Cliffs myself, and then jumping the fence and strolling in oh-so-casually.
Carl instructed us on a little road a couple of kilometers before the car park for the Cliffs of Moher visitor’s center and the Cliffs proper. I marooned my miniature European car (that wouldn’t even be road-worthy and legal in the US) on a grassy bank off the side of the road and set off to follow this lightly detailed map to the right.
Step One: Jump the gate
Both Scotland and Ireland are pretty tolerant to tourists (and locals for that matter) wandering through their sheep and cow pastures…but Laura and I felt a little weird jumping the fence since the owner was right there and just finishing up with his bull! He really didn’t mind though and even pointed out the easiest spot for jumping the fence.
Step Two: Parallel the fence to the very edge of the cliff
Once inside of the cow pasture…it’s pretty messy. We hiked along the fence, occasionally venturing away from the fence if it looked like the grass was less of a muddy, gooshy, sopping mess of churned grass and sludge…it never was.
At one point we spotted salvation on the other side of a pass-fence – it looked so dry and firm on that side. Well, let me tell you, the grass wasn’t greener on that side. After sinking ankle deep, we decided to make a messy break for it and sprint to the edge.
Step Three: Avoid the cows
One key problem with tromping through an active cow pasture – they are cows. The friendly farmer got a momentarily snippy as we carefully picked our way across his field while he was trying to heard his cattle through the fence.
Step Four: Tread very lightly and DON’T SLIP
The cow pasture adventure was all about the mud – and once we made it to the grassy, overgrown path that sits about three feet from a 500 foot drop, balance was all that was running through my mind.
The caution sign my deter less adventurous hikers, but Carl was adamant that we would get some of the best views of the Cliffs if we ignored the sign and just carefully made our way up the steep path.
Step Five: Enjoy the Spoils
By the time we got to the top of the grassy pasture Laura and I took a few minutes to merely sit in the near-silence, listen to the waves crash, and look into the distance at the rugged Cliffs of Moher.
The soft sounds of our feet on the grass was enough to disturb the birds resting under the Cliff face; every few minutes a startled flock of gleaming white birds flew out from below us and fanned out across the blue ocean, the sound of their frantic wings competing with the rushing waves slowly wearing at cliffs.
Step Six: Jump the fence and gloat
About two hours after leaving on this adventure hike to the Cliffs of Moher our little path abruptly ended at a wire fence intended to keep the paying tourists from heading off in the very direction we had just come from. There were certainly a few disgruntled looks as we dodged a glance around and then quickly catapulted over the fence, into the highly fenced and paved “tourist” sections of the Cliffs.
I’ve heard rumors that there’s a movement to have the Cliffs of Moher considered for the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World…I don’t think I will ever visit them again if that happens because, in all honestly, they are incredibly touristy already.
The sheer size of the Cliffs, contrasting with the vibrant green Irish country-side and the blue ocean is really amazingly pretty. There is no denying that the Cliffs are one of Ireland’s most prominent attractions and I’d go back all over again given the opportunity, buuuuut I would still take the adventurous path and let the tour busses stay on the paved roads ;-)