We’ve been dodging in and out of the rain since we began walking the Wild Atlantic Way in County Clare four days ago. This morning, awakening to the steady patter of rain on the windows of the Wild Atlantic Lodge in Ballyvaughan, it feels like we’ve run out of dodges.
Did we really want to walk to Carran — or Carron? It is spelled both ways, often side by side, and nobody seems to really care. I asked. “Either way,” is the most common response.
One of the Burren walking guides calls this leg “extremely rewarding and scenic …”
Well, that is encouraging. Except it is dumping buckets outside.
But wait, there is more.
“… but is a long and strenuous 7 hours.”
Thanks, walking guide. I know by now that the Irish walking guides are full of wit and inside jokes, like “moderate climb,” “gentle hills,” “lightly challenging walk,” and “character-building steps.”
When somebody writes “long and strenuous” you sort of sit up and take notice.
From experience, we know that seven hours of walking translates to eight or nine for us. Add the pouring rain and a thorough drenching?
We discuss our options over toast, tea, orange juice, porridge, and coffee in the Wild Atlantic Lodge dining room.
The vote is two nays, zero ayes.
Time to find us a bus. Or call a cab.
Paul Haugh, the Wild Atlantic Lodge owner who has been like a wiser older brother since we checked in yesterday, suggests taking a cab. And promptly calls his pal, Tom Connolly, who says he can meet us out front in less than an hour. The cost will be 20 euros, which is about the price of two bus tickets on the Eireann local.
By the time Tom arrives, the rain has stopped.
Well, what’s done is done.
On the road, Tom delivers a brief but meaty lecture on the mysterious geology of porous Burren and its underground rivers, another on the way in which family farms are handed down from generation to generation, and a third on Irish home construction. He is a real joy and the kind of fellow we’ve been hoping to meet along the way.
We reach Carran center in startlingly quick time — the quirky and elastic dynamics of this hiking business: a driver does in 20 minutes what it will take a hiker seven hours to accomplish. I can’t even tell you anything about the terrain between Ballyvaughan and Carron. I barely noticed it.
I can tell you the best way to build a good house in weather-challenged western Ireland.
Another quirk: Google maps seems to always say we are 1 hour, 26 minutes away from our destination – no matter where we are and for how long we have been walking. That has become the standard answer to the question, “How much longer?”
One hour and 26 minutes. Always one hour and 26 minutes. A sure sign that time has taken on a new and curious dimension as we walk.
Tom quickly sizes up the situation. It is barely 10 a.m. and we have some time on our hands before checking into our B&B, Magouhy House. A lot more than one hour and 26 minutes.
“Tell you what,” he says, “if you walk down this road, the Perfumery is there and you can kill two hours easy. Afterward, you can walk back here to Cassidy’s Pub for a nice lunch, and the Michael Cusack Museum is on your way to the Magouhy place.”
A native son of Carran, Cusack, founded the Celtic Games Association. A very big thing in Ireland. At a time when Ireland was in search of a national identity, Cusack was instrumental in reviving distinctly Irish games such as hurling and Celtic football. He was a strong spokesman for reviving the Celtic language, too. And not surprisingly, behind it all: Irish independence. There is a great display of Cusack’s story inside Cassidy’s Pub. The museum, we just never found.
Tom offers to take our backpacks up to Magouhy House, as he is well-acquainted with our hosts for the night. He gets a resounding “Yes!” from us on that.
So Tom speeds off with the bags and we walk the two kilometers down a quiet country road to the Burren Perfumery.
As the name might suggest, the Perfumery is a charming cluster of stone cottages holding a tea house, soap works, perfume and lotion laboratory, herbal garden, and a store where it all comes together under a cloud of delicately intoxicating scents. Everything is handmade, on-site, in small batches.
The Burren Perfumery in Carran:
The escaped essence of perfumes, soaps, lotions, teas, and candles with names like Aran (grapefruit, lemon, kelp, cypress), Spring Harvest (mint, lemon balm, verbena, fennel, mint, cedarwood), Ilaun (wild orchid, honeysuckle, elderflower, hawthorn) are wafting through the room, conspiring with fresh bouquets of actual wildflowers.
The mad scientist in me wonders how much fun it would be to conjure up such scents and know that they will move out into the world where they perform their stealthy magic on friends, strangers, and lovers. For what else is a scent but a message to think kindly and lovingly of me?
Q: “What do you do for a living?”
A: “I create sensual illusions.”
The Perfumery’s specialty is scents inspired by the wildflowers that abound in the Burren. It may be mostly rock out there but it is far from barren. Even in their washrooms, the soap dispensers squirt out an unfathomably intoxicating scent of lavender and rosemary and nettle?
We walk about the herb and flower gardens of the Perfumery with a Massachusetts couple who have been caravan camping and bicycling around Ireland for three weeks and after one more will be doing the same in Scotland.
At the tea shop, beneath a painting of Frida Khalo, we have coffee and a slice of rhubarb meringue pie. Yes, insanely good. The whole glass cabinet filled with pies, cakes, and muffins looks delicious and the homemade soup and bread smell wonderful.
At other tables, well-dressed mothers and their young daughters linger over tea and scones, a ritual that I suspect is dear to many County Clare families.
We should have lingered and ordered lunch.
Cassidy’s Pub, it turns out, is closed until six tonight. Not a problem. We sit in their patio chairs for about an hour, sunning ourselves — Yes! Sun! — reading, and gazing out at the rugged and rounded mounds of The Burren.
Cassidy’s Pub, the center of the Carran universe, with a typewriter elegantly displayed amid Michael Cusack memorabilia, though no one knows of its purpose:
It seems remarkable how little “there” there is to Carran. No stores that we can see, one pub that is closed, a hostel that looks closed up, a school we could see with a few kids playing football out back, then walk two kilometers more to our B&B.
In a light drizzling rain.
Later, our host, known to us only through her e-mails so far, offers up her husband to drive us to Cassidy’s for dinner. For three euros. We pass. We’re still working on our mileage for the day and four kilometers for dinner feels just right.
The family-run Cassidy’s Pub and Restaurant, like so many places on the Burren, is caught in the twilight of Covid and the beginning of its first real season in two years. There is not yet enough business to justify full hours for lunch and dinner. Soon. Maybe in a month, they say.
The building is quite something – built for the British constabulary in the 1800s. The Irish drove them out and burned the building in 1920. It was rebuilt as a barracks for the Irish Garda Síochána (Keepers of Peace) until it closed in 1955.
The Cassidy family, having a pub and grocery nearby since 1797, bought the building and turned it into the pub-restaurant and inn that serves the town today.
“No. 1 of 1,” in Carron, says TripAdvisor.
Behind one bar, there is an interesting display of the old Garda weapons, uniforms, and gear that the family found while cleaning out the place.
The owner Michelle Cassidy had been very helpful to me in finding a place to stay in Carran when we were organizing the trip. I was hoping to meet her and say thank you in person but her two daughters are running the show tonight.
By the time we are leaving, the restaurant is full and the young women are at full speed. Our timing on meals is once again impeccable. We always seem just a table or two ahead of the rush.
Tomorrow, we head to Corofin, a six-hour hike, perhaps more for us. Who sets these times? Twenty-year-olds?
Our hostess, Julianne, has again offered up her husband to either shuttle our backpacks to our next B&B, Corofin Country House, or even shuttle us if the weather is again daunting. For a fee, of course. Julianne is an excellent businesswoman.
We’ll settle all that in the morning over tea, toast and jam, and some fresh fruit when we finally get to meet Julianne and settle our tab.
Tonight in this toasty classic Irish farmhouse, with the rain tapping against the dormer window, we are ready for a good night’s rest.
Ireland and The Burren Way Series: