It is the last day of The Burren Way and we are walking from Carran to Corofin through a rocky wonderland in a gentle misty rain.
You know it is going to be an interesting day when our B&B host Julianne’s directions include the phrase, “Turn right at the castle ruins.”
She also urges us to detour from the route to visit the triple ringfort of Cathair Chomáin, built on the edge of a cliff around the year 800 A.D. It was excavated in 1934 and 2003 but still holds much mystery about its origins.
Over coffee and toast – Julianne offers us a full Irish breakfast (part of the B&B fare) but I am thinking of the consequences of a full stomach and the six-plus hours of walking ahead – we learn some of the history of her cottage which has been in and out of her family since the 1800s. It is decorated in the comfy Irish style – family photos cover every wall and horizontal surface. Books cover what is left.
Day 5 begins in Carran, a wet start but a beautiful country road, with a right turn at the castle ruins:
The rain stalls and road calls, so we bid Julianne adieu. Her offer stands: call from anywhere on the road and her husband will ferry us or our bags to Corofin Country House for us. For a fee, of course.
The first part of the walk today is quiet and very wet country roads and we revel in the ancient trees, lush vegetation, and picturesque imploding stone houses and outbuildings covered in lichen and vines. We even take a right at the crumbled stone remnants of a castle.
The road is surprisingly wide for Ireland. It gently rises and falls and makes lazy curves around unseen obstacles, perhaps forts and stone houses long gone to ground. Both sides are densely wooded and everything is so lush and green. The air is especially crisp and pure this morning. Blue sky is fighting for its rightful place above Ireland.
We know this idyllic route will eventually yield to a Hobson’s choice — a busy boreen or an even busier and bigger road as we near Corofin. Not a great way to end a most-enchanting hike through The Burren.
But Irish magic arrives when you need it.
At a soft bend in the road, we meet Liz, a Burren National Park ranger. She is waiting beside her van for a group that she will escort to the Cathair Chomáin ringfort, the ancient fortification. The group is running a bit late.
We ask her about the fort and she says it is a good 20 minutes up the trail that begins behind her. She says it is interesting. I think of the many stone fortress ruins we have seen over the past two days and the six hours of walking still ahead.
The triple-ring stone fortress will have to wait for another day.
Liz understands. And she knows the road ahead.
“Just a little way down this road, you’ll see a sign that says ‘The Green Road.’ I really encourage you to take it. It is a lovely walk. You won’t be dodging cars. And you’ll come out on the other side of Inchiquin Lough. It takes you right through the national park.“
The aptly named Green Road takes us off the boreens and highways and into an Irish wonderland:
As I take in all that Liz is saying, she senses hesitancy on my part.
“And when you reach the other end of Green Road,” says Liz, “There is a large trailhead. You can pick up the park shuttle right into Corofin. It’s free.”
Sure enough, the aptly named Green Road is just a kilometer away and off to the left.
I am certain that if we hadn’t bumped into Ranger Liz, we might have walked on past and stuck to the busier and busier public road.
The Green Road is actually a grassy swath through fields, wilderness, and monumental rock structures. It is alternately lined with brambles, hedgerows, and low stone walls on both sides. Is “stonehedge rows” a thing?
We even meet other hikers, a rarity on this journey. The County Clare Nordic Hiking Club is out for a Saturday jaunt, sticks in hand, laughter on their lips. We have a rousing exchange of info and, like a wild data download, we get a quick briefing on the geology of the Burren, where to find decent coffee ahead, and where to eat dinner tonight in Corofin.
Some of the most stunning sights in five days of stunners. This trail rises gently through fields and forest, and at a crest in the hill, opens up to what we call an arroyo back in Mexico. Only this one looks like the Garden of Eden. There is Burren karst and monumental stones leaning upon one another, a steep rocky ridge, meadow grass and flowers, and twisted trees here and there.
After The Green Road, the Giant’s Playground, an iconic and stunning Burren hill and everywhere, karst:
It is a small wonderland and I am filled with gratitude that we took the unexpected turn in the trail. It again feels like we are walking through a chapter in Irish mythology. I see hunting bands of Celts from warring clans unleashing fiercely fanged pookas in battle on these grounds for supremacy over its rock and rich soil and maybe Dagda’s harp is the prize While fairies, safely hidden in the nearby woodlands, dance and laugh at the foolishness of men.
Rising out of this small valley we walk through ancient woodland. Peering into the darkened woods, I imagine curious trails of moss and heather between lichen-encrusted trees and rock piles that may have been small castles and lodges … if you squint very hard.
I want to spend the rest of my life getting lost in this enchanted land.
The Green Road indeed ends. The trailhead that Ranger Liz spoke of turns out to be a hub with many spokes. Trails stretch out in six different directions — through woods, beside rivers, across meadows and karst, up and around and over the Burren hills, and another that aims to the top of Giant’s Playground, one of the most iconic Burren hills. A trail for every kind of hiker.
Inside The Yellow Submarine pub, music hall, bakery, and restaurant in Corofin:
The Nordic Hikers encouraged us to tackle Giant’s Playground.
“It’s a foreboding Burren at first sight,” says their leader, “but it is a gentle uphill and the road curves around. Magnificent views from on top!”
The trailhead is popular. There are cars parked everywhere and barely a soul to be seen. This trail system in Burren National Park absorbs one heck of a lot of hikers. Given the crowded parking, the shuttle must be a popular alternative, too.
We see Giant’s Playground. It looks far away and indeed foreboding. Frankly, we’re burrened out.
As we discuss whether to take the shuttle or press on hiking along the public roads, Marie walks up.
She is one of the Nordic Hikers and we are standing right by her car. She’s leaving earlier than the rest to make a hair appointment in Ennis.
She offers us a ride into Corofin. “I’ll be passing right through on my way to Ennis,” she says brightly.
Before we know it we are sitting in the Yellow Submarine, a pub on Corofin’s main street. We are seated in front of a warm fire with a couple of half-size Irish breakfasts and coffee.
So many angels on the trail today.
Corofin and the River Fergus in County Clare:
After our late breakfast, I retire with my coffee to a leather overstuffed chair in front of the fireplace while Rose goes window shopping on the main thoroughfare. I check my mail between sips of coffee and nod off. I watch the locals drop in for a bite to eat, each greeted warmly by the staff. This hiking stuff could become a thing.
I had no great hopes for Corofin. Maybe because the name sounds like an antibiotic or cough medicine.
I am so wrong.
Let’s start with the fact that there is a crystal chandelier in our B&B bedroom. That’s different. But this is the end of the line for us for hiking in Ireland. After five days of walking in fierce winds and rain and some pretty challenging terrain — a chandelier seems a fitting end cap on our adventure. Turns out, we are in a house full of chandeliers.
Already, our bodies, stomachs, and spirits have been elevated by a hearty breakfast, strong coffee, a warm fire, leather overstuffed chairs, and the friendly crew at the Yellow Submarine pub.
Only access to a laundry service could improve this moment. Instead, we opt for the “bed” part of bed and breakfast, rest and relaxation.
Later we walk the one kilometer back into town, past impossibly well-manicured lawns, over the picture-book beautiful River Fergus, past classic and colorful rowhouses, and into the village center. For a town of fewer than 800 people, Corofin is uncommonly comfortable and well-maintained.
Last day of walking ends with food, drink, and music at Bofey Quinn:
For dinner, we take up the suggestion of our Nordic Hiking Club friends: Bofey Quinn restaurant on Main Street. We’re clearly early and have the pick of the dining room, settling into a nice bench table for two.
As we sip a pre-dinner drink, our waitress Molly comes over and politely asks us if we’d mind moving to another table.
“This is where the musicians will be playing,” she says.
Heck, yeah, we can move. Celtic music with my Guinness and stew? The night gets better and better.
Indeed, by 8:30 nearly a dozen musicians have assembled. We finish our lamb stew and fish medley and settle in for a Celtic craic of the finest sort. Such a night! Such musicianship.
Our waitress, the lovely young colleen Molly, says they’re often playing long after she leaves on Saturday nights.
Molly graduates high school in two weeks’ time. She is fluent in German and Japanese, and I’m going to assume Celtic. She loves to play rugby, too. We both played wing … only fifty apart. Molly will take a gap year before university in Germany and plans to travel to Costa Rica.
When Molly learns we were looking for a ride early Sunday morning to Ennis, (where we catch the bus to Dublin), she tells her boss. He makes a call. And we have a ride.
Corofin feels like a town full of Mollys.
And the craic is probably still going strong as we cross the narrow bridge over the River Fergus, repack our gear, and prepare to retire for the night.
Ireland and The Burren Way Series: