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The cliffs were majestic - pity about the carpark!

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The Cliffs of Moher

The Cliffs of Moher

Getty Images/iStockphoto

The Cliffs of Moher

There are so many wonderful places in Ireland to visit that I feel time may be running out if I am to get to them all before I die.

The great advantage of taking short breaks in our own country is the ease with which we can now travel. Our roads are superb compared to even 20 years ago and the standard of food and accommodation has improved immeasurably. Despite having been in the Burren many times in the past until recently I had never gone to see the mighty cliffs of Moher.

When I arrived at the now huge visitor's car park, an icy wind with flurries of hail and rain blew in from the Atlantic.

This was not an auspicious beginning. The vast area of tarmacadam, necessary to accommodate the millions of tourists this site has attracted could surely have been made more inviting.

Overall, the place looked bleak and forbidding and in need of some further investment to upgrade the awful bunker-type buildings where admission money was collected and visitors allowed in.

Even small wooden huts would have been an improvement and seeing that over €30m has already been lavished on the place, a little more, if judiciously spent, could have made a big difference.

The astonishing thing was that on a bitterly cold and wild morning towards the end of February, there must have been more than a thousand people wandering along the cliffs or sheltering in the interpretive centre.

Leaving my car, I battled against the wind to reach the shelter of the buildings and, crossing the road, passed four shops set in to the hillside.

These again seemed inappropriate in their setting and, to my mind, detract from what is a world renowned site of natural wonder. There were even more shops in the centre itself.

Surely enough money is earned by charging an admission fee without selling stuff like T shirts with shamrocks and Leprechaun key rings and all the other 'Oirish' junk that so demeans our national image.

Things improved greatly, however, when I finally reached the interpretive centre itself which is built imaginatively within the hillside. It blends into the landscape and once inside you can see how the whole upgrade of the site could have cost millions.

Wandering around the impressive interior, visitors are given an excellent overview of the cliffs and their natural history.

There are also two cafes and the upstairs one allows great views across the tops of the cliffs where one can sit and relax, watching the hordes of people of all ages climbing up the paths to fully take in the view.

It was like the tower of Babel listening to all the different nationalities chatting and exclaiming their surprise and awe at the sheer spectacle of the cliffs themselves.

Japanese tourists were everywhere, taking photos at any opportunity. The huge numbers and mix of nations present is ample proof of the success of our The Wild Atlantic Way tourist route.

Things got even better when I finally reached the edge of the cliffs themselves near the viewing point of St Johns Tower. Having brought my binoculars I was able to focus in on the seabirds perched on the cliff face or soaring in the high winds.

The waves below crashed spectacularly against the shore, but it took a while to properly appreciate the extraordinary height and get a sense of perspective.

Starting at the cliff top and focusing in on the tiny specks which were the people walking along the paths - and then moving the lens down the cliff face slowly to the sea below - I gradually realised how high these cliffs really are.

Later on during the summer I intend to return and take a boat trip as I was told that it is only from the sea that you really get a grasp of how awesome the Moher landscape really is.

By this time I was frozen by that icy wind that could cut through the warmest of clothing and was looking forward to returning to a blazing turf fire in another of Ireland's great places to visit, the cosy lounge at Gregans Castle Hotel.

As I left, further cars and busloads of tourists were arriving. What the crowds must be like in August doesn't bear thinking about but then it's a great earner for Clare Co Council. Maybe they will soon do something about the car park.

 jbarry@independent.ie

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