What is the Wild Atlantic Way effect?
The Wild Atlantic Way can hush the hum of hectic modern living.
Rugged coastlines, changing tides, beautiful beaches where the pace of life is unique.
All just hours from your door.
Life today is getting faster and more complicated. From early morning to late at night, it’s a constant battle, juggling the demands of work, home and our social lives. We’re all busier than ever and sometimes the repetition of our daily routine can get dull and uninspiring.
The world is more connected than ever, we are always caught up with work and we are constantly making mental lists - even on holidays. We are the ‘always-on’ generation and sometimes it seems we can’t get away from it. This has left a disconnect: creating distance in our relationships with our families, friends and even with the Irish landscape. The environment we experience on a day to day basis has an enormous effect on us, on our sense of well-being and our sense happiness and contentment. There is a lot of repetition in our daily routines whether that comes to work or family life. We get stuck doing the same things day after day, we neglect the important things in life, things that make us happy.
There is another world on our doorstep – the Wild Atlantic Way, that makes a true difference. Where the western shore meets the full force of the Atlantic, there’s a landscape that is utterly unique and awe-inspiring, there’s a people who have learned to live in-sync with the ever-changing weather and effects of the ocean. Stretching all the way from the headlands of Donegal to the tip of southernmost Cork. Getting down to the rugged coast of the Wild Atlantic Way for even a night or two has a restorative effect on me. It’s like a resetting of my internal rhythm, I become calmer, quieter, more in tune with nature. Even breathing in the Atlantic air is like a tonic. Sometimes it takes just a few hours, sometimes a few days, but you notice your life slowing down, like listening to your heartbeat slow.
When you’re exposed to the elements and the full force of the Atlantic Ocean, you learn to take things as they come. There’s a quietness to be found when you’re out walking on the Wild Atlantic Way. You find it in the detail, the sound of the wind on the bog, the waves crashing on the shore or a gull on the wing. There’s a sublimity in the scale of the untamed beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way and it makes you feel like you’re alive.
Conversationally, everyone knows how reinvigorating and refreshing the Wild Atlantic Way can be but we decided to test it with the help of science. Throughout my stay on the Wild Atlantic Way, I wore a device to monitor my stress levels to finally prove that this special place is the best antidote to the structures and routine of modern living. The calming effect of the Wild Atlantic Way is well known and I set out to prove it. The real Wild Atlantic Way effect.
I drive from Dublin, through the undulating landscape of the Midlands, past Clonmacnoise and across the Shannon towards Galway city and beyond. There’s a certain point past Lough Corrib, just beyond Oughterard where the landscape dramatically changes. The Wild Atlantic Way hits you. It’s like the parting of stage curtains and all of a sudden, you’re in another world.
Connemara is just one part of the dynamic Bay Coast, taking in the imposing cliffs and sandy beaches of Mayo and Galway. On this short trip, I only had the chance to check out Galway but the Bay Coast has an almost magnetic quality, already mentally pulling me back to explore more as it stretches further north into Mayo. There is nowhere else like it, it’s utterly unique and while every section of the Wild Atlantic Way has its own charms, this part of Ireland has a global reputation.
The sky explodes with bilious clouds of every imaginable colour that send shadows racing across the flanks of boggy hillside with the Twelve Bens looming blue in the haze. And those walls, hand-built monuments to the generation of locals that eked out an existence in this beautiful part of the world. If you sit a while and be patient, the landscape will open up to you and tell you something, but you have to wait.
This is the soothing effect of the Wild Atlantic Way. It’s like balm for the body, the mind and the soul. You can look at endless images and videos, but there’s nothing quite like experiencing it for yourself. It’s a privilege to be so close to it and it is a resource we don’t use half enough.
When you arrive in Roundstone, you feel like you’ve landed on the set of a film. It feels like a secret place, despite the number of tourists passing through. The locals are as charming as you will find anywhere on the Wild Atlantic Way and there’s plenty of choice for places to eat. The harbour bustles with activity with fishing boats coming and going, the views are spectacular, looking back across toward the Twelve Bens.
A contender for the best beach in Ireland. Every time I visit Dog’s Bay, it takes my breath away. The white sand and turquoise sea wouldn’t look out of place in the Caribbean but the air and the wind are most definitely Atlantic. It’s a very Irish beach experience, you might meet another dog walker or a couple strolling hand in hand, you might dip your toes in the water or if you’re feeling brave, go all the way in, you might take a walk across the dunes to the equally beautiful sister strand at Gurteen Bay, but whatever you do, you’ll leave the beach with a smile on your face and sense of calm.
The Sky Road
One of the most beautiful coastal drives on the Wild Atlantic Way. This simple, 15km peninsula loop transports you onto the craggy folds of the Wild Atlantic Way in no time — with views ranging from Inishturk offshore to the Twelve Bens inland. The landscapes weaves under a vast sky and the Connemara weather means it never seems the same, no matter how many times you drive this route.
Take the boat from Cleggan to Inishbofin, just 35 minutes from the mainland and you’ll be transported to another time and place. Inishbofin has stayed the way it’s always been. Everything on the island is so pared back and raw, encouraging you to focus on what's really important. That’s the incredible charm of this stunning place, island life happens at its own pace. Out here, people are open to the whims of the Atlantic Ocean and it has made them as fleeting and brilliant as the sun bursting through the clouds.
The last ferry off the island is at 5pm and if you miss it, you are there for the night. The best way to get around is by bicycle, which you can hire easily on the island, but you can go on foot too. There are some excellent walking loops on the island that offer spectacular scenery. You can take a short stroll down past the east end to the beach with white sand stretching out and a view of the mainland. You can see the island on foot with Cultúr na nOileáin Walking Tours who pride themselves on showing you the beauty of Inishbofin and explaining her history without disturbing the unique ecosystem of the island. If exploring on two wheels is more your speed, you can rent a bike from Kings Bike Hire and discover Inisbofin for yourself.
The other side of the island offers some of the most spectacular cliffs and coastal scenery you’ll find on the Wild Atlantic Way, where you can see sea stacks and a blowhole. Walk through history on the famine road on the southwest of the island up to the western side exposed to the ocean. Join the sheep on the headland above the plunging cliffs and breathe in the Atlantic air, making sure to take your time to listen to the wind.
I knew in myself that I was feeling much more relaxed and refreshed, being at one with this exposed landscape but how exactly would my impression of my trip stack up when it comes to science? We put the transformative powers of the Wild Atlantic Way to the test.
What is the Wild Atlantic Way effect?
We all intuitively know that nature is good for us. As technology becomes more and more a part of our everyday lives, forcing distraction upon us, making it hard to concentrate as our jobs become increasingly demanding and ever-present, we need to remember the restorative powers of nature. Whether that is a 10 minute walk during the day, or a few days on the Wild Atlantic Way, there are very real cognitive, physical and mental benefits from being surrounded by nature.
Research conducted in Korea points to the powerful effect of nature on the brain. Observing the brain with MRI to monitor the brain activity of people looking at images of nature and images of urban landscape yielded different results. Those looking at urban images showed more blood flow to the part of the brain associated with fear and anxiety, while those looking at pictures of nature showed increased activity in the parts of the brain associated with empathy and altruism.
Ian Roberts, Professor of Neuropsychology at Trinity College, speaks of scientific evidence to support the benefits of exposure to a natural environment, such as the Wild Atlantic Way. He speculated that the rhythms of the waves could influence the rhythms of the human brain: "there is a music to the sea and that can produce a calming effect".
Professor Roberts put the soothing powers of the sea not only down to its rhythm but also its colour: "certain frequencies of light that change our brain rhythms can raise our cognitive function slightly." He added: "a certain wavelength of blue has been shown to have positive effects on brain function".
Can we measure the calming effect that the Wild Atlantic Way has on our brains?
I was interested in trying to actually measure the effect the Wild Atlantic Way would have on my brain’s activity during and after my visit compared to before. I obviously don’t have access to lab-quality equipment or MRI so the next best thing was a piece of consumer technology that’s available on the market –the Muse headband. Muse is a brain sensing headband that is designed to monitor and enhance a meditation experience by reading your brainwaves. The device syncs with an app on your phone where you can read the results.
The technology can sense your brain activity in much the same way that a heart rate monitor reads your heart beat. I decided to use Muse throughout my journey during normal tasks. It must also be stated that Muse readings are in no way admissible as scientific evidence, however the readings in my experience did yield some interesting results. Before leaving for the Wild Atlantic Way, I wore the Muse during what was one of my busiest and most stressful periods in my working week. My brain activity spent prolonged periods in the upper neutral zone, followed by shorter spells in the calm zone.
The biggest change can be seen on Sunday morning after just a day spent on the Wild Atlantic Way. After an early morning run beside the sea, I appear to be significantly more relaxed. My brain’s activity is in the calm zone more regularly and for longer periods and this pattern persists through breakfast and for the rest of the trip. A morning run is one of those luxuries I allow myself on the Wild Atlantic Way, it allows me to connect with the landscape and experience the space, the air and get close to the sea.
Lastly, the reading I took when I returned to work was the most interesting. I was very busy at the time, yet the Wild Atlantic Way effect can be seen clearly. While there seems to be a higher frequency of brainwaves, with more peaks and troughs, what strikes me is how the higher peaks are immediately followed by a time in the calm zone. It would seem the effect of being near the sea on the Wild Atlantic Way has on your brain activity is to give quicker recovery. You’ll continue to get stressed, but you’ll bounce back to a calmed state more quickly.
My experiment confirms what I already know - that the Wild Atlantic Way has a profound effect on my brain's activity and this continues even after I left and returned to my daily routine. There is a deep calmness to be found out there facing the Atlantic and it is one of this county's most astounding resources, right on our doorstep.
There is something so restorative and calming about exploring the wilds of the Atlantic Ocean, watching the waves crash onto the indented coastline, inhaling the fresh salty air into your lungs, allowing the golden sands to run through your fingers, hearing the call of the seagulls and lilt of the locals, tasting the native seafood plucked right from the Atlantic's bounty.
The sea breeze, the breathtaking scenery, the vibrant colour of the wild Atlantic Ocean have a meditative effect on your brain. The ebb and flow of your daily routine finds a stillness when facing the raw landscape of the Wild Atlantic Way.
Take time this summer to be consumed by the beauty of the Wild Atlantic Way. Why not share this special part of Ireland with your family and friends? Whether you are seeing it for the first time or you can't wait to get back to the Wild Atlantic Way, there is always something new and different to find along this remarkable coastline.
To start planning your trip along the Wild Atlantic Way, click here.