Wednesday 26 June 2019

Walk from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher - it takes less than two hours

It's the mother of Irish cliff walks, says Pól Ó Conghaile, and you'll have whole sections of the coast to yourself

Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

It's the mother of all Irish cliff walks. So why hadn't I heard of it?

Before travelling to Clare a few weeks ago, I tweeted for tips. The Cliffs of Moher featured heavily... as I knew they would.

I was surprised, however, to learn that you don't have to park up and traipse across the road with hordes of tourists to encounter them.

Nope, there's a way to have a cut of this coastline to yourself.

The Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk stretches around 20km from Doolin to Liscannor, and has been developed together with local landowners who granted permission for walkers to cross their land. One of these, farmer and historian Pat Sweeney (doolincliffwalk.com), offers guided walks... if that's your cup of tea.

You can do shorter stretches - from the Cliffs to Hag's Head (5km), for example, or from Doolin to the Cliffs (8km), which is the walk we choose, setting out from Fisher Street.

On the coastal path... Photo: Carsten Krieger / Fáilte Ireland
On the coastal path... Photo: Carsten Krieger / Fáilte Ireland
Walking from Doolin to the Cliffs of Moher

A kilometre or so is all it takes to get to the first stile, to feel the gravel underfoot, and drink in the first vivid views of the Atlantic Ocean.

It's instantly immersive. Even from the relatively low heights at this stage, you can see the swell rolling in under the surface, rising into waves that thump thunderously off the rocks below. You start to taste salt on your lips.

Several times, I stop and stand in awe at the raw power, stretching in sheets of blue, white and green all the way to the Aran Islands... and beyond. The skies are blue, dabbed with skirting pillows of cloud, but I imagine it could be just as dramatic on grey days.

The Wild Atlantic Way isn't named for its gentle nature, after all.

The path is brilliantly waymarked throughout and, as it moves south, you start gaining height. If you fancy an easier hike, set out from the Cliffs - that direction is mostly downhill, with Doolin as the finishing line.

Smaller moments of magic punctuate the big sights. We spot a raven's nest under a rocky overhang, and wait for the adult bird to fly in with food for its chicks. There are the husks of ruined cottages and buildings in a steep field. We step across a stream on big, flat flagstones. Pretty clumps of pink sea thrift (or 'sea lollipops' as we used to call them) bop in the wind.

The cliff walk from Doolin. Photo: Fáilte Ireland
The cliff walk from Doolin. Photo: Fáilte Ireland

As the cliffs draw closer, the gradient gets harder, but the views pay off... and believe me, no matter how many photos you've seen, your jaw will drop.

At this stage, a safety note.

The draw towards the edge is weirdly hypnotic, and you'll find yourself instinctively scrambling for smartphones or cameras as you step forward, but it's essential that you don't get too close. Signs warn walkers not to leave the paths, there are no barriers or seaward fences, and people have lost their lives along this coast.

Sudden gusts of wind (which can change direction from onshore to off-shore without notice) or mis-steps could prove fatal. Even so, we pass people straying queasily close to the overhangs, some of them with phones held up in front of their faces.

You don't realise how close you are.

The final third of the walk brings the money shots. Sea stacks, punching from the ocean like sharks' fins. The 700-foot drops before O'Brien's Tower. The teeming ocean, with boats below bobbing like toys in a giant tub.

As we get closer to the Cliffs of Moher themselves, pods of people pop up more often. We return to civilisation. At one point, thousands of hair-bands are tied to a fence. Why? Mementos, maybe. But they litter the pristine landscape.

Finally, we reach O'Brien's Tower, the viewing points and visitor centre. Here, you can permit yourself a smug grin as you mix with the crowds, and head for a well-earned cuppa.

I hadn't heard of it a few weeks ago. I'm telling everyone now.

Need to know

Level: Moderate to difficult. Due to exposed cliff edges and potentially dramatic weather changes (including wind, rain and fog), this walk is not recommended for children under 12. Dogs are not allowed.

Distance: 8km. Allow two hours with photo stops. Plan your return - by bringing two cars and leaving one at each end, for example, or taking the shuttle bus between Doolin and the Cliffs (check times in advance; cliffsofmohercoastalwalk.ie).

A bite nearby: If you walk from Doolin, you can grab a cuppa and a bite at the visitor centre café. Going the opposite direction, stop into Gus O'Connor's pub or Hotel Doolin. The hotel made our Fab 50 list of the best places to stay in Ireland this year, and brews its own Dooliner ale.

More info: cliffsofmoher.ie; wildatlanticway.com.

NB: Your Walking Checklist

Safety comes first on a walk, no matter how easy. Check the weather, leave word of where you’re going and when you’ll be back, and pack smart.

A fully charged phone, water and snacks, layers of appropriate clothing and sturdy footwear are essential for these walks. Bring a bag for rubbish, and pop a pair of clean shoes and socks in the boot for afterwards. You can thank us later!

Responsible walkers always respect private property.

Here's a list of Ireland's 30 best spring walks.

Here are seven amazing walks for a little extra adventure.

See irishtrails.ie for more great walks.

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