Cliffs Of Moher
For the first time in my life, I wished I was heavier, or that I had at least finished every bite of my beef stew dinner last night. The weather forecast had warned of gale, but that hadn’t stopped me, or my fellow travellers, from embarking on our autumn hike along Doolin’s sea cliffs with local farmer and guide, Pat Sweeney. In the distance, about eight kilometres or a three-hour climb away, was our destination — Ireland’s famed Cliffs of Moher.
Set in Ireland’s enigmatic west coast and part of the Wild Atlantic Way, the Cliffs of Moher is no doubt one of the country’s most spectacular sights. Moody, atmospheric and downright breathtaking, the cliffs rise dramatically out of the crashing waves, and have been the backdrop of many movies including Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.
Most tourists choose to take a bus up the winding road to the visitors’ centre, and as another gust of wind threatened to blow me off the cliff, I was starting to think that they obviously had a lot more foresight.
“But look at the view! This is something only you can experience,” Pat called out, as if sensing my unspoken regret. A jolly man with ruddy, windblown cheeks, Pat is a Doolin farmer who grew up on the very cliffs he was guiding us on. When the town suffered during the recession, he dreamed up the idea of this cliffside walk to boost walking tourism, negotiating with 39 farmers to secure access to the lands the trail runs across.
As much as I hated to admit it, he was right. Every time I tore my eyes away from the narrow path in front of me, I couldn’t help but pause in wonderment at the stirring sight of age-old cliffs and crashing waves on my right, at least until the next gust of wind hurried me along. Even with my thick parka weighing me down, I felt vulnerable and utterly at the mercy of Mother Nature — a feeling that incited both fear and anticipation. Tromping through these lands offered more than unparalleled views of the cliffs; it also gave a taste of what it feels like to be at one with the temperamental elements.
When we reached the final hour of the climb, the terrain grew increasingly challenging. Pat revealed that they have yet to complete building the gravel path for the remains 20 percent of the walk and informed us that we would be hiking across unpaved roads. “If you feel like you’re about to get blown off the cliff, squat down,” he suggests. “And don’t be afraid to hold hands and make friends!” he adds, raising his voice over the growing winds. We snickered, but that was exactly what we did a moment later, strangers bonded by a common desire to stay on solid ground. I noticed too that we purposefully averted our gaze from the signposts that warned of falling off the cliffs.
When we finally won the battle against the winds, our arrival at the visitors’ centre was comparatively anti-climatic — no view from safe ground can compare to the thrilling experience of clambering our way up the cliffs, along with the memories of a lifetime that come with it.