The Cliffs of Moher and Mount Croagh Patrick added to the list of stunningly beautiful scenery that had been consuming me day after day in Ireland. Each being situated in a very small and quaint town, I’ve almost been turned off by the city life I enter in between tiny destinations (which is saying a lot coming from myself whom I’ve deemed a “city girl” time and time again). I just want to stay in the little towns forever these days. I think it has to do with my mental state. The environment I’m in matches the inner workings of my brain. Clear, free and peaceful.
Laurie, a woman from Montanna was my angel and traveling friend for my trip to The Cliffs and the town of Doolin. As I mentioned in my previous post, I met Laurie in Dingle beside the fire in that cute little living room. She had rented a car for her vacation and when she heard I would be taking four busses to reach the town just outside of the cliffs, she offered to give me a lift. After all, we were heading to the same place, staying in the same hostel and every solo traveler enjoys a little bit of company now and then after days of solitude. Still, every part of me was grateful for her generosity and I practically bowed at her feet for saving me the hassle of almost a full day of travel.
We drove and stopped along the way for almost six hours and never once did we run out of things to talk about. Laurie may have been old enough to be my mother but her age didn’t once dictate how I saw her. She acted like a friend. Her openness to get to know me and youthful spirit had me seeing her as someone who could have been twenty for all I knew. The two of us road through a few “ghost towns” as we called them since things seemed to completely shut down outside of tourist season and we even took a small back road to stop at a mysterious castle that I had to hop the stone wall to get a closer look at. She leant me the ingredients to make a PB and J sandwich on my lap in her car. That was pretty much the deal breaker. This lady was cool.
I had almost let the idea of seeing The Cliffs of Moher pass me by. I saw signs everywhere in Dublin, advertising day trips and deals to see these things. I didn’t see the big deal really. It just looked like a few cliffs and some water…the photos weren’t that breathtaking really. I thought to myself, “must be just another tourist trap…I think I’ll skip it.” After having seen them there, presenting themselves so proudly, I want to go back in time and shake myself silly. The Cliffs of Moher almost became a seventh wonder of the world. I’m not sure who the idiots are that grant that sort of prestigious status but they must have been having an off day because this true wonder didn’t make it. That’s okay, they’ll be an honorary eighth in my mind forever. Because we didn’t arrive inside a huge, honk’n tour bus, Laurie and I were able to walk a trail that took us right over the cliffs and through a less traveled walking path. I was so thankful for this because it helped make the experience my own without the distraction of clicking camera’s and chatty kids. Wow, don’t I sound like an old lady. It’s true though that this is something you need to experience with a completely open space and a clear head. The only camera I wanted to hear clicking was my own.
We walked all the way to a place titled “Hags Head” and couldn’t for the life of us figure out why. Anyway, the castle that sat as our destination stood perfectly on the edge of the cliff in all its beautiful loneliness. We passed by sheep and cows in the fields and I fell on my butt in the mud one too many times because I was stupid enough to wear Berkinstocks when I had a perfectly good pair of hiking shoes in the back of the car. Lesson learned. There was this one moment where we passed by two elegant, white horses. They rested there silently chewing on grass. I was mesmerized by their presence. Horses have played some magical role in my journey. I always encounter a few in each country and feel so in tune with them, like they have secrets to share or wisdom to give. Through the rain and the wind, I walked along this beautiful path and looked behind me every second to admire my surroundings.
The two of us left feeling happy and accomplished. Just down the road stood the little hostel we were to call home for the night. It couldn’t have looked more picturesque amidst the open land, rushing creek and tiny little flowers. After the cold day, a warm fire was exactly what I needed in a place like this. Doolin is a town that is alive for three things. Accommodation, music and drinking. It’s probably the tiniest town I’ve been in so far since you could walk from one end to the next in five minutes. Laurie and I spent the night in two very cozy and traditional pubs. I’ve heard recently this town is also very famous for its music and I would never question it. Particularly the second bar we went to had two men playing the uilleann pipes and a banjo. They put on an incredible show like it was nothing and you could tell they really loved and felt passionate about what they were doing. I’ll never tire of that sense of comfort I feel when I sit in a toasty pub surrounded by singing strangers and flowing beer. It takes you away to a place where everyone is accepting, equal and happy and you can’t help but feel the same every moment you’re there. It was a great wrap up to another unexpected change of plans and a perfect day.
I took a bus to Galway the next morning so my time in Doolin was short. When I awoke, the world had blessed me with another beautiful morning. The sun was shining and the sky was nearly crystal blue. The weather in Ireland had been listening to me consistently since I arrived. When I needed a gorgeous day, my wish would be granted. I had heard there was a pier at the edge of town with yet another lingering Dolphin named Dusty. With only a few hours until my departure to Galway, I decided to take the walk there. The stroll through the back roads was lovely enough. I passed by some more beautiful horses who I stopped to pet and feed and admire. There were rushing waterfalls flowing into the sea and in the distance sat the rocky pier, glistening in the sunlight. Without a second thought, I climbed over rock after rock until I reached the nearest point to the shoreline. I was surrounded by stones of all shapes and shades and the sun continued to beam. The waves in front of me rushed and crashed then simmered down before the ocean sucked them back in. It was there that I decided to meditate. I hadn’t really focused on it seriously since Nicola and I attempted to practice it every evening. I didn’t have an audio guide but practiced a type of yoga I had read about where the yogi sits, smiles and does nothing else. I worked it into the techniques I had learned a month ago. I sat with my legs crossed, my eyes closed lightly and my fingers forming an O shape on my knees. I took breaths as deep as I could breathe and I focused on every single sound that entered my ears. First it was the obvious sound of the waves and the way they settled so beautifully before crashing rapidly against the rocks once again. Then it was a flock of birds playing in the sand. I took note of every animal call, every word spoken by a passerby and I even concentrated deeply on the sounds of the construction to my left which contrasted so drastically with the environment I was in. I wasn’t angry with it. It had become a part of where I was in that moment and helped keep my senses alive. Before I knew it, I had been absolutely present for close to ten minutes. A record breaking feat. I opened my eyes slowly when I felt I had reached what I needed for that day. Nothing in the world could beat the relaxation I felt perched on that small rock by the sea. I spent time taking in the senses and sounds with my eyes open this time and watched every move so acutely. I took one final look for the dolphin who didn’t want to show herself that day and took the walk back to my hostel, practically floating on air. It is my goal to experience every sight with just a small amount of mediation from now on. There’s really nothing like it.
I’ll come back to my time in Galway soon enough because it gave me some pretty magical memories. I only spent one full day there because I was anxious to head to Westport and climb Mount Croagh Patrick. This Pilgrimage is climbed by many each year and only takes about three hours to complete round trip. I was itching to walk again, believe it or not, and this hike had me missing the Camino the whole way up. I stayed in a beautiful bed and breakfast right at the foot of the mountain the night prior. I decided to splurge a little bit since I wanted to be as close to the mountain as possible and for just one night I wanted my own bathroom. After far too many connections on the bus, I made it to the adorable home of Linda where I would be spending the night. I looked down at my watch. It was already close to 6pm. The climb would have to wait until the early morning. I happened to be the only one booked in that night so I felt like I was just spending the evening at a friends house. It was so beautifully decorated. Linda made me a cup of tea the second I walked in and showed me to my room. I think I let out a little gasp as I walked inside because the size of that bed screamed luxury and my bathroom was bigger than most of the rooms I’ve slept in over the past little while. Everything had such a personal touch in this house and she really cared about making sure people felt welcomed. We ended up talking in her kitchen for a while about travel and her dream to walk the Camino one day. The little town just outside of Westport that holds the mountain is just far enough away that nothing is within walking distance. I was ready to accept a quiet night in and an early bedtime until I heard a knock at my door. Linda was heading into town to watch her son in a boxing match and wondered if I wanted a drive to the city so I could explore and get something to eat. I jumped at the offer, suddenly not quite as tired as I was before. As we entered the town, she pointed me in the direction of a quaint Italian restaurant run by a man named Innis and we planned to meet at a famous bar called Matt Malloy’s around 10pm.
This restaurant couldn’t have been more perfect. It was made for me. I was alone and one hundred per cent okay with that. I don’t think I would have wanted to be with anyone else in that moment. Twinkle lights sparkled in all places, candles were lit on each table and I sat in a little booth covered in silk, cushiony pillows. Innis was quite the character. He is a tall, bald, very fit and very gay Italian man that will win the award in my mind for the best waiter in the world for an eternity. I think I had an out of body experience with my food for a solid two hours. I enjoyed every bite like it was my last.
Matt Malloy’s followed where I was able to sit by the fire (man I love the Irish) and listen to two men on an accordion and a mandolin. A group of at least ten friends were traveling together and took up most of this back room. The musicians let everybody know that they were welcoming singers to their corner to accompany the next few songs. One woman pointed frantically at her husband yelling, “he can sing! He can sing!” and at first this man looked less than pleased. He ended up laughing it off and joining them for a few classics. As soon as he opened his mouth I started to smile. His voice was beautiful and pure with a bit of an Irish twang as he sailed from one note to the next. He absolutely stole the show and I was so disappointed when he returned to his seat (looking proud and happy to be in his element). I enjoyed a few pints listening to this while I waited for Linda to arrive. Unfortunately she was eager to leave pretty quickly but I thanked her multiple times for taking me out so I could experience all of that in just a few short hours. It beat staying in, even with that damn beautiful bathroom.
I was up early the next morning and was ready as I could be to begin the climb. I was greeted in the morning by a smiling face and a full Irish breakfast which had me even more prepared to take anything on. The weather had once again cooperated and given me one of the best mornings I could ask for. The wet ground was just beginning to dry from last nights rainfall and the air was crisp, the sky clear. Linda even leant me a small backpack to use and left me the house key which continued to put her in my good books. What an amazing woman. It was 8:30 by the time I stepped out and made my way to the start but there wasn’t a soul in sight taking the trek with me. I was oddly okay with this. I felt like I had the whole mountain to myself.
The first few steps were a bit of a shock. I was honestly planning to walk this thing like it was a casual morning stroll. I had a train to catch heading North at noon and I figured I would be back with plenty of time to spare. A three hour hike? Not a problem! Nothing like 500 miles (I promise I won’t play that card too many times). I was surprised to find that there wasn’t much of a path heading uphill. I was forced to become a temporary mountain climber, jumping over trickling streams and climbing (using both hands and feet) over a rocky terrain. It proved to be quite the adventure. There were sheep just roaming about on these hills, nothing there to fence them in. Might I add again that it was just me? I was alone with this beautiful piece of nature. It was just me and Croagh Patrick, alone, spending a Friday morning together. Every time I turned around, the town below became further and further away creating a stunning picture and I stopped several times to breath in that clear air and admire everything around me in my solitude. The only sound I could hear was my own voice, traveling in the breeze as I sang every song about dreams I could think of.
I was hesitant to continue climbing when I reached what I thought was the top of the mountain. Cranking my head upwards, the rest of the climb seemed extremely unsafe and instead of a small path here and there, I couldn’t see one at all. An entire hill full of sharp and jagged rocks stood before me. Maybe this was the end and I had no idea of knowing. Suddenly, I spotted the one and only person I had seen so far in the distance. When he came to meet me, I could tell he was an experienced climber. He assured me that it was entirely safe to keep going and “no, there wouldn’t be any rockslides.” So I walked the last 25 minutes which tested my strength and endurance to its fullest. A cruel, cruel mistress it was. Like almost everything else I’ve been through, the hard work lead me to the light at the end of the tunnel. Although it was very foggy way up there, it had me feeling serene. A small church sat at the peak but I took my seat on yet another small rock in the very centre of it all. I decided to forget about my scheduled train. I was already cutting it close at that point and I didn’t want to rush these moments. They were meant to be savoured.
What seemed like hours later, I headed back down. I remembered very quickly the lyrics of a Tom Petty song I saw scrawled on a sign heading down a Camino hill.
“I’m learning to fly but I ain’t got wings, coming down is the hardest thing”
And how true that is, Mr. Petty. But all that didn’t seem to bother me. I ended up running into several lovely faces on the way down. I guess none of them were morning risers. One man and I talked about Machu Picchu which I plan to climb on my 30th birthday and he had walked a week on the Camino a few years back. He insisted we take a photo before parting. It was adorable.
See, look at all you can do before noon! Slap me silly if I ever sleep past 7am ever again.
There are too many mountains to climb.