An alternative to space travel?

Have a spare $200,000 lying around? Then space travel with Virgin Galactic might be for you. However, if you’re not in a position to join Tom Hanks in space, Ireland’s west coast is the perfect substitute

Take The Burren for example. A dramatic limestone landscape of greying rock, this Clare curiosity could easily be re-imagined as another planet. Rumour even has it that JJ Abrams is considering the area as a location for his upcoming Star Wars sequel.

It’s not just the rock that makes The Burren special. The area is home to a unique ecosystem of flora and fauna, with Arctic and Mediterranean plants co-existing together. From delicate red and purple fuchsia to the tough pink cranesbill, the diversity of plant life ensures the area is spectacularly colourful come late spring.

Expert

Mary Howard is an expert on The Burren and regularly gives walking tours to visitors. She notes that visitors are often surprised at what they find on exploring The Burren.

“This striking bare limestone pavement is not so bare at all,” Mary explains. “It is a living landscape, not only in terms of the array of wild flowers, but it is also a farmed landscape. Visitors find it fascinating to see cattle expertly negotiate the clints [blocks of limestone] and grykes [deep, narrow crevices] of the Burren.”

Indeed, the depths of The Burren can hold as much fascination as the surface. Adventurous visitors are free to explore the sprawling networks of deep caves or investigate the disappearing lakes (turloghs) sprinkled across the hard surface.

Ancient history

But the Burren is more than a nature reserve. Right here on Clare’s edge, is where you’ll find clues to some of Europe’s earliest civilizations. The Poulnabrone portal tomb alone clocks in at some 5,800 years old. This imposing rock structure is an ancient burial site predating the Egyptian pyramids and revealing some of the burial customs of pre-historic Ireland.

To describe the sense of actually being here, though, local Mary Howard is best placed:

“Whether I am up on Blackhead surrounded by layers of limestone and looking out across Galway bay or standing on top of Mullaghmore mountain in the Burren National Park, being held in the folded terraces of that spiritual place - it's all just so special for me. And to think, I get to call this home.”

Wild Atlantic Way

The Burren might seem isolated, but it is in fact part of a bigger picture: the Wild Atlantic Way. The longest defined coastal drive in the world the Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500 kilometre journey that takes in all of the rugged, wild west coast of Ireland. Along its way it covers a staggering nine counties, each with their rivals to the Burren’s star quality.

Bloody Foreland 

From the 100 ft prowlers (waves) for adrenaline junkies in Mullaghmore in Sligo to the hospitality of towns like Dingle and Waterville in County Kerry the Wild Atlantic Way is what we like to call epic. Completing the full drive is the goal, but really, even a modest stretch of the route will get your juices flowing.

Don’t believe us? Let the route’s 100 museums and attractions, 53 Blue Flag beaches, 39 churches, abbeys and monasteries and seven national and forest parks do the talking.

Space may be the final frontier, but it’s worth seeing earth first before seeking the stars.

The Burren and the Wild Atlantic Way is a good place to start.