Exploring the trails in the Burren National Park
Irish Times, November 16, 2013
Words such as barren and bleak are used to describe the Burren so often, you could be fooled into believing them. Sure the region’s limestone plains can feel desolate, but on a bright day the Burren proliferates colour: silver rock, lime valleys, turquoise water. That’s before you add the summer orchids and wildflowers. And if you walk the Burren National Park you’ll see a rich mix of habitats – woodland, meadow, pavement, scrub, lake, fen. Early in November I cycled from Gort with the intention of climbing Mullaghmore, the hill that dominates the park. Then I got lost on the way and found myself pressed for time. The area’s web of boreens is gloriously bewildering. But if you see the Craggy Island parochial house you’re in the right vicinity – the house filmed for Father Ted is just down the road here.
When I arrived, I took the orange trail to Knockaunroe turlough. Virtually unique to Ireland, turloughs are lakes fed by groundwater during rainy periods, but they disappear in dry weather. I found a crevice where water seemed to bubble up from the limestone.
The word Burren comes from the Irish boireann, meaning a rocky place. The exposed limestone soaks up heat in summer and releases it in winter, making the growing season unusually long – one reason cattle are brought to the Burren uplands in winter.
Later I walked the nature trail through meadows, wood and limestone pavement. The hazel and ash woodlands may be stunted and fragmented but they are thick and lush, dripping with moss, ferns and lichen. The sun warmed my back, the trees blocked the wind, while bees and midges buzzed around: it could have been high summer if it wasn’t for the rusting bracken and yellowing hazel. I reached a slab of limestone and spotted fossilised corals in the rock. “Each fragment of the Burren is a mausoleum, each hill a necropolis of unthinkable dimensions, containing more dead organisms than there are humans who have ever lived,” Robert MacFarlane wrote in The Wild Places, his account of exploring the untamed landscapes of the UK and Ireland.
Mullaghmore was sometimes visible above the scrub. This hill doesn’t break 200m, but it offers one of Ireland’s most intoxicating vistas. Experienced walkers can tackle the looped trail that visits the summit. But even if you don’t aim for the top, you can still follow the markers as far as Lough Gealáin.
But I didn’t have time, so I followed the trail to the Knockaunroe turlough one more time under greying skies.
Start/finish: Mullaghmore/Gortlecka Crossroads. From Corofin, Co Clare take the R476 to Kilnaboy and turn right on to the L1112 before the ruined church. After about 4.5km you’ll reach a trailhead/car park before the crossroads. Suitability: The Orange Route (Knockaunroe Turlough) and Green Arrow Route (Nature Trail) are graded Moderate. Blue Route (Mullaghmore Loop) is graded Very Difficult, includes some light scrambling and enters remote uplands. Treat it as a full hill-walk with map, compass and full hiking gear needed. Time & distance: Orange Route -1.3km/30mins. Green Arrow Route - 1.5km/40mins. Blue Route - 7.5km/3hrs. Map: OSI Discovery Series maps 51& 52 cover the national park. Services: Corofin, Gort. No facilities at the park itself. Further info: burrennationalpark.ie/trails. The park visitor centre in Corofin opens in summer and runs free guided walks, talks and a bus service to the park.