When you arrive in Doolin, there is one thing you will not be able to ignore: the wind. On the western coast of Ireland, “windy” isn’t a mere adjective used to describe the weather or that helps you fly a kite. In this part of the world the wind is most definitely a noun, and a noun with an opinion and a presence that rarely takes a backseat. The Wind is everywhere. From the ribbons of field grass cutting across the hillside to the dramatic cliffs that dive into an angry sea, where foam collects then scatters with the surge; it is as if the landscape itself were created with the sole purpose of exposing the power and tenacity of the wind.
Now imagine you’re driving through this seaside village in a tiny rental car, stick shift, naturally, on the LEFT side of the road. You’ll later learn that traditional Irish music enthusiasts from all around Europe are huddled in nearby pubs, and that just down the coast lie the striking Cliffs of Moher. But for now your focus lies just a few feet in front of your car, as it bounces along between cow pasture and stacked-stone walls. You veer to the right then begin a steep incline, following directions you hope will bring you to your Bed and Breakfast. That’s when you notice the castle. A simple tower overlooking the valley below, taking a beating from the pummeling rain like it has for ages. As you approach at your slow, trying-to-see-between-the-wiper-blades pace, you notice a peculiar sight: bright yellow ponchos, pulled taught and billowing like inflatable Christmas yard statues atop a roadside fence. Rick Steves, the famous travel writer, is known well in this region for sending tourists on long walking tours and hikes. No doubt this is what we witnessed that day: a couple of past-middle-aged travel enthusiasts determined to complete the three mile hike along the cliffs and see the Doonagore Castle, even if it meant scaling a thin fence on the side of a windy road, taking turns holding on to each other to keep from blowing off the island like a kite.
That’s what I didn’t realize before visiting Ireland: you have to work to enjoy the scenery. You must fight the wind, and work to keep your feet rooted on the ground. We had our own adventure a couple days later as we hiked along the Cliffs of Moher. We started south in a Sports Field parking lot recommended to us by our B&B host, then started hiking through cow pastures, north towards Hag’s Head. Once you reach the tower, the next three miles scale the edge of the Cliffs, providing both spectacular and terrifying views, in equal measures. Luckily there were two path options for most of the way, one a little too close to the edge for my liking, and the other tucked inside behind a little stone wall. It seemed the outer path was the more popular, but with baby on back, slick grass underfoot, and unpredictable gusts of wind from every direction, we opted for the safer route.
Next time we’ll remember to bring our unicycle.
It is pretty safe to say that our hike along the Cliffs of Moher gave me a new appreciation for the word “windy.” I remember once in gradeschool when a big gust of wind came along while we played hop scotch at recess and what a thrill it was to discover I could lean my entire body weight into the wind and not fall over. Well, this was windier. Exhibit A:
And that’s the story of how Henry got his first wind burn!
When we arrived in Doolin, Ireland it was August. Despite the calendar pointing to the height of summer, the weather had us adding layers for warmth and seeking out wool shops for hats and mittens. The good news is that the fall-like weather has a way of stirring up certain food cravings that happen to be a specialty in this perpetually chilly country. Namely, stew. If you had asked me a week prior while traipsing the streets of Brooklyn with baby on back and sweat trickling down the space between us (I realize this isn’t a pleasant scene – it wasn’t!), how would I feel about a bowl of split pea soup? I would have said no thank you, and continued eating my ice cream.
For as much as the elements in Ireland want to keep you from visiting and staying a while, the people wish you to stay, enjoy an extra cup of tea and another biscuit, ey? I suspect these cheerful souls were put on the fierce western coast of Europe to expose the warmth and generosity of humans. If you stop and observe them for a while you will discover that their warmth radiates right off them, to the point where they don’t even have to wear wet suits to swim at Inch Beach on the “sunny” days (read: 60 and partly cloudy, chance of drizzle). No but really, these people are so kind and welcoming. Let me give you a few examples:
A bartender at the Roadside Tavern in the Burren (a region known for it’s barren moon-like landscape) visited our table and invited Henry behind the bar for a photo opp, “so that he’ll have a reason to come back someday.”
The waitress in a candlelight seaside restaurant in Dingle (a town on a peninsula at the western-most point of Europe) brought our food as well as an offer to watch our child “so you can enjoy your meal.” Henry sat on her hip and peeked in the kitchen while we savored our (expensive!) dishes.
And a delightful sheep farmer’s granddaughter directed us through their pasture for a view of the Ring of Kerry from atop their hill [Eask Tower], with the simple request that we “just say hello to Lucy, the sheep.” “Which one is Lucy?” asked Evan. “Oh, it doesn’t really matter, they’ll pass the message along to her,” she said.
You see, in Ireland, even the animals are friendly. Dogs from nearby farms join you for hikes, and cows and sheep – who no doubt have the prime real estate – share their views. And the farmers themselves? They leave out a hose and shoe scraper so you can clean your shoes after traipsing about their property before hopping back in your car.
For people who are always combating the wind and the elements, they are surprisingly resilient. They’ve learned to embrace the day before them despite the wicked elements, have some stew and go about their business. “Ey, it’s a dreary day,” exclaimed a cheerful sheep herder as he passed by on his four-wheeler, sheep dogs in tow. “It’s Ireland!”
top and bottom: Sunset at the Cliffs of Moher; middle: the western-most point of Europe