After winding our way through the Burren, it was time to start thinking about getting to Doolin. We drove north from Poulnabrone Dolmen up to Ballyvaughan, which is almost due west of Kinvarra (the town just 30 minutes south of Galway which we’d driven through initially). So, after 5+ hours of travel we’d essentially come as far north again as we’d gone south. The reason? A scenic drive, of course!
From Ballyvaughan we followed the coastline west and then southward, taking in beautiful seaside views. As official “make sure we don’t die” driver extraordinaire, Jason had to be careful not to goggle too much. These roads were very serpentine.
This was potentially the sketchiest drive we’ve been on yet, Connemara-with-a-bent-rim included. For some inexplicable reason, people along this route decided that parking in the road would be a great idea. This took two narrow lanes down to about one-ish (“ish” because side mirrors have this unfortunate tendency to jut out). For us, this meant being forced mostly into the right lane (along the water/cliff side of things), going straight into oncoming traffic.
This was fine for a while. We hadn’t encountered any cars heading for us. Plus, no big deal, right? We’d dealt with this all the time in Irish cities thus far, with cars parking halfway up on the sidewalk but still jutting out into the road.
Then, however, came the kicker: a good five or six cars all parked along the road right before a blind turn. Brilliant choice of parking location, guys. Really.
So, we did what we had to – took the bend. Right as a tour bus hurtled toward us, definitely taking up more than just one lane (by the way, who designs tour buses to be wider than the road?!) There was nowhere for the bus to go but straight – it had cliffs to its left and parked cars (alongside a sheer rock face) on the right. There was a tiny gap between the parked cars that Jason squeezed us into (go go Fiat Punto!)
In retrospect, the bus most likely would have been able to slow down and stop, but it still felt like the most harrowing part of the “driving in Ireland” experience yet. (“Most likely” also isn’t the most comforting statistic when talking about cliffs, ocean, and oversized tour buses traveling at speed.) This hasn’t cut into J’s enjoyment of the driving in the slightest (actually, it may have made it all the more fun and exciting for him. The things you learn about your spouse while on vacation – yeesh.)
Other than that, the drive from Ballyvaughan to Doolin was uneventful. We passed a few groups of young women trying to hitchhike, ostensibly into Doolin. They seemed nice (and harmless) enough, jumping up and down, smiling and waving, and generally being good-natured about the fact that they really didn’t want to walk uphill in the rain and biting wind.
At first, we were taken off guard. I guess we didn’t expect hitchhikers; these were the first we’d seen. We also didn’t really want to pick up anyone from a safety standpoint. However, since they were all female they sadly would very well have more reason to be concerned about their potential lifts than we would have reason to fear them. I started to have second thoughts as we passed more of them, but by the point of reconsideration we’d passed all but the last group.
Rather than ignore nearly all of them only to finally stop and let the last ones on (and still not entirely certain what our stances were on hitchhikers) we drove by, feeling more than a little guilty but also taking some comfort in the knowledge that they weren’t too far from town. I think we made the right choice; I just hope they got there safe and sound.
We checked into our new B&B – actually a restaurant in addition to offering accommodations, something we’ve seen a lot of here. While some places have the rooms directly above the restaurant, these were around the back. There was a separate staircase and exterior entrance from the restaurant, which was great. We had a lovely, large, quiet room, cushy bed, and pastoral views out the window: rolling hills and green fields, upon which cows munched, happily heedless of the rain.
As for Doolin, it’s a small fishing/farm village with a handful of pubs and about one street of main shops. In addition to being known for its excellent trad music (thanks to the famed O’Connor’s pub), it’s also a great jumping off point to the Aran Islands, Cliffs of Moher, Burren, and surrounding towns such as Lisdoonvarna. It’s about a 5 minute drive down to the docks where ferries depart for the islands or to see the cliffs from the water. If you want to see the cliffs from above, it’s about 10-15 minutes by car.
For us, however, it had already been a long day of driving. After 6 hours of travel (we took the winding, scenic route after all) we were ready for dinner. Thankfully, food was already handled. Anticipating that we’d be worn out, I’d opted for a deal which included one night’s dinner at the B&B’s restaurant. Lucky for us, both the accommodations and the restaurant are very well rated.
Before eating, we went out to meet the resident dog, an Irish setter mix named Beans. He was very sweet and mellow (he likes to lean against you while being petted). He is also, as one of our hosts described him, “the laziest dog ever made”. Despising any and all rainy weather, he will refuse to go outside unless kicked off the couch. He had just been kicked out when we went out to say hi, so we found him moping around outside.
We said our hellos and goodbyes, but as we approached the entrance to the sitting area outside the guestrooms, Beans bounded up the steps in front of us and somehow managed to open the door (we didn’t see how, and still can’t figure out how he did it) to take shelter from the dreaded outdoors. Try as we might, we couldn’t entice him to move from being totally flopped out on the carpet like some kind of dog pancake.
Attempts to coax him out were met with a friendly wagging tail and proffered fluffy dog belly for further scritching. Lazy and hopelessly cute. Of course, as soon as we were about to depart again for dinner, he bounded downstairs again as if it’s what he intended all along. I, for one, am not buying it.
Dinner was excellent: salad (cashews, sundried tomatoes, parmesan, and a buttermilk dressing), charcuterie plate with smoked duck and a horseradish slaw, perfect lamb chops, and salmon. The beautiful views out the window were an added bonus. It’s also worth noting that this is a husband-wife operation: they both cook, and she doubles as host for the restaurant and B&B. Very cool, and needless to say I was really impressed.
It seemed a pity to spend the evening in the room when (hopefully) good music and drink was to be had nearby. Our host said that while O’Connor’s was perhaps the “original” when it came to pub music in Doolin, that didn’t necessarily make it the best – instead, she recommended McDermott’s. This was fine by us: O’Connor’s was a bit more of a hike, while her recommendation was no more than a few minutes’ walk away.
Back to the room to figure out what we’d be doing with the rest of our evening. We had a while yet before music would start in the pubs (around 9:30 pm), and we were already pretty tired. It was tempting to just call it a night and remain cozily ensconced in the warm glow of the netbook. I wrote to pass the time, figuring we’d decide what to do as it got later. When it came down to it, Jason was in favor of staying in the room, but I thought we should go out, at least for a little while.
So, we forced ourselves out into the cold, pitch dark, trudging the relatively short distance to the pub and trying not to stumble on the dark gravel road. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t sure if I’d regret convincing Jason that we should go out when we could have stayed in the comfort of our room (a tempting thought in such discouraging weather). However, it ended up being great. McDermott’s was warm and cozily lit; a welcome respite after what had, thanks to the permeating chill of the rain, felt like a much longer walk than it really was.
Not too large of a pub to be overwhelming, but not so small as to be a crush of people, there was fantastic trad music already playing and the best hot whiskey I’ve ever had (I’ve tried two or three different pubs since then, and none have come close).
We stayed for a while until the tiredness (and whiskey) had really and truly set in; then it was back outside. The cold was even more of a shock the second time, but we were soon back at the room and tucked in for a sound night’s sleep.