Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Through the Burren to Clifden

This is the fourth installment in the Ireland Series about studying abroad in Galway, Ireland. Read Part I here.

THERE’S NOTHING like hitching a bus ride through the Burren for a spur-of-the-moment weekend getaway and checking out small-town Clifden, which just happens to be throwing an arts festival. This sleepy village is about an hour to the northwest of Galway along the coast. After absorbing the natural limestone beauty of the Burren countryside, a group of us hopped off in Clifden to stay a couple nights.

We booked a room at the Clifden Town Hostel directly on Market Street, at which the six of us had our own private room. The hostel staff set us up with maps to nearby attractions, such as the Errislannan Riding Centre & Connemara Pony Stud, as well as Clifden Castle.

Pony Riding

Most people would scoff at riding a pony, but I assure you: they are as spirited as their bigger brethren. My parents enrolled me in a horseback riding camp when I was little, and I remember being upset because everyone else in the class got a horse except for me—I got a fat white pony. However, when they had the end-of-camp races, my little pony broke into a gallop the moment a tall mare tried to pass her. Yeah, I wasn’t really in charge of the horse.

 However, I’ve always sought out horseback riding opportunities whenever I can, and this was a no-brainer. The Errislannan Manor Riding Centre offers horseback rides along the rugged emerald coastal cliffs of Clifden Bay, which then dip down to a trek across the sand. The more comfortable riders could even take their steed for a dip in the ocean—an ultimate dream of mine! The stables had beautiful grey-duns, white and flea-bitten grey mares, and chestnut geldings, Connemara ponies all who looked right at home along the mist-shrouded green coast.  

My horse was named Barnaby, a big brown bloke with a white mark on his forehead. He mostly ambled along and followed the pony ahead of him; this trail was nothing new to him. Several times I had to scold him for stopping to eat saplings, but he was a good reliable horse. When we got to the beach and the guide let the experienced riders gallop, Barnaby showed off his stuff with an exhilarating canter across the damp sand. Then came the ride through the ocean with the surf curling up around his knees—fun! We meandered our way back to the stables, the ride taking around 3 hours for 70 euros.

Clifden Castle

This old manor ruin is hidden deep in the countryside to the west of Clifden, overlooking Clifden Bay. This was before Smartphones so it took us a while to find it! We ended up going on a little adventure of our own, through pastures where sheep and horses grazed, over and under barbed wire fences. Several times we feared we were trespassing; other times we were ambushed by a herd of beautiful gray mares and colts who assumed we were bringing them dinner.

The sky darkened late afternoon. We were getting worried about finding the castle, when one of us spotted a dilapidated courtyard. We followed it around to behold an ivy-clad fortress spearing the mists. All of us took shelter inside the ruins just in time; the skies opened up and rain came pelting down. We explored the castle until the showers passed and then took a nice leisurely stroll back to Clifden for dinner—this time along the designated path.

Clifden Arts Festival

Our last night in Clifden took us by surprise, as festivities commenced for Ireland’s longest running community arts festival. And boy, did they! The 10-day festival launched off with artistic showcases, street performers, parades, and musical sets in the pubs, topped off by a surprising fireworks display. This country town hosts a number of festivals throughout the year, such as the Arts Festival in September and the Traditional Music Festival in April. As I watched the fireworks cascade overhead while enjoying a pint and some delicious clam chowder, I knew we couldn’t have accidentally picked a better weekend to visit.

To be continued here.

Disclaimer: the above is presented as fiction, not fact.

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