All that stood between myself and the Atlantic Ocean 700 feet below was a small dirt berm that ran along Ireland's iconic Cliffs of Moher.
There was no fence or guardrail on the trail or hint at the beginning that the "walk" would be at times so petrifying or the views so magnificent. These were the windswept Cliffs of Moher located on Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way tourism trail. (This new driving route promotes Ireland's Atlantic Coast destinations from Donegal to Cork.)
While most visitors to the Cliffs elect the more routine and well traveled path when they set out from the visitor's center - heading south toward Liscannor - we instead chose a new route by heading north with guide and local farmer Pat Sweeney on the trip he bills as the Doolin Cliff Walk. (The guided walk ends in the small nearby village of Doolin - usually for lunch and drinks at the well known Gus O'Connor's pub.) Visitor's can reverse the trip and start in Doolin and take the guided walk to the visitor's center - but a warning - this would include more uphill walking.)
Since 2007, Sweeney has worked tirelessly with the 39 farmers whose land the walk traverses to make his dream of a new 5 mile long walking trail along the Cliffs a reality. He succeed nearly two years ago and is now putting the finishing touches on his masterpiece that will only increase the popularity of the Cliffs and the entire area.
The 3.5 hour guided walk costs $7 per adult and allows participants the opportunity to see the cliffs up close and literally on the edge while giving Sweeney time to educate his groups on all aspects of the Cliffs - from birds to geology to area history. Because of the absence of fences, guardrails or any other safety device to stop participants from wondering over the edge of the Cliffs - children under the age of eight are not permitted on the tour. There are no "park rangers" or anyone else to warn people to stand back from the Cliff edges - only small warning signs. The Cliffs are perpetually surrendering more land to the sea and extreme wind gusts are not uncommon, meaning visitors should always heed the warning signs and their common sense.
Located in County Clare, the Cliffs are one of Ireland's top attractions with approximately 700,000 people visiting the impressive visitor's center which is nestled into the side of a portion of the Cliffs. The visitor's center includes restrooms, a restaurant, video/movie viewing areas as well as exhibits and photographs. The entry fee is $8. (For more information and hours of operation visit www.cliffsofmoher.ie.)
Nature began the process of creating the Cliffs of Moher over 300 million years ago. Sedimentary rock layers of sandstone, siltstone and shale were formed and since then the perpetual pounding by the Atlantic Ocean of the shoreline continues to erode the rock and land. The result is breathtaking views as well as an adrenaline rush for those who might have been expecting a sterile, behind the barricades type nature attraction.
The Doolin Cliff Walk is not overly physically demanding - except for its length. Most of the time the walk took us over gently sloping terrain on dirt or grass paths - crossing small streams on stone bridges while always hearing the adjacent roar of the ocean. Along the way we would stop for breaks and to soak in the incredible views of the coast - the waves crashing on the rocks and area history such as Obrien's Tower. The tower, resembling a rook piece on a chess set, was built in 1835 by Cornelius O'Brien. It is the highest point of the Cliffs.
The trail where the Doolin Cliff Walk is located is part of an easement that the land owning farmers have granted the government to allow visitors to pass. The result is sheep and cattle grazing on farmland on one side while the Cliffs and Atlantic Oceans are on the opposite side.
For more information on the Doolin Cliff Walk at the Cliffs of Moher visit www.Doolincliffwalk.com.
Anthony Conboy is a freelance travel writer who recently visited Ireland as guest of the Irish Tourist Board.