During the core period of Good Friday to the Thursday after Easter, there were 11 members of Croydon out in the Burren, going underground, walking over the hills enjoying the beautiful April sunshine, or just plain drinking the black stuff and listening to the music. The 11 consisted of Steve and Helen Wray, Allan and Jeremy Ockenden, Nick Molton, Andy Todd, Ian Chandler, Richard Vidler, Linda Fix, as well as myself and Sarah. Most had not been to the Burren before, so we tended to concentrate on doing the main tourist trips and just enjoying the wonderful weather. Perhaps next time we might do a tortuous trip or start digging up the countryside, or maybe not.
Anyway, rather than give you the usual diary of events, I thought it would be more fun (and perhaps useful for the future) to concentrate on various aspects of our trip to the Burren. You know, everything from where to eat out to where are the best Aran sweater shops. So here, in no particular order, it goes:
I was very keen to try out the new high speed ferry link from Fishguard to Rosslare (Stena HSS), but almost as soon as Steve tried to book it, we found that it was awaiting parts from Finland and wouldn't be in service. Instead, we opted for another high speed ferry from Holyhead to Dun Laoghaire, rather expensive though at Þ248 compared to a
conventional ferry from Fishguard to Rosslare for £133.
Nonetheless, the great day dawned, but with VERY heavy rain (Thursday 9th, just before Good Friday), we swam up the M40, M6 and along the A55 in 4 hours and 20 minutes, in time for a sit down cod and chips in Princes' (very tasty too). Then the bad news, that the HSS hadn't left Dun Laoghaire since after the 04:10 crossing, due to gale force winds, and that it was still to pick up the 08:30 passengers (we were on the 13:45). However, things got better. The 08:30 passengers were put on a conventional ferry, the HSS arrived at about 18:00, and we were off at about 18:45 (they do a fast turnaround). The best advice is to sit up at the bow and watch the horizon, especially as we found most of the patches of chunder to be towards the stern. The ferry reversed in (it does that) at about 20:30, and then we faced the nightmare of 6 lanes of traffic converging into 1 lane at Dun Laoghaire, followed by about 45 minutes of suburbs and traffic lights before even getting on any sensible sort of road. At least Rosslare doesn't have this problem, which can cause serious frustration, especially on the return!
The road journey once past Dublin was pretty good. We made good speed for Irish roads, and under a nearly full silvery moon, wended our way up Corkscrew Hill and onto the Burren, reaching the hostel at 02:00 on Good Friday, just in time to see Ian back from the pub!
The return journey was not too bad, especially as we had a corker of a breakfast at the tea rooms in Ballyvaughan, and the sun was with us for most of the way. The main hassle was getting back to Dun Laoghaire, fighting your way through the most awful traffic congestion for nearly an hour before finally reaching the harbour walls. However, the crossing was perfect, we arrived back in 1 hour and 40 minutes, and drove along the A5 past Llyn Ogwen, as there had been a good dumping of snow on the Snowdon range. Still a good journey, this time back to our start point in Watlington in 4 hours 15 minutes.
There were 2 other cars out in Ireland, Allan's and Richard's, and they seemed to have mixed blessings, and similar stories. I think that in future, the HSS from Fishguard to Rosslare would be best (mainly because it is only 1 hour 40 minutes crossing time), and if that wasn't available then the conventional Fishguard to Rosslare crossing would
do. A plus point for the HSS is that the turnaround time is normally 30 minutes, and they sail at sensible times.
Ian decided to fly out from Southampton to Dublin for about £70. Very good except that you then depend on others' cars, and have to limit your caving tackle. He took the Bus Eireann from Dublin to Galway for I£10 return, and almost immediately caught a bus to Doolin for I£8.20 single, so made the whole journey in less than a day, and got there in time for a whole night at the pub! I hope he made it back OK, as the last we saw of him, he was walking past a coffee shop in Galway after we dropped him off to get the bus back.
Following a successful stay at Paddy Moloney's Doolin Hostel in 1988, we decided to return. The cost was to be I£7.00 per person per night, although in the end, we obtained a discount to make it I£6.50 per person per night. This time, we had two rooms on the ground floor along from the kitchen, which was good and bad.
The good part was that we were kept away from the noisy teenagers who started appearing in buses towards the end of the week, and who crowded us out somewhat. Room 12 had an en-suite loo plus shower, which turned out to be good because no-one else used it, but bad because it kept the room damp. Room 11 had to use a loo with shower in the corridor, which was bad because everyone else used it!
Another problem was that the kitchen closed at 11:30 and at 22:00, so that you couldn't stagger back from the pub and make tea. I assume they have had previous experience of people stealing food after coming back from the pubs and had decided it was best to lock it.
However, the kitchen was quite large, there were enough cookers etc., and the accommodation comprised a drying room, very useful for getting your fleecy and grunds dry. It was also rather handy for the three pubs in Doolin, O'Connor's, McGann's and McDermott's, more of which later.
In future, we generally agreed that a cottage would be better (a caving group from Brecon had hired one which worked out at I£45 per person for the week, and I believe that Shepton Mallet CC were staying in cottage accommodation too). Toward the end, Helen took down the 'phone number of a cottage set back from the main road near McGann's and McDermott's, probably a very good location.
The nearest pub to us was O'Connor's, a mere 150 yards or so. Compared to certain pubs, you got quick service, real Guinness and there was a very good bar meal menu, main meals typically priced at about I£6.00. However, you did get the impression that it was highly geared up to the tourists (well, to be fair, most of them were), and the service was rather impersonal. Not many cavers' photos left, and the comfy corner
is now a bit more open and the sofa a bit battered. The chip shop just outside is handy, although they're somewhat thin and greasy.
McGann's and McDermott's are along the road a way, and were probably the best of the local pubs. Both were VERY busy most of the Easter weekend, but both had good music in the evenings. The owner of the Pol-an-Ioanain land was to be found in one of these two (entrance fee, 1 pint of Guinness). The best Guinness and food, I thought, was to be found in McGann's, and there is a choice of two restaurants in the area. Also a good Chippy outside McDermott's (not open every night) - don't forget your curry sauce!
Further away, O'Donoghue's in Fanore was a good place to get away from the tourists, although one of the local showcave guides (Carl Wright) reckoned that it got to bursting in the summer, with the local caravan site down the road receiving its influx. While we were there, they had a real peat fire on, the Guinness was good, and it was very handy for caving up on Slieve Elva. The other local pub of note was the Roadside Tavern in Lisdoon, very much a real pub, with a nice atmosphere, fires and rather good mugs of coffee for the drivers!
Beware. Ireland is a dry country on Good Friday; we had to rely on our
duty free supplies.
This was the best news. A low centred for most of the week somewhere over Southern England, bringing cold air convection down from the north over Ireland. True, this meant the odd shower, but they were few and far between, and the rest of it was just glorious sunshine, very warm if you found a sheltered spot (as we did on a coastal walk one day).
The image below is a visible Meteosat image processed by the UK Met. Office at a resolution of about 3km, valid for Easter Saturday at 12:00. You can distinctly see the cold air convection from the north over Ireland bringing one or two thunderies, and the rather claggy yuk over England. Yah boo sucks, what?
Doolin River Cave
Our first combined assault in Ireland this time was the St.Catherine's to Fishertreet trip in the Doolin River Cave. The exit at Fisherstreet was quickly rigged, and the 2 mile odd walk to St. Catherine's took place. Don't forget that it is on farmland, not at the back of the St. Catherine's guest house! Once you've found the track starting at the big old farmyard gates, just follow it towards the old nunnery, and bear left down into an obvious depression slightly downstream of a small lake. The entrance series was a piece of cake, although Ian lost his watch somewhere, but didn't notice until much later - missing presumed dead. We decided to have a good rest in the Smithy Grotto, but were quickly ambushed by the second party and lots of Irish cavers, this probably being the busiest day of the year in Clare. We continued in the hope of making a traverse along some of the dry passage north of the streamway, but managed a longish haul down to Echo Pot, which definitely has interesting acoustics, and contains some classic Clare red bits. We quickly regained the streamway, and continued on in the water, past a fairly smelly Aran view inlet (tales of a dead calf), down to the Pot, and a quick climb back up to glorious sunshine. An ideal first trip, if you've not been to Clare before.
An easy peasy cave, but good fun (although Steve was getting bored by the end). We wanted to do the figure eight trip, but believe it or not, route finding was not so easy. We started downstream, and quickly hammered past the bloody guts, thinking that they would be further on. Not far on, the final pitch was reached, which is free-climbable in dryish conditions (which we had). There are three sections, and if you can get down the first one, you can do all three. The bottom turns a corner into a vary dark long sump, where Ian left his calling card. Steve and Helen did a little clambering up at this point, and said it was fun watching us clamber around from so high up. Must be quite a drop in total. On this trip, we took Dave (an Irish caver staying at Paddy's) with us, who said it was his first time in Cullaun 2.
On the way back, we were hoping to get the high level old streamway, and this took some looking for. You go back to the largish chamber some way back from the climb at the end, but do not climb out of this chamber! The trick is to go back upstream and look for a high level route which is almost parallel to start with the main streamway. However, the route isn't terribly attractive if you're 6'4'' and as large as me. Don't get me wrong, it isn't a problem. It's just that everyone else is about 300 yards in front, and waiting for you to catch up all the time! Anyway, all good things come to an end, and it drops pleasantly down into the streamway (you'd never guess where) for a quick exit back out. A nice 3 or 4 hour trip.
Well, we had to. Especially with Sarah pregnant, so that Steve could take mother earth pictures under the great stal. As mentioned, fee is1 pint of the black stuff, payable to the rotund landowner in one of the local pubs. It is always a bit scary to cross his land, and go down the sinkhole marked "Private", especially when you see that the recent door to the concrete blockhouse can be locked from outside. Anyway, once in, all thoughts of exit hassles are forgotten as you search for the way on through the rather collapsed and low streamway.
Some time later, it gets stickier and you appear in the great chamber with the great stal, and its all very ... great. Just to add insult to injury over the watch episode, the leprechauns came out and pushed Ian's camera down the slope, making it useless, but bringing out his sketching skills (a new category at this years "photo" competition?).
Richard and Steve vied for positions at the top of the slope. You'll just have to go to the photo competition in December and judge for yourself. (Yes, they've already been developed). Enough to say, a classic.
Even more classic caving. What is this club coming to? Descend the rather vertical entrance, and soon you are encapsulated in dark black rock, with just the merest of a trickle under your feet. It is narrow going, but after 20 yards or so, you break out into larger canyon. The guide book says to remember to turn right on your way back, but it is the only right hand turn and on the way back, you can look out for a couple of high holes to the surface in the canyon, the easiest tell-tale that you're back near the entrance.
The canyon goes on for some way, with some stooping required, and crawling under a few very imagination inspiring formations (just go and see for yourself!). After a while, a grotto appears just above the streamway, and it is not long after, that the cave drops a small waterfall and enters a larger phreatic system - a good spot for some photo opportunities we thought, and again, you'll just have to see them at the competition. Not long after, the stream disappears down a tight shaft to the right, and some milky traverses are encountered that do not provide such elegance. So back home it was.
Poulelva - Poulnagollum
A "must do", after the drama from the previous weekend caused by a certain Irish University club. The plan was for team A to enter Poulnagollum, speed down to Craven Canyon, and meet up with team B, who had not long abseiled down into Poulelva. Team A would "touch daylight", and retrace steps back toward Poulnagollum with team B, whereby all cavers would surface at Poulnagollum to rejoices and hurrahs! Well, actually it worked. (Team A was Steve, Helen, Nick, Sarah and me; team B comprised Richard, Linda, Allan, Jeremy and Andy.)
It was quick work to get down to where the cave drops a bed in the guide. A tip: if you start entering a long muddy crawl before the bedding drop, go back and keep right. The streamway route is easier, but is difficult to see, as it is much darker than the mud. The bed drop is the critical point. You turn right here, actually AT the drop in the bedding plane (well done Helen who suggested this, whilst we all went round in a circle). Then more or less keep right (any wrong right-hand passages close down quickly), and you should find yourself in a slightly muddy body sized dry canyon passage, which connects with Poulelva after a while. The University club had lost themselves in the Craven Canyon area the previous weekend, and had been down for 15 hours before they were rescued. Fortunately, they were all OK, but I can't help wondering if they just decided to give up and wait, rather than trying the alternative passages into Poulnagollum. It is always easy to make recommendations in hindsight, but I would have thought such a strategy in Poulnagollum would work; there really aren't too many ways on.
We met up with team B half way down Craven Canyon, and decided to be led by them back to Poulelva to look at the entrance. Once finished, it was time to turn around and lead team B out. This was easy and good fun, a long line of just about everybody that had come to Ireland, trolling up the streamway, and a fitting way to finish off the week.
Besides the caving, a great time was had sailing out to the Aran Islands (home of the Craggy Island!), clambering around the cliffs of Moher (more touristy these days, but still breathtaking), walking over in the Twelve Pins of Connemara (very much like the Scottish highlands), and walking around the high Burren - a classic landscape.
Plans are afoot for a return perhaps next year. Any takers?