Early January morning at the western edge of Ireland. Wind howling 40m/s from the Atlantic with gusts strong enough to knock a grown man down. Waves crashing on 200m tall coastal cliffs filling the air with constant roar. Birds circling beneath, playing in upward drafts before suddenly diving down to freezing water below for day´s catch. There´s a trail on top of the cliff – and I wanted to run it!
Yup, it´s a pain to get to. Two and a half hours in a bus from Dublin airport to Galway. Already running out of pre-downloaded episodes of Norsemen. Obviously, the latest bus schedules are printed on the Galway bus station wall, not updated online. Waiting at bus station.
Finally, hopping to a small local bus for another 2 hours on a small winding road to Doolin. Staring out the window. Pitch black. Guess the sea should be out there. Crossing tiny Irish villages. Barely anyone outside. No wonder, looks hostile out there with the wind and rain. Pubs do look inviting.
“Hello from Doolin Inn. We want to remind you that check in is until 9PM time that we close reception and that we don´t have night porter. Thank you.“
Doolin is a small coastal village with a couple of B&B´s, two pubs, and most importantly, the trailhead for the Cliffs of Moher Coastal Walk from Doolin to Hag’s Head. Me being the only passenger on the bus, the driver dropped me right in front of my accommodation, Doolin Inn.
As the bus took off, vanishing behind one of the many hills around, all I could hear was wind, rain, and sea roaring somewhere in the distance. There was no one around. I gathered my belongings and headed towards the Inn, hoping there was still someone to let me in for the night.
After a quiet nightsleep and excellent breakfast in the newly renovated Doolin Inn, I stuffed my running pack with snacks, water and probably too much camera gear and headed out the door. The day was cloudy, but at least for now, there was no rain.
Trail started with a short climb. First couple hundred meters on tarmac, then a bit on a gravel road before shifting to a nice single track right on the cliffs edge. Considering it was January and it had been raining most of the week, I was surprised to find the trail in relatively good condition. Most of the time, it was well runnable, and I actually managed to keep my feet dry until I finally plunged to ankle-deep mud about 4k in.
I knew the Cliffs of Moher is one of the most visited tourist destinations in Ireland. Therefore, I expected the trail to be quite crowded. However, to my surprise, I found myself running all alone in one of the most spectacular surroundings I´ve come across.
As the trail climbed higher up the cliff, the wind picked up blowing seawater high up the air, ensuring I was getting wet all around, not just on my muddy feet.
When approaching the Cliffs of Moher visitor center about half way to Hag´s Head, I finally started coming across more people. There were groups of tourists from all around the world who had arrived on buses for a day trip from Dublin. Groups were strolling back and forth the paved 1 mile stretch at the highest part of the cliff taking selfies while trying to stay warm in the wind.
Funny enough, it was right around the visitor center where the fog had rolled in really thick. The visibility was down to roughly 50m and all you could see when looking down the cliff was white. You could hear the sea roaring somewhere down there, but there was no water in sight.
As the paved section of the trail ended and shifted back to a gravel single track, the fog got thinner and just a mile further it was all clear again. I felt sorry for the groups of people back in the fog not really seeing a thing, but on the other hand – I had the trail all for myself again!
When I finally approached Hag´s Head, the clouds were scattering and I even got a glimpse of sunshine. I decided to run down past the car park at the trailhead and down to the fields and small farms scattered in the peninsula. At 16k mark, I finally turned around and started heading back towards Doolin the same way I came from.
On my way back, I took my time stopping along the way for photos, snacks and just for admiring the scenery. It was already late afternoon and most of the day trippers from Dublin were already on their way back. I was in no hurry.
Darkness comes early in January, but I was prepared with a head torch and plenty of food and drink with a plan to catch the famous sunset at the cliffs. However, my hopes slowly faded as the clouds gathered back in and it started to rain.
On the last stretch to Doolin, I was already feeling the pull of the pubs. The last downhill to town happened to pass one of them, Gus O´Connor´s. After a brief mental battle, I hesitantly gave up the idea of long hot shower and warm feet for a pint or two of well-earned Guinness!
It was dark again when I finally made it back to Doolin Inn. The brand new running shoes I had put on the same morning looked like they’d been on a nice 32k “break in run” when I tried to rinse most of the mud off before stepping in.
“Evening! How was your run today? Did you make it to Hag´s Head?”
“Yup, all the way! It was wet, windy and fun – definitely worth it!”