Start/finish: Ballyvaughan village. Car park on the coast road to Fanore.

Description: A looped walk featuring some minor roads and unsurfaced tracks. Waymarked with purple arrows. Panoramic views of the great terraces and cliffs of the Burren hills, Burren wildflowers and country lanes.

Distance: 8km (5 miles). Time 2.5 hours. Grade Casual.

Map: The Burren – a two inch map of the uplands of north-west Clare. Folding Landscapes. 1:31680 or
Discovery Series Map No 51. Ordnance Survey of Ireland. 1:50 000.

(1) Cross the road from the car parking bay and walk on to the minor road known as the School Road. The National School (1949) is a landmark on your left hand side after about 0.5 kilometer. Walk around the community sports field. Gaelic football is the prime sporting pastime in the North Clare. Cross through a stile in the wall.

(2) You will cross a small number of fields. They are transformed from pasture to turlough (temporary water body) occasionally. In periods of high rainfall and high tides, the spring water here cannot go underground because of the build-up of sea water below. Thus, the water lodges on the surface and the turlough is formed. Turloughs are almost unique in the world to certain limestone areas in the west and centre of Ireland. This section of the trail may be impassable occasionally.

(3) The landscape soon changes to a patchwork of hazel scrub and limestone pavement. This habitat is an uncommon sight in the otherwise rich pasture land of the Ballyvaughan valley. Historically the limestone pavement here would have been interspersed with pockets of pasture for the cattle. However, grazing has been abandoned on account of its marginal economic value and the ecological succession has been hazel.

(4) Having emerged from the scrub, you cross just one more field. Exit the field by a stile which brings you on to a minor road. Turn left and you soon arrive at a junction which merges with the busy N67 road. Turn left here and immediately turn right on to another minor road. This road eventually gives way to an unsurfaced track. You then arrive at a metal gate. Cross the stile here and turn left immediately. You are now walking on a track across pasture which is used as winter grazing for the cattle.

This cross country section ends at a minor road opposite the entrance to the Ailwee Caves. Turn left on coming through the stile on to the road.

(6) A kilometre further on, you will notice a circular clump of trees in a field to your left. The trees are in fact growing over the stone fort of Cathair na hUamhain (the fort of the cave).There are no less than five such ring forts in this immediate area. This concentration of fortified first millennium farmsteads is testament to the excellence of the farming land hereabouts. The fields you pass by are known as improved grasslands. Farming in the Burren lowlands in general has become far more specific and intense since Ireland’s accession to the European Union in 1973.

(7) You will spot some dry stone walls made from large rocks. These walls have been constructed mechanically rather than by the bare hand. They are a sure sign of the land clearances of the last couple of decades. A local wag has christened these boundaries “weetabix” walls on account of their likeness to a famous breakfast cereal! Moreover this section of the trail illustrates the strong contrast between the topography of the Burren lowlands and uplands. The rare global landform of limestone pavement can be seen at altitude whereas in the lowlands at either side of this minor road, the conventional Irish topography of improved grasslands is evident. The lowlands are home to the economically more productive agriculture. However, the uplands are far richer in terms of natural and cultural heritage.

(8) Capanawalla hill (236m) is off to the left of the trail whereas Ailwee hill is to the right. The place name Ailwee comes from the Gaelic Aill Bhuí, the yellow cliff. Although gorse is most uncommon in the Burren, it is widespread on the limestone pavement area to your left as you progress. The shrub blooms from February to May and the profusion of yellow flowers can be quite a spectacle. However, even though it is a native shrub, gorse can upset the ecological balance. The dense thickets in this area out-compete the more delicate Burren wildflowers which would otherwise thrive on the limestone pavement.

(9) The trail changes from minor road to unsurfaced track. This is known as a Green Road. Green roads in the Burren are ancient cattle highways of indeterminate age. Some of the roads are occasionally still used for this purpose. However, they are more commonly used now by walkers. When you pass through the metal gate known as Dangan gate, the trail veers left.

(10) Stroll on 0.75 kilometer from Dangan gate to a T junction. Turn left here. (The next turn right would lead you on short, wonderful detour to the shores of the serene Lough Rask).

(11) Return to the junction and turn right. About 350 meters further on there is a gateway on your right which leads in to the cemetery of the tiny Church of Ireland community in North Clare.

(12) You soon arrive at a T Junction. Turn left here along the national route N67. Use the footpath where available or alternatively walk facing oncoming traffic. Within a few minutes you will have returned via Ballyvaughan village to the trailhead on the coast road to Fanore.