Explore the Wild Atlantic Way in Ireland
Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is a painfully beautiful 2,500km stretch of coastline along the country’s western face. Majestic cliffs with multi-colored rock strata resembling the finest layered cake stand nonchalantly along the route with names like Downpatrick Head and the Cliffs of Moher. There are all sorts of things to do and see along the Wild Atlantic Way.
From wildlife hikes, walking through (or getting stuck) in the Derrigmlagh bog, to water adventure sports along the many beaches – you will never be bored. While you’ll see all sorts of ads for these landmarks along the route, you might have to do a little digging to uncover one of my favorite activities– caving in Ireland. It’s time to don your Indiana Jones fedora and travel differently by exploring the Emerald Isle underground.
Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher is a “must stop” destination along the Wild Atlantic Way.
The Harry Potter scene at the Cliffs of Moher is one of the most iconic from the later films,. If you want to know how to visit this incredible landmark, you’ve come to the right place.
The Cliffs of Moher are a widely known natural attraction in Ireland. The cliffs stretch 14 kilometers (8.7 miles) along Ireland’s west coast, rising 702 feet (214 meters) above the raging Atlantic Ocean.
Due to the region’s rugged and primarily unspoiled natural beauty, for which Ireland is renowned, this is the country’s most visited attraction, attracting nearly 2 million visitors each year. As a result, capacity is occasionally an issue, and visitors are urged to avoid peak visiting times.
There is some indication that J.R.R. Tolkien, the novelist of the Lord of the Rings books, got some of his initial inspiration for the terrain of Middle Earth from this part of Ireland, and that the name Gollum comes from a nearby cave. Whether or not such rumors are to be believed, they have spawned a yearly Tolkien festival for trilogy fans.
There are about 200 caves in the Burren, including the lengthiest cave in Ireland, Poulnagollum, which is 15 kilometers long, and the longest stalactite in Ireland, which is 6.5 meters long; we will choose one to suit your needs.
The Burren is a massive glaciated karst in Ireland’s northwestern County Clare. The Burren is between 97 and 500 square miles in size, depending on who you ask. That is a massive amount in either case.
The Burren’s hidden world offers a broad array of challenges, ranging from an introductory half-day visit to see underground waterfalls, stalactites and stalagmites to longer and incredibly hard caves. Ropes and ladders may be used to descend vertical pots, or pressing through narrow gaps to reach deeper into the cave.
Burren Caves ire still active. Rivers, streams and even waterfalls flow beneath the Burren. The Caher River flows mostly through the Burren and into the sea at Fanore. Aillwee Cave is possibly the Burren’s oldest cave.
Doolin Cave is an unmissable adventure; descend into an ancient cave to see third-largest free-hanging stalactite in the world. Despite the long descent, the stalactite is remarkable and well worth a visit. There is also a visitor’s center on the property that tells the story of the cave’s discovery in 1925.
Keep in mind: you must descend 125 steps and then ascend another 125 steps to exit the cave, so if you are out of shape, think twice. There were many seniors spelunking, benches on each landing for those who needed to rest, and extremely accommodating, amiable, patient, and knowledgeable guides. Because some of the passageway tunnels are low, hardhat helmets are distributed to keep your head from clunking. In any case, regardless of your age, you will have a fantastic time exploring the cave.
It’s ideal for a rainy day. Because the guide was so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about the cave, the experience was both interesting and enjoyable. The stalactite is an absolute must-see. It’s incredible to see it up close. Being able to travel safely into caves that are over 250,000 years old is amazing.
What is caving?
Caving is also referred to as spelunking (in the United States) or potholing (in the UK and Ireland). If you go caving, you may be walking, wading across rivers, swimming, crawling through passageways, and adjusting to all of the various ways your body can get from one place to another. Caving is about the journey. You’ll see ancient formations that have never been exposed to the light of day and will likely be in total darkness, except for the headlamp you entered with. It’s a real treat for your senses, especially for the tactile components. Your hands are great navigation tools to maintain your balance, propel yourself forward, and something you’ll need to get a sense of how the cave system is changing around you.
If you’re lucky enough, you might be able to squeeze through passageways to explore the nooks and crannies inside of a cave. This was one of those rare instances where being petite worked out in my favor!
What should I know before I go caving?
Caving differs from traditional outdoor adventure sports because it combines elements of cave science, the spirit of exploration, knowledge of mapping, and the opportunity for unique photography. There are cave systems worldwide to explore, making it an exciting activity that I enjoy seeking out whenever traveling! One of my favorite parts about caving is spotting the stalactites (they hang from the ceilings) and stalagmites (they rise from the floor).
Another critical point to remember is that you should be prepared to pack in and out all of your waste. You can bet a cleaning crew won’t be coming in there after you, so please do not leave any trash behind. That said, there won’t be any restrooms either. Before any caving experience, be sure you use the bathroom beforehand and even consider limiting your water intake so you can avoid doing business inside of the cave. Like many other natural settings, these caves were formed in prehistoric times and are irreparable if damaged. We must treat these places with respect.
What kind of animals might I encounter inside of a cave?
Every cave is a mini-ecosystem of its own and has different inhabitants living in it. Some caves have only a few animals that call it home, while others may have more activity. I’ve encountered the occasional spider, some bats, harmless insects, and glow worms in the caves that I have explored. Other caves may have salamanders, snails, shrimp, and crickets. Of course, some cave entrances might also be occupied by other shelter-seeking creatures such as raccoons, bears, and foxes. If you’re going with a caving adventure company, it’s doubtful that you’ll be in a dangerous situation with any of these mammals. If you have any concerns, though, check with your guide.
What should I wear when I go caving?
I’ve gone caving in three different countries– Ireland, Vietnam, and New Zealand. All three have had various features inside, from powerful water hazards to vast open expanses of dirt. I’ve swum through underground rivers, slid through gushing waterways, tubed across passages, and walked freely in caverns the size of a classroom. Although they’ve all had varying components, they’ve also shared similar attributes, such as narrow squeezes and traversing on uneven surfaces. No matter where the cave has been, I’ve always worn a hard hat with a light attached.
For my Burren Caves expedition in County Clare, I wore my athletic leggings and long sleeve top underneath. I was suited up from head to toe with a waterproof jumper, poncho, neoprene socks, rubber boots, and a hard hat with a headlamp.
I was warm, safe, and stayed predominantly dry except for my legs. Most caving experiences have some water component in them, so it’s not uncommon to get your feet and legs wet. The water inside of the Burren Caves was brisk, so I was exceptionally thankful to be wearing the neoprene socks. I could have also worn kneepads, but I politely declined them. I’ve worn a range of full-body wetsuits during other caving expeditions to simply wearing my athletic shorts and top.
Let’s say attire is taken on a cave by cave basis.
Our fearless leader leads the way through the “enchanted forest” as we make our way down into the cave.
Ireland is undeniably beautiful inside and out. There’s nothing quite like exploring these cave systems that have been carefully hidden beneath the ground for hundreds of years. The sound of a single drop of water inside a cave is magnified as the outside world’s noise melts away. The rocks feel cool to the touch, and you can’t help but wonder what these sage minerals would say if they could speak. In these moments, it’s just you and the earth. If you’ve gone caving before or plan on going soon, I want to hear all about it in the comments below.