Day 9: The Aran Islands-Inisheer
The Aran Islands are a group of three islands located at the mouth of Galway Bay. The islands geology is mainly karst limestone related to the Burren in County Clare. This is most obvious in the areas of limestone pavement and in the construction of the walls around the fields.
From Miltown Malbay it was only 30km to the ferry at Doolin. It was a hilly 30km into 15mph headwind but we arrived at Doolin in plenty of time for the 11am ferry to Inisheer.
We were quite surprised to find Doolin busting with people and coaches. The Doolin ferry company runs a fleet of five small cruise boats for foot passengers from April to October. There are sightseeing trips to the Cliffs of Moher as well as trips to the Aran Islands. The small port is very well organised and everyone seemed to get on board the boat they intended to without much fuss. We were the only people travelling with bikes and we had booked ahead.
The crossing was cold and windy and we sat inside to avoid getting wet from the roughness. The bikes did get wet!
There are 1200 inhabitants on the three Aran Islands and they speak Irish. The Aran Islands are an official Gaeltacht, which gives full official status to Irish as the medium of all official services including education. This is largely because of the isolating nature of the traditional trades practised and the natural isolation of the islands from mainland Ireland over the course of the Island’s history.
In total there are 38 national monuments on the Aran Islands with some of the oldest archaeological remains in Ireland.
We were at a difficult time in the tour as there was a strong north wind which for us made northerly progress difficult. When we were planning the ride we had hoped to go to the Aran Islands but now a couple of days out there was very attractive. It enabled us to make Northerly progress using the ferries and it gave us a couple of easy days exploring the islands. We hoped the prevailing wind from the south west would prevail in the meantime.
When we arrived at Inisheer the port was very busy with people selling sightseeing tours, pony and trap rides and most of all bike hire. The main mode of transport on Inisheer is by bike. We quickly cycled away from the port area and it soon became much quieter and had the remote isolated feeling we had expected. The island is only 3km and 3km wide with small hills and valleys. It is karst limestone and the most striking feature are the small enclosures made from dry stone walls.
The main village is looked on by a castle and a fort on a hill.
We cycled down to the lighthouse from the castle and saw the unique landscape unfold before us. The island is divided into very small plots by dry limestone walls.
The lighthouse is at the Western tip of the island and is surrounded by cascades of stone walls. The area is very isolated.
In the afternoon we caught a second ferry from Inisheer to Inishmor which is the largest of the three islands. Inishmor has an all year round ferry service to Rossaveal connected by a bus to Galway city. Inishmor also has a small airport with flights to Inverin in Galway. This service is due to stop in September 2019.
A road network exists on the island with a speed limit of 30mph. Vehicles are exempt from road worthiness testing!
Day 10: The Aran Islands-Inish Mor
Our B & B was run by a family whose first language was Irish. They also spoke English. Travelling by bike here is the norm. Inish Mor like Inisheer, is covered in small enclosures divided by dry stone walls, apparently about 1000 miles in total.
As usual we set out in search of the lighthouse but we couldn’t get very close to this one as it was on a separate small island.
The main tourist attraction on Inishmor is Dun Aengus. It is a bronze age and iron age fort built on a 100 metre cliff overlooking the Atlantic. It consists of a series of concentric walls with a central enclosure – the citadel – of 11 acres.
There is a visitor centre which is very good and gives an excellent illustrated explanation about the fort. The crowds arrive – on bicycles and pony and trap – off the morning ferry from Galway at about 11am. As we were staying on the island we were able to have a quiet visit earlier in the morning.
The Aran Islands are also the home of the Aran jumper and the traditional jumpers are still hand knitted on the islands although a lot of those on sale were machine knitted elsewhere.
The other site we were keen to visit is the natural diving pool used by RedBull cliff diving championships. It wasn’t very well signed and was quite a long walk over rough ground to get to the cliff. The natural pool is carved by the sea and is connected to the open sea by underwater channels. It is known as the Wormhole or Serpents Lair.
The height of the dive is more than three times that which Olympic divers go from. The Red Bull divers enter the water feet first. We were there on a very calm day, even though it was still very windy. The pool is on the exposed south west side of the island but the winds were still from the North so the sea was flat. It is usually much livelier than this .
We enjoyed a couple of evenings at Joe Wattys bar with some live music on Inishmor.