Travel writer Paul Clements has long been inspired by the Burren. An area of limestone in County Clare, the Burren fosters a profusion of rare flowers and plants, underwater streams, caves and megalithic tombs, and is famous for its natural beauty. Here, Paul tries to explain his personal attachment to the place and how it inspires his writing
For 20 years I have flirted with the spirit of the Burren, and have frequently considered what calls me back each year. Its clouds and the quality of its light are a source of wonder to me. Visitors often remark on the beauty and colour of the cloud formations that overhang the region. With their gradations of tone and exquisite hues, the infinite variations of clouds know no bounds.
The Burren clouds and jostling sky with its repertoire of lighting trickery is only one aspect of its beauty. I particularly like the flowering of life in the spring; the way the sunlight transmutes the rocks into ever-changing colours and the constant play of light, through its shape-shifting shadows.
The wildlife writer Richard Mabey describes it as “an exuberant, flirtatious landscape.” There is no doubt you could spend a lifetime flirting with the smooth limestone. Catch the right day and you can feel it in the ruins of Corcomroe Abbey or in a walk along a green road. You can sense it in the frolic of a butterfly on the Flaggy Shore, the swerve of a raven, the call of a cuckoo, the pungent smell of three-cornered leek at Gleninagh or in the stalactites dangling from a cave. You can sense it in the exhilaration of the wild waves at Poll Salach, during sunset at Black Head, in the curve of a mountain, the feel of the wind coming off the Atlantic, or an hour spent sea-watching.
Whatever else it evokes, the Burren is an experiment in time travel. It is a rich cosmos, a place that reeks with a deep history and a charisma of its own; a place that probably looks the same now as it did thousands of years ago.
When you are walking the limestone, the outside world can seem a thousand miles away. After each visit, having renewed my fix of Burren bounty, all is right with the world. My senses are in a state of heightened awareness, my thirst quenched, my horizons widened.
The English nature writer Enid Wilson once observed: “Clouds can do strange things in quiet December weather.” In the Burren this could be applied to the other 11 months as well. Meteorologists have identified at least 30 categories of cloud structure ranging from stratus (near the ground) through altocumulus (medium level) right up to the towering high cirrus (up to five miles above our heads). Whatever you demand, the north Clare cloud bestiary offers it, providing an essential element in the Burren atmosphere where elevation meets elation.
Paul runs creative writing workshops in the Burren each spring and his next workshops will be held in Ballyvaughan in May and June 2011. Find more details on his classes and books on Paul’s website
Visit the Burren for yourself