Dizzying Heights: Give yourself vertigo at the Cliffs of Moher
The Cliffs of Moher on the wild coast of Clare are Ireland’s #1 natural attraction – and it’s not difficult to see why. I vaguely remember being there as a child on a grey and windy day, firmly held at least 50 foot from the edges by my justifiably terrified mother. I don’t really have any real memory of their size, I just know to expect something big.
‘Big’ doesn’t really cover it, to be honest.
It’s difficult to really appreciate the sheer scale of these things until you are up close, seeing them with your own eyes. I can try to describe it to you, but really, they’re just something you need to see with your own eyes. At their highest point they reach a whopping 214 metres (just over 700 feet), and they stretch for 8 of Ireland’s most dramatic kilometres, along a beautiful Atlantic coast.
They’re just huge. And they’re dark, and it’s only when they’re right in front of you that you realise that even the most beautiful and professionally taken photographs don’t quite do the cliffs justice. But there’s something else about them too. Even on blessedly sunny days like this one, there’s an underlying feeling at the Cliffs of Moher, something ominous that I can’t quite put my finger on. You know when ads and guidebooks describe Ireland as mysterious and wild and romantic? Standing at the cliffs, you start to really appreciate why that is.
I head first to O’Brien’s tower, which was built as a viewing point (rather than a watch-point, as lots of people assume) by the very enterprising Cornelius O’Brien in 1835. I love this. I get the feeling people imagine the tower was used to watch for approaching warrior and Viking ships coming to pillage and plunder. But no – Mr O’Brien just wanted a beautiful view. What’s extra cool about this (and extra astute) is that Cornelius O’Brien foresaw not just the potential of the cliffs as a tourist attraction, but more astutely, the potential of tourism to bring wealth to an area and bring its people out of poverty.
I love the story behind the tower, you can climb it too, but honestly, it’s not an ‘unmissable’ experience; the tower’s turrets actually obscure the view slightly. Not only that, but being up on the roof of the tower makes me acutely aware of what the real draw of the cliffs are – and it’s not just the incredible views. Of course, they are breath-taking, but as I stand up on the tower I realise that where I really want to be is down on the very edge of those cliffs.
I think the thing that brings people to the cliffs in their millions is the same thing that makes people watch horror films – fear. That desire to be afraid, to feel the fear of falling and heights, to be ‘close’ to death but still safe. The Cliffs of Moher force you to feel that fear in a really visceral way, and it’s brilliant, and dizzying, and you know you’re not the only one feeling it. I look around and all along the ledges there are people holding on to each other and laughing, gingerly stepping as close to the edge as they dare. That’s what keeps people coming here.
Scooching to the edge of the cliff, I sit with my legs dangling over a thick wedge of rock, some 200 metres up. Looking down, I feel slightly queasy. My legs tingle, my head spins a little, adrenaline pumps through me, and a million visions of ledges crumbling, and me plummeting, flash in my mind. The sea crashes furiously against black jagged rocks far, far below, turning from deep blue to a bright aqua marine and then finally exploding into white water.
I drop a stone and count slowly to eleven before it hits the water.
It’s really quite scary, but I can’t think of a more beautiful place to terrify yourself.
The official car park charges per person for entry (children under 16 are free), but some enterprising local farmers have started offering cheaper parking further along the cliffs closer to Hag’s Head, the idea being that people will walk from there towards the visitor’s centre and then back. We go to the main car park; the entry fee per person isn’t too steep and this way we have admission to the Cliffs of Moher exhibition in the visitor’s centre.
Always obey the signs, and don’t cross walls that block access to certain parts of the ledge. They are there for a reason. If it’s very windy, stay back from the edges.