When you Google Image “Ireland,” this is the kind of thing you get:
There are two things in common with these three photos:
- The scenery is very green, as Ireland is famous for.
- The weather is beautiful and sunny.
So I always imagined Ireland as a beautifully warm and sunny country with bright rolling hills and lush grass. I wasn’t totally off: it’s got those rolling hills, that lush grass. As for the warm and sunny part…
…I was dead wrong.
Honestly, I should have known.
And my group was living in a particularly harsh part of Ireland. We were right on the west coast, in a place known as the Burren.
The Burren, as you can see, has a very distinctive landscape. It’s composed of crumbling limestone, the remains of an ancient seabed. The rocky hills can get quite tall, with many of them reaching over 200 meters high. And since the Burren is by the west coast– where those Atlantic sea winds come blowing in– the weather can be… unpredictable.
Let me give you an example.
During our first week in Ireland, my group was scheduled to go on a hike on Blackhead Mountain. Blackhead Mountain is located right along the coast and promised impressive views of both the sea and the land. What’s more, we had a local Irish farmer to guide us on the hike. I was excited.
We took a bus to the starting point. The weather looked warm and sunny when we were indoors, but as soon as we stepped out of the van…
Windy as hell. You could open an umbrella and fly away, Mary Poppins style.
But it wasn’t raining, so we went on our way. Despite the wind, I was really enjoying the walk. The Burren has a beautiful and unique landscape. For instance, the rocks are full of huge gaps called “grikes.” If you’re not careful, you could step in a grike– and considering that these gaps can be as deep as your waist, that would not be good.
The Burren is also home to a distinct mix of flora. Back in the Ice Age, an iceberg dumped a mix of Arctic and Mediterranean seeds in the area. Today, they still flourish due to the Burren’s year-round temperate climate. I never expected to see orchids outside of a rainforest!
So, in spite of the chilly wind, I was enjoying the hike. Our hiking guide was incredibly informative and walked at a nice pace, stopping frequently to explain this rose bush or that ancient fossil. About 30 minutes in, we paused so he could even give us a bit of Irish history.
Of course, I looked behind me.
There was a HUGE rainstorm blowing right at us.
The storm arrived within a matter of minutes. It came out of nowhere! And it wasn’t just rain. IT WAS HAIL.
Horizontal hail, due to the wind.
There was nothing we could do but continue our hike. Our guide kept going with the tour as usual. But the wind and hail were so fierce that, even when he shouted, we could barely hear what he said.
We continued up the mountain, battling winds that threatened to knock us over. Our guide led us to a structure known as the Caherdooneerish Fort. Here, we huddled against one of the ancient stone walls and waited out the storm.
After about 20 minutes of soaking misery, the clouds finally cleared.
We continued our hike in the beautiful, beautiful sunlight.
Mind you, it was still windy as all get-out. The wind was so strong that it almost tipped me over with every step. And you don’t want to misstep in the Burren: remember, those grikes can swallow your leg whole. Alternatively, you could slip and knock your head on some lovely limestone.
Seriously, I thought I was going to die with each step I took.
It was insane. Incredible landscapes. Outrageous weather. Kids stumbling down the mountain, defying death with every step.
It was one of the best hikes I’ve ever been on.
Because nothing gets your adrenaline pumping better than thinking you’re going to fall off a mountain…for an hour straight.
In fact, I wasn’t even mad when another rain cloud rolled in.
And when it started hailing on us.
Luckily, our guide was prepared this time.
Three hours later, our bus picked 13 wet, freezing kids off the side of the road. I had worn two pairs of pants. Both got completely soaked.
As you can imagine, we were all glad to get back home. We could take warm showers. Heat up some soup. Huddle under dry sheets and thick blankets, thinking about the windiest three hours of our lives.
Maybe I am. But hey, nothing wrong with a little crazy, am I right?