Ray, Vikki, John, Miranda, Chris H, Andy G, Scott, Damian, Nick, Yolanda, Tom, Helen, plus Jim & Sharon (friends of Helen)
The first (of many, hopefully) KCC trip to the Burren on the west coast of Ireland was a roaring success, helped by largely wall-to-wall sunshine. Unbelievable I know, but that’s how it worked out. But let’s start from the start…
We all (apart from Tom and Helen’s team) met in Holyhead for the 14:45 Stena ferry. The more “experienced” members of the team (who should really know better) bought at least a month’s supply (or so we thought) of wine from the duty-free portakabin. A pleasant crossing on a newish ferry brought us to Dublin, from where we made our way across Ireland in 2 cars and a van, stopping en route to bulk up on fish & chips in anticipation of an active week.
Tom had decided to fly to Cork (for some reason known only to himself) and hire a car. He arrived before the rest of us, so was able to pick up the keys to our two cottages at Doolin Village Lodges, in the heart of Doolin village. These turned out to be very nice, each with 2 doubles and a twin room. Better still, they were only 200 metres or so from 2 pubs – McGann’s and McDermott’s. An added advantage was that Fisherstreet Pot was just a 5 min walk away. I would certainly be tempted to book the same accommodation next time!
Helen, Jim & Sharon arrived earlier and stayed a couple of miles out of Doolin. We did meet up for the odd bit of caving and even a pub trip or 2.
Caving-wise, the trip couldn’t have been better, with some stunning streamways and a couple of great through trips. The caves visited included Faunarooska Cave, Pollnagollum-Poulelva, Doolin River Cave, Coolagh River Cave and Cullaun 2. See below for some specific trip reports. We didn’t encounter any access issues. Indeed, any farmers we interacted with were very friendly and helpful. There are plenty more caves to have a go at next time… but I’m sure we’d want to repeat the through trips.
When not caving, the area has plenty more to offer. We did some great walks, Ray & Vikki did a bit of cycling, Yolanda went body boarding at Fanore and there was a bit of general touristing/sightseeing. The Cliffs of Moher are well worth a visit. A top tip is to cycle or walk there, in which case entry is free. To be honest, entry is always free, but car parking is reasonably expensive. A great walk is the high-level path around Blackhead, from Fanore towards Balyvaughan. Be warned though – you can’t actually see the Black Head lighthouse from this path. As it turns out, this is only really a problem if you have decided to walk as far as the lighthouse and then turn around.
The nightlife isn’t bad either. We went out some evenings and stayed in others – well, there was a wine lake to be drunk! O’Connor’s used to be the pub of choice (30 years ago), but I found it slightly underwhelming on this occasion. McDermott’s was much better. We went there on a couple of occasions for Guiness, food and music. Local trio Dubhlinn (who sometimes go by the name of Foolin’ in Doolin) play in both McDermott’s and McGann’s. It’s well worth trying to catch them at least once. On another evening, we ate out at Ivy Cottage (near O’Connor’s). It’s theoretically a seafood restaurant, but do a great bit of lamb!
All in all this was a great trip. I’m sure we will be back!
A lovely drive around the coast road to Fanore (reputedly the longest village in Ireland) brought us to O’Donohue’s pub, where we turned uphill to a parking spot with stunning views over Galway Bay and the Atlantic beyond. We had a few small issues trying to find the entrance, but nothing too serious.
The entrance series is quite tortuous (a “narrow sinuous canyon” according to the UBSS guide), but well-decorated in places. Eventually (maybe after an hour or so) the character changes and we soon passed the window to the Wet Pitch. After this, there was quite a bit of traversing to a climb down towards the Dry Pitch. We declined on this occasion, deciding instead to turn and head for home after a satisfying first caving trip. Helen’s party were apparently ahead of us, but we didn’t see them as they did descend the climb and then the Dry Pitch.
Pollnagollum – Poulelva
We did various trips into this extensive system, one (attempted) through trip and a couple of more sightseeing, photography type trips.
The guide book (the most recent UBSS guide) suggests that Gunman’s Cave is the best way into Pollnagollum, as the main entrance (at the very bottom of the shakehole) leads to a tortuous passage. There is actually nothing tortuous about the main entrance.
The chosen direction for the through trip was Pollnagollum to Poulelva, so Poulelva had to be pre-rigged. Jim & Sharon kindly volunteered to do this. As the guidebook recommended, we entered Pollnagollum via Gunman’s Cave. This eventually emerges about 20 feet up in the main streamway. There was talk of the drop being free climbable, but none of us fancied it, so we dropped a rope.
The streamway is followed for quite a distance, mostly in large spectacular style, but occasionally some smaller, wetter sections have to be negotiated. Eventually a passage on the right leads towards the Maze and into Craven Canyon, which is the link with Poulelva. The UBSS description makes Craven Canyon sound like a simple stomp along a large passage. This is far from the case. The going is often quite awkward, with climbs and squeezes. The reality was so different from the description that we convinced ourselves that we had gone the wrong way. We then spent some time looking for a different way on, before giving up and going all the way back to Pollnagollum.
As it’s such a stunning streamway, going back through it wasn’t much of a hardship. You just need to be careful at one point, where the obvious passage carries on upstream into Branch Passage. The way back to Pollnagollum is to duck under a bit of an arch to the left into the main Pollnagollum streamway. This point was marked by a small pile of stones for our trip, but it may not be wise to rely on this. Just keep an eye out for a separate stream coming in from the left.
The climb back up into Gunman’s Cave actually isn’t too bad. You just need to find the right place to do it, which is much easier from below. The trick is to climb up well downstream and then traverse for some distance, at one point following a high-level oxbow. Some people chose to use the rope to get back up and we were soon all back out into the shakehole.
As a postscript, it turns out that, not only were we on the right route to Poulelva when we turned back, we were actually only 10 minutes from the bottom of the Poulelva shaft. At least we have an excuse to go back.
Doolin River Cave (St. Catherine’s One – Fisherstreet Pot)
The other classic through trip in the area. Ray and Scott pre-rigged Fisherstreet Pot and dropped SRT kits ready to be used at the end of the trip. We all then squeezed into 2 cars for the short drive up to St. Catherine’s. The farmer couldn’t have been more helpful, letting us park behind the farmhouse, giving us directions to the entrance and even switching off the power to his electrified fence. His final piece of advice was to steer well clear of the dog living in the house beyond the cave entrance. That was nearly the end of Yolanda’s trip, but she bravely struggled on.
Despite the farmer’s helpful directions, we still struggled to find the entrance. Not that it’s difficult to find. We just fixated on the wrong clump of trees and spent quite a while searching the wrong area. The problem with the correct clump of trees was that it’s a bit closer to the house with the killer dog than we (well, Yolanda) would have liked.
Killer dog safely negotiated, we were glad to finally get underground. Not far inside, there is a bit of a squeeze over a block. This was a bit too snug for Andy & Nick. For a while it looked like their trip may be over, but it turned out that a lower-level route could be dug through cobbles. This was the only constricted bit of the whole trip, so it was (relatively) plain sailing for the rest of the way.
Route finding is generally easy. At one point, a section apparently (and appropriately) named “The Toilet” follows the water through a tube, rather like being flushed. There are various well-decorated high-level grottos to marvel at along the way. Eventually the streamway becomes an impressively high canyon with easy going. At a few points it is easier to follow dry oxbows.
Passing the inlet from Aran View Swallet, a certain odour is apparent, but thankfully not too overpowering. The roof lowers until, just before emerging into daylight at Fisherstreet Pot, it requires crawling through deepish water. It took a while for all of us to prussik up to the surface. Thankfully it was then just a short 5 minute walk back to the accommodation. Ray then cycled back up for the car – the other car had already been driven back by Damian, who didn’t go underground.
This is an absolutely amazing through trip. I’m sure we’ll be back.
Coolagh River Cave
Coolagh is a very active stream cave, so great care needs to be taken with the weather if contemplating a trip there. The dry weather during our visit to the Burren provided too good an opportunity to miss, so we decided on a simple in and out trip via Poll Donough, which is where the Coolagh River first ventures underground. On the same day, Jim and Sharon were planning a through trip from one of the other entrances (PD South?) to Poll Donough, so it seemed likely that we would meet them underground.
Finding the entrance wasn’t too bad once we had identified the correct place to park. Simply look for the large stream sink. The cave starts as a fine canyon, which offers pleasant going until the First Bedding Cave is met. The going becomes a bit more awkward through this, but nothing too bad. Eventually we emerged back into the Coolagh River Passage, giving easier progress again as far as the Second Bedding Cave, which is a low, wet crawl. The 2nd BC emerges in the roof of the Upper Main Drain. The passage heads both upstream and downstream from the point of entry. I don’t think upstream goes too far, but we decided to leave a krab here as a marker for the way out before following the pleasant passage downstream.
The Upper Main Drain is a reasonably-sized stream passage. All to soon it came to an end at Balcombe’s Pot, a smooth water chute plunging into a deep pool. Scott threw caution to the wind and went for it. A few strokes of swimming were required to cross the pool. Yolanda went next, seemingly throwing even more caution to the wind. Ray went a vivid shade of yellow and made a run back for the entrance as fast as he could. Vikki sacrificed the rest of her trip to escort Ray out to safety.
After Balcombe’s Pot, Scott and Yolanda explored the impressive Lower Main Drain for some distance, before turning round and coming back out the same way. The did bump into Jim and Sharon, who decided to reverse their own inward route. So nobody did a through trip in the end.
This was a great trip, but I certainly wouldn’t want to be down there in wet conditions, especially not around the 2nd BC. Route finding can be a bit tricky too, so be sure to take a description and/or survey if you go!