It was 10 o’clock sharp when I finally arrived at the start of solo naturist hike of the Burren.
I had cycled all the way from the Galway town of Gort and crossed the county bounds into neighbouring Clare to perform this venture; a distance of 12 kilometres or a little over 7 miles in old money. The start of the route is also the start of the Burren Way (53.009676, -8.946246 on Google Maps), so initially you could very well encounter textiles on this part of the route as you’re beginning the trip. I definitely met other textiles on my return trip to the starting point later in the day. But more on that later.
Venturing about a hundred metres or so along the route, I veered off the Burren Way to the right, into one of the many fields hemmed in by stone walls. I had a route of my own planned that was intended to take me off the beaten track; the trouble for me was how to go about it. Consulting Google Maps, I took my bearings from it, scanning the environment for any open opportunities that might present themselves. Finally, I arrived at a corner of the field and taking a chance, I climbed over one of the few gaps in the stone wall not claimed by blackthorns. The result was a more open and welcoming field, and by all appearance it had been recently grazed.
Again, consulting Google Maps, I headed in a north-easterly direction into this new field. A few moments into this direction I arrived at one of the many hawthorn trees that grew out in the open, and its shelter from the growing strength of the morning sun, I removed my clothing, applied the necessary amount of sun cream for the journey ahead, and I continued my nude hike in earnest.
From the stripping-off point, I changed my course to a more northerly direction, with my first port of call being a meadow. As a guide, I kept parallel to a stone wall situated on my left, over which I saw my first up close view of the cracked, uneven limestone terrain of the Burren. It wasn’t before the Hazel thickets that grow unchallenged in the Burren began to close in around me, eventually forming a woodland through which I dutifully followed an established cow path through, or what you might aptly call a bóthairín (pronounced bo-har-een). Following this shaded woodland path, I finally emerged once more into an open field, its green grass bathed in the strong morning light, which embraced my body again. I ventured along the length of this first narrow field, and then through the bottle-neck into the second, more broader field, blanketing a rising hillside, the summit of which was adorned by the ruins of a Penal Church (according to my OSI map).
Satisfying my curiosity with this structure, I continued north-west, then north, following the field I was currently in, before finally veering off to the west. Again, following animal trails, I made my way through the blackthorn hedging that marked the boundary of the farmland and broke through in the vast, grey barrenness of the Burren, which stretched out before me under the blue March sky that the current ‘heatwave’ have blessed us with. Way off in the distance, the undulating limestone domes of Mullagh More, Knockanes, Turloughmore and Slievecarran rose above the landscape, beckoning me for future hikes later in the year. But today, I was focusing my attention on a more scarce feature in the Burren; lakes. But my attention was on one lake in particular, Lough Travaun.
Heading due west across the Burren proper, I first had to cross a feature of the Burren Way (a route I had aimed to avoid due to textiles), a feature called the Green Road. Generally speaking, the Green Roads criss-cross sections of the Burren, so the wide, grass-covered pathway I encountered this morning wasn’t a unique feature to this part of the Burren by any stretch. Historically, these Green Roads were used by local farmers in the Burren to drive their cattle from one end of the landscape to other without having them wandering astray from the rest of the herd. Today, they are now used by walkers and hikers alike. Luckily for myself at this time of day, there were no walkers around (they might still have been in bed on this fine Sunday morning), so I comfortably crossed the Green Road nude.
Back on the limestone pavement again, I found my progress through the broken and uneven terrain much slower and more carefully thought-out than my previous jaunt up to this point. Slabs of rock could shift and see-saw under your weight, a misplaced foot could end up in a ‘grike’ (the deep cracks that separate the slabs of limestone, themselves called ‘clints’) are the sorts of hurdles that would cause you take half steps along you trek, lengthening the journey time. On the plus side, I had brilliant scenery to accompany me through this moonscape. On a number of occasions I inadvertently disturbed some of the wilder residence that call the Burren home; a fox, a hare, a lizard who disappeared in the blink of an eye and the various wildfowl that frequent the loughs and turloughs in the area.
The first waterbody I came across was the relatively small Aughrim Lough, by whose shore I skirted and veered south, crossing another stone wall in a place where it was low enough to cross safely in my nude state. Heading south another bit, I eventually changed my course, heading in a westerly direction to Travaun Lough, which was now in full view. Upon reaching the shore of my destination, I found what I assumed was a suitable bathing spot, (roughly at 53.018164, -8.959127 on Google Maps). Applying more suncream, I dipped my toes in water that was unsurprisingly still cold from the winter. When I finally built up the courage to take the plunge, venturing further into the cold waters, I was surprised by how slippery the limestone was underfoot, as the bare stone was covered in a sort of slippery limescale. This proved a potential hazard initially as I felt I could have slipped and injured myself if I didn’t pay attention to where I was going; indeed, it came very close to happening on a few times. This is the one warning I will advise others of if they wish to swim here.
Despite these near misses, I still remarked at the clarity of the water I had bathed in, it was literally crystal clear for anyone to see for themselves. And on such a calm, sunny day like today, the lake surface of Travaun acted like a giant, still mirror, perfectly reflecting the undulating domes of Mullagh More, Slieve Roe and Knockanes off in the distance. Sights like these are not easily replicated elsewhere, or rarer so, are they easily accessible.
After spending an hour in the spot, I decided to up sticks and head back to the starting point of my naturist hike. I headed in a south-east direction across more of the shattered pavement of the Burren, not knowing where I was heading, but allowing whatever feature of the landscape to guide my curiosity, which was how I came to arrive at a Carn on a small hilltop. Though, upon closer inspection this square-like arrangement of stone appeared to be the remains of walls of a bothán (hut) possibly used by a farm labourer in some bygone era. With my curiosity satisfied, I fixed my wandering eyes to the east, having seen that there was another lone ‘lake’ (though you could more accurately describe it as a pond) on Google Maps. The ‘lake’ in question is, I found out later, is called Lough Awaddy, though I mentally nicknamed it ‘The Oasis’, as it really had the appearance of a life-sustaining feature in a ‘desert’ landscape. Someone else in the past must have had the some notion, as I discovered the ruined walls of cottage but the shore of the lake, its only residents now being the whitethorns that held an unchallenged claim over those walls.
Continuing east, I reached the Green Road I had crossed previously, but this time I was obliged to dress myself again as the afternoon sun had encouraged the textiles to come out of their morning hibernations. Reaching the Green Road, I headed south on the trail which would deliver me back to my starting point. Just before, I reached my final destination on my naturist venture, the wide passage of the Green Road narrowed in girth by encroaching blackthorn hedging, whose white flowers were in full bloom amongst the stark black network of branches of the blackthorns. Upon making my way through this bottleneck, I was surprised to hear the very loud humming of the honeybees and bumblebees alike as they took full advantage on the nectar offered up by the blackthorn flowers. For me it was a rare experience to partake in, during a time when these valuable pollinators survival have been dealt massive blows. It was a parting gem that I took away with me from my hike through the Burren, on a day I was not likely to forget in a long while.
Note: As I cycled to this location, parking was not an issue for me. However, if you are going to drive to this site, there are not many opportunities on offer. There is a parking area (located at 53.013950, -8.932299 on Google Maps) at an established bathing area on Lough Bunny, but there appears to be limited parking spaces here. If you were to walk from this parking area to the trailhead a kilometer away, it will take approximately 15 minutes. The other alternative is to park on the roadside where safely possible, but exercise road-safety when doing this, as the road in question is narrow, with barely enough space for two vehicles in places.