As I steer the car around Black Head and head south along Clare’s coast, my view turns from Salthill across Galway Bay to the Aran Islands.
It’s early on a wet and windy Sunday morning. Ireland is sleeping. Apart from the busload of eager Dutch and German tourists I passed earlier, already prowling Dunguaire Castle in Kinvara, I’ve pretty much got the world to myself.
I breathe out long and slow.
Thank you universe.
I need this right now.
A little headspace in a whole lot of stunning earthspace.
Blue Bag packed in the back of the car.
It’s been a good few years since I drove down through Fanore. Usually I’ll take the Corkscrew Hill road, so I’m eyes wide with pleasure as I watch the westerly storm and high tide combine to pummel a thousand flat black rocks. Heroic waves spray towers of spume and exploding balls of salty froth high into the air.
Time to stop the car and be out there. To fully absorb all this glory I need to feel it on my skin. Pulling over in precisely the middle of nowhere, I wrap my tweed coat around me and stare out towards the roaring Atlantic.
Not a human in sight, although at my feet there are ancient stones embedded into the rocky foreshore in a deliberate circle. Evidently thousands of years ago other people stood where I am now, and -
- oh bloody hell! Would you Adam and Eve it?
Less than a hundred metres up the road, the coach I’d seen in Kinvara has pulled over, and is now spewing forth brightly-clad tourists. It's barely 10 on a Sunday morning, and they’ve already 'done' Kinvara.
Very probably they woke up in Galway and will sleep tonight in Killarney, and they have as much right to be here as I do. Just wish they hadn’t chosen my particular middle of nowhere while I was actually there.
Climbing back into the car I head for the beach, to stand alone and face a mighty angry ocean.
Driving past Fanore I see a man walking a young calf towards me along the road. A mile further on I see another man walking a single cow away from me along the road. Either that calf was just taken from that cow, or there's a severe dog shortage in this part of West Clare.
Heading into Doolin I remember my first time here, the day after my first Paddy’s Day in Ireland. Back in 1993, I was less concerned with pacing my drinking. I’d left Taylor's Bar on Dominick Street at some stage of the afternoon, and then woke up on the floor of a friend’s caravan in Doolin.
Apparently I’d hitched, arriving unannounced in the middle of the night. She assured me I’d behaved well, considering my state, until I fell asleep on her floor, snoring raucously.
Today I’m hungry after all that sea air, so I pop into a pub for some scrambled eggs.
The server seems at best ambivalent about my presence, and asks me to pay first. Then a coachload of Germans walk in and I understand, not only why she was unimpressed by my feeble order, but also why I haven't been back to Doolin for so long.
It's beautiful but it runs a tourist conveyor belt that reminds me of Kilronan on Inis Mor. There are many places equally as gorgeous nearby.
Tonight I’ll be in my favourite, Lehinch, but first it’s time to enjoy a magnificent pint of Guinness in a pub in Lisdoonvarna.
The barmaid is handing out aspirin to a young customer.
"I've something for every occasion in my bag, so I have!" She smiles, and as she walks away, another lad whispers:
"Ribbed and flavoured!"
Slightly ashamed of myself, I chuckle along with the other naughty boys.
Just like everywhere else, the number of pubs in Ennistymon has shrunk. Used to be one for every week of the year. Now I'm having trouble finding somewhere that might be showing the footie. To be fair, Clare are playing later, and this is hardcore Banner country.
Lehinch beach never disappoints, today the air dense with sea mist. Across the horizon, below the mighty red and black storm clouds, long pale cloudy fingers reach for the water, dipping into the ocean as they spill their load.
Over Liscannor a monster shower cloud looks as if it’s about to split open to reveal a Steven Spielberg flying saucer.
The fella at the reception of my inexpensive family hotel is as flexible and obliging as a submissive yoga master, juggling rooms so that I can be on the top floor and off the road.
Simple and clean, my room is fine. just a tiny bit off-kilter. As I do what men do standing up, I notice that the loo's cistern lid slopes to the left. The mixer tap in the basin is also skewed well to the left, for some reason making me feel as if I'm on board a boat.
The kettle tea and coffee tray is well-stocked but nowhere near an electrical point. Maybe that's why it's so well stocked - nobody knows how to use it.
Gasping for a cuppa I lift the whole tray and carry it carefully to the seat by the window, where there's a double electrical socket. As I try to plug in the kettle, the whole socket wobbles and shifts in an alarming way, considering it’s attached to the mains.
Do I want that cuppa?
Well then, get over it.
I do and it's worth the gamble. If it hadn't been, I'd now be a pile of ashes on a carpet in County Clare and could neither have written this, nor gone out tonight to once again delight myself, by gently rambling around the varied, chatty, warm and wonderful pubs of Lehinch.