Yesterday I biked to the Eastern end of the island. Initially I thought the island went alot further so I was surprised to find myself at a small bay with only water before me. From the bay there is a great view of Inish Maan, the second of the Aran Islands (and the land I had thought was an extension of my island), and I stopped here for lunch and to take a break from biking.
On the way to the Eastern end I passed a cemetery I had stopped at a few days earlier. There are apparently 120 saints buried there, though I could find nothing readable dating before 1843. There were odd slabs of rock here and there which may well have been ancient grave stones – particularly around the remains of a small chapel(Teaghlach Einne) sunken low into the ground. The chapel is barely visible from the roadside because of the many Celtic crosses and the tall grasses that grow among them. Its roofless but otherwise intact. I had to stoop down to enter the curved archwayand found myself standing in a space only a few metres wide and a few more long, with an inscribed alter before me and the open sky above meView image. Its a special place to be and after taking some photos I left a coin in one of the small stone bowls on either side of the the chapel interior – my coin sat shining bright and new on the top of a pile of tarnished copper coins half submerged by rainwater. On the way out of the cemetery I read some of the gravestones. There are alot of young people buried here which is rather sombring. People’s children, aged 13 and 3 and 23 – I cant help but feel sorrow for their families I’ve never met.
The day I biked to the end of the island I was intent on finding a natural phenomenon known as a puffing hole. I had a vague idea of where they were in relation to my map and leaving my bike against a stonewall by the roadside, I start to trek up toward the middle of the island to reach the cliffs on the otherside. As has been my experience in the past crossing the width of the island, once over a few paddocks and walls, as the ocean disappears from view behind me the land becomes rockier and more barren, the limestone foundations of the island are revealed where the grass has worn away. Scattered around this area are huge boulders taller than myself, seemingly fallen from the sky – a giants discarded playthings. I can only conclude these have some sort of historical significance being prominent objects on an otherwise sparse landscape. I follow my own path which takes me past three such boulders, spaced 50 metres or so apart and seemingly forming a straight line pointing out to the coast. As the stone walls become less frequent, the ground is covered with more and more loose rock, piles of them here and there and large flat slabs that tilt as I move my weight across them. The familiar smell of salt air takes me home for a few seconds – I breath deeply. I hear the ocean crashing against the cliffs before I reach it and then its one more wall to clamber over and Im there. I find myself standing between two semi-circle inlets carved into the rocky coast and assume I’ve been lucky and led myself straight to my intended destination because of the way the swells roll in, hit the hollow inlets and water is flung into the air- or ‘puffed’ one might say. I would later find out that these were not the puffing holes, but they were impressive none the less.
Consulting my map I become unsure about my find and decide to walk to the beginning of the cliffs on the eastern side of the island and make my way back around the cliffs from there, tracing the shapes of the coast on my map as I go. The first natural wonder I nearly miss. I hear the boom of waves battering the cliffs and feel the vibrations through the ground and edge closer to the cliffs to get a better look. I have to get within a metre of the drop before I can see anything. About 30 metres below me is a perfect rectangle worn into the side of the island through which water is rushing in, ricocheting off the three sides and sweeping out to sea again. At first it doesn’t seem like much of a find but after a few minutes perching precariously on the edge of the cliff I am rewarded when the flow in and out builds up and crescends in one powerful wave which on hitting the back wall sends water high into the air
before me and everything is whited out with spray and foam. Its exhilarating to see, so much so that I risk my life to take a photo – thankfully there were no sudden gusts of wind or careless errors on my part.
Moving onward round the coast I come across something else I had been hoping to see, the remains of a stone circle built by artist Richard Long in 1975. I had been keeping an eye out for the stone circle but the problem faced when in a landscape such as this is that everywhere you look, with a little imagination random piles of rocks could easily be the remains of a Richard Long stone circle. This was definitely it though.
I then came to two more inlets in the coast -despite not really doing much, these I decide, are the puffing holes. Looking carefully I see way down another rectanglar recess in the surface of the rocks from which water is being forced up then sucked back down. Nothing airborne though. I notice the water is actually rushing under the bottom of the cliffs in the inlet furtherest from me and walking inland across more rocky shingle I come across a large hole in the ground maybe 3 metres by 3 metres. It is such a straight narrow chute into the earth that I can barely see the water rushing in at the bottom but I can hear it as it runs under the ground beneath my feet. A short distance from this hole I find another smaller hole which Glen aptly describes as looking like a bellybutton. Its wider at the top then narrows as though the land has been sucked down. These Glen also tells me later, are the puffing holes. They do not puff. And they’re the only thing I didn’t take any photos of. Heading back across the island I find one more hole, only by the echoing sound of water – its only about the size of a basketball. Its amazing and slightly worrying to realize that all this water is running freely below the very land I am walking on, especially since I recently read that limestone is watersoluble (thus the reason the caves and the crevices in the landscape developed).
As I head home I disturb a lizard sunning himself, he catches me unaware, and I catch only a glimpse of his tail and hind legs as he slips under a rock. Ireland has no snakes but it has lizards. I leave the salty air, the harsh coast and the power of the ocean behind me and make my way back down the otherside of the island towards my bike. For the first time in the three hours I’ve been exploring I see people. The isolation is incredible – it really is like being alone on the edge of the world. This is by far the most beautiful part of the island I’ve visited so far – its places like these that make me feel like I could stay here for ever……or at the very least come back some day.