Wild Atlantic Way Boot Camp
I signed up for the Gourmet Tour and everything sounded so delicious and tempting; I couldn’t wait for the oysters, huge prawns and deep yellow butter of Ireland. Off I went to Emerald Isle.
After an amazing full Irish breakfast at my favorite hotel in Dublin, The Merrion, it lifted me out of my airplane early morning fog. Slab bacon, black sausage, eggs the yolks so orange and Irish soda bread fresh from the oven… it was excellent even if the price was lofty.
Off I headed to meet my group of adventurers to head to County Galway for our gourmet experience with Connemara Adventure Company. Upon arrival I found out that it was more of a boot camp than a summer camp. We could choose between mud slides into the icy fjord, sea kayaking, multi-rope swing network, ten kilometer hikes over the bens or mountain biking around the Wild Atlantic Way. But for today, the one I chose was going out into the fjord on a rubber zodiac to check the lobster traps and pull up the mussels for dinner….Conor was taking his dog out – figured he wouldn’t risk his dog by doing anything crazy – so off I went on a wonderful adventure.
I should have known that I was way out of my league when I found out the company was owned and operated by Mary & Jamie Young. Yes, the same Jamie Young, Gaelforce founder, who sails to Greenland on his Killary Flyer to climb icebergs and who is renowned in the documentary A Greenland Story. Definitely an adventure seeker, trailblazer and has a list of expeditionary thrill seeking achievements longer than your arm (especially mine) like kayaking around Cape Horn and soloing twice across the Atlantic.
It did turn out to have a gourmet twist as every evening the dinners able to claim a star ratings! One especially lovely night was spent at Lough Inagh Lodge, close to heaven after a 10 kilometer hike through the muck chasing sheep. Another amusement was sailing out to Inisbofin Island, the last stop before finding Northern America! Bia Bo Finne Food festival – offers a taste of Inisbofin which is why we went, but it turns out there is so much more. A walking loop of the island has you climbing rock face cliffs, pristine white sand beaches, St Coleman’s Abbey and other monastic site all with our local story teller of historical tidbits and legends. Glad that I didn’t miss this treasure in the middle of the sea.
But the pot of gold was just around the corner and I didn’t need a leprechaun to find it! The sign read, Connemara Seaweed Baths. Oh my dear, detoxifying, seaweed, saltwater steaming hot soaking bath full of minerals and nutrients was calling out… the choice was lunch or the baths.
Forget lunch! No fairy could have separated me from those baths. Some experiences in life never leave you. Do yourself the biggest favor, it is worth the whole trip! Had I known prior, I would have been there daily as it is less than 3 miles from the Adventure Centre! I almost needed to be dragged away… but they used oysters, like a dog treat to get me back in the car.
We drove south stopping to view the Cliffs of Moher, the then towards Galway as they were having the annual Oyster Festival, which has the distinction of being one of the top ten food festivals in the World! The treat here is legendary Moran’s Oyster Cottage in Clarenbridge. This famous thatched roofed cottage has been serving oyster and beverages since 1797. The great thing about Moran oysters is that they come directly from the natural bed to the table. In front of a snug peat fire inside or weather permitting sitting at outside tables facing castle ruins across a swan-dotted river, Moran’s provides excellent food with a festive mood. The irrepressible proprietor, Willie Moran, is not only an oyster farmer and champion shucker, but serves the best grilled oysters ever - simply grilled with a hint of garlic, good Irish butter and bread crumbs. May they continue for another 211 years!
Irish soda bread from The Merrion Hotel kitchens
250g Plain flour
250g Wholemeal flour
IOOg Porridge oats
1 tsp Bread soda 1 tsp Salt
1. Preheat the oven to 200C/gas 6/fan 180C and dust a baking sheet with flour. Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl, then rub in the butter. Pour in the buttermilk and mix it in quickly with a table knife, then bring the dough together very lightly with your fingertips (handle it very, very gently). Now shape it into a flat, round loaf measuring 20cm/8in in diameter.
2. Put the loaf on the baking sheet and score a deep cross in the top. (Traditionally, this lets the fairies out, but it also helps the bread to cook through.) Bake for 30-35 minutes until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. If it isn't ready after this time, turn it upside down on the baking sheet and bake for a few minutes more.
3. Transfer to a wire rack, cover with a clean tea towel (this keeps the crust nice and soft) and leave to cool. To serve, break into quarters, then break or cut each quarter in half to make 8 wedges or slices —o r simply slice across.
And Eat with great Irish Butter