But what more than anything else decides the ease or otherwise of an outdoors expedition in Ireland is about to matter less at the Cliffs of Moher.
If the weather is lousy you will simply be able to duck under a hillside and soar like a bird.
A new visitor center just yards from the spectacular County Clare cliffs, famous for their precipitous drop to the Atlantic, will allow people to see and sense everything – even when its foggy or rainy outside.
Weather, and its vagaries, is a constant factor along the cliffs. And it can pull a few surprises.
For one thing, it can rain up. Squalls blowing in from the Atlantic, often over the nearby Aran Islands, can move across the water at a level below the cliff top. Updraft winds then carry rain, or even hail, from this lower altitude up and over the cliff top.
Rain, literally, can first strike a person’s face below the chin.
On days when the wind blows strongly from the west, and there are many of those along the Clare coastline, the small rain-generated streams than run over the cliff can be thrown backwards and skywards.
It’s possible, particularly after especially wet weather, to walk under arches of water without getting wet.
The center, meanwhile, will be open in all meteorological conditions.
But it won’t be that obvious to the casual eye. That’s because it is being constructed underground.
The center, when completed, will be covered with green sward so that it won’t visually compete in any way with the cliffs themselves. The first phase of the project has already started and the full job is due to be completed in early 2007.
“Quite simply, the facilities at the cliffs did not match the status of the attraction,” Ger Dollard, project leader for Clare County Council’s “Cliffs of Moher New Visitor Experience” team told the Echo.
Dollard was in New York recently as part of a visiting Clare County Council delegation.
The delegation’s members, including Mayor of Clare Patrick Keane, were eager to get the message out to Americans planning to visit the county this year or beyond.
And the message is simple: you simply must stop at the Cliffs of Moher.
This is literally true, of course. Anyone familiar with the cliffs knows that they warrant caution. So part of the visitor improvement project is the provision of many meters of safe walkways close to the edge of the rock ramparts which rear or fall in some parts for 230 meters, depending on point of view.
“We have finished work on the walkways and new viewing platforms on the Hag’s Head side of the new center and now work is underway on the O’Brien’s Tower side,” Ger Dollard told the Echo this week.
The under-earth center has avoided the kind of controversy that sprung up a few years ago when it was proposed to construct an interpretation center in the heart of the Burren, which is to the north of the cliffs.
The center will house, among others facilities, a reception area, restaurant, interpretation area and a “cyclorama,” described by the project designers as a “cylindrical mood piece” in which visitors will be surrounded by the natural sights and sounds of the eight kilometer long cliff area.
The highlight of a duck inside the hillside will be “The Ledge,” described in the center’s brochure as “Europe’s most advanced virtual reality experience.”
This is where the visitor gets to be a soaring bird, swooping and gliding around the cliff ledges, or a salmon swimming through a kelp forest on the ocean floor below.
“We’re looking to January or February of next year for the visitor center to be completed,” said Ger Dollard.
In the meantime, of course, the soaring shale walls of the Cliffs of Moher will continue to draw people from Ireland and beyond. What man builds wisely in such a place can only ever complement nature, not overshadow it.
More details on the Cliffs of Moher and the visitor center project are available at www.cliffsofmoher.ie.