West Clare could become home to a new trailway and electric bus route as part of an innovative tourism development.
Planning is well underway for the projects which would see a new walking trail set up and an electric bus route that could also double up as a public transport service for the people of West Clare.
Co-founder of Loop Head Tourism, Cillian Murphy is one of the key individuals involved in the project and during an in-depth conversation with The Clare Herald explained the concept, plans and impact if all goes well.
People of the area feel they are very poorly served when it comes to walking routes and from here the idea of developing a walking trail was conceived. The difference between this and any other route is that bog-roads would be utilised instead of public roads therefore eliminating the need to acquire permission from landowners or farmers.
Following discussions with Congella McGuire from the Heritage Office in Clare County Council, a map has been set up putting various villages and towns of West Clare as trailheads for the new walkway.
“We sat down and mapped out from each village using each village as a trail head we’ve said right we’re going to map out three or four walks from each village and use it as bog roads, then we’re going to link them. What we end up then is from Kilkee, Querrin, Doonaha, Carrigaholt, Cross and Kilbaha, each of those would have a trail head for these walking trails and we’ll either name them or colour code them so that if you were a visitor you could take a yellow walk which you know is going to be 5km, a blue walk which would be 10km, a red one which would be 15km or whatever but in the middle you would actually come to a place where they will link up, the walks around Querrin and Doonaha there might be a space of four or five kilometres which would be able to link one to the other and it’s way for us to link all of the walks around the peninsula, so if somebody wants to do 180km of walking on the bog roads well they could link their way through the whole lot of them” Murphy outlined.
Meetings have also taken place with the Doonbeg Development Association. It is planned to name to walking route ‘The West Clare Trailway’ inspired by the West Clare Railway. “What we would be stressing is that these are not offroad, there is potential for traffic on these but it would breed very low levels of traffic going through them and immediately they gave us a couple of hundred kilometres of walks between the whole lot”.
According to Cillian, these walkways are very popular attractions for tourists and would make Co Clare a more likely destination for oversee visitors. “Somewhere between 70-80% of people walk less than 10km on looped marked walks so 1.2 million visitors in Ireland in 2015 said they went walking on holidays, it’s a big market and it’s way bigger market in that regard than chasing the die-hard hiker or hill walker. It’s not to say we won’t continue to try get access for the likes of the walk around Loop Head or other places in coastal walks that’s a work in progress but it’s time consuming and it’s slow, rather than have no walks we decided this is going to be the easy thing for us to have end up with the walks that will be signposted, marked and have proper trailheads in each village”.
On top of this, work is ongoing to bring an electric bus route to the region which would be powered by wind turbines on the Loop Head peninsula. This mode of transport would not be confined to tourists and can act as a service for locals too providing benefits for everyone in the area.
“I had read about and visited the West Indies and seen these hop on hop off local buses that operate in the likes of India, South Africa and the West Indies, there just so neat just hop on hop off there’s no real bus stop, very casual a euro per head regardless if you’re on one mile or five miles and it’s a mixture of locals and visitors and I really like that because it gives visitors a real authentic experience, they’re really in with the locals and they’re rubbing shoulders with them and you get a different experience when you do that as opposed to being in your own little bubble on a tour bus.
“We approached Clare Bus about this as a project, they do have a service bus that runs through the peninsula in the summer time and what we’d be looking at is a more defined route and a couple of times a day when the bus would service this route and it would tie in with the Bus Éireann service routes into Kilkee in the morning and evening so you could conceivably get your bus into Kilkee, get the local bus out to Kilbaha spend your day walking or cycling around, get the bus back in the evening and hit the Bus Éireann bus to back in Ennis, Limerick or wherever that evening. It is integrating the whole system but when we looked into more, diesel was going to be a huge cost not to mention it’s not quiet sustainable so we’ve wind turbines on the peninsula and we said hold on a minute this makes a bit of sense, an electric bus would have way lower energy costs”.
Different organisations that they have had conversations with in relation to the project have been very keen thus far. “We spoke to Graham Lightfoot in Clare Bus and all of a sudden there was a spark from their side they were really interested so we’ve just been driving it on and look it’s early days, there’s a lot of hurdles to get over, anybody that we’ve spoken to be it the sustainable energy authority or Clare County Council be it the operators of the turbines on Loop Head, be it Fáilte Ireland they’ve all been very enthusiastic because it would tick an awful lot of boxes, it is clean green energy, we have two turbines in the peninsula that are generating approximately a hundred percent of the power that is required by the peninsula so there would be absolutely powered from within the peninsula, it would provide public transport which we don’t have, it would provide a brilliant visitor experience to add to all the brilliant visitor experiences along the peninsula and it makes sense in a lot of areas but a lot of these things take time”.
He hopes that the bus shelters in place at the various towns and villages will also be the trailhead for the walking routes and possibly a location to charge electric cars and bikes.
“There’s no question there are going to be constraints, it’ll probably only run for six or seven months of the year but you know what if we can start we that we’ll start with that and see where it goes from there and maybe the running costs of it would be such that it would be viable some day of the week during the winter time, we’ll have to look into it and of course the other option is the bus drivers could be trained as guides” the owner of Murphy Blacks Restaurant in Kilkee said of the possible hurdles in their path.
Looking at an estimated timeline, Cillian notes “We would be hoping that for the summer season of 2017 that ourselves and Clare Bus will have a route up and the diesel bus will be running the route. It makes an awful lot of sense from a lot of points of view to have that as a baseline because it would then provide us with baseline costs, schedules, we may have to tweak the route because it may work some ways and it may not work in others, there may be parts of the peninsula that we would be missing out because of this particular route. It would be very smart of us to run this for the summer season of 2017 as a trial pilot scheme between ourselves and Clare Bus.
“I would hope that we will have something up and running for 2017 at a very basic level, we would hopefully see the bus shelters go in during the winter or spring of 2018 and have the electric bus up and operating for 2018, that’s a very rough outline of where we’re going but as I said there’s a lot of hiccups and speed bumps in the way, there’s a lot of moving parts there and if one piece doesn’t work the whole thing grinds to a halt for a time. If everything went to plan and everything worked as it should I wouldn’t see any reason why we wouldn’t have an electric bus on the peninsula for the summer season of 2018 but that’s a big if”.