After having spent a superb week in Kerry (see ‘A Week in County Kerry’), our expectations for Connemara were high. We were not to be disappointed, despite the fact that Georgina’s back injury from our Mangerton outing prevented us from doing any serious walking in the Twelve Bens. Thankfully, it didn’t prevent us enjoying some very varied and hugely enjoyable outings into the foothills of the range, and the coastline and islands of the area.
Connemara National Park seemed a logical starting place for our first day, particularly since Diamond Hill (1450 ft), which stands in the centre of the park, is renowned as a stunning viewpoint for the area. Having a full day to spend, we had ample time to explore all of the trails laid out in the park, though the ascent of Diamond Hill was undoubtedly the highlight. A circular path has been constructed up and over the mountain, and it is obviously very popular. On reaching the summit, it was not hard to see why, the views being superb in all directions. The wild and rugged nature of the Connemara landscape is very well seen, with the quartzite rock of Twelve Bens glittering beautifully in the sunlight.
Being island lovers, we were keen to make the trip over to the Aran Islands, and made the largest of these, Inishmore, our destination for the second day. The day was bright and sunny; perfect conditions for enjoying the fabulous limestone scenery. Although like Connemara, the islands are part of County Galway, their geological affinity is with the Burren and Cliffs of Moher of County Clare, being largely covered with limestone pavement and mile upon mile of gleaming dry stone walls. The island is too large to walk the entire coastline in one day, so we made a loop of the central parts, using sections of the Inishmore Way. The highlight of the route is undoubtedly Dun Aonghasa, a hill fort perched spectacularly atop undercut cliffs. In fact, we spent rather too long here, and only made it back to the ferry with minutes to spare! It is possible to traverse the entire southern coastline of the island, a walk of about 15 miles, and this will definitely feature in the itinerary for a future visit to the islands.
A work colleague had told us that Dogs Bay near Roundstone, should not be missed, and so we planned a route that would take us over the rugged little hill of Errisbeg (984 ft), with a return loop around the Gorteen peninsular, on the western side of which Dogs Bay lies. The view from the summit of Errisbeg is very extensive, with the lochan-dappled expanse of Roundstone Bog, backed by the white-flecked Twelve Bens being particularly impressive.
Dogs Bay was every bit as good as we were promised, with a beach of gleaming white sand – apparently of very rare composition, being formed almost completely from the shells of single-celled foraminifera – and it was even warm enough for paddling!
Tully Mountain (1168 ft) formed the objective for our penultimate walk. This is another isolated coastal peak, offering superb views both out to sea and inland to the Twelve Bens. The ascent of the west ridge passes a series of intriguing stone turf stacks, and offers excellent retrospective views. The ridge itself is a pleasing succession of knolls and the occasional lochan, but unfortunately the mist descended shortly before we reached the summit trig, and so we were denied a view from there.
For our final day, we decided to head out to Inishbofin, as the weather forecast suggested that low cloud would shroud the hills of the mainland for much of the day. We chose well, as the island was bathed in warm sunshine, which allowed us stunning views across a wide sweep of the mainland, with Croagh Patrick standing out to the north east. The only drawback is that the morning ferry doesn’t leave until 11.30, and so you really only have half a day on the island. Leaving the village, we first made for Port Island, a tidal islet, on which stands the fascinating ruin of a Cromwellian barracks, which made a perfect lunch spot.
Leaving the barracks behind, I continued along the rugged coastline, which despite never being more than a mile from the village or the road, feels truly remote. Passing the stunning Uaimh na bhFiach, home to a noisy seabird colony, I briefly left the coastline and headed up to the summit of Knock (266 ft), which gives a bird’s eye view of the whole island as well as superb panoramas of neighbouring islands and the mountains of the mainland.
Returning to the coastline, I continued past Wrack Cove to Dumhach Beach, a gorgeous expanse of white sand.
Here I had to leave the coastline to return to the village via the quiet lanes. Just above the beach stands a ruined chapel, built by St Colman, who left Lindisfarne for a new life here, after he disagreed with the church about the dating of Easter, following the Synod of Whitby. He was obviously a man of excellent taste, at least in terms of choosing places to live!
All too soon I was back in the village to await the return ferry. Nevertheless, any sadness that our holiday was at an end was more than compensated for by the beauty and peace that we had experienced on this magical island.