Category Archives: Ireland

Causeway Coast Path 29.03.2015

The Causeway Coast in County Antrim has to one of the most spectacular stretches of coastline anywhere in these islands.  I’d wanted to visit the Giant’s Causeway and Carrick-a-Rede for some time, and with the walk between them being somewhere in the region of 10 miles, it seemed a good plan to walk from the one to the other, using the helpful bus service to make the journey in the opposite direction. Things didn’t look too promising when we alighted from the bus at the Causeway; the rain was heavier and more persistent than the forecast had suggested and didn’t seem to be in too much of a hurry to move on.  Undaunted, we headed down to the Causeway itself, telling ourselves that it was better to come on a wet and windy day, as this would keep some of the tourists away, and make the sea more dramatic. The Giant’s Causeway seems to divide opinion – I’d been told by some people that it was disappointing, while others had said it was one of the most spectacular sights they’d seen.  I suppose it all depends on what you’re expecting.  Personally, I thought it was amazing.  It may be relatively small, but what really impresses is the regularity of the formations.   Giants Causeway Giants Causeway1 ?????????? Giants Causeway3 Giants Causeway4 Giants Causeay5Legend has it that the Causeway was created by the Celtic giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (or Finn MacCool), so that he could fight his Scottish counterpart, Benandonner.  Perhaps this story was inspired by the presence of very similar formations on Staffa in the Inner Hebrides.  After all, at that time, it would have been much easier for the people of Antrim to travel to the Hebrides than to the rest of Ireland.  However, scientists now tell us that the 40 000 hexagonal columns are the result of a vertical breakage pattern in a cooling basaltic lava flow.

Although the Causeway is the highlight of this stretch of coastline, there are many fascinating formations to be found elsewhere.  Just beyond the Causeway is the Giant’s Boot, and beyond that, the Organ Pipes and the Chimney Tops.

Giant's Boot

Giant’s Boot

Organ Pipes

Organ Pipes

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Chimney Tops

Unfortunately, the exciting traverse path (visible on the above photo) is closed from a point just before the Chimney Tops are reached, due to land slippage.  We therefore had to turn around and ascend to the clifftops via the Shepherds Steps.  The cliff path is still a fantastic walk, though the lower path looks even better, and it’s sufficiently obvious that I think some daredevils must disregard the signs and barriers and use it regardless.

Looking back at the Chimney Stacks

Looking back at the Chimney Stacks

Luckily, the weather improved considerably shortly after we set out along the clifftops, and sun even began to shine!  Not so luckily, a couple of wet spots went unnoticed on the camera lens for a while, so some of the pictures are slightly spoiled by this.DSCN0107 DSCN0109 DSCN0112-2

The visibility even improved enough at time to allow us glimpses of Islay, with Rathlin was also being in view for much of the route.

Islay comes into view

Islay comes into view (far right)

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Rathlin Island

The whole route is so spectacular that it was hard to know when to stop taking photographs.  Here is just a selection from the next section, as we headed for Dunseverick Castle.DSCN0119 DSCN0123 DSCN0126 DSCN0136 DSCN0142There isn’t much left of Dunseverick Castle these days, but the setting is impressive enough.

Dunseverick Castle

Dunseverick Castle

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Portnaweelan

Approaching Dunseverick Harbour

Approaching Dunseverick Harbour

Beyond Dunseverick Harbour, another section of the route has had to be re-routed due to land slippage.  Rather foolishly, we mistook the new path for the road-walking diversion that had been in place during its construction, and so ended up on the old path which although passable, was certainly rather awkward.  Shortly after this point, the path passes through a natural tunnel, which gives a lovely view of the wide sandy sweep of White Park Bay.

White Park bay through the natural tunnel

White Park bay through the natural tunnel

The next stage of the walk is a rather awkward clamber across slippery rocks, before crossing the full length of White Park Bay to reach Ballintoy.  Beyond Ballintoy, the coast coast is left (though only briefly) for the only time in the entire route, before rejoining it for the last half mile to Carrick-a-Rede.

We arrived at Carrick-a-Rede to discover that the rope bridge had already closed for the day, which was a shame as this would have made a fantastic finale to the walk.  Luckily, all was not lost as we were able to return the next morning, which at least meant that we were able to devote the time it deserved.

Georgina crosses the rope bridge

Georgina crosses the rope bridge

Looking down through the rope bridge

Looking down through the rope bridge

The rope bridge was originally constructed to allow salmon fishermen to access the tiny island of Carrick-a-Rede, which lies on the migration route for Atlantic salmon (hence the name, which means ‘rock in the road’ in Scottish Gaelic).  It has now been in use for around 300 years.  It certainly makes a wonderful end point for this magnificent and varied walk along the north Antrim coast.

Looking back to Carrick-a-Rede

Looking back to Carrick-a-Rede

Some photos by Georgina Collins.

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A Week in Connemara

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.

The coast and Tully Mountain (right) from the slopes of Diamond Hill

The coast and Tully Mountain (right) from the slopes of Diamond Hill

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.

Typical Inishmore scenery - limestone pavement and dry stone walls.  Dun Aonghasa is on the left hrizon.

Typical Inishmore scenery – limestone pavement and dry stone walls. Dun Aonghasa is on the left hrizon.

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.

Roundstone Bog with the Twelve Bens behind

Roundstone Bog with the Twelve Bens behind

The Gorteen Peninsular, seen from the summit of Errisbeg

The Gorteen Peninsular, seen from the summit of Errisbeg

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!

Paddling in Dogs Bay

Paddling in Dogs Bay

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Errisbeg seen behind Gorteen Bay

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.

Looking back to Port Island and Cromwell's barracks

Looking back to Port Island and Cromwell’s barracks

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.

The wild coastline of Inishbofin, with the Twelve Bens and Mweelrea in the background

The wild coastline of Inishbofin, with the Twelve Bens and Mweelrea in the background

Returning to the coastline, I continued past Wrack Cove to Dumhach Beach, a gorgeous expanse of white sand.

Dumhach Beach

Dumhach Beach

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!

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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.

A week in County Kerry

After our arrival in Killarney was heralded by incessant rain, things rapidly improved for our first morning.  The mountains that had been invisible the previous night provided beautiful views from our B&B, and being without transport for the day, we resolved to walk from the town along the Kerry Way and into the National Park.  Our route took us along the shores of Lough Leane, and after a lunch break at Muckross House, we decided to climb Torc Mountain for its stunning views across the lakes and the National Park.The previous night’s rain had certainly made Torc Waterfall an impressive sight.

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Torc Waterfall

Above the waterfall, the Kerry Way rapidly heads into much wilder country, with the slopes of Mangerton looming large to the east.  Near the head of the Old Kenmare Road, a well-made footpath heads up to the summit of Torc Mountain (1755ft), a stunning viewpoint.

View towards the Upper Lake

View towards the Upper Lake

View of Lough Leane and Muckross Lake

View of Lough Leane and Muckross Lake

View to the east

View to the east

Having a hire car from our second day, we were keen to explore more of Kerry, and so decided to make a trip to Valentia Island for a walk around Bray Head (the end of the Irish Coast to Coast Walk), and a possible trip out to the World Heritage Site of Skellig Michael.  Unfortunately, we were later to discover that the boats out to Skellig Michael hadn’t started running, and in any case, it was probably too windy.  Nevertheless, we did have some magnificent views of the Skelligs.

Skellig Michael (right) and Little Skellig (left)

Skellig Michael (right) and Little Skellig (left)

A National Looped Walk has recently been created around Bray Head, and this certainly made navigation easy.  In fact, it made navigation a little too easy, as we ended up returning to the start somewhat earlier than intended, missing out some of the coastline that we had originally intended to traverse.  Nevertheless, it is a magnificent walk, with stunning views throughout.

The north coast of Valentia, Dingle peninsula to the left

The north coast of Valentia, Dingle peninsula to the left

Vie back to the mainland from the path across the top of the headland

View back to the mainland from the path across the top of the headland

The following day saw us return to the mountains, for an ascent of Mangerton (2753ft), the western slopes of which form the eastern edge of Killarney National Park.  The initial ascent was a little dull perhaps, but quick and easy, and the surroundings rapidly become more interesting as height is gained.

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Lunch stop at the Devil’s Punch Bowl

Just as things were becoming exciting, the mist and rain descended, and our traverse around the rim of the corrie was largely without a view.  For this reason, we decided not to visit the actual summit of the mountain, as it stands in a Kinder-esque world of peat hags and groughs, around half a mile from the path on the corrie edge.

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The closest we came to the summit – the weather had deteriorated somewhat!

Fortunately, these conditions didn’t last long, and cleared in time to give the anticipated spectacular views down into the Horses Glen with its string of paternoster lakes.

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Looking back to the Devil’s Punch Bowl (left), with Lough Leane in the background

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Peering down into the Horses Glen, with Stoompa to the right

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Ascending the rugged slopes of Stoompa

The final summit of the horseshoe is Stoompa (2313ft).  Our descent route took us across heathery ground to the outflow of Lough Garagarry, where guidebooks had assured us a footbridge crossed the Owgariff River.  However, it appears that floods have washed this away, and we found the river too wide and swift to cross in safety, especially after Georgina slipped and hurt her back during one abortive attempt.  We were therefore forced to follow it down to a farm track marked on the map, which then necessitated a four mile road walk back to the start of the walk.

Of course, we couldn’t have visited Kerry without making a trip out to the stunning Dingle Peninsula.  As Georgina’s back injury ruled out an ascent of Mount Brandon, our initial choice, we decided on the more modest plan of a trip out to The Great Blasket.  In this too, we were to be thwarted, the weather being foul until into the afternoon, and there being no sign of any boats making the voyage.  After a visit to the fascinating heritage centre, we followed the Siuloid na Cille National Looped Walk, which though only short, gives superb views of the Blaskets and of Dingle’s northern coastline.

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The Great Blasket

 

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Choughs along the coastal path

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The Three Sisters and Dingle’s northern coastline

Our final day in Killarney saw us making the trip up the Gap of Dunloe (on foot of course!)  Although the road through the Gap is surfaced, motor vehicles are actively discouraged, and you are likely to meet far more walkers and jaunting cars (horse-drawn carts).  The scenery is wild and rugged throughout, and very reminiscent of a Highland glen.

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Gap of Dunloe

A superb continuation from the top of the pass would take in Purple Mountain, which would allow a full circuit to be made.  However, we returned via the outward route, allowing us time to explore the oak and yew woodlands of the National Park, which are thought to be the most extensive in western Europe.

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