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Connemara National Park

Walking in the Wilds of Connemara, Mweelrea

Walking in the Wilds of Connemara and Mweelrea.

Connemara National Park

Connemara National Park

Connemara is a region in Galway in the west of Ireland. It reaches out to the Atlantic Ocean with its Jagged coastline of cliffs and beaches; it also hosts Ireland’s only Fjord. There are two main mountain ranges in this region the 12 Bens and the Maumturks. Both ranges offer incredible walks and scenery that can be admired even from your car as you pass through them.

On this weekend we visited the Connemara National Park with its entrance in the small town of Letterfrack. As we were traveling from Dublin separately due to the ongoing COVID restrictions we decided that we would meet here on the Friday afternoon to walk Diamond Hill, just over 400m. The walk is an easy type starting from the visitor center and can be done self-guided. There is a very good well-maintained track that actually directs you in a one-way clockwise direction around the hill.

Diamond Hill, Connemara

Diamond Hill Trail

The views from this hill are very rewarding for the small amount of effort it takes to climb it and a great place to point the other walks we will be doing over the weekend. Form the Hill you are looking across the Atlantic with views of the Inisturk and Inisbofin islands. To your north sit the 12 Bens and to your east the Maumturks and just below you to the west are Klymore Abbey and gardens. We split the group into two as there were 24 of us and it was a max group size for the outdoors of 15 people, we kept within viewing distance of each other though.

Group with 12 Bens as Backdrop

 

We all managed the walk very easily and loved the trail and the spectacular views.

When we had completed the walk, we made our way to Clifden where we would be staying for the next two nights. I had booked the group into the Alcock and Brown Hotel and The Arch Guesthouse We had some time to freshen up before having dinner and catching up on the days events and planning out our big walk for the next day Mweelrea (814m), Connaught’s highest mountain. We also had some time to enjoy a drink at the bar which in these COVID times is very inviting.

Killary Harbour, Connemara

Killary Fjord, Connemara

The following morning after an early breakfast we made our way out to Silver Strand in Mayo, although there are a few Silver strands so be careful as one or two of our group found out. It’s about 1,5-hour drive from Clifden but again through incredible landscapes as you drive. You will travel alongside Killary Fjord both the Galway and Mayo side and into one of Ireland’s most scenic Valley, Glendoo. There is a cross in this valley to mark the tragic scene that unfolded here in 1849 during the famine. Where many people died of starvation and exhaustion after being made to walk almost 40Km to sign for their famine relief.

Upon reaching Silver Strand you will see Mweelrea sitting over you and usually with clouds covering it’s top. At the

Mweelrea Ascent

Mweelrea, Group going up

car park we all geared up checking our food rations, water etc and the made our way towards the start of our climb. It’s a wet mountain at it’s base normally and was very wet today due to the rain fall we had the previous week, where the town of Clifden was actually flooded.

The trail from this side follows a river all the way up to a saddle almost at the top. After plenty of scenic stops to take pictures and catch our breath we made our way to the saddle. It’s a climb as soon as you leave the car park at the beach, so the saddle was a welcomed if short relief from the steep ascent.

From the saddle we turned right to the edge of the cliffs of the east side and followed these to the summit.

Summit of Mweelrea

Summit of Mweelrea

We didn’t hang about as visibility was very poor and it’s also quite cold at the top. So, some quick snaps of happy heads on their achievement of getting to the summit and then it was straight back to somewhere less windy for a bite to eat.

Making our way down we could really enjoy the view of the coastline and its beautiful looking sandy beaches, which there was some talk of swimming in after the walk but by the time we got back down we were happy just to make our way back to Clifden to freshen up.

Lunch Time

 

When we got back and changed, we had our evening meal organised for 7:30pm in Mannion’s Bar and Restaurant and the food was delicious. It was a great achievement for everyone and we had all made it to the top and some people had completed their four highest peaks in Ireland, one for each Province. After our meal we made our way some with sore legs back to our accommodations.

The next day we had Omey Island arranged but the tide Gods weren’t with us, as you can only drive out to this Island at low tide. Instead we decided that we would take an easy day and visit Kylemore Abbey instead. The Abbey was initially built by Henry

Kylemore Abbey

Kylemore Abbey

Mitchell for his wife after they visited this area on their honeymoon.

His was a great supporter of Home Rule for Ireland during the mid-1800s and may have also built it to create some employment in the area after the hardship of the famine. Either way it’s a very impressive looking building complete with gardens and a gothic church. Unfortunately, the woman he built it for died shortly after it was completed and she never really got to enjoy it.

It then changed many hands from very wealthy Americans “Zimmermans” until it was given to an order of Benedictine nuns from Ypres in Belgium after their monastery was bombed in 1914 during the first world war. Today its is still owned by the nuns although there are only a few left but it’s probably in better condition that it’s ever been and well worth a visit.

This visit to Kylemore concluded our trip to Connemara but there are still plenty more places to discover in this wonderful part of the west of Ireland.

View more Pictures Here from our Weekend walking in Connemara

Benbulben, Sligo

Hilltoptreks walking weekend in Sligo – Yeat’s County.

Written by Louise Doherty

One of the great benefits of being a member of  Hilltoptreks walking club, are the numerous organized hiking weekends away, both in Ireland and abroad.

Mary, Louise and Edel

One weekend that stands out for me, was our trip to Sligo for the 2019 June bank holiday weekend.

On a sunny bank holiday Saturday, we all made our way to Sligo – some drove themselves, while others opted to avail of the bus provided by Hilltoptreks – and met up in the Glasshouse Hotel.  Here we were met by our guide for the weekend, Noel.  Noel gave us a brief rundown of our itinerary for the days ahead, along with a little bit of history of the area we were in.

The first port of call was the beautiful Knocknarea Mountain which has the magnificent megatlithic cairn, known as Queen Maeave’s tomb on the summit.  Off we set in a convoy with the Hilltoptreks bus leading the way out of Sligo town towards Strandhill.  We parked up at Sligo rugby club and crossed the road to the trailhead.   The trail is waymarked, and while this is a short walk of approx 2.5km, it can be quite strenuous in parts. It is a continuous climb on stoney paths, sleeper steps through woodland and out to open mountain top.

Luckily, there are plenty of benches along the route to stop, drink some water and enjoy the vista.  Once through the woodland the trail opens up to a path heading straight for the Cairn at the summit.  Here we circled the cairn taking in the spectacular views of the ocean and the surrounding landscape, which included a glimpse of the prominent Benbulben jutting out in all her glory.  Benbulben was tomorrow’s adventure, so for now, we sat with our group, and enjoyed the summer sunshine.  The descent took us back down along the same route.

Before heading back to our hotel, we went to Strandhill where some of the group were booked in for seaweed baths, while the rest enjoyed an ice-cream and took in even more of the wonderful scenery Sligo had to offer.

Today’s walk was a great way to get to know some of our fellow hikers, while most of us were part of the walking club, others came along on their own or with friends, husbands and sisters.  We knew there would be great support for each other as we attempted to climb Sligo’s bulging Benbulben mountain tomorrow.  Until then, we could enjoy dinner in the Glasshouse Hotel and some sensible drinks in the local bar.

We rose with excitement to a glorious sunny day, today was our day to tackle the majestic Benbulben! After a hearty breakfast in the hotel and with our packed lunches organised, we headed for the hills.  The road to Luke’s bridge – the start of our trek up Benbulben – took us past Drumcliffe cemetery. This is the final resting place of W.B. Yeats.  We stopped here while Noel regaled us with stories of the great poet and where we had opportunity to take photos of the famous tombstone with the inscription:

“Cast a cold Eye

On life, on Death,

Horseman pass by.”

On the road again, all chattering about our memories of Yeats from school, we could see Benbulben rise ahead of us.  Except now, it was shroud in thick grey clouds.  When we arrived at our starting point, the rain jackets were put on as Noel, gave us a rundown of the route we would be taking and any obstacles we should be weary of.  And so, we set off on our 10km trek.  Firstly, following along by a stream, then onto a gravel track and across some bog pools, until we were faced with the grassy slope straight ahead.

We climbed the steep slope zig zagging our way up and crossing over the small stream again. We were well protected by the wind and thankfully the rain held off and the clouds lifted.  We took every opportunity to stop and take in the views of the coastline behind and below us.  When the steep climbing ceased and we could feel the wind in our faces, we knew we were on the plateau.  Now, it was just another 500m of walking over bog pools and against the wind to reach the trig point.

Click Here to see some Photos of the weekend

We stopped here for the group to congregate and take photos. The views from this point are breathtaking, but the best was yet to come.  Noel, lead us off in a westerly direction towards the apex of the mountain.  Here, we stood on the farthermost edge and took in the panoramic views of Sligo, all the while aware of the sheer drop that lay beneath us. We spent a little time here making the most of the uninterrupted views and the little shelter from the wind, before returning back along the same route which we came.

After the walk we traveled to Lissadell House for some well-earned afternoon tea and cake.  Once we were refreshed, we were then treated to a private tour of Lissadell House, the childhood home of Constance Markievicz and one that was immortalized in poetry by W.B. Yeats:

“The light of evening, Lissadell
Great windows open to the south
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle. …”

Having reached the summit one of the iconic mountains in Sligo, and feeling a great sense of accomplishment, we celebrated with dinner and drinks in Strandhill and Sligo Town.

Our final day of the weekend, was bit more relaxed.  After breakfast we drove to  Slish Woods for another 10km walk.  This time, on the flat along the shores of Lough Gill.  The walk is well tracked out with sleepers and viewpoints laid out along the way.  We stopped on the shore where we could see Yeats’ famous “Lake Isle of Innisfree”.  Further on we walked along a stretch of the Sligo Camino, before heading back to our cars and making our way home.

And so, concludes another jam-packed weekend of walking, exploring, making new friends and relaxing in one of the finest counties in Ireland.  Many thanks to Noel and the team at Hilltoptreks for all the support on this weekend away.

 

Click Here to see some Photos of the weekend


Glanmore Lake

Walking – The Beara Way – Ireland

The Beara Way Ireland sits at the south west of Ireland and juts out into the Atlantic Ocean. It sits in both the counties of Cork and Kerry and is approx 48miles of hiking trail from Glengariff to Dursey sounds. It is probably one of the most remote of the peninsulas that sit in this part of Ireland and some might say the most beautiful and wild.

Sheelagh from Hilltoptreks walked this way in September 2019 and did a brief write up about it.

glengarriff

Glengarriff on the Beara Way

Day 1) Kenmare to Glengarriff

After a damp start departing Kenmare this morning the day got better and better.  The Beara Way has not disappointed and after wandering quiet country lanes we arrived into Glengarriff to a seafood dinner and a well earned glass of vino. Tomorrow we head for Adrigole and views of the Atlantic all the way.

Day 2) Glengarriff to Adrigole

Today’s section outshone any expectations of a trail. From the beginning we were off road into nature trails and then onto the open hillside for the rest of the day. Views out over the wild Atlantic all day added a feeling of remoteness to this section of trail. I’m looking forward to the next part from Adrigole to Castletown bere.

castletownbere

Castletownbere on the Beara Way

Day 3) Adrigole to Castletownbere

Starting in Adrigole today with ominous weather forecasts, the expectation was for waterproofs and battling the wind. What I actually got were perfect walking conditions with Beara island by my side and the trail to my self. The trail from Adrigole to Castletownbere skirts the lower slopes of Hungry hill and leads you into Comnagapple Glen, a remote and forgotten landscape overlooking Bantry bay with its sleeping giant Beara Island. Bogroads and mountain tracks bring you to Castletownbere past megalithic tombs and pieces of ancient history.  The Beara Way delivered again. I’m looking forward to more.

castletownbere_colours

Colours of Casrletownbere

Day 4) Castletownbere to Allihies

Reluctantly leaving the bustling harbour town of Castletownbere with its multicolored buildings I set out again this morning on the trail. The Beara Way took me over the spur of Miskish mountain to incredible views of Coulagh Bay and Kerry in the distance. Open hillside tracks led to forestry and bog-roads and down to the gem that is Allihies. This trail has everything and the Cork people welcoming and keen to have a chat.
Dursey Sound tomorrow and I can’t wait.

beara_way_sheep

On the Way to Allihies

Day 5 Allihies to Dursey Sound

An early start this morning meant we could visit Dursey Island in the afternoon, so after setting off leaving Allihies behind me, the trail led very gently along the coast. As I walked the sun rose over Allihies with its multicolored houses, the golden light intensifying the effect. After a few days of walking on hilly trails this turned out to be a very chilled days hiking, visiting Garnish Point on the way and ending at Dursey Point at our B&B.

Crossing to the island is an adventure by way of a cable car, the only one in Ireland. If sheep need to be transported to or from the island, they take priority. I have heard stories of people sharing a seat with a sheep. Truly the Beara Way never stops delivering. I get to visit Allihies in the morning again on my way to Eyeries, a fact that I am happy about as I am reluctant to leave.

allihies_to_dursey_sound

Allihies to Dursey Sound

Day 6 Allihies to Eyeries

Above Allihies there are the ruins of copper mines long abandoned, they run along what is like the spine of the Beara Peninsula. Today the trail wound up through the mining area, overlooking the town of Allihies and Dursey island, before rounding the mountain to emerge again at the foot of Miskish mountain, waiting like an old friend at the Kerry side of the peninsula.

Beara while being very Irish in every respect strikes me as quite exotic and foreign, from the water buffalo I spotted in fields beside the trail to the remarkable place names, such as Allihies and Eyeries, and also you really do feel like you are a million miles from the all things hectic. A friend of mine once said to me that Allihies is colorful and Eyeries is positively psychedelic, well she was right. Eyeries appeared on the horizon, and you can’t help but smile. Another great day, on the Beara Way.

Day 7 Eyeries to Ardgroom

My tired legs were grateful for a slightly easier and varied days walking on the Beara Way. While the previous days have been mainly on mountain tracks, the trail today meandered between short sections of road and grassy lane-ways to lakeside paths.

On reaching Ardgroom I popped into Harringtons shop to find the best selection of homemade cakes and coffee. After purchasing the guilt free cake, the sin of which I walked off days ago, I sat outside in the sunshine. Everywhere you go in Beara everyone chats to each other. That natural curiosity of the friendly locals seems to rub off on anyone lucky enough to spend some time here. The result is groups of people sharing life stories and chats on the trail, at the bar or over a slice of cake.

stone_circle

Stone Henge on the Beara Way.

Day 8 Ardgroom to Lauragh

Each day on the Beara Way after Eyeries brings you back closer to the mainland and the trail from Ardgroom to Lauragh, see this transition take place. While the trail each day between Glengarriff and Ardgroom has not involved being near any signs of civilization for most of the day, I am now walking  through some managed forest, on tiny roads with all kinds of rural life taking place and grassy tracks once used to herd cattle. Lauragh is tiny and beautiful, welcoming like the rest of Beara. The trail is changing now each day and its just as well because its Bearas remoteness that appeals to me as a walker.   Its remoteness, and the amazing trails.

“This is definitely a trail in a million”.

To walk the Beara Way yourself you can do this with Hilltoptreks see here The Beara Way Ireland