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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


Scatt and Lough Dan

Scarr, Scarr Away in County Wicklow.

Written by John Kelleher.

I started walking with HilltopTreks over ten years ago, and over the years have enjoyed many walks both here in Ireland and in recent years in Europe.

John Kelleher

John in Bulgaria

While Wicklow is usually where we conduct most of our walks, we have over the years spent pleasant week-ends away walking in the Comeraghs, Galtees, Slievenamon, Donard, Mournes, Connemara, Ben Bulbin to name just some. In recent years we have travelled to the Dolomites in Northern Italy, Bratislavia in Romania and a group of us also hill walked in Southern Spain near Marbella.

One of my favourite walks, which I keep returning to is Scarr mountain near Roundwood in Wicklow. I start near the scout’s den at Oldbridge beside Lough Dan and head up the laneway rising gradually until reaching the field at the foot of the hill. From there it is a gradually climb for about one hour to reach the peak. Stopping occasionally to look back over the Irish Sea and back towards Djouce. On reaching the summit at Scarr (641 metres) it is usually time for a short rest with a well-deserved cup of tea and a sandwich. The views from the summit are always enjoyable with ships sailing on the Irish Sea or over to Camaderry near Glendalough.

At the summit there is a choice of routes. South towards Paddock Hill and the Wicklow Way and then East when you reach the Wicklow Way to get on to the road way to lead back to the car parked at Lough Dan. While this is a nice walk the last 30 minutes or so are on roadway. However, my preferred route is over towards Kanturk (523 metres) and back by Lough Dan. Approaching Kanturk, with its scattering of rocks there is a beautiful view of Glenmacnass Waterfall.

At Kanturk heading East the walk is now very level and leads eventually to a beautiful view overlooking Lough Dan, a dog-leg shaped Lake. A stop here is essential to take in the views of both the lake and some of the adjoining hills and mountains all around. The final section of this walk is back by the hill overlooking Lough Dan all the way until reaching the road which passes the scouts den and back to the car. The final stretch of road is about 15 minutes duration. The walk generally takes 3.5 to 4 hours to complete and is well worthwhile just for the variety of views and scenery. On one recent walk back towards the scout’s den I spotted a Red Squirrel, the first I have seen in years.

The walk is usually followed by a stop at the Coachhouse in Roundwood for some liquid refreshments and a chat with my fellow walkers.

Scarr Mountain Route

Scarr Mountain Route

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See you on the Hills again soon.