Connemara: Hiking in a landscape with views to drop the jaw

Walking in Connemara. Failte Ireland
Hilary on the summit of Ben Gorm
Connemara, Wild Atlantic Way. Photo: Big Smoke/Fáilte Ireland
Delphi Resort
Delphi resort
Pine Island, Connemara National Park
Dog's Bay, Connemara: Just a couple of kilometres from the village of Roundstone on the Ballyconneely Peninsula you'll find two of the sweetest beaches on the Wild Atlantic way lying back to back. Both Dog's Bay and Gurteen Bay are good for walking and swimming, but it's the snow-white sands of the former that do it for us.
  • Connemara: Hiking in a landscape with views to drop the jaw

    Cant be right. Can it?

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Cant be right. Can it?

Carrauntoohil, sticking up through the haze like a gunmetal sharks tooth, right off in the distance in what could be another nation for all you know.

“Thats it,” Clem confirms, frowning down at some gadget or other.

The problem is that were on another mountain top and this one is 185km away. As problems go, its not the worst to have, to be hiking in conditions so gin-clear that we can see two thirds of the way down the Atlantic seaboard.

But enough about Kerry.

From here on the proud summit of Ben Gorm, above the shores of Killary Harbour on the Galway-Mayo border, Irelands highest peak is an inconsequential nipple. Look down and around and it is Connemara that is dropping the jaw.

Hilary on the summit of Ben Gorm
Hilary on the summit of Ben Gorm

Mighty Mweelrea, the provinces attic, hunched to our immediate west. The Twelve Bens, a crystalline rockery to the South, creating a protective wall for Ballyconneelys lake-littered blanket bogs. That turquoise horseshoe beach glistening down there near the mouth of the fjord?

I'm not telling.

Such things didnt really seem possible yesterday evening amid the roaring fire and buttery sirloins of the Leenane Hotel.

Rewind to Friday night. The Connemara Mountain Walking Festival (formerly the Leenane Mountain Walking Festival) has opened its doors for the eleventh year and its another sell-out. Filing through the lobby are outdoorsy types from across the nation and even further than that, many of whom have never missed an instalment of this marvellous feather in the regions cap.

After a short welcome from festival chairperson Martin Gavin, appetites are whetted for the weekend ahead with talks from a National Parks & Wildlife Service ranger and a representative of the Irish Peatlands Conservation Council, both of whom provide much for food thought about the finite habitats we will be stepping into.

A flat sheet of watery grey divides the Leenane Hotel with the mountain ridge on the far side that is tomorrows challenge. Oystercatchers pipe up as they zoom down the shoreline, and – yes – that's a cuckoo we just heard somewhere behind us.

Delphi resort
Delphi resort

I know were not supposed to like rhododendron, but it does go well mottled together with clumps of golden gorse, their splodges of colour breaking up the greens and blacks around here. They even capture some of the very light of day and radiate it back to us as we sip an evening pint on the terrace at Delphi Resort, extending our view of Mweelrea. The effect continues at our grand room as boots, clothing and supplies are got in order.

The next morning, there is time for a carb-up at the breakfast buffet before a shuttle bus collects us from Delphi and brings us down to the village for registration. Chairman Martin is there outside the Community Centre HQ, making great use of years of sheep farming as he herds brightly attired mountaineers towards information desks or departing buses.

Depending on your fitness level – low, medium, Tenzing – there are different groups heading to different locations, each fitted with expert guides at a ratio of one for every ten festival attendees. We head back up towards Delphi in order to access the Sheeffry Pass and the start of our climb.

We pass the sumptuous Aasleagh Falls, pretty as a picture in a pinewood frame. The bright morning sun also catches the slate-and-white of another cuckoo perched horizontally (as they prefer) on a telegraph wire.

If I never get to set foot on Ben Gorm this day, the drive up through the Delphi Valley and the Sheeffry Pass would be enough to fill postcard after postcard. Pristine lakes, scots pine canopies, rocky mountain ridges that could be plucked straight off the winelands of the Cape, all singing the songs of a storied landscape.

The rules are simple, Clem explains as we gather by the banks of the Owenduff River: Stick together, give the lambing sheep a wide berth, and nothing – not a banana skin or an apple core or a tissue – is to be left behind you on the mountain. Proper order. Guides will be sprinkled front, back and middle of the group, making it impossible for anyone to be left behind.

Most importantly, Clem hoots at the 40 or so of us, there will be regular breaks to refresh and to take in where we are and what were doing.

Connemara, Wild Atlantic Way. Photo: Big Smoke/Fáilte Ireland
Connemara, Wild Atlantic Way. Photo: Big Smoke/Fáilte Ireland

“Were not here to kill ye! We want ye to have a good day,” and he means it.

Left foot, right foot. Turn and look back down at the sun hittingRead More – Source

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