Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Glorious Connemara

Thursday July 11th;

Finally myself and Kevin got to have a few days away. I still feel guilty about letting him down for our hoped for trip to the Alps this year but this was going to be a bit of fun anyway. The weather was great with wall to wall blue sky and the temperature settled at the 30 degree mark. Everything looks so much better in the sun and once we were up past Galway and heading west we entered another realm or level of beauty that even though we had both seen it before a good few times before we were simply blown away by the perfect beauty that we traveled through. It was great to be able to just sit back and relax as Kevin drove and just drink in the experience and this was all before we arrived in the lovely little town of Clifden. As we drove past the iconic Twelve Bens we wondered could there be more lovely mountains that barely reach 700 meters in height anywhere else. We arrived into a positively baking Clifden a little before seven pm and we settled into the excellent Clifden Town Hostel where we had a refreshing shower before setting out for a bite to eat. Clifden is a delightful little spot that packs a lot into its triangle of streets. Lots of pubs, many of whom served good food sat cheek by jowl with restaurants, gift shops and art galleries. We went into a busy spot called Guys where a fine feed was enjoyed sitting outside on the pavement in the sun, lovely. There was a definite continental feel to the place and if the mix of foreign accents were anything to go by  there were more people from the continent about than natives. It was great to sit and people watch for a while and with warm weather its fair to say that there was a lot worthy of watching. We were quite disciplined and retired early as we had plans for an action packed day tomorrow.
Lovely Clifden

Friday July 12th;

We got up early and after a fine omelette for breakfast we were out and ready for action by eight am. It was another stellar day and the temperature was already high and promised to rapidly go higher. The plan today was to start off with a cycle of a 40K loop from the town to Roundstone via the "Bog Road" and return along the coastal road to town, oh and to throw in a seven K run for good measure. Off we set and we soon left the town behind and after a couple of kilometers we turned onto the Bog Road and were immediately into the wild Connemara landscape. For the next nine kilometers there isn't a house, driveway, electricity pole or any sign of human interference to be seen in any direction. The single track road just twists and turns its way through the most pristine landscape I have found in Ireland and is a constant procession of wild heathland and stunning little lakes and to the north the mountains look simply magnificent. All too soon it was over and we left the Bog Road and turned onto the Roundstone road which was still beautiful but had cars and houses etc. We were soon approaching Roundstone and we turned left off the main road and hid our bikes and set off on our run of the Innisnee Peninsula. 
Now the heat started to be felt and even though I set a slow pace I was to say the least struggling. Right from the start I felt like walking but I reasoned that I would soon loosen out but alas it never happened and I felt progressively worse. The route itself was along little lanes that hugged the shore line of the peninsula. There were lovely views across to the delightful village of Roundstone on one side and the other offered the mountains to excite. I wish I could say I enjoyed it but it was with total relief I arrived back at the bikes. I don't know if it was just my lack of a decent sleep, the snuffles I had the previous evening or just the heat that made me feel so miserable during the run but thankfully once I was again back on the bike I felt better and we set off on the return leg. Now we were in a coastal wonderland. Blue waters lapped onto stunning beaches which even in this weather were almost deserted. It was paradise. We stopped at one small little beach that was actually composed entirely of Coral and its crunchy white sands looked absolutely tropical. We cooled our feet in the sea and set off once again for Clifden. We arrived back in town before noon and we enjoyed a nice break and lunch before setting off on the second part of our adventure.
Ready for the off

From the Bog Road

A coral beach, busy...
In the afternoon we set off for the little village of Letterfrack where we parked up and set off on another cycle. We went along the narrow road by Tully mountain and went all the way to Renville where here we went down to another beach to soak up the views and atmosphere. There were more people about but it still wasn't too busy. Now we had different mountains to look at. In the distance across the bay Mweelrea rose majestically straight up from the sea and to our right the Bencoonagh mountains looked bigger than their modest height would suggest. Everywhere you looked there was another picture postcard view and we both felt privileged to be here in weather such as this and we were enjoying ourselves immensely.
From Renville towards Mweelrea

Loving it

The Bencoonas

Towards the Maumturk Mountains
After a brief stop at the lovely beach at Carrigduff we set off again along the lovely road that runs along by Lough Muck and Lough Fee where the views return to a breathtaking panorama of mountain vistas. We were now heading towards the Maumturks and the Bencoonas were across the water on our right. I tried to keep a good pace and when we reached the main road we were delighted to find it had a super smooth surface and we seemed to fly along. We now had around 10 kilometers left to go so I  pushed as hard as I could but my energy reserves were flagging and the end seemed a long time coming. It was with massive relief we freewheeled into Letterfrack where a cool drink and an ice cream went down a treat. We had covered over 42 kilometers and I think its fair to say we had packed a lot in to our first day in this wonderful area. Another convivial evening of good food and company followed before we retired to recover before our next adventure.

Saturday July 13th;

Maumeen Chapel
There was a layer of cloud blanketing the mountain tops this morning and the temperatures were a little lower. It was still quite warm and humid and it again promised to be a hot day. Today we planned to have a big traverse run of the Maumturk mountains. We parked by Lough Inagh at Garritrissaun and ran uphill on the little lane and then turned right and followed the Western Way until it left the road and turned for north and climbed into the deep gap called Maumeen. This is obviously a place of religious significance and a little chapel and "stations of the cross" are nestled in this peaceful spot. We had traveled almost 10 kilometers by now and we paused here a while to drink and enjoy the peace and total silence of the place. It was again warm and the sun was beginning to burn off the cloud. A little still clung to the tops but the sun was inclined to break through more and more. There followed a steep climb up to the summit ridge and there was little relief in effort as we set a brisk pace. Sweat flowed freely and when occasionally we were blessed by a breeze it was savoured all the more because of the humid heat. The prevalence of Horseflies which found us almost immediately when we stopped encouraged us to keep moving. We were pleasantly surprised at how quickly we covered the almost 400 meter climb to the summit and we were doubly pleased to find that the sun was winning the battle and the cloud was in retreat.

Today a peaceful spot

The rugged ridge of the Maumturks

Cloud in retreat

Too much sugar!!

Some of the ground we covered

We rested a little while and took on more liquids before we set off again along the serpentine ridge towards the highest point of the range Beinn eider Dha Luig at 702 meters some three kilometers away. Despite their modest height the rugged rocky terrain makes for tricky running conditions but we managed quite well and we soon arrived at the high point. Here we finished off the last of our liquids as there was a lake in the next pass and we would be able to replenish supplies there. The views down into the Inagh Valley and beyond to the Twelve Bens was as you would expect glorious. We limited our sightseeing to when we were stopped however as a fall onto the sharp quartzite rocks would have been at best very painful. On the long descent into the next gap, Maumahoge, we had to stop running and walk some steep sections. It was here that Kevin had an epiphany and decided that he would join the elite Green Beret regiment of the army. We then descended the rest of the way and stopped by the beautiful lake and relaxed. We had now covered about fourteen kilometers and climbed over 900 meters and we had a choice to make. We could descend back to the car and return to Clifden and relax, we could continue up the far side of the gap and continue on the Maumturk ridge or we could return to Letterfrack and run Diamond Hill, an iconic little mountain in the national park, we opted for the latter.
The Green Beret

Smashing views

Always looking for more

Great ground for running on the descent

Looking back up to Maumahoge
The descent back to the road was lovely. Dry springy grassy ground was great underfoot and we positively gamboled alone. It was over all too soon and we ran the remaining 2.5 kilometers back to the car in scorching sun. We weren't long getting to Letterfrack and here we enjoyed a fine and well deserved late lunch. We had already covered 18 kilometers and climbed 900+ meters and I was beginning to wonder exactly why I was going to try and run Diamond Hill as well, I guess there must be something of the masochist in me. Anyway after lunch we drove into the nearby visitor center where we parked up and set off on our route. This would involve covering about 7 kilometers and 400 meters of ascent. Two things were immediately obvious, one there were lots and lots of people about and two, I was bollixed. I resolved to walk up and try and run down but as usual I pushed myself and I actually managed to run a fair proportion of the superbly well made trail. An occasional photo stop gave a bit of respite but I was quite relieved when we finally reached the summit just about 30 minutes after we had set off. We took a ten minute breather here and enjoyed the extensive views. Diamond Hill stands apart from the rest of the Twelve Bens so it is a great vantage point to view the range. There were lots of other people about as well and it was great to see so many enjoying the great outdoors. We set off down again and we were soon setting a good pace down the steep steps. The path runs in a loop so we didn't have to retrace our steps, it is also wide enough that there is sufficent room to overtake other users safely, phew. We arrived back at the car in just under an hour after we had started well pleased to have done it, I don't know what I was worried about.
Looking down towards Letterfrack and Ballynakill Harbour

Towards the summit

Looking down to Kylemore Abbey

Looking into the heart of the Twelve Bens
We returned to Clifden for a refreshing shower and a well earned rest. We were so pleased that we had once again managed to pack a lot into our day and we decided that tomorrow would not be too strenuous. Clifden was really busy as I guess there were lots of native trippers taking advantage of the weather and these added to the considerable throngs of tourists milling about. In the "square" there were quite a few sitting outside enjoying a drink and there was a definite continental feel to the place. We ate once again in Guys where we had to eat at the bar counter and several parties were turned away as there simply wasn't room. A great night followed where we enjoyed the music of a local band who played an eclectic mix of everything from U2 to Pink Floyd. It was great.

Sunday July 14th;

I suppose it was predictable that after such a good night there would be the hangover and while neither of us was too bad its fair to say that enthusiasm for exercise was not easy to find. We had a leisurely breakfast and after a quick scout around the town we said goodbye to Sean the friendly and helpful proprietor of the hostel and headed once more for Roundstone. The plan was to hire a couple of kayaks and enjoy a couple of hours on the water.  We stopped and took a few pictures along the way and enjoyed a quick coffee in the village before we headed out to the beach. There was a good few people about enjoying the day and when we got there we decided that we would just relax and chill out. We sat and chatted for a while and as it was now well past mid day we set off on the return journey home. While listening to the radio we came across an item about a newsreader in America who was given spoof names of pilots of a Chinese aircraft that had crashed the day before. Here is a link to the item
Suffice to say there were tears of laughter on our faces periodically all the way home. We were a little sad to say goodbye to such a beautiful place but I am certain we will enjoy other great trips in the future. If you get the chance go and see this great place.
Interesting clouds over the Twelve Bens

Roundstone Harbour


Gurteen Bay

Tranquil waters

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