Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Few Days In Glorious Connemara

I came back from Spain on the last day of February to be greeted by the Beast from the East which gave excellent winter climbing conditions in the Kerry mountains. Did I get to enjoy these rare conditions??? My last night in Granada was a sneezy spluttery affair and once home things deteriorated quickly into the worst dose of flu I have ever had. For the first two weeks of March I felt pretty grim and in the middle of that there were four or five days when I understood perfectly how the flu could actually kill people. Since then I have been fighting the virus and getting very slowly better. I did manage to get out towards the end of March for a few short outings. First a nice two hour walk on Caherbarna followed a few days later by a hike up Mangerton. On both of these I was pretty weak but I guess muscle memory kept me going. I had hoped that a good helping of fresh mountain air might clear up my chest and sinus problems but despite copious production and clearance of fluids things still remained the same. At the end of March I decided to climb Carrauntoohil and this was a delight of great views and snow cover down to 700mtrs. Once again I performed okay but that viral weakness still remained.

I had a trip to the UK booked for the second week of April and I hoped against hope that I would be better by then. All I had to do was decide where to go. I hoped to find climbing partners for some winter climbing on Ben Nevis (which I failed to find on UK Climbing) so I turned my focus towards Skye where I dreamed of a possible winter traverse. I put out a shout on a Scottish Facebook group and I had a pair of companions lined up but eventually I had to face the reality that I was just not strong enough for serious climbing and I decided to stay at home. I actually put down a rough enough Friday night and I had thought I was heading back into the depths of the flu again but things gradually improved over the weekend and I made the decision to head for Connemara for a few days in the hope I would feel well enough to get some outdoorsy stuff done but secure in the knowledge that I could just return home if things didn't work out.

Not having too much ambition I left home at a very leisurely 11.30 and headed northwest. Thanks to the new motorway now extending all the way to Galway I actually arrived in Clifden at 15.00. I had planned to stay in the nearby campsite but it was a surprise to find it hadn't yet opened for the season. A quick return to Clifden followed where a google search showed that Clifden Eco  Beach Camping was open so I headed for there.
To get there you drive for two miles on the Westport road before turning onto a minor (but okay) road that runs westwards alongside the shoreline and after four miles, and as you seem to be approaching the edge of the world you reach the campsite. It is set in some undulating sandy dunes and literally adjoins the beautiful soft sandy beach. It wasn't busy and after being greeted warmly by the owners I found a wonderful spot for my tent literally a few paces from the beach. What a stunning place it was and I immediately left any lingering disappointment I felt at foregoing Scotland behind. I relaxed for a bit and got my bearings before deciding to go for a short cycle (I had brought my bike). It was a grey afternoon with spits of rain about but I was optimistic and got into my bike gear (middle aged man in lycra) and set off. There is a nice loop that circles this peninsula that runs for around 17miles. There are no big hills so I reckoned that it would make a gentle re-introduction to my bike for 2018.

My optimism about the weather was somewhat unfounded and before I had gone 500mtrs the first spits of rain arrived. Ah well I was on the move now and I was somewhere new, so I was looking forward to the spin regardless. I didn't exactly push myself and why would you in this wild and wonderful place. Super quiet little roads eventually led to the end of the peninsula and despite the grey weather the views were still lovely. I cycled around Aughursbeg Lough before heading into Cleggan. From here a long drag leads up to a long wild expanse of bog which when married with the rain and the gathering evening gloom made it somewhat forbidding place just then. My lack of miles on the bike, coupled with my illness were taking its toll and it was a considerable relief to reach the main road and some downhill kilometres to rest the legs. The four miles back along the coast road to the campsite weren't too bad and I felt fine when I was changed into nice dry clothes again. I enjoyed my dinner and used the facilities for cooking that are provided near the reception area before enjoying a long restful night where the only sound was the gentle lapping of the water on the beach.

Tuesday morning came with more grey skies but it was dry and promised to remain so. I wasn't sure how big a day to try for today but I decided to head for the Twelve Bens and see what inspired. I decided to head for Ben Lettery and basically see how I felt and take it from there. The cloud covered the tops but I was still looking forward to getting on these most beautiful of hills. The last time I was here it rained all day and I was in the cloud the whole time so today promised to be somewhat better. Even though Ben Lettery is only 577mtrs it is a fair old pull to reach the summit, especially as you are starting at practically sea level. I took my time and eventually reached the rocky top. To my delight the cloud lifted as I climbed and I had some views when I got there. The next top Bengower 664 mtrs was also clearing and it seemed like a sign to I did. I wasn't feeling too bad so I decided to do the full Glencoghan Horseshoe. I wish I could say the cloud cleared but it clung stubbornly to the remaining tops all the way to Derryclare. Still it stayed dry the whole way round and the views at the end were all the sweeter for having to wait for them. It took me a total of 7hours which all things considered wasn't too bad for a walk of 16kilometres and 1600mtrs of ascent. Making friends with some donkeys and ponies on the walk out made for another highlight.

After a well deserved quiet and restful night I would love to say I was rearing to go on Wednesday morning but several beers etc the previous evening put paid to that. Still I didn't feel too bad and I was looking forward to repeating a cycle I had done with Kevin a few years before which crossed the bog road before entering Roundstone and Ballyconneely and Clifden. Then it was gloriously sunny and the temperatures hovered in the high twenties but today it was 11 or 12 degrees and grey skies dominated the views. I was sure it would still prove to be lovely and thankfully I wasn't wrong. My legs were a little tired when I set off but they soon loosened out. I wasn't exactly pushing the pace and I was in no hurry as I had all day to complete the route. My head was all over the place and I somehow managed to cycle down to the harbour in Clifden which meant I had to do  second circuit of the little town to reach the Roundstone road. After another few kilometres I turned onto the bog road and left civilization behind. How rare it is nowadays to not be able to see any houses, pylons and except for the winding little lane little sign of human interference to be found for five or six wonderful miles. Even though things were grey it was a wonderful experience.
Eventually the main road to Roundstone is reached but this is still lovely. The village was quiet when I got there. I had contemplated stopping for a coffee here but I was feeling okay so there seemed little point and I continued on. After the village you have the surprisingly rugged little hill called Errisbeg to draw the eye on the right and ocean views on the left, not bad. A short hill came as a bit of a shock but the descent afterwards with the breeze was a delight. Soon enough I was approaching Ballyconeely with its bays and coral beaches. All was pretty quiet now but it would be a busy place in the summer. I was starting to flag by now and even though the breeze was light I was now heading into it and I began to find the going tough. I reached the Marconi monument and stopped there for a short rest and bite to eat. It wasn't too long thereafter before I reached Clifden again and I had a choice to make. I could head directly back to the campsite or I could include the Sky Road in my route and this I chose to do. A long steady pull rises to over 100mtrs as you leave Clifden but this elevated position offers splendid views. A swift descent follows on a narrow road before the return along the shore on the northern side until you reach the main road again. The turnoff to the campsite is only a few metres from here and I was almost there. It was a considerable relief to reach the campsite and it is fair to say I was whacked. Perhaps a forty six mile cycle was a dozen or two too many but I was still glad I had done it. Having started at 10.15 it was now before 2pm so I had a nice long evening to recover.

Thursday offered up another grey day so views would prove to be at a premium again. I had thought to have a gander on the Benchoonas today but it was so grey that all colour seemed to be sucked from the landscape and there didn't seem to be any point in going there. While I packed everything up I decided to head to the Maumturks instead as these were at least on my way home. I drove into the Inagh Valley (alas no views) and when I reached the little road to the right and parked down by Lough Leitheanach and headed up into the mist towards the gap hidden above. The gap was hidden and to be honest for the next few hours so was everything else. I climbed first over the elaborately named Binn idir an dá Log which at 702 mtrs is the highest in the range. It was a fine exercise in map and compass use as I continued along the sinuous broad ridge as far as Binn Chaonaigh where I made a direct line to the gap at Maumean. A traverse along the boggy mountainside until I reached the road where I strolled the remaining couple of kilometres to my car. Just over four hours but it felt like a worthy outing to finish off the trip. Now all I had was the three hour drive home and a great dinner. Connemara is without doubt a wonderful place.
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