Posts tagged ‘Connemara’

August 25, 2009

Ireland part 5 – Back to Connemara

by backpackingbongos

I have just realised that I never finished writing up the last bit of my Ireland trip, so here it is!

After a few days on busy Achill we craved a return to the Renvyle campsite in Connemara.  The weather had suddenly turned glorious so instead of heading for a hostel as originally planned, we found ourselves on the beach for another couple of days.  The clear sunny weather made this beach of white sand look like it was dropped straight from the Caribbean.  The only give away was that the few swimmers were dressed in wetsuits!  My sights were firmly set on the mountains that dominated the view from the campsite, so the next morning my partner was left happily on the beach whilst I went off exploring.

Garraun 598m and Benchoona 582m

These two mountains really changed my perception of what makes a mountain.  I still have in my head the magic height of 2000ft as the required height for a hill to become a mountain.  These two fine peaks fall a fair bit short of that height but are much more ‘mountain’ than many much bigger peaks that I have climbed in the Scottish Highlands.  Starting a climb from near sea level helps with the impression that they are much bigger, but it was their sheer rocky attitude that firmly elevated them to mountains in my mind.

I found a small spot to squeeze the van into between Lough Muck and Lough Fee and crossed the bridge over the river between them.  I then immediately tackled the very steep cropped grass slopes ahead of me.  Luckily the ground was dry as this gave a bit of grass scrambling, steep slopes but with nothing to hold on to!  After ascending 100 metres or so I came to a small plateau which gave big views down the length of Lough Fee towards the Maumturk mountains.

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Above me towered the bulk of Garraun, even though there was only 450 metres left to climb it looked much higher.

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The steep but easy grassy ridge soon gave way to outcroppings of rock which had to be either scrambled up or navigated around, making sure that I did not stray onto more difficult ground.  The views to the north were opening up showing large sandy beaches on the other side of Killary harbour.

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Also on the other side of Killary harbour was the bulk of Mweelrea, the highest mountain in these parts and one of the toughest to climb.  Long boggy walk ins and some serious ascents and descents make this a mountain to climb when the weather is guaranteed to be clear.  That is something that does not happen on the west coast of Ireland very often.  Today would have been the perfect day for it but I also wanted to spend the afternoon on the beach!

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The final steep slopes of the ridge gave birds eye views down to Loch Fee before I gained the complex mountain plateau.

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Navigation was easy today but in misty conditions careful map and compass work would be needed for navigation.  The summit cairn led the eye to the peaks of the Twelve Bens, some of which I had climbed a few days earlier.

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The walk between Garraun and Benchoona was across a complex rocky landscape with many small cairned peaks and a few lochans.  For me this would be perfect wild camping territory with loads of nooks and crannies to find shelter for a tent and big views in every direction.

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I quickly gained the summit cairn of Benchoona which gave some of the best coastal views I have ever seen.  The clear air meant that I could see all the way to Achill Island in the far distance and the cliffs I had previously walked there.

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It was on the descent that brought home the fact that this hill was in fact a big brute of a mountain.  I decided to follow the advice of a local guidebook and tackled the steep northern slopes rather than descend the north west ridge.  The very steep slope was lined with long terraces of cliff faces and I was aware that I often could not see the slope below me.  From above all I could see was the valley floor!  I would pick my way around one cliff face to a ledge below only to find the way down was too dangerous and would have to climb back up and try another route.  This went on for a good hour and I was relieved to reach gentle slopes at the 300 metre contour.  Looking back up I could see that I had judged my route well, a little to my right when descending and I could have got into a bit of trouble!

A short boggy walk then more steep craggy slopes brought me in sight of Lough Muck.  Once along the shore line it was an easy walk back to the van.

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In all I probably only walked about 4 miles but they were definitely hard rugged mountain miles!

On the drive back I picked up my first ever hitch hikers, a young french couple who were very relieved not to have to walk miles along the road with their massive packs.  When I dropped them off they decided not to stay at the campsite but to go and try and find somewhere to wild camp so they could save a few euros.

After the exertions of the day it was great to get back to the Bongo and Tentipi for a beer and food.  In all my travels around the beauty spots of Asia including loads of tropical Islands, Renvyle beach is probably the best I have ever seen (when the sun is shining anyway!).

The campsite has a website, I can highly recommend a stay there!

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July 25, 2009

Ireland part 3 – Connemara (Killary Harbour and the Twelve Bens)

by backpackingbongos

The previous days thunderstorms cleaned the air and we awoke to sunshine for the first time since reaching the west coast.  After a lazy morning we set off to Leenaun the setting for the film ‘The field‘ for lunch and to do a bit of tourist stuff.  The village lies at the head of Killary Harbour which is Irelands only fjord at 16km long.  Just outside of the village the Erriff river enters the fjord at a really scenic spot and just upstream is the low but powerful Aasleagh waterfall.

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Killary harbour and the famine relief road

A minor road leaves the main N59 and passes the dramatic Lough Fee and Lough Muck, it then branches off and twists and turns before reaching Killary bay little.  We squeezed the van into a small spot and set off to climb Salrock pass which gave stunning views back down to the bay.  Movement to our left turned out to be a herd of wild goats on the crags, amongst them a huge billy complete with beard and horns.

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Behind us was the small peak of Benchoona which later in the week would prove difficult getting down from, more about that in another post!

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The top of the pass was soon reached with views that extended right down to Leenaun at the head of the fjord.  The route was now simple, just follow the well constructed famine road to Killary harbour.

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Once at the harbour it was a short walk back to the car.  It was great to get out in the sunshine which has been lacking up to this point, but I did find myself staring longingly at the mountains.  Today would have been the perfect day to have climbed up high.  Tomorrow I would set off solo to attempt to climb some of the Twelve bens from the national park centre.  I kept my fingers crossed that the weather would hold!

The Polladirk river horseshoe – Benbrack 582m – Muckanaght 654m – Bencullagh 632m – Maumonght 602m

I should have crossed my fingers harder because when I woke up the following morning the mountains were once again hidden behind veils of mist.  I was comfy in the van so I went back to sleep again with the hope that the rain might go away!  A couple of hours later and I could see the cloud base lifting off the mountains from the campsite, so I packed my rucksack and went for it.

The rain had stopped by the time I reached the national park entrance and took the track signed ‘bog road’.  This gave good easy walking for the first kilometre or so before it veered to the left to climb Diamond hill.  My route was to continue in a straight line following the Owengarve river to its watershed and then join the Polladirk river.  A distance of only a couple of miles but across the toughest terrain I have ever encountered.  Thigh high purple moor grass hiding monster tussocks and deep puddles, deep heather and blanket bog that gave the impression of walking over a giant wobbly jelly.  It was hell.  Stupidly I did not put on my gaiters and within minutes my legs were soaked and my boots filled with water from the saturated deep vegetation.  I ploughed on for a good half hour and then it started to rain.  I then made another mistake by not putting on my waterproofs as it was so warm and humid.  I thought that my paramo windproof would suffice but I soon had water trickling down my back.  My world turned into an internal misery of bog and a monochrome landscape filled with mist and curtains of rain.  I very nearly turned back at that point but decided to a least trudge on to the source of the Owengarve river to see if the terrain got any better from that point.

Well it did not!  But at least the rain stopped and the warmth meant that I dried out pretty quickly.  My map showed a large area of bog between me and the bridge marked on the map and it didn’t disappoint.  A bit alarming when the ground wobbles around you but at least less vegetation made the going a bit easier.  I reached the bridge and found a bit of a problem, a high deer fence had been built across it on my side of the river.  I tried to cross but would have fell in.  So I gingerly climbed up and over the fence, crossed the bridge then climbed back over the fence on the other side.  I reached the Polladirk river which was larger than expected, seeing as my feet were already wet I just ploughed straight across with water to my knees.  There was a large boulder a couple of hundred metres away where I stripped off to dry out and get some food in me and take in the wild surroundings.  The photos really don’t do justice to how high and tough that grass is!

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I could have procrastinated for ever on that rock but a decision had to be made about my onward route.  I had thought about following the river to the head of the valley but I would have rather gnawed off my own arm than walk across more bogs.  I decided to climb Benbrack, which would still include a bit of a slog to get there.

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I eventually got to the col between it and Knockbrack and I have to admit that I was totally knackered, maybe I had bitten off more than I could chew?  I still had 4 mountains to climb and then return by the hell bog tussock route I had come in on.  I sat down and pondered again!  I soon snapped out of it and continued climbing what was now an easy rocky ridge to get to the summit plateau.  It was much more complex that it looks on the map and I was pleased to be standing at the summit cairn with great views over the rest of the range.

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The descent to the next col was through easy broken rocky terrain.  As usual the descent was fairly complex and I could imagine that in mist you would have to be careful not to descend into Glencorbet.  Even with clear visibility I kept finding myself going too far to the left.

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The col gave a view down the whole length of the Polladirk river with Diamond hill in the distance.

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My next objective was Muckanaght the highest point of the walk, towering above the col.

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The short cropped grass was greasy so I decided to contour to a higher col and climb it by its easier east ridge where I got views into Glenowengin.

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A final steep pull to the summit with a view across the vast bogs of Connemara towards the coast.  A few more of the Twelve bens also put in an appearance.

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There was one more large drop to a col to go before climbing Bencullagh, again there is a change with the terrain becoming rockier.

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Thankfully the drop and climb to the last peak of the day Maumonght was fairly small and I had a long rest at the summit.  A quick call to my partner to let her know that I would be much longer than planned, I may not be back for dinner was the message.  It was then a long steady descent down the north ridge with the boggy grassy valley looking like velvet from a distance.

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The lower down I got the tougher the vegetation got, but I was soon back at the bridge and climbing over the watershed where I gave a final look over my shoulder to the peaks I had climbed.

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I had a fair bit of slogging to get back to the van so I plugged myself into my ipod and sang my way across the bogs taking it much slower this time.  In the early evening sunshine I enjoyed it and experience of the route meant that I could pick out an easier line.  Within an hour I was close to the track and a slightly different route led me to this picturesque spot.

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Almost exactly ten hours after leaving it I arrived back at the van absolutely shattered.  I had just done one of the hardest walks of my life over some of the most demanding terrain.  The mountains had just topped 2000ft but they could give any Scottish Munro a run for their money.  The amount of ticks I had brushed off during the day was as bad as you get in the highlands and the horseflies were evil enough to get in a flap over.  But boy was I pleased with myself!

Cregg hill – 297m

Maybe it is cheating to drive to the top of a hill?  Clegg hill has a very rough minor road leading to its summit for access to the TV mast.  A worthwhile excursion for when you are feeling lazy and fancy a view without any physical effort.  It looks like a good access point to the Twelve bens across Lough Nahillion if you don’t mind a bit of bog walking!

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July 20, 2009

Ireland part 2 – Connemara (Diamond hill and the Maumturks)

by backpackingbongos

The wild west of Ireland was soon calling us so we packed up the camper and headed out of the rolling hills of County Wicklow.  The Wicklow mountains are an area I would like to return to one day, perhaps for a spot of backpacking.  When setting up the national park I do feel that they went a little bit overboard putting the word ‘mountain’ in the title.  In reality it is an area of high, rough and wild moorland similar to parts of the Cheviots or the North Pennines.  But then what is a mountain?  On my last day in Ireland I spent a couple of hours trying to figure how to get safely down off a hunk of bog and rock that did not even break the 600 metre contour.  In my mind that was most definitely a mountain even though it was smaller than many of the moors of say the Peak District.  I will write about that in another post.

The Wicklow gap road gave a grand exit out of the hills climbing to nearly 500 metres.  Throughout the day we regretted setting the sat nav to avoid motorways as we drove down a succession of ‘R’ roads that are the equivalent of our ‘B’ roads.  It felt like we were following tractors across most of the width of the country.  The landscape was muted by a fine constant rain and low clouds, not the best day of the holiday!  The scenery soon became more dramatic and wilder once we had passed Galway City, with miles of bogland and Loughs replacing the green fields.  You could sense the rising mountains all around you rather than actually see them as everything was hidden by curtains of mist.

After being hemmed in by a regimented campsite I was craving something much wilder, so I was relieved when we drove down the steep track leading to the campsite near Tully on the Rinvyle peninsular.  A quiet informal campsite located next to a perfect deserted stretch of white sand.  The rain just started to clear to show the backdrop of the Connemara mountains on the horizon.  After setting up camp I was soon walking around taking photos in the great evening light that you only seem to get in the far north and west.

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Connemara national park – Diamond hill 442 metres

The mist and drizzle had returned the following morning so after a long lie in and procrastination around camp we headed to the Connemara national park centre.  The aim being to find about access to the hills, get a weather forecast and climb Diamond hill.  Well I found out that there is no legal right to access the hills which I wrote about here.  As to the weather I was told that it pretty much rains everyday and it was likely to continue raining today as well!  So with waterproofs packed we headed out of the centre onto the well signed trail to Diamond hill.  This is the only designated trail within the national park, the rest being untamed pathless bog and mountain.  There were therefore a few folks out and about on the 3 coloured routes that either circle or climb the small but impressive peak.  It was really only a case of following the red arrows whilst taking in the scenery on a fairly easy 3 hour walk.

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The Maumturks – Barrslievenaroy 702 metres

The Maumturk mountain range runs for 15 miles and includes many convoluted rocky summits apparently giving some of the roughest walking in Ireland.  There are often local challenge walks to complete the whole ridge in a day, looking at the map it also looks like it would make a great backpack with a wild camp along the way.  The weather was too iffy to try and complete a big day in the hills and all the guide books recommended clear weather as they are meant to be easy to get lost on.  My partner was happy for me to go off for a walk on my own for the day so I came up with a route taking in the highest peak on the ridge.

I left the van on the minor road just off of the R344 and followed wet boggy ground into the valley marked as An Uillinn Thair on my Harvey map.  For once the vegetation was nice and short for Ireland and I made good progress towards the head of the valley.

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A steep but easy grassy slope led between crags to the col between Barrslievenaroy and Knocknahillion with good views back to the Inagh valley and Lehanagh lough.

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On reaching the col I got my first glimpse of the rocky bulk of Barrslievenaroy clearing from the mist.  I have to admit I started thing to myself, ‘how the hell am I going to get up there!’

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Behind me was the mountain Knocknahillion which does not even reach the 2000ft contour, proving that height really is not the defining factor of what is and is not a mountain.

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I stopped for a bite to eat whilst I waited for the rest of the cloud to lift at a small mountain lake below the main ridge.  Whilst sitting there I heard a strange flute like noise, a bit like the clangers.  Standing up and looking round I really couldn’t tell where it was coming from.  When I sat down again the same noise started up again this time a little louder, the noise stopped again when I stood up to have a look around.  Feeling a little unnerved I started towards the ridge when the noise started yet again, this time I heard laughter and turned round just in time to see some dread locked hippy bloke hiding behind a rock!

The beginning of the ridge was very steep cropped grass littered with stones and small boulders, which made walking fairly treacherous as there was nothing to grab hold of.  To my left there was a great view of the isolated roadless Glenglosh valley.

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As I gained the ridge proper things suddenly felt a bit safer as I was able to scramble over firm rock, I even managed to pick up a feint path that helped with route finding.  I got an even better view of Knocknahillion and the Maumturk ridge continuing to the north.

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It was at this point that I heard a distant rumble of thunder.  Now thunder storms are one of the few things that really worry me when I am out on the mountains.  In fact since one really bad experience that I wrote about here, I have developed a bit of a phobia about being stuck outdoors in one again.  I thought that I should contour round the slope a bit to check out the sky in the direction I had heard the rumble.  What I saw worried me , it was as if someone had painted the whole sky and horizon black.  Scenery in front of me appeared to be being engulfed in a fast moving wall of darkness.  A sudden clap of thunder echoed around the mountains so loudly that I could feel it in the ground.  I panicked and shifted pretty quickly back in the direction that I had come!  As I reached the lake the rain suddenly came in huge 50p sized drops soaking me instantly, in fact I got wet so quickly there was no point on getting out my waterproofs.  As I walked round the lake a huge flash of lightening lit up the sky and a mighty crash of thunder turned my walk into a run.  In the distance I could see the hippy bloke and his mate moving pretty sharpish to get down off the hills.  As I reached the col a bolt of lightening flashed down in the valley below me, in my haste I wasn’t looking where I was putting my feet and I slipped on the steep wet short cropped grass.  Luckily I only slid about 10 feet, it could have been much worse if I had been wearing my waterproofs.  Just below the col I heard a shout and it was the two guys earlier sheltering in a shallow cave, waving me over.  I remember reading somewhere that you should avoid caves in thunderstorms, so I shouted back my concerns and continued legging it down the valley.  What I found amazing was the sheer volume of water now pouring off of the hillsides.  The stream that I had followed earlier was now a raging torrent, luckily I was on the right side as a crossing would have risked being swept away.  Waterfalls were now falling over cliffs which had not been there previously.  The whole valley was filled with the sound of water.  Along the valley bottom I sloshed through the now saturated bogs with water coming well above my ankles.  I cannot explain the relief I felt when I reached the van.

As the road was deserted I stripped off at the roadside and rang my clothes out and emptied my boots, I was thankful for the change of clothing I had in the back.  Typically once I was dry in the van the weather cleared leaving a great view of the Twelve Bens / Pins on the other side of the Inagh valley.  However I could see another storm lining itself up on the horizon and the first rumble of thunder started as I drove off.

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I drove the 20 miles or so back to the campsite to share my tales with my partner who I assumed would be worried for me.  I got there only to find that the storms had not even reached the coast!  However later that evening a massive amount of rain tested our Tentipi’s waterproofing to the limit.  Over the following few days we learnt that a house in Connemara had been struck by lightening and burnt down, roads had been washed away in Mayo and Dublin had been flooded.  The power of nature sometimes can be awesome.

In the next post I actually get to the top of a mountain in Connemara!

July 16, 2009

No ‘Right to roam’ in Ireland

by backpackingbongos

One of the things that surprised me when I was researching going to Ireland was the lack of a rights of way network, or an automatic right to access many of the hills and mountains.  There are places where you can walk pretty much unrestricted such as in National parks (less than 1% of land), govt owned forestry and the few long distance trails.  Basically on all other land including mountain and moorland access is at the discretion of the landowner no matter how remote it is.  This obviously came as something of a shock coming from a country that has a massive public footpath network and the right to roam over most uncultivated countryside.

Access to the hills was very good in the Wicklow mountains and as far as I was aware you had a right to walk the hills.  I was on the other hand a bit daunted about the access situation in Connemara which has been reported recently as getting more and more restrictive.  There is a national park there but I must really put the emphasis on the word ‘park’ it is tiny and really only covers one valley and its surrounding hills.  My first point of call when arriving was the national park centre to ask about access to the mountains outside the park.  I was basically told that you do not have any rights to climb the hills and you should seek permission from the land owner before doing so.  Are you really meant to go knocking on doors to ask to go into the hills?  This gave me a dilemma, I could go and ask and risk being told no.  What would I do then?  What if after walking several miles down a private track you are told to ‘bugger off’?  I really did not want confrontation when I my holiday!

This made planning great walks difficult as I usually like a good long walk through an isolated glen before taking to the hills. In Ireland these nearly always seemed to lead to a house.  I therefore did a mammoth walk in the national park across miles and miles of bogs to get to a stunning horseshoe on the Twelve Pins.  A great day but would have been even better if there was a right to access the hills from the many other valleys into the mountains.  On my other walks into the mountains I ended up parking in a really remote spot out of the reach of dwellings.  I felt like I may have been doing something wrong as I snuck up into the hills!  Usually I would have to climb over barbed wire or deer fences, with no paths leading across farmland into the hills.

The thing is as a visitor to the area I did not know what I could and could not do.  I may well have been overreacting and farmers and landowners may have welcomed me with opened arms and a cup of tea if I had knocked on their doors and just asked!  Ireland on the whole is a pretty friendly place.

We then went to Achill island in County Mayo to see its stunning scenery and with the knowledge that access is good there due to a large proportion being common land.

Anyway the point I would like to make is if Ireland put in some sort of legislation similar to the UK with regards to access rights it could be one of the best walking destinations in the world.  The scenery easily matches that of Scotland and the mountains are as rugged as you could wish for.  You can also walk all day without seeing a single person (one of the plus points maybe due to a lack of access?) Match that with really friendly people, loads of great pubs and music and you have a winning destination.

Loads of stuff on Keep Ireland open

I will soon get around to writting up some trip reports and posting some photos.

July 12, 2009

Back from Ireland……………………

by backpackingbongos

I am feeling just a little bit tired after driving back from the west coast of Ireland yesterday, it was a bit much to do all in one day!

Ireland was stunning with the scenery on the west coast easily equaling that of the west coast of Scotland.  Pure white beaches and really wild and rugged mountains with not a person in sight.  Managed to get some superb mountain days in, some of the hardest roughest walking I have ever done, solitude and stunning scenery does not come cheap!  I even managed to persuade my non hill walking partner up a few of the easier hills, luckily she was also happy to be left on a beach whilst I disappeared for the odd day with some distant peak in sight.

You cannot escape the fact that Ireland is wet, actually it is very wet! (Connemara gets over 250 days of rain a year).  On our first week apparently there was a heatwave in the UK, this did not reach us and we had many cool days of mist and drizzle.  However the weather is always changing  and although it rained most days there would be the odd hour or two when the skies clear and the rocks sparkle in the sunshine.  It does make it the greenest place I have ever visited, the density of the plant growth looks almost tropical in places.  This in turn provided some of the toughest boggy grassland imaginable!

The weakness of the pound against the Euro at the moment does make it a really expensive place to visit, £2 for a loaf of bread and £4 a pint means that spending money does not go too far.  Plus try and find a campsite for less than £18 a night…………………

Some posts and photos to follow in the next couple of weeks, in the meantime one of me enjoying the view on top of Diamond hill in Connemara.

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