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.
Above me towered the bulk of Garraun, even though there was only 450 metres left to climb it looked much higher.
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.
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!
The final steep slopes of the ridge gave birds eye views down to Loch Fee before I gained the complex mountain plateau.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!