Connemara

INISHBOFIN:19th March 2016

3 months since a Ramblingman posting i thought i would report on a couple of recent excursions or micro adventures as i believe they are called in the on-trend world.

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The first was a trip we’d been meaning to take for a long time. To take the ferry from Cleggan on the northwestern tip of Co Galway the 7 miles out to Inishbofin or to give it’s proper name, Inis Bo Finne, the Island of the White Cow. The inspiration to finally get it together was supplied by the presence of our WWOOFer (Willing Worker On Organic Farms, or nowadays for some reason changed to WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms). We wanted to show off Connemara to Hanna on her first trip to Ireland from Germany.

It was a fairly gloomy day driving through the bogs and mountains and the clouds hung low over the sea as we boarded the boat along with a surprisingly large amount of other folk and the two dogs.IMG_4956

We had been having beautiful spring weather recently so it was a bit disappointing to gaze out towards the grey 6 by 4 km smudge on the horizon and back towards the twelve Bens and the Maumturk peaks lost in cloud.

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It took about half an hour to cross to the island and pass the beacons that led ships into the fine sheltered harbour below the smattering of buildings that comprised the main settlement.

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The island has three looped walks and with 4 hours available to us we had combined two of them, the Middle and Western Quarters. Climbing up from the harbour along the network of boreens we started out on the Middle Quarter loop first, albeit in the opposite direction to the way marks, which possibly explains how we got lost fairly soon after passing the cottages,new and old, and heading out north towards the islands high ground.IMG_4966

Passing an airstrip carved into the rocky and boggy ground we took the wrong turn but only had to climb to the highest point to get back on track and admire the views east towards the mainland and south across the ocean.

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Rejoining the way marked route we descended from the 90 mt highpoint towards the bog track leading to Loch Bofin and the pebble embankment separating it from the Atlantic at North beach.

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Following a flock of sheep being herded along a boreen we moved on to the open expanse of the Westquarter and now in bright sunshine passed by the sad monument to the memory of some American students that had drowned off the coast here in the 7o’s. IMG_4982

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Somewhere around here there had been a quarry of valuable soapstone which, along with the abundance of fish, fresh water, fertile ground and a sheltered harbour had made Inish Bofin an attractive place to live for the 6-8000 yrs of human settlement. Strangely there are none of the megalithic remains of standing stones, circles or burial tombs that feature on the mainland from that period, leading some people to surmise that a different people with a different culture may have inhabited these islands. There is a promontory fort, Dun Mor, that we under below once we reached the old green road that travels along the southern shore with a warren of rabbit holes peppering the slope below it.

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There is a fine view from this section of the walk over towards Inishark and the now roofless houses finally abandoned in October 1960.We couldn’t resist clambering down to the beautiful pristine beach hemmed in by headlands on either side and after fruitless beach combing to the eastern end, availed of the handy rope to climb back up to the green road.

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The sparkling sea and sunshine and soft, sheep cropped grass persuaded us that this was a good picnic spot before we rejoined the tarmac road that serves the simple homesteads and its remnants of rusting transport.

It’s a shame that Inishark could not sustain itself long enough to enjoy the better economic conditions that Inis Bofin seems to enjoy, with new sea defences, a fine and active community centre and a hotel popular with stag and hen nights by all accounts , but it’s lonely and empty stillness could be a draw of itself and can be enjoyed during the Inis Bofin Walking Festival in a couple of weeks (22nd to 24th April) when a guided hike over the island will take place, weather permitting.

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Our ferry awaited and soon we were cruising out past Port Island separated by a narrow gulley and once the castle site of Don Bosco, not the puppet once popular on Irish TV, but a famed and feared Spanish pirate who, along with his mate Granuaile, the pirate Queen, in another castle opposite, controlled these waters and plundered any foolish enough to venture in. Since the 16th century another warlord, Cromwell, has had a presence here in the star shaped shape of the barracks used as a prison for catholic priests from all over the country declared guilty of high treason for being– catholic priests.IMG_5009

It would have been their last view of their homeland as they eventually got shipped out to the West Indies and an unknown fate. We, on the other hand, had the pleasure of anticipating a fair weather drive back through the mountains of Connemara now revealed in all their glory for the benefit of our German visitor.

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Connemara

With a month to go before I head off on the GR131 across the Canaries I needed to get out into the wilds with a pack on my back for some training not only in hiking with a load but in blogging about it afterwards on the mobile.
So we headed off west past Galway and Oughterard to Maams cross where we turned south across the russet  autumnal  bog.
At the top of Camus Bay we turned right towards Roundstone and when we met the water again we pulled over at the start of an old turf cutters track which led deep into the soggy wilds.

 The cloud was low the air still and moist. We were in a world of water, above us around us and below our feet.

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The numerous lakes had miniature cottages beside them which we assumed were for sheltering fishermen trying to hook a salmon.

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When the stone paved track ran out we followed the trail marked on the map, now long gone into the bog.

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The waterlogged ground quaked and wobbled like a waterbed beneath our feet as we made our way north towards the Maamturk mountains rising out of the horizon.
It was easy to see how nasty it would be in a disorienting mist with little or no features to guide you through the quagmire.
After a stop for a silent sandwich gazing over the vast emptiness we returned to the car and carried on to Cashel House hotel, a lovely dog friendly old school country house with acres of well established gardens we spent the afternoon wandering around.
Up early with the hounds I took a stroll along the shore

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before a hearty breakfast to get us up Cashel Hill standing 311mts above us in a beautiful clear blue sky.
Passing the church we followed the track up the hill above the top of Cashel bay

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and shortly arrived at an ancient graveyard complete with a ring fort and holy well of St Conaill.

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A steep climb with a few rest stops to admire the unfolding vistas brought us the summit trig point and perhaps the best view of the Twelve Bens and Maumturks in the whole of Connemara.

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As always the steep descent was tough on the knees, especially with a heavy pack on, but we wanted to explore the coast a little more in the glorious sunshine so after clambering down past forlorn footwear and lichen covered trees

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we motored on South to a big beach near Carna.

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A low tide football pitch and shell covered sands led us towards Finish Island but the waters were not low enough to cross over so we stood gazing into the fading light.

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