This is the first story from Ireland - by a Scottish walker, Ken Wardrop. There's no summary page, as we're busy redeveloping the site just now, but thought it well worth adding this story in the meantime.
The 12 Bens of Connemara are not high mountains - 725 metres at the highest, not even Corbett height. But - they deserve great respect! They form a dramatic backdrop for many views of Clifden, a small and lively town 2 hours west of Galway.
In August 2006, we walked the "Glen Coaghan Horseshoe", including 6 of the 12 Bens. Start and finish is near Ben Lettery youth hostel, and in between the horseshoe is as rough as any walking I've ever done in Scotland, outside the Cuillins. There are some big steep ups and downs - in fact, each peak is distinct - this is not an easy ridge walk like South Glen Shiel! There is a lot of bare rock, and at least three ascents where a bit of scrambling was needed - though it might have been avoidable. But there's no beaten path to guide you. (The Irish OS maps aren't marvellous either, but thee hills are covered by an excellent 1:30,000 map "The Mountains of Connemara", produced by Tim Robinson and available locally.)
It's a long day - we were walking by 7.30 a.m. and not back at the car until 6.30 p.m.
But it is also a terrific walk, with great views south across a maze of lochs and peat bog to Galway Bay and the Aran Islands, and west to Clifden and Inishboffin Island. The hills are quiet - we only met one other walker - an Englishman. Maybe walking hasn't taken off in Ireland as it has in the UK, but the Irish hills are wonderful for walking. They are very reminiscent of Scotland, not surprisingly - many of the Gaelic hill names are identical, as well as the common vegetation and glaciated landscape. (And midges - yes, they are just as voracious in County Galway as in the Trossachs!)
But there's a surprising amount of habitation in the Irish hills. At the mouth of Glen Coaghan for example are two small farming clachans, with several new houses - they may have had the famine, but they didn't have the Clearances, and this does not look like a depopulating area!
Another important difference - there is no right of access or freedom to roam in Ireland as we have it in Scotland. All land is owned by someone, or usually a group of a dozen or more farmers - and they are quite entitled to ask you to leave their land. Not a problem we had, and it may not be much of an issue in the most popular hills like Wicklow, or McGillicuddy's Reeks in Kerry. But some Irish walking clubs take care to time their regular walks for 11 a.m. on a Sunday - when the farmer is most likely to be safely out of the way at church!
The other tip we got was to carry an old bit of carpet, as an aid to getting over barbed wire fences - because there are no stiles or rights of way! Don't let the access issue put you off - it wan't an issue for us in 5 walks over the space of 10 days in Clare and Galway.
The Irish hills are worth getting to know. Be prepared for some rough pathless walking - but the quality of the landscape repays the effort. And the Guinness really does taste better in Ireland
Contributed by: Ken Wardrop
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