August 23, 2013. Dublin, Ireland – In a trip of outstanding hikes, this was the best.
After a short drive to Cleggan, a fishing village at the northwest tip of Connemara, we took the 11:30 am ferry to Inishbofin Island, a small island about six miles off shore. Thirty minutes later the ferry dropped us off, and we started walking. We took a pass on the three loop walks described in most of the tourist literature and followed a trail described in the book, “Connemara and Mayo: Mountain, Coastal and Inland Walks” by Paul Phelan, except we did it in reverse order (don’t ask why).
The trail starts on the only road leading east from the area around the ferry dock. In a few minutes we had left behind the hurly-burly (a little bit of irony here) of the handful of stores and hotels near the dock. Soon we could see ocean, hills and other islands and the mainland in the distance and little else. There were few signs of civilization other than the road, fields, sheep, fences and the occasional cottage.
After about 30 minutes we reached a long, lonely beach. The fine sand was bright white, the water was aquamarine, and the air was warm. It was almost Caribbean, except for the stiff breeze blowing off the water. We took refuge behind a rock and ate lunch. We also spent a lot of time staring at the view. It was a sublime moment, a long moment at that.
At the end of the beach we found the trail heading back. It followed the cliffs along the coast most of the way. The surf crashed below us as we picked our way along the faint trail through the heather. The trail sometimes meandered up a hill, other times it skirted the edge of the cliffs. At times we had to ease our way up and down steep rocky sections. At another point I followed what I thought was the trail into a bog, but after one slime-sucking step, I lept back (or at least what passes for a leap at my age) and picked up the real trail around the muddy, grassy morass.
We saw no one else on the trail the entire way. Several times I just stopped to take it all in, shaking my head in wonder at how fortunate I was to be there.
I pretty much lost track of time, so I don’t know for sure how long we walked. I estimate about three hours, leaving plenty of time for a beer at the Inishbofin House Hotel near the ferry dock before heading back to Cleggan at 5 pm.
No hike in Connemara is complete without a fresh seafood dinner. We had ours at Oliver’s on the waterfront in Cleggan. Mussels and oysters, of course, but only because they were out of crab claws.
We weren’t finished with Connemara yet. The next morning, my friend and colleague, Cathy Woods of Connemara Wild Escapes took us on an abbreviated tour of the Neolithic sites on the coast and inland. Dave Hogan, a guide for her company and an expert on ancient Irish history, led the tour, explained what we were looking at and brought the history to life with his stories.
It was just a taste and left us wishing for more. But it was time to move on. We’ll just have to come back and finish the tour, take the hikes we had to skip, and eat more mussels, oysters and crab claws.
(note – The photos included here do not do the island justice. In a rush to catch the ferry I inadvertently left my camera behind and had to make do with my iPhone. Most of the time I couldn’t see what I was shooting because of the sun. Eventually I put the phone away and decided to just enjoy what I was looking at rather than trying to take a picture of it.)