Day 10 – Thursday – Touring Connemara

Posted: 28/06/2012 in Holiday
Tags: , , , , , ,

Weather-permitting, we’d have a picnic today, so I made a pasta and tuna salad, and Mark made a big flask of tea. Amazingly, I’d remembered to freeze the ice-packs for the cool-bag. Everything in the car, and we were off. As we approached Doo Lough, we realised we didn’t have the map! Must be in the cottage. Too far to go back, so we decided to just let the road take us where it wanted to, and we’d follow the odd sign to make sure we were going in roughly the right direction.

At Leenane we turned towards Clifden this time. We spotted a sign for the Connemara Loop, but missed the turn. A few hundred yards farther was a modern church where we could turn around. On the wall was a huge banner: STOP AND PRAY! Er, no thanks. I’d said it’d be good to see Connemara in the rain, and I got my wish. The mountains were shrouded in mist; so atmospheric. By now I was in need of the loo, but there wasn’t a pub or hotel in sight. I’m not up to crouching in the long grass these days! A bit farther on, we saw a sign for a sailing centre. That’ll have a loo! But the centre was nowhere to be found. OK, I can wait a bit longer. A minute later, the Connemara Loop sign pointed sharply left. This seemed to be taking us back where we’d come from, but we followed it anyway. Our instincts were correct. We emerged on the road we’d left 10 minutes before. Had some joker turned the sign? Now I really needed that loo! Just ahead was a house with a long drive, and someone working in the adjoining field. Time to stop being shy and just ask. “Can I use your toilet?” I shouted. “Ring the bell, but I don’t know if anyone’s in!” he shouted back. I bloody well hoped so, having walked up that drive. One ring. No answer. Two rings. The door opened. I could have hugged that woman as she welcomed me in. Ah, the relief. We decided not to stop in Clifden as I saw a sign for Roundstone – another place I’d good memories of – about 20km away. On the road out of Clifden, I saw a sign for a salmon smokery, and was reminded of something amusing that had happened a few years previously. We were travelling around Clare and Galway with friends from France, and stopped there. We asked the staff to explain the process to them. It turned out every member of staff was French, so our friends had to translate for us!

We followed the coast road (R341). We were getting hungry but finding it difficult to find a place to stop. As we became more desperate, we asked our friendly parking goddess for help. Just around the bend was a sizable lay-by. Not a great view, but it’d do. If only we’d waited a little longer! Half a mile up the road was a lovely beach; it would’ve been perfect. We might even have gotten to use our picnic rug. We stopped anyway for a stroll. The sand here is very strange, made up of tiny odd-shaped pebbles. Not something I’d seen (or noticed) before.

Bunowen Bay

Not having the map, we just followed our nose for a while, and found ourselves driving across Connemara Golf Club at Bunowen. We were careful to avoid the well-tended greens. We parked and walked down onto the beach at Bunowen Bay. Stunning! And we had it all to ourselves. The sound of the surf and the wind blowing in off the sea was exhilarating. This is what I’d been looking forward to.

Roundstone

The Michael Killeen Park (on the site of a Franciscan monastery that was established in 1835 and demolished in 1980) is home to a craft centre. The main building houses a bodhrán-maker and a shop selling lovely hand-knitted jumpers alongside the usual tourist tat. There was also a coffee shop. Mark at last saw a chance to try out his Irish: “Gabh mo leithscéal. Dhá cupán caife, le do thoil.” Word perfect. He was met with a blank look. The woman serving was Russian; her colleague was Nigerian. We had some coffee (and cake) anyway. Next door was a pottery. In we went. Lovely handmade pots of all shapes and sizes. We choose two pint-sized mugs. Each one unique. We noticed that the Irish language station was on the radio. Another opportunity! Mark took the mugs to the counter. “Cé mhéad?” And so we spent a very pleasant hour chatting to the potter, in a mixture of English and Irish.

It was about 6pm as we headed north again, this time taking the road through the Twelve Bens (or Twelve Pins) Mountains. This will remain the most memorable part of the trip, I’m sure. The views are stunning, and unspoilt be electricity pylons. As we drove up the side of Lough Inagh, we spotted a small hotel. A moment or so later, we decided to turn around to check it out (and use the loo). What a haven of tranquillity. We explored a little, checking out the cosy bar, the restaurant with views over the lake, and the lounge with its open fire. Nowhere was the sense of peace spoiled by music. We would love to come back here. We’d missed Kylemore Abbey on the way down, so followed signs for that. Not surprisingly, it was closed, but the drive around there was a delight, and worth the short detour.

No sign of the map back at the cottage. The only other possibility was that we’d left it at The Tavern yesterday. A quick phone call confirmed that. They said they’d be open at 12:30 the next day. We’d wanted to be well on the road by then, but decided we could explore some more while waiting for them to open.

We’d hoped to get to Matt Molloy’s pub in Westport this evening, but we’d spent so much time stopping to take photos on the way back that it was now too late (and we were too tired anyway).

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