Outdoor Discoveries

What originally was a news section for the rest of the website soon became a place for me to write about human-powered wanderings in the countryside. Photography inspires me to get out there, mostly on foot these days, though cycling got me started. Musings on the wider context of outdoor activity complete the picture, so I hope that there is something of interest in all that you find here. Thank you for coming!

A day on Aran

21st December 2022

This is the last of four hiking trip reports from an August 2018 stay in Galway that allowed me to venture on day hikes in the counties of Clare and Galway. The first of the four ventured along part of County Clare’s Atlantic Coast, while the second related reconnaissance wanderings around Connemara, and the third followed a section of the Western Way as it went from Maam Cross to Oughterard. There is also an account of a preceding evening stroll around Galway among my Travel Jottings. This instalment describes a day out on the largest of the Aran Islands.

It often is the case that I get more adventurous on the last full day of a trip away. The cause is that I have got acclimatised sufficiently in a place to do so. This is something that I noticed on a trip to Iceland in 2015, and it has recurred so many times since then that it almost is a regular pattern. One downside to all this is that it can jeopardise making a return flight on time if things go awry.

There were a few reasons for my heading out to Inishmore, as it is known in the English language. First, there is a handy walking loop on the island with added side trips if I wanted to explore more of the place. One of those would take me to the well-known Dún Aonghasa, and there are others. The name of this first fort also echoes my own surname in the Irish language, Ó hAonghusa, though the link may be more incidental than concrete in nature.

Skies were grey as I left Galway and travelled by bus through south Connemara, and within sight of the coastline. There was plenty of time to buy a ticket and catch a passenger ferry, too. There were a few leaving at the same time, so there was plenty of space for everyone, a good thing since day trippers on coach excursions were going too. In fact, I got onto the island earlier than I might have hoped.

The chance of hiring a bike might have been tempting, but I kept things simple and stuck with the Shank’s Mare approach. As part of orientation, I followed the island’s central road a little before turning back on myself to go in the direction of Killeany. At An Poll Mór, I turned onto the Back Road to continue in the direction of Gort na gCapall, not having seen much in the way of sunshine. The lanes were quiet, though, and I wanted to avoid the minibus and horse-drawn excursion traffic going down the spine of the island.

A day on Aran

This section was to be the quietest part of my hike around Aran, and I certainly relished the quietude of it all. The grey barrenness of the landscape was as striking as it was reminiscent of the Burren in County Clare. Quite how anyone could make a living here was somewhat revealed during my reading of Tim Robinson’s Stones of Aran duology later in the year. It certainly is not easy harvesting seaweed or bird’s eggs while finishing off cattle for the market on the dry landscape in exchange for turf from the mainland.

A day on Aran

A day on Aran

Just as Aran’s human history is not so extensive in scale, notable event or record, its landscape is seemingly simple as well. There are no big hills to draw the eye, while its shoreline is another matter, with a long line of cliffs on its southern side. It is as if this land was sheared from the mainland at one time, given the similarities shared with the Burren in County Clare.

A day on Aran

Once I was past the collection of houses that is Gort na gCapall, I was either bound for the west of the island or on my return to Kilronan. Going to the western end of Inishmore did appeal only for time concerns and a visit to Dún Aonghasa to deflect me from such a course. Visiting the fort was a must for me and I encountered my first (and perhaps only) rain of the day while en route from the gift shop where I paid the entrance fee.

Thankfully, the sun returned for me to spend a pleasant time around the antiquity while admiring the surrounding views as well. There is a raised platform in its heart that prompts questions as to why it was there and what the purpose of the construction was. The sharp drop into the surf also focusses many minds; I was to hear an American lady caution her father over exactly that consideration. This is an antiquity seemingly severed by landscape erosion, after all.

On my return from Dún Aonghasa, I stopped at the gift shop again and was stunned to hear “Go raibh míle maith agat” following a purchase of an item that did not cost much. This sadly forced an expression of gratitude in English that I regretted. The incident is probably forgotten by the other party now, but a thousand blessings felt excessive in the circumstances. Sometimes, a combination of knowing too much and translating directly is not a good one…

A day on Aran

A day on Aran

A day on Aran

After that, I headed back to Kilronan while shadowing the north side of the island. The smell of horse manure was pervasive as I did so, since these roads do not get the planing that their Kerry counterparts get. This was a busier if narrow road, with pulses of added traffic intruding on a desire to keep moving. The beach at Kilmurvy too was an excuse to leave the throng for a while, but I also noticed the views of Connemara and the extra fertility of the landscape compared to what I passed through on the other side of the island. There were other opportunities to leave tarmac for a while, though, as I shortened the distance to Kilronan.

A day on Aran

In some ways, I might have been overcautious because I had more time in Kilronan than I had expected. Small islands tend to have that effect on me; thoughts of being marooned are not good ones, and they first arose on a primary school trip to Sherkin Island, even though we surely were OK that time. Others were not so burdened and could wait, but I left them to that after using Kilronan as a food and information gathering stop.

A day on Aran

Wake of Aran Island Ferries boat, Ireland

On the return sailing, I noticed just how the boat swayed from side to side in the sea. It was easy to see how some might get thrown overboard, and I need to stop myself going too far just the once. Otherwise, it was a case of admiring what basked in the sun as we passed it. For one thing, the hills of Clare were catching some sunshine in the otherwise grey gloom. The lighthouse on Oileán an Tuí was another beneficiary, as was Inishmaan.

On getting back to Rossaveal, I started to explore the place a little without much sunshine or other movement. To me, this was a stilly part of Ireland, where Aran Island traffic became the only cause of any hubbub. There may have been signs for a seemingly defunct hiking trail, but this did not feel like walking country. That meant there was time for another food stop before the bus came to collect me and those who arrived from Aran on a later ferry.

While I was happy to be going back to Galway to get ready for returning to the U.K. the next day, it had been a good day out and there are possibilities for going back to see more of the place. Inishmore’s hotel offers the chance of a stay, avoiding any anxiety about getting marooned should the weather play nice. That would allow wandering to the western and eastern extremities without qualms, and it may even mean that early and late hour quietude could be enjoyed, especially if pleasing lighting was on offer. That would make a nice short break with plenty of strolling and, perhaps, some cycling as well.

The same comments may apply to Inishmaan or Inisheer just as well. They might even fit in with a return to Clare’s western coastline. Exploring that in brighter weather really does appeal, and there are passenger ferry connections from Doolin too. When reconnaissance has happened, more possibilities can emerge.

Travel Arrangements

Return bus journey on Bus Éireann service 424 between Galway and Rossaveal and return boat sailing between Rossaveal and Inishmore with Aran Island Ferries.

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