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 time with little sun around the counties of Galway & Clare

23rd December 2022

2022 became a year when I enjoyed many hikes in Ireland. Even with other things to do, I got out as much as I could. There was a lot of sunshine and some rain too, but the expansion of horizons was beyond my hopes. Another aspect of this was that I could enjoy seeing the country of my birth without feeling guilty. Before, my ventures had felt more like theft, in that I stole in and out of the place. This includes brief saunters around Howth Head and to the top of the Great Sugar Loaf near Kilmacanoge. The reason is that trips to Ireland were always about family, and it felt wrong not to do that. The passing away of my parents and the passage of time since then means that I can move beyond that now.

The seed for the Galway trip was sown one weekend when my father was still around when I was returning to the U.K. It was a fine, sunny Sunday afternoon, and I was tempted to stay on the bus all the way to Galway instead of disembarking at Shannon Airport as planned. The need to be at work the next day, together with a lack of accommodation, put paid to that proposal, so it had to wait.

Galway, Ireland

Looking towards Mutton Island, Galway, Ireland

That vigil lasted until August 2018. By then, inheritance works had settled, a career break has passed, and I was back in work as a freelancer. With those in place, my mind could turn again to longer excursions, and I stole into Galway without telling very many at all. Staying in a hotel about thirty minutes walk from the city was about keeping costs under control, not keeping a low profile. That distance did add peace and quiet, even if there were building works ongoing at the time; it never meant that any excursion from the city became impossible, though catching a regular city bus did speed things up from time to time.

On the day of arrival, I naturally pottered about Galway, especially with the evening becoming brighter. This was one of the sunnier periods during the whole trip, for grey skies were more common. There also was dampness that affected an incursion into Clare as well as the Saturday evening in Galway itself. Saturday itself was spent around Recess and Clifden in Connemara, with low cloud and leaden skies predominant. Sunday then had a grey start, but there was more brightness between Maam Cross and Oughterard, even if having it arrive earlier would have made my surroundings rather magical. On Monday, I ventured to Aran where there was some sunshine after a grey start, though rain showers were about the place at times.

All the dry sunny weather for which many recall 2018 was a passing memory, while the introductions could do with following up should life events allow. There was to be one trip report for the lot until it got too long. Thus, it got split into five other parts, which you will find linked in the preceding paragraph. Along the way, there were some awkward moments to recall, but there was a lot of solo wandering as well. This was the start of Irish hill country incursions that I followed with numerous others this year. Returning to Galway and Clare in better weather remains an unaddressed possibility for now, though.

Travel Arrangements

Getting from Manchester to Galway involved a return flight between Manchester and Knock and a return bus journey between Knock and Galway on Bus Éireann Expressway route 64.

A damp hike along Clare cliff tops

18th December 2022

This report comes from a trip to the counties of Galway and Clare in August 2018. While that year brought a lot of sunshine, this was a fading memory by the time of a stay that was based in Galway city. The autumn was to bring a share of rain that was welcomed by farmers, who otherwise faced a tough end to a year when feeding for livestock was in short supply.

Though there were sunny interludes, grey weather was my lot for much of the time. Given the rather clandestine nature of the escapade (very few knew what I was doing, since I fancied some quiet time to myself in the country of my birth), the juxtaposition of less-than-glorious weather felt like a repudiation of what I was doing. Even so, I made the best of it.

The first full day of the trip came damp, yet that did not deter me from going to Cliffs of Moher and Doolin. The outbound bus journey rounded Galway Bay with a sighting of Dunguaire Castle near Kinvarra before we then continued around by Black Head. On a bright, sunny day, this would have been a glorious journey. Alas, another attempt will be needed for that, and the castle looked inviting too.

What was equally striking was the narrowness of the roads that the bus driver needed to negotiate, especially with ongoing cars. Several buses left Galway at the same time to follow the same route, each one having a different final destination. It seems that Irish summer school holidays allow extra bus services to run, and for existing ones to get capacity improvements. All get withdrawn at the end of summer, when schools reopen for the new academic year.

The bus called to Doolin, so I got to see its calling point for the end of my planned walk. There, most of the passengers appeared to leave too. Once at the Cliffs of Moher, there was a shout for us to pay for our way into the amenity. If I had gone to Lehinch or Liscannor, I wonder if that charge might have been avoided. For a better day, thoughts of walking from either of those to Doolin have their appeal.

Cliffs of Moher, Doolin, Co. Clare, Ireland

Instead, I pottered south as far as the Moher Tower on Hag’s Head before turning back again. Some were edging towards the cliff edge as I suppressed urges to roar at them to get back. Limestone is a slippery rock when wet, so any slippage would have been fatal; it was easy to see why superintendents were using whistles to tell people to stay back. The prospect of a long drop into the cold surf was enough to make me to the landward side of any fencing slabs that were present. Views were restricted by the damp fog and mist, and photography was limited. Only record shots were a possibility.

The way back towards the Visitor Center and O ‘Brien’s Tower often got slowed by those unaccustomed to walking, for these cliffs are world-famous and a must-see on any coaching tour of Ireland. My desire for speed may have intruded on their day, but I got past all of them on what was a narrow path. The way up Branaunmore was misty but well paved, and it was the descent down the other side that held my attention because that was less well surfaced with added exposure as well.

Things got less dramatic once I got past Knockardakin, and I largely had the trail to myself all the way to Doolin, too. The Burren Way briefly took me onto tarmac before returning to field crossing again. The obvious trail stayed back from any edges, so I got to relax a bit more. Largely having things to myself also helped with this as I shortened the distance to Doolin with a castle in view to my right.

The time of arrival meant that I had quite a wait for the next bus. That was used for getting something to eat and to see where boats depart for the Aran Islands and for trips under the Cliffs of Moher. The extra time may have been available because I had just missed a departing bus that I never saw, but there was no let-up on the greyness, even if the dampness had stalled.

There was no mistake made in getting on the next bus to Galway, and it went by a different route. This took us via Lisdoonvarna and gave us a brief stop at Corkscrew Hill to savour the view of Galway Bay below us. From Ballyvaughan, we were going back the way as the outbound bus had gone. Weather does not always work in our favour, so a revisit remains a plausible possibility.

Travel Arrangements

Return bus journey between Galway and Doolin on Bus Éireann service 350.

Making do with the weather that came

27th August 2018

After reproaching myself for not doing so for too many years, I set aside some time to explore part of the land of my birth and upbringing. Too often, any such excursions have been fitted in around other activities and needed to cater to the needs of others. It was time for some self-driven explorations of my own, and the idea of doing just that on a trip to West Limerick to attend to Irish business affairs. There was a past occasion when the weather had been so fine that I was tempted to stay on a coach heading for Galway rather than disembarking at Shannon Airport as planned. It was to set the scene for what I did on a six-day stay this summer. As luck would have, the extraordinarily hot sunny weather was gone and a more usual mix was my fare but I made the best of what I was allotted.

City of Galway as seen from causeway leading to Mutton Island, Ireland

Perhaps unsurprisingly then, the city of Galway was my chosen base and its transport connections allowed me to explore a few places beyond its limits. The choices were numerous, so some filtering was in order given the time that I had. Of course, I got to stroll around the city too, with much of that happening on the day of my arrival. An evening of improving weather saw me find the coast near Claddagh and pop out to Mutton Island before venturing as far the perimeter of Salthill. The hills of north Clare lay across Galway Bay and the more extensive sunshine allowed for some photography.

The next day could not be more different and it was tricky to work out what to do, given the predicted rain. Nevertheless, I headed to the Cliffs of Moher where I hiked as far south as Signal Tower before returning north again to pass O’Brien’s Tower and continue along the Burren Way as far as Doolin where I got something to eat before going as far as the pier to see where ferries leave for the Aran Islands and boat trips along the Cliff of Moher are offered. Though damp for much of the time from rain, drizzle and ocean spray, it had been a satisfying day out with the return coach journey taking in such sights as Dunguaire Castel near Kinvarra and Black Head near Ballyvaughan. There even was a short stop to take in the view down from near Corkscrew Hill, though I suspect it was the action of a canny bus driver to stop people standing on a moving coach to take photos of what lay before them.

Thankfully, the following day stayed dry until evening when heavy rain came. During the dry spell, I headed to Recess in hope of walking to the top of Lisoughter hill. However, the sight of a low cloud base made me reconsider my plans so I instead chose a shorter stroll that still gave the desired views over Lough Inagh and towards what could be seen of the clouded Twelve Bens while passing both Derryclare Lough and Glendollagh Lough. After that, I continued to Clifden where a coastal stroll was enjoyed though skies looked laden with moisture. Dark grey cloud cover had been my lot though there was some sunshine around Oughterard as I returned to Galway where some matters needed my attention.

Owenriff River, Oughterard, Co. Galway, Ireland

The predicted heavy rain only lasted a few hours and left the next day completely dry so it was time for some longer hiking. This started from Maam Cross where I started along the R336 to reach the Western Way. Someone in a car stopped to ask if I was local but left me to carry on when he learned of my plan. A French family were milling around as I left the road to cross bogland on a bouncy plastic mat on the way to a Coillte forestry plantation. Then, I was led along a boardwalk that lasted for kilometres over a sodden landscape under grey skies with hilltops cloaked in cloud; it felt like a repeat of the previous day at this point. Lackavrea lay to my left all the way to the backs of the Folore River that I would shadow as far as the shore of Lough Corrib. One of the French visitors caught up with me to ask how far it was to the lake in broken English. Maybe I should have tried my French, but the required assistance was provided nonetheless. The boardwalk was left after me at the lake shore for a rough gravel track that lead to one with a smoother surface that itself conveyed me to the narrow road that I followed for the rest of the way to Oughterard. Progress along that was punctuated by various food stops, the first of which had me being wished “Bon Appétit” by someone who arrived in a car for a spot of strolling, and a side trip as far as Lough Seecon. Cloud broke, and the day grew more sunny to leave a fine weather dawdle around Oughterard before grey cloud cover grew again as I awaited a coach back to Galway.

Looking towards Dun Aonghasa, Inishmore, Aran Islands, Co. Galway, Ireland

There was one more full day to use after my trot along the Western Way and that allowed me to spend time wandering around Inishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands, with a coach and ferry combination getting me there and back. Once on the island, I found its quieter southern parts as I walked towards Dún Aonghasa. Light rain showers peppered the morning time before growing less frequent as the day progressed, and bright sunshine began to appear so that helped any photographic efforts. The clifftop fort was visited and I could have spent longer there but for my heightened desire to reach my desired ferry connection to the mainland. On the way back along the island’s north shore, I found myself sharing a lane with cyclists and touring minibuses together with horse and trap excursions. As it happened, the horse traffic added odour to the journey courtesy of dung left on the tarmac. The journey had its busy moments, but there were quieter stretches too and I had some time to spare before catching the ferry to Rossaveal where I spent some more time before catching the coach back to Galway.

My departure happened the next morning, but there are reasons to return to this part of Ireland. Any lack of sunshine would not be the main cause because there remains much more to see. Sunlit walking along the Burren Way between Liscannor and Doolin sounds attractive and there is Black Head itself too. Inishbofin is another island that I would like to visit and then there are the smaller members of the Aran Islands. Other parts of Connemara, such as Letterfrack and Leenaun, take my fancy while a walk from Recess to Maam Cross could be another possibility. As things stand, only a start has been made in exploring Clare and Galway while Mayo and Donegal are worth doing too. There could be an Irish hill country and island wandering project yet.