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.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

20th December 2022

This is the third 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. There is also an account of a preceding evening stroll around Galway among my Travel Jottings. The last of the lot will describe a day out on the largest of the Aran Islands.

This account is of a day hike between Maam Cross to Oughterard that used a section of the Western Way for much of its route. The night before had been beset with heavy rain, leaving some of the distance in a waterlogged state. That lay in the future on a dry, overcast morning when I caught a bus from Galway to Maam Cross. From there, I started along the R336 towards Leenaun.

There was motor traffic along the road, but it was not oppressive, and someone stopped to ask if I was a local. Whether it was someone who knew me and I might have known at one time remains unknown to me, but I shared what I was about anyway and continued my hike. You do not want to upset anyone, but the passage of time and my being in numerous places along a life journey can mean that you may not recognise people who you should know. The greying and loss of hair are no help for the recognition of old acquaintances either.

Lackavrea, Connemara, Co. Galway, Ireland

Like the previous day, low cloud obscured most summits. That limited views and photographic efforts in what would have been a bewitching location in sunshine and under blue skies. A French family were figuring out where they were going at the point where I joined the Western Way and left the R336 behind me. The ground was boggy underfoot, and I soon started along the longest section of boardwalk that I had met in my entire life.

This led me under the slopes of Lackavrea and through a waterlogged forestry plantation. Owning some forestry land myself, I was stunned to see where this state forestry plantation was sited, for it might not have been approved for a private scheme. It also meant that there was a chance of drowning if you fell off the boardwalk, especially with a hefty rucksack on your back. Careful foot placement was in order because there were places where repairs were needed.

The route shadowed the Forlore River that flows from Loughanillaun to Lough Corrib. It was not a boardwalk all the way and I rested at one point, which allowed the French family to ask the way to Lough Corrib, and I showed them using the ViewRanger app on my phone before leaving them to go on their way. That would have passed where the Forlore and Owenree rivers come together, with Lough Corrib nearby.

This was an enticing spot that had me longing for more sunshine and less greyness. On a bright, sunny day, I might have been rooted to the spot for a good while with all the hills that lay all around me. It was a matter of enjoying things as much as I could before joining the quiet single-track road that would carry the rest of the way into Oughterard. There was even a chance of a lunch stop as well, and I got wished Bon Appétit from another French speaker.

Boats on Lough Corrib, Co. Galway, Ireland

Road hiking is never rated highly by many who enjoy countryside walking because of the hard surface and its unforgiving effects on one’s feet. In Ireland, many Waymarked Ways proceed along this type of surface, and it might be said that Irish boreen walking is a unique experience not found anywhere else. At least, that came to mind during a walk on part of the Dingle Way earlier this year.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

All the while, the cloud cover was breaking up over my head to allow for spells of sunshine. The sun was getting through with varying levels of success, and this variation was temporal as well. Still, there were moments you could use for added admiration of the surroundings. An All Ireland Hurling Final in which Galway were playing Limerick was ensuring that there was much quietude. Around Slievenavinnoge, though, some were out picking berries from roadside bushes as I was passing. Not everyone was dedicated to supporting their county team that day.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

There was a side trip to Lough Seecon as well, and quite what made me do this is somewhat lost to me. My guess is that I fancied a little variety, as it was a short break from the road tramping. Timing was on my mind since I did not want to miss a bus connection in Oughterard, with more to walk before I got there. In the end, my fears were completely groundless, as they so often are, and I got the side trip that I fancied.

When sunshine arrived late on the way from Maam Cross to Oughterard

It was quiet around Oughterard when I got there. Galway had lost the game, and Limerick became All-Ireland Hurling Champions for the first time since 1973. They have had a run of such results in recent years, despite or maybe even because of the travails of a global pandemic. After a call to a shop for necessities and some small talk about my walk, I found my way to the banks of the Owenriff River where I enjoyed another food stop, this time in bright sunshine.

After that, the vigil awaiting the next bus to Galway could begin. There was even more time to spend than I could have expected for the Clifden Show traffic was heavy and causing delays. My departure was well late and very full, though I ended up getting a free ride. Someone else missed their intended connection for Dublin and was not best pleased when it left as the Clifden bus was arriving. If this was a Bus Éireann operation, the service to Dublin might have been held, but that is not always the case with private operators who employ drivers born outside of Ireland. Hopefully, she got where she needed to be.

That was left after me as I returned to my hotel following a long day spent in much quietude. Another visit when there is more sunshine would add more delights, but this was a good start. There is a lot around Connemara for a hill wanderer, though trailheads have to be identified and public transport planned. With initial encounters completed, deeper incursions can follow.

Travel Arrangements

Single journeys with Bus Éireann on route 419 from Galway to Maam Cross and with Irish Citylink on route 923 from Oughterard to Galway.

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.