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Saturday, January 20, 2018

Connemara National Park Trails in Letterfrack, Co. Galway in Ireland

More often than not when my husband and I travel, we hop from one great hiking trail to another (with a new breweries in-between) and our trip to Ireland was no exception. We honeymooned in Ireland in 2013 for over two weeks and one of the best decisions we made was to rent a car. This allowed us total freedom to drive and stop where ever we wanted for as long as we wanted. Anyway...this specific post is about one of our favorite short distance trail finds while we were exploring -  Connemara National Park, located on the western coast of Ireland just north of Galway. 

From Galway, if you take N59 from Clifden to Letterfrack the park is about 93 kms away and worth the drive! Entry into the park and the visitor center exhibits are free of charge and we spent an entire day there taking advantage of all the loop trails (all starting from the visitor center):
  1. Ellis Wood Nature Trail 0.5 km
  2. Sruffaunboy Walk 1.5 km
  3. Lower Diamond Hill Walk 3 km
  4. Upper Diamond Hill Walk 3.7 km
 Trail Map Overview

What we enjoyed so much about the trails is how they changed landscapes. From the visitor center you walk towards Diamond Hill (the highest point) through a stretch of bogland where you are actually on a wooden platform (Google Irish "peatland" for some interesting history of this area's use for fossil fuel). Then as you start up the hill you are surrounded by beautiful heather scrub land as the route gets rockier and steeper. The Upper Diamond Hill Walk is straight up and then back down, but the view from the top is absolutely beautiful (and quite windy). At 400 meters high you get a gorgeous 360 look over the Atlantic Ocean coastline on one side and the 12 Bens Mountain Range on the other. Finally, it was back to the Visitor Center Tea Room for hot soup and coffee - not too bad, huh?

Starting the Hike Towards Diamond Hill

Starting to Get Some Elevation Gain

 Through the Scrub Land

 Platform Walk Over the Bog (Don't Step Off!)

Why, Hello, Atlantic Ocean!
Important Notes:

  • The Visitor Center and Tea Room are open daily from 9am - 5:30pm March through October.

  • The Park Grounds are open all year round from 9am - 5:30pm.

Hiking Tips:

We hiked the Connemara National Park trails in March, so it was cold and windy and it even rained a little when we were hiking up Diamond Hill. What we would suggest is to check the weather and then choose your hiking clothing appropriately. If you are planning on walking up Diamond Hill you will need shoes that can handle rocks and steep terrain. We also brought our CamelBaks, so we had 5 liters of water between the two of us (this was a little overkill for a shorter hike).

Oh, and bring your camera - great views!

Trail Type:

5.6 Miles

Elev. Gain:
1640.4 Feet

Monday, January 1, 2018

Miserable Weather, but “Hey, it’s Ireland!” Part 2

We both decided the wind won after a few hours into the Rock of Cashel visit, so we retreated to the car and headed to our last destination for the day - Bunratty (about an hour west). At Bunratty there was another castle and an interactive folk park. However, we arrived after everything was closed for the day. As we were driving around looking for a place to stay, we found something we were not planning on - one of the few wineries in Ireland, the Bunratty Winery (now Bunratty Mead & Liqueur Co. Ltd.). This just solidified our motto of “don’t plan everything,” because we lucked into being the only people there.

Scott and I like wine, and we like talking to people, so this side-trip meant talking to the guy at the front doing the tastings for over an hour. (Scott: Wine people can be hit-or-miss when it comes to “personality” and this is one reason why I tend to prefer beer people... but this guy was definitely fun.) Apparently there is a small market in Ireland for wine, so the winery was only producing two things during the off season:
  1. honey mead (yum!) and 
  2. Irish moonshine, called potcheen

 It's a shame we could only bring back 2 liters of alcohol on the plane...
My hubby and I also antique, (Scott: she antiques) and do you know what you get when you talk to a local wine connoisseur for an hour? A really cool discontinued mead jug for only 5 Euros that was not even for sale...ha! We also made sure to buy a liter of mead for ourselves that we were not planning on bringing home. Darn.

Bunratty revolves around the tourism of the castle and folk park, and we were able to stay at a cute B&B, the Courtyard, which was within walking distance of food and drinks (1 km max). We decided the closer we stayed to restaurants and pubs, the less driving we had to do within town, which was a positive thing for both driver and passenger. (Scott: Since Sam “doesn’t drive in Ireland” that left me with the choices of drinking, driving, or drinking/driving/getting arrested in Ireland. Not a big fan of getting arrested in foreign countries.) I do have to say though at this point of the Honeymoon the side-seat driving on my part was definitely improving and Scott’s ability to not scare the crap out of me while driving was also getting better.

Travel Tip #1: 
Communication with humor and a calm voice = good vibes in the car.

Our evening consisted of the following and we would recommend this itinerary to anyone:
  • Walked 8 minutes from the B&B to dinner at The Creamery Bar where we had another amazing hake dish! 
  • Walked dessert and drinks were down the road at J.P. Clarke's Country Pub. It was the perfect pub atmosphere - dark, real fire going, and the drinks were extremely reasonably priced! 
 Our walking map of Bunratty.

Travel Tip #2: 

Scott and I made a good move with lunches and dinners, we decided to only order a single dish and then split it. That way we (1) did not have to deal with leftovers or gorging ourselves and (2) always had room for drinks and dessert! If we could not decide on one dish together, he picked one meal and then I picked the next. (Out of the whole trip I think we had two sub-par meals and they were both bar food - the Irish really cannot fry food. Two bad meals over two-weeks was not too bad though.)