A savage beauty
A promising Connemara walk for a fundraiser
A problem presents itself. Having been assigned to lead a “not over challenging” hill walk in Connemara to raise funds for visually impaired people, I discover to my dismay I don’t really know a suitable route. My experience of the sublime hills west of the Corrib remains confined to a couple of extended outings on the Maumturks and Bens.
The solution to my dilemma comes in the compact form of Paul Phelan’s well-illustrated, comprehensive walking guide to Connemara and Mayo. My eyes light upon Walk 6, Mweelin. Billed “an introductory, difficult grade looped mountain walk” with an estimated time of four hours, it’s ideal.
A couple of days later, my test walk begins unpromisingly amid the summer throngs at Kylemore Abbey (see panel). From here I follow the busy N59 before escaping into solitude on a mountain track with Phelan’s book tucked reassuringly in my pocket. Continuing uphill through an old lime quarry and past an oddly enclosed holy well, I reach a fence, which the guidebook advises me to follow left.
Abandoning the fence where it swings sharply right, I ascend steeply with the silence broken only by the low whispering of the breeze through the wildflower-rich meadows and the occasional throaty cry from ravens above.
Alone on Benbaun’s spectacularly green summit – which might more accurately be titled Benglas – my eyes are drawn across the wild magnificence of Connemara to the silvery ocean and soft hues of Inishbofin Island.
William Butler Yeats lauded this “savage beauty” and Connemara has exerted a magnetic attraction for generations of artists. Kerry may have higher mountains, Donegal a more ferocious coastline, Clare a unique landscape, but none can match the shifting colours now laid out before me and the subtle way the mountains mimic the mutating light of the Connemara sky.
Roving on beside a fence, I reach a saddle and ascend the eye-watering whiteness of Benbrack. The summit offers the climactic 360-degree viewing point of the route. Here I lunch and enjoy vistas over the sinuous ridges and sweeping valleys of the Twelve Bens.
Replenished, I descend by a small spearhead shaped lake, its apex pointing along my route. At the next saddle, I cross another fence before ascending Knockbrack. To avoid steep ground, I continue west from the summit for a short distance before descending northwest to the Polladirk River.
Now it’s downstream by the riverbank to pick up a rough farm track heading to the buildings of Kylemore Abbey farm. Here an avenue leads to the N59, where I swing right for the short ramble to Kylemore Abbey. Over a well-earned cuppa, I conclude that the Mweelin circuit will make a fine, but not over burdensome introduction to best of Connemara walking.
Startpoint: Take the N59 from Clifden through Letterfrack to Kylemore. Walk begins from the abbey carpark.
Difficulty: Mountain route suitable only for well-equipped hillwalkers. Crosses three high summits where navigation skills are required in misty weather.
Map: OSI Discovery Sheet 37
Time: 4 – 4.5 hours.
The 15th annual charity challenge in aid of visually impaired people takes place in Clifden, October 18-20th and offers guided walks to suit all fitness levels. Weekend costs €159, midtipphillwalkers.ie, 086-4009989.