A walk for the weekend: Twelve Bens, Connemara, Co Galway

These are true ‘kickass mountains’ with criminally stunning views that can take your mind off rugby

I begin west of Benglenisky by following a fence that marks the northern boundary of a former forestry plantation. Initially, it’s somewhat marshy going, but conditions improve

I begin west of Benglenisky by following a fence that marks the northern boundary of a former forestry plantation. Initially, it’s somewhat marshy going, but conditions improve

 

I’m in Clifden for a walk on Inishbofin Island aimed at supporting blind people and the South Eastern Mountain Rescue Association. It’s memorable, but next day I’m at liberty to ramble. However, Ireland has an important rugby engagement with Argentina at the grossly inconsiderate time for hillwalkers of 1pm. The game must be accommodated, so a short but rewarding half-day hike is required.

The solution comes in the form of Paul Phelan’s well-researched Connemara & Mayo: A Walking Guide. Walk 4: Benglenisky, Bengower and Benlettery looks the ticket. Billed “a difficult grade looped mountain walk”, its undemanding completion time of 3.5 hours seems ideally suited to my purpose.

SoI begin west of Benglenisky by following a fence that marks the northern boundary of a former forestry plantation. Initially, it’s somewhat marshy going, but conditions improve when the angle of ascent increases on Benglenisky’s stout west flank.

As a foretaste of things to come, I soon find myself on rockier ground and scrambling up the stony benches festooning the hillside. Great vistas now unfold over the imperious necklace of bosomy Bens that constitutes the demanding circuit above Owenglin.

Surmounting the crest, I traverse the chaotic jumble of boulders leading towards the rocky outcrop, topped by a cairn that marks the summit of Benglenisky. Almost all of the Connemara Bens now are within view and despite modest elevation, it is clear these austere, steep-sided eminences are genuine “kickass mountains” whose come-hither beauty can snare the unwary rambler into false security.

Alone, but far from lonely, I cross the marvellously bleak summit plateau in an easterly direction. Descending through peaty hags, I re-ascend to gain a ridgetop cairn offering an expansive prospect over the almost criminally photogenic Glencoaghan circuit. Here, Phelan proposes the option of a there-and-back excursion (left) to claim Bengower’s rocky summit.

Rugby is, however, a time-unfriendly taskmaster. So regretfully, I swing right and point my toecaps for Benlettery’s summit. Here, the expansive views over the lonesome, watery boglands of south Connemara are unforgettable. Inevitably my eyes are pulled to Derryrush and Erisbeg mountains. Like great ships proudly at anchor, they appear from this angle, to have accomplished the impossible: not sinking into the waterlogged landscape that surrounds them.

Phelan says the down-climb from Lettery should be taken with care and this proves prescient. The knee-jarring and sometimes steep descent has me wondering how the vertically unassuming Connemara Hills can seem so long and challenging in descent.

Ben Lettery Hostel is, however, a beckoning beacon and eventually I cross a fence and bypass some sadly abandoned homesteads to reach the hostel building. Clever clogs that I am, I had arranged for a pickup here, thus avoiding the 4km road walk to my start point. So it’s back to Clifden while blissfully unaware that I am about to witness a comprehensive puma mauling of our green-clad warriors.

Start: From Maam Cross to Clifden, take the first right going west from Ben Lettery Hostel. Park where the road attains a high point.
Difficulty: Suitable for well-equipped hillwalkers. Navigation skills essential in misty weather.
Information: Osi Discovery Sheet 44. Paul Phelan’s Connemara & Mayo: A Walking Guide
Time: 3.5 hours
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