Walk for the Weekend: The ‘backstage’ Bens of Connemara

Less celebrated and more sombre perhaps – but a real joy to walk

The  Twelve Bens of Connemara, often celebrated in poem, picture-postcard and painting

The Twelve Bens of Connemara, often celebrated in poem, picture-postcard and painting

 

The Twelve Bens of Connemara are probably the most iconic of Irish mountains. Their shapes, colours and moods, their tangles with cloud and mist and shadow have attracted the attention of artists, photographers and writers for generations.

They rise boldly out of a surrounding sea of dark bogland, their bright stony summits and slopes sometimes shining through flowing drapes of mist and rain, and sometimes as though painted against the stillest and deepest of blue. The interplay of their rock-rooted solidity with our free-flying Atlantic skies creates moods and movement that never fail to enthral, whether on elemental days of wind-howl and racing cloud or on quiet days of stream-sound, sunshine and lark-song.

These are the Bens of poem, picture-postcard and painting, most often celebrated above foregrounds of Connemara’s white sands and aquamarine seas. But then there are other, more “backstage” Bens, huddled and hidden away to the north, less celebrated and more sombre – but still, a real joy to walk, their often grassy slopes more comfortable to negotiate and navigate (though always requiring great care especially in wet conditions). And it was into these Bens of the beautiful Connemara National Park that 10 of us came on a dry but blowy November day.

For this walk, avail (with consideration) of the limited parking spaces on the N59 near Kylemore Abbey, and approach little Benbaun (477m) along an open clear “green road” past an old limekiln and a poignant children’s Burial Ground, and finish near the bridge over the Kylemore River just off the R344.

The height gain up little Benbaun is about 450m – the toughest pull of a long day for us, testing our aerobic fitness and our sense of humour and commitment. A more relaxing hike over mixed rock slabs and grass to Benbrack (582m) followed, as a temporarily lowering cloudbase closed out Muckanaght(654m), our next objective.

This is a formidable mountain, requiring real care; and it is best to contour beneath it to the col to the east and ascend the relatively easy ridge to the summit. From Muckanaght’s east col then up over Benfree (638m) and onto Benbaun(729m) is the loveliest of ridge walks, though requiring care on a mostly grassy surface, and some scree towards the summit.

The mountain gods smiled on us there, calming a wild wind, lifting the cloudbase and gifting us a wonderful display of mist, mountain and sun and the distant shining lakelets of Connemara’s boglands. We took a quiet moment there to remember Monica, a friend who loved the mountains but who tragically fell on Benbaun in 1982.

A careful scree descent in continuing clear weather to the broad Knockpasheemore ridge, and a largely grassy one off the ridge down to the track on the floor of Glencorbet, followed. A normally fordable Kylemore River crossing will be a final challenge but, if needed, a change of socks will be less than 1.5km away at your waiting “carsplit” car!

Map: OSI Sheet 37

Start: N59 near Kylemore Abbey

Finish: Kylemore River Bridge, just off the R344

Effort: about 13km and about 1,200m of climbing

Suitability: high level of fitness, excellent route finding and mountain navigation skills required

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