The views in Connemara

The views in Connemara
Letterfrack, Ireland

Letterfrack, Ireland

“Ah, I’m jealous, you’ve got it all to come-Connemara’s my favourite part of Ireland”, as the Dutch woman beneath me said in Sligo. For most men, having a woman underneath them commenting on geography might be a blow to their masculinity, but it’s just how it goes when you’re last into the dorm and have to take the top bunk. I saw her point today.

Again, without delayed gratification, but with a sense of bloody hell, this is stunning. This morning I had a cycle round the Connemara loop, seeing as Letterfrack lodge is on the beginning of it, though I was a bit disappointed to realise I had only done a part, as my loop brought me back when a left turn would have taken me onto the other side of the main road and round the other part. Not so disappointed that I headed out to complete it, mind, and 85km might be a bit optimistic for me in any case. Glorious views out to Renvyle. Where Donegal was filled with yellow flowers, Connemara has pink, flooding the hedgerows in both cases, and almost as if someone has colour coded areas as on a map. The loop road was quiet and pleasantly undulating, with a gentle flat section for me to really turn my legs over at the end.

Job done, I lounged at the hostel, t-cutting the car where I’d scraped it yesterday before realising I was hungry. Lonely planet points out that Letterfrack is really just a cluster of buildings around a crossroads, but as such it is extraordinarily well appointed. The supermarket is a fairly posh one, open till 10 every evening, and with a cashpoint-proper bank one-inside. There are several places to stay and a few to eat and drink. I picked up lunch in the shop and then used their picnic benches outside to assemble and demolish it in more sunshine. It has been cloudy but with the sun warming through the clouds most of the day, and occasionally you find yourself with a bowl of blue sky up above. For me that happened when I visited the Benedictine monastery, Kylemore Abbey, which has a stunning location, in the shadow of Doughruagh (pronounced dog-rough?) and looking out over a freshwater (detail supplied by my own tasting finger) lake.

Pink flowers leaning over a stream
Connemara loop.

After lunch I wandered up the winding road to the Connemara national park, only realising halfway up that I had turned right at the crossroads to get to the shop and that instructions at the hostel said to go straight on for the park. ****, on the long winding road, not the short straight pedestrian access.

From the visitors’ centre there are a variety of walks, a short 500m nature trail, 1.5k low loop, 3k bottom-of-hill and finally the 3.7k summit of Diamond Hill loop. They were there, so were all to be done. On the 3k I spotted a walker up ahead and figured I could catch him but it took some time, and I only really made it because he stopped to take a photo. He fell into step with me and we chatted easily, once again a reminder to slow down and welcome other people in. He was older but had been a runner-info offered without knowing I had too-and kept a good pace while we swapped life histories. A fellow Englishman, wife at the abbey, and I was glad of the company, though we never even swapped names. Although we talked work and economics etc it was just as things came up rather than because it was necessary to get the measure of each other, and I’m enjoying hearing people’s stories so much. Of course, religion intruded; mostly positively, as my friend talked about his work with young people and how it continued now, following a career as an IFA, even to the extent of 60 or so of them keeping an eye out for people vulnerable after drinking to excess in Taunton. Wonderful. I let him off the “I don’t know if you’re a Christian but when you look at this view it makes you wonder about a creator”. There was a brilliant programme on Richard Feynman on BBC2 recently. He’s probably not as famous as he should be in he uk, which will surprise any American you mention his name to, but a great scientist. He very gently explained his views as, and I paraphrase, incredulous that anyone could think scientific thinking was limiting. The idea that only thinking spiritually allows you to see the beauty in something in and of itself is grossly offensive, of course, and he went on to say that not only does he see the beauty in a flower, but that he understands that evolution made that flower beautiful to us, but attractive in a whole different way-seeing as their eyes see entirely different colours to us-to bees so that the flower’s pollen is collected and spread. How that doesn’t enhance the experience was beyond Feynman. See the beauty, maybe understand it too, surely better than some mystical ‘ah, maybe this was created’.

Sign pointing to the beach
Down there.

I didn’t enjoy the steeper part of the descent-it’s a well maintained and obvious path, accessible to anyone moderately fit, but still had slightly hairy bits for me. While I was tentatively grabbing at rocks on the side to give me a sense of security, my 20years older friend was chatting to his mother on the phone. At least with him there I didn’t quite submit to the indignity of going down in a crouch.

Just for the record the views were spectacular. A phrase I could use every day. As we paused at the top, the bay swept away to one side, with the island of Inisbofin visible out to sea. They were bathed in sunshine, the *******s, while we had cool but dry weather. My roommate from last night got up at 5-taking camera gear out ‘for the light’-but it was a bit murky, and I could now see how that could be so on such a nice day, as without the sun everywhere was a little hazy. Had he known it would be like that he could have spared me the sight of him wandering past in his pants to check the window at 4 and 5, but at least it explained why he’d not drawn the blinds.

Scrub beach over a lake, looking over Kylemore Abbey
Kylemore Abbey.

After a close encounter of he midge kind I spotted the pedestrian route out. Walking down a sign said ‘Letterfrack Industrial School graveyard’ and figuring there couldn’t be any good story there I nearly didn’t wander in, but decided that even if the story wasn’t given in the place, I could look it up later. A definite sense that this graveyard was put in place after the fact, as atonement for the ills, with rows of heart shaped memorials for boys who died from the 19th century up to 1956. I’ll save you looking it up, this from Wikipedia:
“St Joseph’s received a lasting notoriety through revelation of physical and sexual abuse of the boys by some of the Brothers there, with evidence of sexual abuse and extreme physical punishments going back to the 1930s. 147 children died there while in the care of the Christian Brothers mainly from abuse and neglect.”
“The Catholic Archbishop of Tuam, Dr. John McEvilly bought the property in 1884.”
That name’s a gift, isn’t it? Lovely cemetery, at least. Now there is a project to turn the buildings at the site into a theatre and arts centre, though it looked as though work in the outbuildings had stalled.

Rocky crops at the top of the hill
Rocky crops at the top of the hill.

My afternoon ended back at the hostel, shooting the breeze with the excellent owner, Mike-although Ballyeamon barn is special for the way the craic comes and finds you, this may be the all round best place I’ve stayed so far. It helps, of course, that I’m tired following races and a succession of one night stays, but nonetheless this is a special place for a slightly longer stay. Oh, and I’ve found a race for Friday, a 5 miler further South.

Today’s guest nationalities: Australian, Irish, French.

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