A stay here affords the opportunity for fishing and exploring the island-dotted Lough Corrib by boat. Beyond Oughterard, you plunge into Connemara past the Twelve Bens Mountains , which dominate the wild, almost treeless landscape of bogs, lakes, and rivers; a landscape that is ever being changed by the dashing clouds that rush in from the Atlantic. Apart from the occasional craft shop, there are no houses until you reach Clifden on the Atlantic coast N59, 80 kilometers.
Clifden is the major market town of Connemara and the home of the annual Connemara Pony Show third week in August. The town presents a gay face with shopfronts painted in bright hues of red, blue, yellow, and green. Craft and tourist shops alternate with the butchers, the hardware store, pubs, and restaurants.
On Market Street, you find the Connemara Walking Center where you can buy booklets on the locale and sign up for one of the walking tours that vary from an interesting stroll through the Roundstone bogs-great walking amongst lakes full of otters and interesting plant life-to the demanding climb up one half of the great Glanhoaghan Horseshoe in the stark Twelve Bens mountains. To the south of Clifden, the road has more views of sea than land, as little boats bob in rocky inlets and cottages gaze westward across tiny islands.
The road passes the marshy area where Alcock and Brown crash-landed after the first transatlantic flight in commemorated by a monument about meters from the main road. Via Ballinaboy , Ballyconneely , and Roundstone , the sweeping seascapes that this route presents are so compelling that it is difficult to concentrate on the driving. If the weather is fine, a delightful day trip can be taken to Inishbofin Island. The Inishbofin boat leaves from Cleggan pier at am, returning at 5 pm the crossing takes less than an hour. Be at Cleggan pier half an hour before sailing time and buy your ticket at the Pier Bar.
Sailings depend on weather conditions, so it's best to phone ahead to verify departure times. The boat sails into the sheltered harbor presided over by the remains of a Cromwellian castle, and you wade ashore at a cluster of houses that make up the island's main settlement.
Many islanders have left in search of greener pastures and their cottages have fallen into disrepair, but those who remain eke out a hard living from the land and the sea. As you walk down lanes edged with wild fuchsias and brightly colored wildflowers, whitewashed farmhouses appear and you see fields dotted with handmade haystacks. Clifden stands just outside the Connemara National Park , which covers 5, acres of mountain, heath, and bog-there are no pretty gardens or verdant woodlands.
The video in the visitors' center gives a beautiful introduction to the park, which has wonderful hiking trails. If you want to tackle the smaller paths leading into the Twelve Bens mountains, consider joining one of the guided walks that begin at the visitors' center four of the Twelve Bens, including Benbaum, the highest, are found in the park.
Two signposted nature trails start at the center: one leads you through Ellis Wood while the other takes you into rougher terrain. Leaving Clifden to the north, the N59 passes the much-photographed Kylemore Abbey.
Originally built by a wealthy Englishman in the 19th century, this grand home, surrounded by greenery and fronting a lake, passed into the hands of Benedictine nuns who have a school here. You'll find ample parking lots of coaches and a large restaurant and gift shop.
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You can walk beside the lake to the abbey, where in summer the library is open to visitors. In the grounds, you can visit the restored Gothic chapel with its pretty, sandstone interior and different-colored, marble pillars. Follow the shore of Killary Harbor , the longest and most picturesque fjord in Ireland, to Leenane , a little village nestled at the head of the inlet. Continue along the shoreline and take the first turn to the left, signposted as a scenic route to Westport via Louisburgh. This interesting side road gently winds you along the sea lough to Delphi , an area of pools and loughs amongst some of the highest and wildest mountains in the west.
Acres of woodlands offer shelter and there is not a bungalow in sight. The Marquis of Sligo built a lodge here in and called it "Delphi" because it reminded him of Delphi in Greece. After falling into dereliction, the house and estate were bought by the Mantles, who welcome guests to their restored home see listing under Leenane. Leaving Delphi, the isolated mountain road takes you along the shore of Doo Lough at the foot of Mweelrea Mountain and on through wild, remote scenery to Louisburgh ; where, turning towards Westport, the summit of the conical-shaped Croagh Patrick Mountain Ireland's most famous mountain comes into view.
Swirling mists substantiate its mystical place in Irish history. It was after St. Patrick spent the 40 days of Lent atop its rocky summit in that the mountain became sacred to Christians. Every year thousands of penitential pilgrims begin their climb to the oratory at the summit at dawn on the last Sunday in July, several going barefoot up the stony track. The ritual involves stopping at three stations and reciting prayers. No climbing skills are needed as it's a well-worn path to the top and, on a clear day, a walk to the summit affords a panoramic view across Clew Bay to Achill Island. Full size photos and videos available to registered members only Join now!
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