Ire­land’s Wild West

With 2957 hectares to ex­plore Con­nemara Na­tional Park is per­fect for green­lan­ing and wild eco camp­ing

Land Rover Monthly - - Contents - Story and pic­tures: Russ Ryan

Con­nemara Na­tional Park is one of six Ir­ish Na­tional Parks and of­fers green­lan­ing and wild(ish) camp­ing along its unique coast­line. Re­mote Con­nemara is sit­u­ated in the West of Ire­land in Co Gal­way and cov­ers 2957 hectares of scenic coastal ar­eas, moun­tain ranges, bogs, heaths, grass­lands and woods – all con­nected with plenty of rough tracks. There’s even an is­land you can drive out to in your Land Rover when the tide is out.

The Con­nemara sky­line is dom­i­nated by the spec­tac­u­lar Twelve Bens moun­tain range and the Maum­turks that bring this unique land­scape to life. The Na­tional Park was es­tab­lished and opened to the pub­lic in 1980 and boasts ac­tiv­i­ties that in­clude hill climb­ing, moun­tain bik­ing, tour­ing and eco camp­ing.

The green­lanes and nar­row roads zigzag their way through moun­tain ranges, blan­ket bog and heath­lands and on to some crack­ing camp­ing lo­ca­tions along the coast­line. As you ex­plore this re­mote land­scape you will be treated to the strik­ing pur­ple moor grass that brings its own unique char­ac­ter to this colour­ful en­vi­ron­ment.

The tracks that we were in­ter­ested in driv­ing were the bro­ken black-lined routes high­lighted on the de­tailed Dis­cov­ery Maps – mostly green­lanes that will take you off the beaten track and into the heart of this re­mote en­vi­ron­ment. Not all of th­ese tracks are open but there are cer­tainly enough of them scat­tered through­out the west coast to en­joy.

Be­fore ar­riv­ing, study the maps, plan ahead and you will not be dis­ap­pointed.

One of the best de­tailed maps to view the net­work of coastal roads and tracks are the Ord­nance Sur­vey Ire­land Dis­cov­ery Maps. For County Gal­way and the Con­nemara Na­tional Park we used the Dis­cov­ery Maps 39, 44,45 – about £7 each, but well worth the money.

Our trip started in Gal­way, mak­ing our way up along the Con­nemara coast to­wards Clif­den and Omey Is­land. Clif­den is Con­nemara’s largest town and is lo­cated on the Owenglin River, where it flows into the rugged Clif­den Bay. The town is linked to Gal­way city by the N59 main road and is a pop­u­lar tourist des­ti­na­tion.

Head in the di­rec­tion of Maam Cross along the N59 and you will ap­proach the south­ern en­trance to the Na­tional Park. Along this road you will go through the vil­lage of Oughter­ard and pass by an au­then­tic camp­ing, shoot­ing and out­door ad­ven­ture shop called Rocky Moun­tain High, which is a must-stop. This store has some in­cred­i­ble camp­ing stuff on dis­play and you could spend a long time just brows­ing through the va­ri­ety of prod­ucts and mil­i­tary at­tire on dis­play. Vin­cent Coyne, the owner of the shop, is a man who just loves his bush craft and will hap­pily talk you through the unique stuff he has on dis­play. Vin­cent had a minia­ture De­fender proudly sit­ting on his till desk and that pretty much sings what this store is all about – this place is the real deal.

Af­ter a good look around, head into the Na­tional Park. As

“A real off-road treat is a cou­ple of miles north-west of Clif­den – Omey Is­land”

you en­ter this re­mote area an in­ter­est­ing track to take and pull up for some lunch is just a cou­ple of miles on the right along the N59. You have to open the un­locked gate (a large sign is on the gate) and make your way to­wards the for­est in the distance. There’s a lake on your left and as you drive along the track you will see some great views of the moun­tains in the distance.

Another in­ter­est­ing track that will take you even deeper into this ru­ral land­scape is lo­cated fur­ther up along the N59 head­ing to­wards Clif­den, where you will see the sign­post called Mam Ean – the L5136 this is a very nar­row track that will take you along an in­ter­est­ing green­lane.

Just be­fore ar­riv­ing at Clif­den make sure to pull in along the view­ing area just be­fore Dan O’ Hara’s Her­itage Park. This view­ing point gives you great views and is also a great spot for a pic­nic and a photo op­por­tu­nity. We took out the Kelly ket­tle here, had a hot brew and just chilled out for a while; there is some­thing very re­lax­ing about this spot.

A real off-grid treat is just a cou­ple of miles north-west of Clif­den – the se­cluded Omey Is­land, which is a tidal is­land sit­u­ated near Claddagh­duff. It is pos­si­ble to drive across to the is­land when the tide is out. Just fol­low the signs that guide you across the sandy sea bed.

At high tide the water is deep enough to cover a ve­hi­cle, so make sure you check the tide times be­fore cross­ing.

If you plan to spend some time ex­plor­ing the is­land you should also keep an eye on the incoming tide or you could end up hav­ing to camp the night on the is­land (not nec­es­sar­ily a bad thing if you have sup­plies).

This is­land is an an­cient place where the lo­cals on the main­land still bury their dead. Just over 20 years ago a team of ar­chae­ol­o­gists from Univer­sity Col­lege Dublin be­gan work to study the monas­tic her­itage of the is­land, as it is known for be­ing the site of a monastery and set­tle­ment founded by St Fe­ichin in the 6th cen­tury. Nu­mer­ous finds of na­tional sig­nif­i­cance were un­folded dur­ing the ex­ca­va­tion work here and this gave new and in­ter­est­ing in­sights into the life of early Chris­tian­ity in Ire­land.

Sadly, like many Is­lands off the west coast of Ire­land, the pop­u­la­tion of this pic­turesque is­land has di­min­ished sig­nif­i­cantly over the years since its hey­day in the early 19th cen­tury when hun­dreds of peo­ple lived there. By 1988 there were just a hand­ful of peo­ple liv­ing on the is­land and in more re­cent years the only full-time in­hab­i­tant was for­mer Hol­ly­wood stunt­man and wrestler Pas­cal Whe­lan, who passed away in Fe­bru­ary this year. Dur­ing his ca­reer he per­formed stunts in nu­mer­ous films, work­ing with ac­tors Peter O’toole and Paul Ho­gan (aka Croc­o­dile Dundee).

Af­ter ex­plor­ing this unique lit­tle is­land it was time to head for camp just a cou­ple of min­utes away at one of Ire­land’s most pic­turesque and award-win­ning eco camp­sites, nes­tled amongst the sand dunes. It boasts beau­ti­ful At­lantic views from its own se­cluded pri­vate sandy beach. This is not your typ­i­cal camp­site and for all the right rea­sons.

You can choose from a mix­ture of glamp­ing and wild camp­ing-style plots where you are al­lowed to have pri­vate

eco camp­fires in the fire pits pro­vided. All within the bound­aries of an area of sci­en­tific in­ter­est that is op­er­ated on a sus­tain­able, green, en­vi­ron­men­tal and eth­i­cal ba­sis with a zero car­bon foot­print mak­ing this a serene des­ti­na­tion to un­wind and camp af­ter a good day’s tour­ing. It was bliss.

The camp­site also runs ad­ja­cent to over half a mile of coast­line that has ex­cel­lent, crys­tal clear bathing water that also pro­vides the per­fect water trail front for all kinds of sea-borne ac­tiv­i­ties, in­clud­ing safe swim­ming, an­gling, crab­bing, scuba div­ing, kite surf­ing, boat­ing and snorkelling along the es­tu­ary of Stream­stown Bay. If you hap­pen to have a fish­ing rod packed in the back of your Land Rover you will have plenty of op­por­tu­ni­ties to throw a line here and catch a fish for sup­per, as the camp­site is pretty much sur­rounded by the At­lantic Ocean.

The night sky over this part of the world is spec­tac­u­lar due to its re­mote lo­ca­tion and lim­ited light pol­lu­tion in the area. Un­for­tu­nately for us, it was a cloudy night when we were there but we will be back with the cam­era and tri­pod to at­tempt to catch a shot of the dis­tant stars.

The one thing about the Na­tional Parks in Ire­land is that the land­scapes al­ways seem to of­fer some­thing very dif­fer­ent and the Con­nemara Na­tional Park cer­tainly of­fered a very unique tour­ing and camp­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. From the white sandy beaches, the blue la­goon-like in­lets and the wild eco camp­ing to the nu­mer­ous green­lanes that dis­sect this re­gion, this place of­fers a true ru­ral tour­ing ex­pe­ri­ence on the western fringes of Europe.

This page: The white sandy beaches in this part of Ire­land al­lowed for all sorts of sea-borne ac­tiv­i­ties

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