After a very scenic drive through the mountains, we arrived fairly early in Letterfrack, at the slightly-disappointingly-crowded visitor centre. With, refreshingly, most of the day ahead of us, we decided to do the 7km walk up to the top of a nearby mountain, Diamond Hill.
The beginning of the walk, starting at the visitor centre, felt a bit like being with a tour group — a very crowded pathway. The view was beautiful, though, over the surrounding bog, which was nicer than it sounds. Glossy luminescent red-and-green grass waving in the breeze, dotted with wildflowers, and with mountains in the background dropping into the sea. We broke away from the worst of the throngs once the walk departed from the ‘easy’ version, changing rapidly from boardwalks and gravel pathways to ad-hoc steps made out of haphazardly-placed rocks, ascending the steep mountainside in vertiginous switchbacks. The breeze increased to a crisp, strong wind, sometimes threatening to take one’s balance. Man, no way the public liability lawyers would allow this sort of thing in Australia. Brilliant!
We turned a corner, and the wind dropped away to nothing. A few tens of meters further and we were on the top ridge of the mountain, along which we walked with 360° views of the surrounding area. The mountains ahead of us had an amazing crinkly texture, deep fractal ravines in the otherwise smooth surface, through which creeks ran.
The track descended the other side of the mountain, and wound around through the bog (I just love saying that word — it works best pronounced “borg”) back to the visitor centre.
Some time spent futzing around trying to find a place to fill up our water; a quest we gave up on as evening progressed. We found ourselves a quite brilliant wildcamp spot, right on the bay with a splendid view of a nearby mountain.
The following day, we had a late start and drove out just before lunchtime. After ducking into the visitor centre again and asking for suggestions for walks we could do, we plotted out a route covering some of the driving tour around the area.
One promising-looking walk circumnavigated a lake nearby, so we drove down a likely-looking side road, which got narrower and narrower, and terminated at a highly un-promising-looking gate. Time to turn around, but where? We tried to do a six-point turn at the gate — there was a driveway nearby that gave a little width — with Katherine at the back window letting me know how close to the fence we were. There just wasn’t room, though, so I decided to just reverse back along the road as far as was necessary to find a place to turn around.
About 20 metres reversing and, as usual, we saw two cars coming our way, thwarting the manoeuvre. Every time! Once they pulled up and realised our predicament, I got out and went over to discuss tactics. They made the universal apologetic shrug and told me they were French and didn’t understand, so I mustered up my meagre French and told them we were trying to back out. Then, a third car came up the road, a local wanting to get in her driveway. Brilliant.
I don’t quite know how we all did it, but like those puzzle games where you have to move cars and trucks around to make space for a car to exit, somehow we made it out.
So, on with the driving tour, which was satisfyingly pretty, the road weaving through the grassy hills, past a few loughs bordered with copses of pine trees. Still looking for water, I did a quick Google search to see if anyone had any suggestions for topping up in the area. Quite luckily, I stumbled upon a council press release which declared that the local water was not safe to drink after a cryptosporidium outbreak. Just missed the Letterfrack-belly there.
So, driving tour complete we ended up back in the place we wild-camped the night before. Wanting a change of scenery, we pressed onwards, as the road quickly narrowed and started steeply up a hill. Nettle’s engine did it’s worrying running-out-of-juice thing, and we barely made it up. A few minutes later, while passing another car, the engine stalled completely — even the power steering stopped working, and I was left hauling the steering wheel around to avoid the oncoming car. The engine started again immediately, but we were quite shaken and worried, and pulled over in a convenient place beside a nearby lake for the night. Whew.
The next day, Nettle coughed to life and we limped at an excruciatingly slow speed out of the Connemara area. Within 20 minutes, she was her old self again and we sped off, bound for Galway.