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Day One - Meet and greet at the Castle

On the first day, we all met up at the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel (Sky Road, Clifden, Connemara, Co. Galway, phone: 095 21201), settled ourselves and got to know each other a little bit that evening in the pub. Supper was tasty up in the restaurant and we had our own tables set up with a flag for each country represented in our safari that week. Included were people from Holland, Australia, Canada, Ireland, Germany and England, a great variety guaranteeing us all a great experience in the coming week of hiking.

The hotel was very comfortable and clean with a welcoming feel to it and the room was very nicely decorated, I had a great night's sleep. Brian and Gerry both were very enthusiastic about us all being there and we felt quite at home. The week promised to be eventful and full of memories.

Day Two - Hiking the Killary Fjord

After a great breakfast at the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel we packed our things and watched Gerry strategically pack the car with all the luggage for our coming few days of adventure in Connemara. Thankfully, there is a great stash of water resistant jackets and Wellingtons to loan from the hotel for those of us who forget the weather can change in a matter of minutes in the Ireland skies. Once we were all packed up, we loaded onto the bus and started driving to our drop point at the mouth of the Killary Fjord.

It was a bit rainy but that didn't matter, the scenery was wonderful. We walked along a rocky path and looked at the water beside us as Gerry led the way talking about the Fjord. Gerry knows many facts about the places on the tour and can easily fill our heads with history and archeology, very impressive. Along the way we saw sheep, heard sheep and saw evidence of sheep. The sheep are lovely and certainly common almost everywhere you look. I never tired of the sounds and smells surrounding us as we walked. Below, a little traffic jam one can encounter while hiking on Connemara.

About halfway through our hike we stopped for a little break and a classy lunch carried by Brian Hughes (impressive that he carried all this food on his back, including wine!). We lined ourselves up and were served smoked salmon with freshly squeezed lemon juice (just because we were hiking, didn't mean we had to rough it where food was concerned). The salmon was divine (or 'grand' if you're Irish) and the second course was sandwiches. All the food was complimented by a delightful splash of wine and the fresh strawberries and yogurt were our dessert. To top off our lunch we had a small piece of chocolate and I think it is safe to say we could not have eaten any better had we all been sitting in a restaurant. Thanks for a great lunch Brian! This photo was our food lineup, and a great example of appropriate footwear too.

Several of us found some friendly ferns to duck into for a wee little 'weee' and then we were off to finish our hike. The scenery of farmland and fjord was breathtaking and so intimate and quiet. We all enjoyed every eyeful and I took many photos, each of a different mosaic of green.

The bus was waiting to take our tired feet to the ferry so we could cross over to Inish Bofin and on the ferry there was champagne waiting to liven us up a bit. We all had smiles and felt invigorated by the hike and I felt excited to see what tomorrow would bring. Once on Inish Bofin, we took a short walk up the hill to the Doonmore Hotel, our luggage hitched a ride with the local van. After freshening up in my room (and washing the glorious mud off my jeans) I changed and we all met up for supper.

The famine road from 1846 was a beautiful walk. The land was green and flowers grew all along the road. The food tastes so fresh here, it makes almost anything else I have eaten seem stale. Lots of great craic when Brian brings out his guitar and sings us all some songs after supper, and even the other people in the little dining room listen in with delight. There is always room for anyone to join in and lead a song with voice or guitar, or whatever, so come prepared to enjoy the music and even contribute if you are inclined, and be sure to learn a few Irish songs so you're ready for everyone to sing along with you.

We all went to the pub after supper and enjoyed each other's company before retiring for the night in our clean quite rooms. I couldn't wait for the scenes I would see the next day!

Day Three - Hiking on Inish Bofin

After a great sleep, even after a few pints and music in the pub the night before, we woke up to the wonderful smells of breakfast. There was plenty to eat for breakfast to give us energy for our upcoming hike and I needed no second invitation. The sun was shining and we met outside the Doonmore Hotel to begin our walk. Gerry was there with his wonderful smile and ready to take us out on the mountain for the morning.

After dousing myself with sunscreen, we set off on our walk. We hiked along the sides of the cliffs, carefully choosing our steps and listening to Gerry whenever he spoke to us about what we were seeing around us. The water below us looked like a tropical paradise and the view over to the old ruined city on Inish Shark was easy to see, especially if one had the foresight to bring a small set of binoculars (hint hint!).

Gerry also stopped us when we arrived at the old defense walls which were now knocked over and spread out. But we could still see the line of the wall used to keep out invaders and it was amazing to think how hard the land's previous inhabitants worked to defend themselves. I loved seeing the remains of other civilizations which really brought the anthropology and archeology to life.

With beautiful sunny skies, we enjoyed the vastness of scenery as far as we could see. There was water, mountains and sky all of which were very therapeutic for me and others on the tour. The land is untamed and is soaked with the smell of fresh ocean air. There was always a nice breeze on my face, as though Ireland was caressing me as I walked and I appreciated what it had to offer my soul.

This energetic man in the car is a local on Inish Bofin named Michael Joe and I loved the charisma coming from his face. His dogs shared the same personality and the island life seems to be doing them all well.

We came back to the hotel and had a wonderful lunch of sandwiches in the pub then loaded up our luggage and walked down to the ferry where we set off for Inish Turk. Once we docked on Inish Turk, we were greeted with smiles from our hosts of the B&B and were led to our rooms for the night. Supper was delicious, everything tastes unbelievable here, and we rested up for our next day of hiking, this time on Inish Turk.

This is Leo, from Inish Bofin, a local in the pub up the road. If you go on the tour, you must go say hello. Leo has lived on the Island his whole life, which I find amazing. When I showed him the picture I took of him, he told me that I would be a millionaire because of this photo. I already feel quite rich though!!

Day Four - Hiking Inish Turk

The ferry ride over to Inish Turk was lovely and I was able to do a little Ukulele playing. Every minute of the tour is worth savoring, because it is not about the next destination, but rather each minute that takes you from one experience to another. A lesson worth applying to life too.

After our great breakfast at the B&B we met up together and started walking onto the common area of the island, which is roughly three quarters of the island, where anyone, or any animal, can roam freely. The last quarter of the island is privately owned by the inhabitants. There were many hills and valleys to walk through and after a while we came to a place where the turf had been cut up to burn for fuel and Gerry explained how it all worked and that the donkeys were used to carry the turf back to the homes for burning.

Further on in our walk we came to some ruins of an ancient house made of stone and Gerry showed us where the animals would have been kept in the enclosure nearby the house remains. A lot can be understood about the prehistoric people by studying the rocks left behind and how the rocks were used to meet the needs for security and practicality. Again, Gerry has an unending amount of knowledge and makes the history fascinating.

I also loved the roads, always winding their way around the hills and sheep. The stone walls created a great design on the landscape leading the eye off into the distance.

The B&B where I stayed had a little dog named Precious, a well suited name because she was just that. She was very friendly and energetic and was a legend for having survived out on the island for two weeks due to being entangled. She was finally found and near death, but that experience has not diminished her apparent love for the land. She followed us for our entire walk, almost leading the way and coaxing Gerry onward, and despite her very short legs she was always ahead of the group, impatiently waiting for us to catch up.

This is my favorite picture of Gerry, frequently heard laughing. This particular night, our tourist from Holland had composed a song for Gerry expressing our gratitude for his excellent guiding. The song was very funny and we all had a nice chuckle thanks to good humor and the Dutchman.

We had a little traffic jam with the sheep on the road. They were confidently walking towards us and when the saw us, they turned tail and ran the other way, bleating obscenities as they ran because we were on their road.

Astonishing rugged beauty was everywhere and although photos are nice, nothing can replace actually going and seeing everything for yourself. The constant refreshing breeze and clean smelling air are like filters for everyday life and leave one feeling so refreshed and cleansed. The magical medicine of Ireland needs to be experienced firsthand to fully benefit from it's healing potential.

Day Five - Hike on Clare Island

We ferried over to Clare Island Friday morning and started hiking right away. We took a little break at the coffee shop up the road (up the road is not necessarily close though, everything in Ireland is bigger and farther away - I love it!). After we had our tea out on the grass, we walked up to the old church where Grace O'Malley, the Pirate Queen of Connemara is said to be buried.

The little church is beautifully frescoed on the ceilings and walls with many pictures, which were all explained by our knowledgeable guide Gerry. He pointed out what each painting was and what it meant. The windows were shaped like flickering candles, very unique, and we spent almost an hour learning all about Grace O'Malley. I will be going out to get the book by Anne Chambers about her, I am told by Gerry it is well worth reading.

This little local girl came running down the driveway and saying hello to all the tourists, very cute!

Hiking further up the mountain, we were given the option to continue on to the old lighthouse at the top, or walk back down. I opted to go the distance despite my complaining feet (my poor planning kept me from wearing proper shoes). The view at the top was superb and worth the extra half hour hike. We all sat up there and soaked up the wonderful smell of the ocean, and the scenery.

After hiking all the way back down to the dock, we ate another picnic lunch on the beach. Wine, smoked salmon, sandwiches and chocolate, then boarded the ferry to head back to the mainland. The bus ride back to the Abbeyglen Castle Hotel was quiet and reflective, driving through the Delphi Valley is always full of green mountains and quiet waters. Many of us stayed on at the hotel for one last supper and fun in the pub, loads of fun, lots of craic and now with our new friends to help us enjoy ourselves.

Such wonderful memories I take with me from this tour, friends I have made, my soul is richer, the world is smaller and I know I will be back. You must come and do it for yourself, and don't forget to look for Leo on Inish Bofin, tell him hello and shake his hand.

by Nathalie Ellison


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